This book is a simple history of the life and dance art of Guru M. K. Saroja. “the unpretentious doyenne of Bharatanatyam”.(India Today, 25 Jan.,(1999).
Her over 70 years of dancing life is captured through thousands of photographs, of which 350 have been chosen to bring out the beauty of Bharatanatyam as it grew and flowers in the last century. It also shows how costumes, concepts and contexts evolved.
M. K. Saroja’s art of Bharatanatyam was a gift of her guru, Vidwan Muthukumaran pillai, who also trained Ram Gopal, Mrinalini Sarabhai, Nala Najan and was the first resident guru at Kalakshetra Darpana.
Guru M. K. Saroja remains the last exclusive exponent of her guru’s style when it was still a temple art. She is one of the most respect Bharatanatyam artistes of our times.
“For Guru Saroja, the debate about secular art and religious art is irrelevant. For her, Bharatanatyam is an article of faith in Divinity. It cannot be anything else.” (The Hindu 29 Dec., 2000).
Her third son, Ashish Khokar, reputed critic-historian and editor-publisher of attendance (India’s yearbook on dance) and EKAH BIOS, has put this book together, in her words as told to him. This book is timely as she has been awarded the Legends of India award.
Ashish Mohan Khokar has over 30 years of varied experience in arts education and cultural fields. A products of Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan, St. Stephens and The Hindu College, Delhi University, He is undertaking his Ph.D. in cultural Policy.
He served the Delhi State Akademi (1984-86); Festival of India in France (1985); Sweden (1986-87); Germany (1990) and Chain (1991) and INTACH (1989-91) under Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s chairmanship and Martand Singh.
He wrote as a columnist and critic for the Times of the (1990- 2000) in Delhi and Bangalore (2001-3) and had the longest –lasting cultural columns in First City, Life Positive and Spic Macay’s The Eye. He contributes columns to India Today and nathaki.com
He is on several boards and committees, both in India and abroad. He was nominated for a Princeton Fellowship and served as an intern at the Lincoln Centre, New York City. He received grants from Swedish Institute, the Ford Foundation; and the government of India. In his Generation, he is a reputed voice and commentator on Indian art, aesthetics, education, culture, heritage and history.
He has authored over 30 books and published biographies and attendance. A simple Google search helps established his outreach internationally. For a more detailed profile please see.
No journey can be as unpredictable and adventurous as that of a book. From the moment it sets out into the world to the point at which it is picked up by someone quite unknown to both the author and the others connected with the work, it creates a trail that, at the very least, leads to new experiences and opens magic casements of mystery, pointing at unidentifiable reactions, charting possibilities of exciting onward journeys, into other hands, other lands, other minds ...
This book on dancer-guru M.K. Saroja that you hold in your hands will do that for the reader, I believe. It is in a new genre, that of a bio-pic, created by author Ashish Mohan Khokar with the conviction that no other format will as well convey the directness, simplicity and bhakti, samarpan, of Guru Saroja's life. Whether she chose dance or dance chose her is a question that is easily settled by her account of how, the legendary Guru Muthukumaran Pillai came into her six-year-old life. E. Krishna Iyer, the celebrated dancer-activist-lawyer who played such a crucial role in the revival of Bharatanatyam, together with Pro! Sambamoorthy, teacher of dance at high school, would often drop in on her grandmother, Mahalakshmi Ammal an aesthete and a well off matriarch with whom her parents lived. One day E. Krishna Iyer brought the tall, statuesque and saintly guru to the home and it was agreed that henceforth he would teach Saroja and her sister Bharatanatyam. He stayed in their house, as was then the custom, got up at 3: 3 0 a. m., had his cold water bath, winter or summer, satin meditation and puja until 6 a.m. And then it was time to start the girls at their drill!
"What does a child of six want?" reminisces Saroja. "To play. " Of course. "And not learn an ancient art-form. " But her guru, "with his patience and love, treating us like two dolls he had adopted, made us love dance so much that it became our life. Yes, he was a rare guru and I was not only lucky but blessed". Muthukumaran Pillai had another love - photography. He took many a photograph of that period. And the picture of his in a typical standing Bharatanatyam stance, the arms stretched in perfect alignment, is part of the corpus of rare and beautiful pictures taken by Mohan Khokar that conspire with the text to create a rich visual imagery of an entire era.
This book will no doubt travel to far corners of the world, because that is where a galaxy of Guru Saroja's shishyas live. In the seven decades that have elapsed since her first dance lesson, the incredibly rich and complex life of this modest woman has touched many people. She was wife to scholar-archivist par excellance Mohan Khokar, mother to four sons, the third being her chronicler, Ashish, a sincere and caring guru to innumerable aspirants of this great art form. But above everything she was and remains a Krishna bhakta who chose to dance her way into His arms!
'Bharatanatyam Bhakta Guru M K. Saroja' is naturally and rightfully the premiere issue under the 'Gurus of Indian Dance Series' by Ashish Mohan Khokar. The fact remains that she is an inheritor of a great guru's tradition in Bharatanatyam. By Divine ordain, this inherited tradition got combined with the artistic, scholastic and socially vital status of her respected husband Shri Mohan Khokar. All these factors made the bond-diamond Saroja into a valuable jewel. With a god-given parentage of such a rare quality, it is understandable that Ashish Khokar has become a past-master in the field of artistic publications relating to dance. The present book is a visual treat and a delectable personal diary of a great lady, which unfolds interesting facts of the contemporary history of Bharatanatyam of the past seven decades. It is a fragrant bouquet of information relating to performances in India and abroad. It particularly highlights the Indian cultural awareness created in France through the discerning disciples of Sarojama from that country.
Smt. M. K. Saroja's dance, marked by her angasaushtava, extraordinary sense for tala and bhava, has been a boon of her ideal guru Muthukumaran Pillai. The modern world needs to know of such great masters and equally great sishyas, who have enjoyed the art as Divinity and the practice of it as worship. Guru-sishya relationship is perhaps the highest form of human bondage. This book radiates those values and is sure to revitalize such concepts. Though the book is a manifestation of an individual's life, it unfolds without any effort, what a pioneer Sarojama has been in more than one sense.
First professional dancer in the family.
First child dancer touring and performing abroad.
A rare dancer-cum-film actor.
Perhaps the first well-known Tamilian marrying a Punjabi.
One of the first women teachers to have serious students in and from abroad.
And above all, the book reveals her various facets such as a dutiful daughter, a sincere and loving life partner, a benign mother, and a playful grandmother and also a warm friend with no axe to grind.
Among her wide circle of friends, my family is also one and I still cherish to preserve dear Sarojama's letters to her Rakhi- brother, that is, my eldest brother Balakrishnan. There may be great artistes, but seldom do we come across evolved human beings who have the most coveted wealth of contentment. This book is an unobtrusive inspirer for the greater values that bhakti affords.
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