‘Guru’— the one who dispels darkness and ‘Kula’—togetherness, family, or clan. The ancient practice of ‘Gurukul’ was a tough life— full of discipline, hard work, and sacrifice—and disciples grew into strong, independent, and responsible individuals, trained for excellence and motivated to spread further enlightenment as they walk the paths chosen in life. A system that formed the very foundation of the education in this country and the scholars it produced over millennia.
Who would have thought that the Gurukul would emerge again today, in an age when cutting off from the world is almost impossible given the level of technology? For Protima Gauri, Nrityagram was a dream come true.
Protima left Mumbai in 1989 with the aim of establishing a Gurukul with land given on lease by the state government. She dreamt of, “building a community of dancers in a forsaken place amidst nature. A place where nothing exists except for dance.”
Nrityagram is India’s first modern Gurukul for Indian classical dances, and a one of a kind community built as a village. Set up in 1990 near Hesaraghatta Lake, 30kms from Bangalore, a temple at the entrance, depicting the image of Kelucharan Mohapatra (founder Protima Bedi’s guru) in a dancing pose, welcomes visitors to the gurukul.
The complex, designed by Gerard De Cunha, follows the vernacular architecture of the region.
The Odissi Gurukul enthralls visitors the most, with its raw stonewalls and temple spirit. The Mohiniattam Gurukul is an open courtyard with an angled thatched roof; a pattern flows down in giving half moons, which imitate the circular definitions of the Mohiniattam dance.
Walk down the winding flowery paths to approach the Kathak Gurukul with its strong symmetrical base of granite, red brick, large windows, and mortar less archways. There is also an open yoga centre attached to the temple and a red earth amphitheatre, where thousands congregate every February for the annual Vasantahabba.
The rounded guest cottages of the village, inspired by the yurts of Ladakh and Tibet, have housed some of the greatest maestros of dance and music who perform at the Vasantahabba. Crowned with a horn like structure, the office block was made to house Protima’s work space (jokingly referred to as the devil’s lair). The service block and heart of the village, a stone structure shaped like a reverse two, is where the entire community eats together. The rest of the 10 acres of land has gardens, parts of which are utilised by students and teachers to grow fruits and vegetables.
With Protima Bedi’s most unfortunate death in a landslide at Mansarovar (Tibet) in 1998, her friend and colleague Lynne Fernandez, took over the reins of administration. Protima’s disciple, Surupa Sen, took charge as the artistic director. Nrityagram continues to flourish today.
Today, Nrityagram is recognised as one of the finest institutions in the country, promoting Indian classical performing arts and a way of holistic living. It keeps alive the rich cultural past of India through its Gurukul system while inculcating understanding of the inter-relatedness of arts and physical traditions of other countries as well. The atmosphere, training, and experiences have given us not just accomplished dancers, but enlightened human beings as well.
Surupa Sen, one of India’s most acclaimed choreographers and Odissi dancers, leads a quiet life away from the bustle of Bangalore city at Nrityagram where she is the artistic director.
Her rustic earthy home is a part of the Odissi Gurukul where she rehearses every day from dawn to dusk. Like all the other buildings in Nrityagram, renowned architect Gerard De Cunha, who won an award for this project, also designed Sen’s house.
The stone façade, created entirely using unpolished granite, has three openings—the main wooden door and two wooden windows, one on each floor.
The main entrance opens into a very warm and intimate living room. Old Chettinad mansions of South India inspire the double height roof and the red oxide flooring.
With a living room, bedroom, kitchen, guest room and two extended porticos, the walls of the entire home are adorned with photographs and paintings collected by the dancer.
The large expanse of granite on the roof, with several stone pillars and arches, is left exposed. All the walls are stark white, while the niches in the walls have been hand painted a cheerful yellow by Sen, who refers to painting of the walls as her “best stress buster.”
The sheer curtains ensure a perfect view, even as the wooden windows add warmth to the rural setting.
Sen has handpicked her furniture and fittings. While designing the interiors of her home, she has tried to steer clear of the ‘colour coordinated’ look, and places emphasis on comfort. The comfortable low futons upholstered in pastel shades with a low wooden table are perfectly suited to the intimate feel of the house. The home overlooks the gurukul in front and has a backyard garden filled with trees, flowering plants and herbs. The sit-out on the ground floor, with its comfortable chairs, creates a cosy space that is perfect for that morning cup of tea.
A special corner in the living room has idols and photographs of Kali, Krishna, and Durga. A space for worship, this corner has a collection of photographs, lit diyas, conches, cymbals, and flowers. A small but efficient open kitchen, with hand painted bright pink niches, leads into the bedroom, which is spacious and airy. The stone framed windows add to the old world beauty of the room, as do the granite arches.
Sen’s bedroom reflects her efficient though austere lifestyle. A simple bed, an open wardrobe ensconced only with sheer drapes, an uncluttered study table, neatly lined bookshelves and niches filled with photographs, complete the picture perfect setting. The room, like the rest of the house, reflects the discipline of the dancer, with everything in its place and a complete absence of clutter.
An embroidered Durga on a wall, a bronze ornate mirror frame, an old world lamp, a couple of stuffed toys and some old photographs are all the embellishment that the room holds.
The house has another entrance, the façade of which has framed photographs and another bright yellow wall with niches.
A framed mirror and other curios collected over the years, grace the walls, as do black and white photographs of Protima Bedi (the founder of Nrityagram and Surupa’s guru) and a painting by well-known artist Paresh Hazra.
COLOUR AGAINST STONE
The narrow stone steps from the kitchen lead to the first floor with its guest bedroom and portico. The guest bedroom has bright colours in small doses that serve as a perfect complement to the solid granite roof and plain walls.
The portico on the first floor is Sen’s favourite place to lounge around, listen to music, or read. With a sofa, several quaint wooden chairs, statues, and curios collected over several years during her travels, Sen has managed to transform a small building into a warm and beautiful dwelling.
Sen’s bedroom reflects her efficient though austere lifestyle. A simple bed, an open wardrobe ensconced only with sheer drapes, an uncluttered study table, neatly lined bookshelves and niches filled with photographs complete the picture perfect setting. The room, like the rest of the house, reflects the discipline of the dancer, with everything in its place and a complete absence of clutter.