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My Arangetram Experience – Shreya Hegde

Shreya Hegde

My Arangetram will forever be engraved in my memory as the experience of a lifetime, the most important milestone in my dance career.  For a dancer, an Arangetram is the culmination of years of learning and intense practice, and is considered a mental and physical test of the dancer’s abilities. The word “Arangetram” literally means “ascending the stage,” as the dancer gives her first formal performance in front of family, friends and well wishers.

My dance journey began when I was six years old, with my guru Padma Rao in North Carolina. At that time, dance was merely another extracurricular activity among many others, but as I continued to attend my dance classes, I found myself enchanted by the beauty of the dance. I loved being able to express intricate stories and universal ideas with such poise and elegance. The dance classes helped me connect with my culture and heritage, and were also a much anticipated stress reliever at the end of a hard week. After moving to Massachusetts, I was eager to continue dancing, and was lucky enough to find a wonderful guru like Jeyanthi Ghatraju (fondly called as Jeyanthi aunty) as well as a very welcoming dance community. With the support and encouragement of my guru, family and friends, I decided to pursue my dream of performing an Arangetram. The process of preparing for an Arangetram was difficult and often stressful, but I was determined to do it. After a year of painful practices, diligent training and hard work, I finally began to accept my ability as a dancer.

The day of my Arangetram dawned like any other. I woke up uncomfortably early and the signs of nervousness already started to overwhelm me. I ran through all the pieces in my head before forcing down some breakfast. We made it to the auditorium soon, and the makeup artist began to do my hair and attach various other hair ornaments. I tried to relax and avoid thinking about what was to happen at 3 pm. The trick was to focus on the excitement instead of the anxiety. After another two hours of yanking, pulling and putting makeup on, I put on my first costume, applied the alta and waited for my teacher to call me out. We went out onto the stage before any guests arrived and did the salangai pooja to receive the blessings of Lord Nataraja, my guru, my parents and all the elders.

Much too soon, the moment arrived for the program to start, and I gulped down a last few sips of lemonade and prepared myself to perform Pushpanjali followed by Gam Ganapathe. As the orchestra began to play the first song, Natana poojai seyvom vareere, a rush of adrenaline hit me. I took a deep breath and let my legs gracefully lead me on to the stage. The first few steps were extremely intimidating, but my nerves soon calmed and I began to truly enjoy myself. Gam Ganapathe was followed by Misra Alarippu and I slowly felt my body begin to relax. The next item was Jaya Maruthi Kavithuvam, one of my personal favorites, describing the determination and most notable characteristics of Lord Hanuman. This was followed by a lilting Jathiswaram in ragam Atana. After a short musical interlude and an introduction to the piece, I started the most challenging item of the Arangetram repertoire, the Varnam. My varnam, Sakhiye indha jalam, depicted the heroine, (nayika) pining for Lord Vishnu; in the process of calling for him, she describes his many heroic traits. After a brief intermission, the second half of the event started with Chandra Chuda, a piece on Lord Shiva composed by Saint Purandaradasa. Next was a Krishna piece called Brindavanadolu and after that was a Kavadi Chindu in honor of Lord Muruga. Never, in the hundreds of times I had practiced these items, had they gone by so quickly. Before I knew it, it was time for the Thillana in ragam Hindolam. During my rehearsals, I usually felt exhausted and sore before Thillana, but on the Arangetram day, I could only feel exhilaration and pure joy. With every last bit of energy I could muster, I made it through the Thillana. The musicians continued playing right into the Mangalam and I walked back onto the stage, bowed deeply to Lord Nataraja, paid my respects to my guru, the musicians, and the audience. As the audience rose to applaud me, I stood at the center of the stage with my palms pressed tightly together, my legs wobbling, and smiling widely.

As I said in my thank you speech, I will forever be grateful to Jeyanthi aunty for all her tireless work in preparing me for my Arangetram. Even after telling me a million times to keep my elbows up or do my hastas properly, her patience and encouragement never wavered. I am also thankful to my parents, not only for planning and coordinating the whole event, but for their unconditional love and support. My parents have been supporting my love for dance for the past eight years and I really could not have done this without all their efforts. Another special thank you must be made to the wonderful orchestra, who came all the way from India to play their melodious music. Sri. Prasanth Parisini was the vocalist, who captured the audience with his silky voice. On the flute, was Sri. Surya Narayanan Krishna Iyer, who lifted everyone’s spirits with his soulful flute music. Sri. Muruganandhan Vaasudevan was the violinist, whose harmonious music brought stories to life. On the mridangam was Sri. Dhanamjayan Muthukrishnan, whose rhythmic beats were the musical backbone of the event. A special mention has to be made about Pranav Ghatraju, whose prodigious tabla playing enhanced all the dances in the second half of the show. Last but not least, Jeyanthi aunty herself did the Nattuvangam, and the sound of her cymbals kept me motivated and energized. It truly was an honor and a privilege to be able to work with all of them. All the musicians were very cooperative and poured their minds and hearts into making the event the best it could be. I am also thankful to all the Vision Aid girls and their families for all their help. Many of them did their Arangetrams in the previous weeks or are preparing for theirs in the following weeks; they were a true source of inspiration and support. I am truly glad that I had the opportunity to perform for the Vision Aid fundraiser production last year. Not only did I meet so many dedicated and passionate people, but it opened my eyes to being able to dance for a cause. Spending so much time perfecting every detail of the production gave me a taste of the determination needed to complete an Arangetram. My guru, family and I would be ever grateful to Sri Madurai R. Muralidaran, an eminent and renowned guru from Chennai, who graced the occasion with his poignant speech after the recital.

I can honestly say that my Arangetram was the most fulfilling experience of my life. Not only did I learn so much about my culture, I also learned many important life lessons. Through the lengthy and painful practices, I discovered the value of hard work, perseverance and discipline. Because I received so much help from the community, I decided to pass on all the gifts I received to the American Cancer Society in hopes of helping those suffering from cancer.

It has now been a little over two weeks since my Arangetram, and every time I glimpse at the extra program brochures or hear the jingle of my bells, I feel the nostalgia come back. It is during those times that I must remind myself, even though my Arangetram is over, my ascent as a dancer has just begun.

(Photo courtesy: Kannan Kathiresan. )

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