In Panaiyur, a village on Tamil Nadu’s East Coast Road, about 40 minutes from Mahabalipuram, on one-and-a-half acres of land, surrounded by mango trees, dotted with water bodies and echoing with the sounds of birds chirping, an artistic space has come up.
Sakhi, a labour of love and a dream project of Chennai-based Bharatanatyam duo Shijith Nambiar and Parvathy Menon, is finally gearing up to open its doors with a nine-day festival, ‘Jyotsna’, curated by the dancer-couple.
Shijith and Parvathy believe the project arrives at the right time in their lives. “A space like Sakhi,” says Shijith, “is the need of the hour. Learning and practising the performing arts help in the holistic development of society. As performers, we carry the responsibility to not merely engage with and entertain audiences but also to reshape mindsets.”
Sakhi began as an act of seeking, a search for a space that had the potential to blossom into a centre for learning, sharing, showcasing, and teaching of the arts. In 2016, while driving along the ECR, Shijith happened to see this village. “We knew we had found what we were looking for,” Parvathy adds, “but with an active performance career, we couldn’t set aside time for the project.”
Opening new avenues
During the pandemic, when the world shut down, the duo decided to give all their attention and time to Sakhi. In the context of the classical arts, Bharatanatyam in particular, sakhi refers to a friend, confidante and guide. “This Sakhi means the same to us. It has strengthened our bond with the art and with our inner self. When the project drew to completion, we realised how exciting it is to share our vision with a larger community,” says Shijith.
Panaiyur, the village where Sakhi is located, has more than a geographical significance of being away from the crowd and concrete jungle. “We didn’t want this space to function in isolation. We were keen to make it a part of the community here. During our visits over the last three years, we have enjoyed teaching simple movements and hasthas to the children in the village, who seem to be curious to know about this art form,” says Parvathy.
Sakhi has been created under the umbrella of the Chidagni Foundation, a not-for-profit initiative by the duo that focuses on rural education and taking the arts to those who either don’t have access to it or cannot afford learning it.
Apart from the architectural style of Kerala, Tamil Nadu’s history and heritage too have inspired in the making of Sakhi. “Though it is not easy to wear multiple hats as organiser, administrator and curator, it doesn’t seem daunting if you love what you do,” says the duo.
Formidable line up
In its opening act, Sakhi will host ‘Jyotsna’, which begins on October 15. It will continue through Navaratri. The line up of artistes includes Malavika Sarukkai, Jayanthi Kumaresh, T.M. Krishna, Parvathy Baul, Kapila Venu, Leela Samson, R.K. Shriramkumar and students and O.S. Arun. “We’ve been following their art for many years now and believe that they are all unique in their own ways.”
As a residential space with accommodation facilities for guests, Sakhi has plans aplenty — to become a cultural hub of sorts where artistes and those seeking the arts can find a sense of quiet and be in communion with themselves and nature. “We want the space to grow in an organic manner,” says Parvathy, “let’s just say for now we have found a friend for life.”
13fr_Shijith and Parvathy
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