In an exclusive interview with G20, legendary dancer Guru Shovana Narayan talks about her life amid the pandemic, and how Kathak as a classical dance form is still relevant.


Q. Shovana Ji, your work has dominated the Indian Kathak scene for years, apart from winning you many accolades and awards including the Padmashri. To what do you attribute this phenomenal success?

A. I have always been a devotee of dance. In fact, dance is my prayer, my soul, my breath, and my life. I am grateful to everyone for their appreciation and recognition of this service and prayer through dance, a service and prayer that continues unabated with my wholehearted dedication, honesty and with great sincerity.

Q. What, in your opinion, is the future of Kathak and other classical dances in this country?

A. The 2500-year history of Kathak shows its innate strength to withstand the pressures and pulls of every age. We see the first mention of the Kathak community who retold stories through the medium of dance, in the Adi Parv of the Mahabharata, then in the early Mauryan period (3rd/4thcentury BC) Prakrit inscriptions, and yet again in the 13thcentury Sangeet Ratnakara. All these periods brought with them external pulls and challenges for the Kathaks. The fact that the Kathaks and Kathak dance is with us today, shows its resilience, strength and ability to address the changing times without losing its essence and its soul.

With this background and several dedicated Kathak artistes, I am sure that Kathak will successfully face all challenges in the future too.

Q. How can we ensure sustained interest in Kathak for the younger generations who are heavily influenced by virtual media?

A. The seeds laid in the minds of the child at home will always be visible in his or her actions in later life even after heavy external influences. Thus, it is important for every home to provide an atmosphere that emphasises Indian values, importance of our classical art traditions as these classical performing arts are carrying the spirit and message of Indian philosophy and traditions. Once the roots are firm, then in spite of all winds of globalization, the person will remain rooted and not be swept off his or her feet. This will have a ripple effect on their actions in later life, in whatever vocation they may choose to be in, as they will not be easily swayed by crass materialism and populism.

It is also interesting that despite having lucrative jobs, there are several instances of young people changing course and pursuing classical dance as a full-time profession. The answer, to my mind, lies in their realization that they needed something more meaningful that brought inner joy and peace of mind. The classical arts give all this and ensure they remain wedded to their Indian roots while being global citizens.

Q. How are you connecting with your audience through this pandemic? Please tell us about your recent performances.

A. There is no end to learning and this eternal quest for knowledge is something I cherish. The pandemic gave me the opportunity to learn the new medium of online teaching. It has also provided frustrating as well as hilarious moments while teaching online because Kathak dance requires precision of taal, laya, sur. Just imagine all the time lags between the beats given and those received at the other end.

This new medium has helped in reaching out to interested students globally. Connectivity with viewers, rasikas, audiences through discussions, through video clips of interesting programmes have been taking place. Since I am not one for performing to recorded music, thus online performances have been given with live musicians accompanying me, taking due precautions. These online live performances have been effective, for they have reached out to a larger audience worldwide, as compared to an auditorium.

Q. You have authored many books on classical Indian dance forms, and one on the German occupation of Austria during World War II. We would love to know more about these.

A. Everything I learn, I share through my writing. Barring one or two, all my books have been about dance, especially Kathak, and this quest to know more about the art form that became my life, started in the ‘70s. The book on Austria emerged from the recollections of my Austrian mother-in-law and sisters-in-law (as my husband is Austrian) and their experiences, which were reflections of the majority of non-Jewish Austrian families that were anti-Nazi. The book focusses on their traumas and sufferings.

The writer/ interviewer is a lawyer who pens lifestyle articles on her successful blog She can be found on Instagram @nooranandchawla