Odissi dancer, Jaya Mehta tells us how and why dance, music and yoga is an important aspect of Indian culture and history

I met Jaya Mehta at Zorba the Buddha in New Delhi during their Tattva Festival which brings so many wonderful, cheerful and lively people together in celebration of this very life. Many places and events theoretically aim to achieve the same but it quite remains in the philosophy.  Zorba the Buddha could actually transform that philosophy into spirit. The celebration, the love, the laughter very much infects the air and the people who unconsciously (without being aware of it) or “consciously” (through their evolved consciousness) affect the air are people like Jaya Mehta, through their participation and presence.

Jaya Mehta is an Odissi dancer with a rich background in Indian art. She has a BFA in Painting from College of Arts, New Delhi; and a Masters in ancient Indian history from JNU. Jaya Mehta is a dancer who illustrates the entire panorama of Indian art in her dance recitals. Her performances are marked by sculptural lines, natural movement, painterly expression and an immensely devotional character. In her dance-demonstrations, she vibrantly brings together storytelling and Indian arts through Indian classical dance.

She presents the award-winning Odissi style of Guru Surendra Nath Jena, which she has imbibed from her Guru Pratibha Jena Singh. She also teaches this Odissi style at her dance school, ‘Odissi Kalaa Ashram’, in New Delhi.

A background in fine art, studies in Ancient Indian History and a practise in Indian Classical dance-form, Odissi! Its tempting to know from a person like that what her views are about the culture and tradition of this country.

Here are few answers from her explorations and excavations, she has agreed to leave for us to have an insight into the treasures of Indian culture and history:

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With your background being rooted in Indian art and culture, what aspect of this culture fascinates you the most?

The depth of understanding of the inner awareness of the self is the most fascinating part of Indian culture.

All ancient Indian spiritual practices, from yoga and meditation, to classical dance and music, were not physical exercises or art forms. They were instead tools to integrate the body, mind and spirit.

Over long term they were meant to introduce in the individual a powerful space of integration of the left and the right side of the brain, as well as awaken his connection to the entire universe.

In this modern age, when the countries are moving towards globalization, why do you think it is important to create an awareness of the ancient past?

Today psychologists are researching on the brain, and India already has powerful tools like yoga, classical dance, classical music and meditation, to integrate the individual. Depending on the individual, one can choose a practice that suits them, to achieve powerful integration and well being. Technology connects and enables, but also disintegrates the individual. Those are its challenges worldwide.

Indian culture has a lot to offer, to achieve this centered-ness of the self and what people now call mindfulness.

How and when did you start developing interest in this subject?

I found my ideas develop more after the birth of my two children, Revant and Ananya. My creative energy was enhanced by motherhood and I started to see the world deeply like a child. I also realised that we are all light and energy, and the whole point of dance is sharing.

What are you trying to achieve through your work? What are your goals?

I don’t have any goal, as life is full of creative energy, flow and surprises! It is futile to try and achieve or make any goal.
I do have the belief though, that I need to share Indian dance as a beautiful spiritual practice of integration and for the future generations.

What has your experience in this journey been like?

My experiences unfold like a magical journey, when I look back at the past five years. I am amazed at the performances, lecture-demonstrations and workshops I created on various topics. A book on Indian dance stories for children has also taken birth! I marvel at the birth of all my work. Quite frankly, I wonder where it comes from. I feel like an instrument of the divine and feel the immense love of being inside its heart.

How are you planning your next steps?

My next steps are to be more deeply aware of the energy and light that I am, be one with the universe and experience this life with a lightness of being. I will try to share my insights on dance, with my students, young people and adults, from across the world who want beautiful tools of self-integration.

While dealing with the subject of Indian art and culture both inside and outside India, what challenges do you face?

In India itself, many modern people are like foreign nationals. While living here they don’t know much about Indian painting, music or dance.
Many foreign nationals can be hugely passionate and interested instead, in India’s rich art and culture. They are actively seeking tools of self-integration.
So, largely… challenges are of industrialization and economic development at the cost of leaving traditions and culture.

When you look into ancient India, what aspect do you find missing in the India today?

Ancient culture in India was flooded with poetry, music and dance. Art was vibrant in the lives of the people and technology was no substitute for the rasas of Indian art forms. In ancient times, vidya or knowledge was not only academic knowledge, but vidyas of yoga, music and dance, which enabled one to live like a yogi within the family life.

These have become ‘extra-curricular’ and ‘hobby’ subjects. It looks like we cannot see the jewels and treasures in our lap, and are looking everywhere else.

Could you share an incident or a moment from your life that created an impact in your work?

When I was 20, I understood at the Khajuraho dance festival, that sculptures were movements in dance, and that dance was frozen in sculpture. I could not stop the sculptures in my body from dancing.

So, gradually I left all my talents and jobs to only dance. I knew not what would come of it, but Odissi held my hand and I came to my Guru Pratibha Jena Singh. She guided me beautifully, and I imbibed a very rich, powerful form of Odissi of the Guru Surendra Nath Jena style. It is an encyclopaedia of Indian art and beautifully illustrates Indian visual arts, sculpture, poetry, drama and music. I could not have asked for more and life grew powerfully from there.

Who or what are your sources of inspiration?

I am inspired by my grandfather DR. B. M. Pal, who was a man larger than life, connecting many art forms for me as a child.
I am inspired by my grandfather Mr. J. K. Chatterjee, who helped set up many girls schools and small scale cooperative societies in Bengal.
I am inspired by my grandmother Indumati Chatterjee, who was a woman with no education, but a passion to travel, see the world and a sharp, independent mind.
I am inspired by my friend Moitreyee, who is an artiste and mother who lives in the US, but continues to do an MA in counselling, seeking education for herself all her life.

My idol though remains lord Hanuman. He symbolises my ideal, having infinite potential and power, while having no ego, and motivated by a strong need to serve. Expansion, wind-like force and deep love, that’s his beauty!

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Jaya Mehta has also written articles on Indian art and culture for leading Indian newspapers like the Times of India and the Hindustan Times. She is currently working on fiction for children about Indian Classical dance and conducts many workshops to encourage people to understand India and its heritage.

Links:
Website
Facebook
Blog

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One thought on “Odissi dancer, Jaya Mehta tells us how and why dance, music and yoga is an important aspect of Indian culture and history

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  1. Jaya is incredible, and so are her workshops. I hope readers of this column get to enjoy the privilege of her presence in their environment. My child was visiting from the US when she took Jaya’s workshop. The light that she ignited, still remains after 5 years.

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