In tune with the universe


Thanks to Jigyasa Giri, the Chennai-based Devaniya Dance School has imbibed and fused seamlessly the northern ethos of Kathak in all its intricate glory into the ‘culture of Madras’. What began as a humble journey in 2009 with just five students is today recognized as cross-cultural synergy that thrives on a committed campaign to draw more seekers, says Rashmi Oberoi.

When you love what you do, this can only be counted and seen as a blessing! It sparks interest and develops skills that help to contribute to something beyond yourself. Welcome to the Devaniya Dance School, Chennai whose vision of enjoying the process of learning rather than being just performance-oriented encapsulates Jigyasa Giri, who is not only revered in Chennai but well-known globally. She is someone who has followed a passion that intermingles with a career…one that ‘overfloweth’ with joy…and this resonates through Jigyasa’s voice when you speak to her.

Jigyasa founded Devaniya, a Dakshin Gharana of Kathak in Chennai in November 2009. A Kathak dancer, teacher and choreographer, Jigyasa also designs and styles all the costumes and jewellery herself. She previously taught at Bangkok and Mumbai and has been teaching in Chennai since 2001.

A uniquely curated grain of Kathak

Kathak is one of the eight classical Indian dance forms and while it is native to North India, Jigyasa has done wonders in bringing this dance form to the South, weaving it into the culture of Madras as we know it. She has been exceptional in keeping with the strong teaching tradition and cultural vibrancy, as well as its goal to push the boundaries of Kathak dance. It interlaces the fine art of storytelling, constructed through music, text, costumes and vocals.

Love speaks to each one of us in myriad ways. Every person’s journey through expectations, wishes, dreams, desires are unique on the path of seeking love in all its forms. Jigyasa means the curious one…a desire to know things and a keenness to share, and so Jigyasa has lived up to her name. The journey of over a decade now, spins its magic, slowly and caressingly in the form of a differently curated grain of Kathak.

Devaniya began its modest journey in 2009 with just five students and over the years, Jigyasa’s magical touch, her fearless energy and omnipresent aura radiating through herself and her teachers has drawn in over 500 students (predominantly girls). While she was initiated into the world of classical dancing as a child, all thanks to her mother, Jigyasa`s love for the subject rose many years later. Her Gurus through her growing years passed on their trust, awakening in her the awareness that she was indeed bestowed with the elixir of life to teach. The undying support of her two senior teachers Swetha Sunderarajan and Shankari Srinivas, who have Kathak flowing through their veins and flawlessly recite the syllables (bols) have been Jigyasa’s backbone.

Jigyasa ignited the thirst to pass on her learnings to others – through grace, rhythm, energy and dance. The spirit of Devaniya evokes the feeling of oneness. There is only positivity that radiates here – sacred, divine and harmonious to our universe. This is where Jigyasa’s students dance to the earth’s tunes and lead them to light with expressions that manifest into love that is omnipresent.

Kathak performance by Devaniya Dance School, Chennai which has
evolved a new dance style by blending the North-South artistic ideologies

Best of both worlds

The style of Dakshin Gharana of Kathak is the best of both worlds…gentle yet strong, fierce yet serene. There is a subtlety in this dance form…the tune, synchronised movements and flow softly mesmerises and enchants you. “When you are in tune with the universe, your dance movements express it,” says Jigyasa. You move from the seeker, dancer and teacher into a perfect balance of all three worlds.

Jigyasa has been recognised by the ‘Guild of Women Achievers’ for bringing about a cross-cultural synergy in the field of dance and has trained under the tutelage of Late Guru Natyashri Krishna Kumar Dharwar in the Banaras Gharana. She has also trained under Guru Dr. Maya Rao, Director, Natya Institute of Kathak & Choreography, Bangalore. In her 10th year, through Jigyasa’s constant dedication, perseverance and innovation, Devaniya has been officially certified as the founder school of the Dakshin Gharana of Kathak and by doing so has added a new page in the history of Kathak.

Devaniya bespeaks a story of survival, success, synergy and gracious merging of a city and its inhabitants. That wondrous journey of sensitively and artistically adapting geography, climate, language and people and weaving it into a Northern dance form. Devaniya has a different style and ethos and over the years, the art form has been evolving. Hard work and perseverance with a dash of flak have been instrumental in its growth. A deep sensitivity towards the blending of North-South artistic ideologies and subtleties is a large part of the Devaniya philosophy and its commitment to cross-cultural synergy that signifies India.

Devaniya Artist Fund

In honour of artists, specifically Indian folk and classical, Devaniya has recently launched the Devaniya Artist Fund and invites responsible social organisations such as the Rotary, and other corporate bodies to contribute generously to the fund. This fund has a two-fold agenda – One is to help Devaniya, as a unique platform of dance in Chennai, to expand its outreach across the large spectrum of seekers of the art; while the other is to extend that same support to rural/folk artists who more often than not require funding to showcase their traditional talent and ultimately earn for their art.

As you get deeper into conversation with Jigyasa, you learn that she has also co-authored two cookbooks with her friend, Pratibha Jain, which document traditional wisdom of India. Their first book Cooking at Home with Pedatha won the Best Vegetarian Cookbook in the World, 2006. In December 2008, they published their second cookbook based on Ayurvedic insights titled Sukham Ayu which won the second place for Best Health & Nutrition Cookbook in the World, 2009. She is also a trustee & resource facilitator of Satya Surabhi Trust which runs a school in Kodaikanal called My School Satya Surabhi. This school provides quality and value-based education and nutritious noon meals to its students who are primarily the children of the farm labourers and small vendors of Attuvampatti. Her family, her inspiration

Coming from a family of reputed doctors, both parents and sister, Jigyasa carved a niche for herself in the world of dance. She says, “My mother is nothing short of a genius balancing between a gynaecologist-obstetrician and psychiatrist-hypnotherapist. My father still practices at 88 and is revered by his patients.” Jigyasa’s daughter has followed her mother’s footsteps and performs whenever she can take time off from her corporate life. Jigyasa is married to hotelier and hospitality business strategist V.V. Giri, grandson of India’s former President, Bharat Ratna Dr. V.V. Giri. She is the daughter-in-law of late Bhaskar Giri, a doting father figure to her for as long as he lived, and Dr. Mohini Giri, former Chairperson, National Commission for Women & Honorary Chairperson, Guild for service, North India. Dr. Mohini Giri is India’s leading Women’s and Widow’s Rights activist. Her family has been a constant source of inspiration and encouragement to Jigyasa.

Over the past few months, Devaniya has glided into online virtual classes due to the pandemic hit. The new normal has been an interesting journey – different but a great learning. What has been remarkable is that many of their old students who had to discontinue due to leaving the city or country are back for the online classes. That re-connection had been wonderful. Jigyasa has recently started a blog called ‘The Cosmic Whispers’ – her own private space where she unfolds her thoughts in the form of prose or poetry. Devaniya enriches lives, using Kathak as a canvas full of dreams for creativity, positivity and being one with self and the audience. Devaniya thus, is truly one of a kind – a symphony of rhythm and effervescing happiness without boundaries.

Rashmi Oberoi

Rashmi Oberoi, an army officer`s daughter is passionate about writing and has authored two story books for children – My Friends At Sonnenshine and Cherie:The Cocker Spaniel.