|Fr. Saju George, S.J.|
This ‘Dancing Jesuit’ priest, a native of Peruva, Kottayam, is in the city to give a Bharatanatyam performance on Saturday as part of the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the Kerala Jesuits. With over two decades of experience and hundreds of performances to his credit, mostly in Europe and the US, Fr Saju is more than happy with the acknowledgement he has garnered over the years.
“I have got positive responses from most quarters. You can say, I have survived...!,” he says, breaking into a smile, obviously hinting at the criticisms hurled at him when he had started off. The tag Christian, that too a priest, has given him enough tough times. With his dance retreats - where he explains the essence of Indian dance, its variations, the spirituality incorporated in them, its aesthetics, the Natyashastra, the ‘bhavas’, ‘ragas’ et al through demonstrations and lectures - Fr Saju has gone through enough and more opposition.
“I conduct the retreats for groups. I incorporate yoga and spirituality in the sessions. And certain groups don’t welcome them. I have faced stiff opposition from certain orthodox sects, some churches...,” he pauses, hinting he would rather talk about the positive side of his journey so far.
He has a mission to fulfill. “Take the Indian art - the traditional dance, theatre, music - the world over, especially to those who can’t afford,” he says. Coming to the first part of it, he has performed over 150 times outside India. “I make each performance an interactive one.” He talks more from his PhD thesis on the concept of Nataraja based mainly on the text ‘Thirumandiram’, which explains the Dancing God concept, ie Shiva as dancer, and connect it with Bible. “I touch upon Christian theology and philosophy and ask for suggestions from the audience.” Talking about the second part, ie taking dance to those who can’t afford to learn it, he is doing that through ‘Kalahrudaya’, which is coming up as a universal home of art and culture. “It would cater to the young people, less privileged ones in society who are interested in art forms. We’ve got the land, some seven acres, away from Kolkata city, and it would start functioning in full swing in a year or so. I am envisaging something on the lines of Kalakshetra or Kalamandalam,” he says. He is also running ‘Shanti Nir’ (Nir means nest of peace) of the Calcutta Jesuit Province which offers care and support to needy children and also help with low-cost housing, self employment and medical help.On the whole, Fr Saju wants to blend dance and social work. “My priority is to show the world that an artist can be a social activist too. I want to cater to the real needs of poor. Next month, I am going to Japan for a fund-raising programme for the tsunami-affected people,” he says. He had that liking for art forms right from childhood and got fascinated by dance when he saw his sister learning it. Side by side, he also got that call from inside to indulge in missionary activities. Fr Saju left Kerala, in 1985 for Kolkata, to join the Society of Jesus, after his Plus-II.He did his MA in dance from Kolkata, had his ‘arangettam’ in 1996, came down to Chennai to study philosophy, during which he learnt Kuchipudi under Vempati Chinna Satyam. Simultaneously, he got to learn Bharatanatyam, the Kalakshethra style, and soon realised that the latter suited him.
“I am at home with Bharatanatyam,” he says. He emphasises one point. “I have been very conscious about not being labelled ‘effeminate’. I stress that a male dancer should dance like a male, except for those portions which need feminine postures from him. I even tell my students about this,” he says.
Fr Saju, 44, fondly remembers people like C V Chandrasekhar, Leela Samson, Kalanidhi Narayanan and Priyadarshini Govind who have encouraged him throughout. He is currently the research adviser at the Kalai Kaveri College of Fine Arts, Thiruchirappalli.
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