In the remote town of Petrozavodsk of the North-West of Russia, Indian cinema made a lasting impression on the mind of three year old Vera Evgrafova. Her parents took her to the cinema theatre to watch a Hindu movie dubbed in Russian. She recalls the music and the ‘high-pitched piping voice of the singer with a sense of lasting happiness.
At the age of 10 she saw the film “Geet Gaaya Pattharon Ne”, which released in the USSR in the middle of 60’s, and opened up the world of Indian Dance to her. “Its impressive direction, artistic shooting of samples of Indian architecture, fabulous music, beauty of the main characters and dance items performed by the leading actress (Rajashri Shantaram) – all this inspired me to dance in the blink of an eye. I could feel the dawn of tremendous energy inside; it has kept me going till now. This energy makes me dance and create more and more new dance items”.
She would travel regularly to different cities of the USSR to buy some new records for her own collection, displayed at the trade fairs of Indian art and craft. At the age of 15 she decided that she was ready enough to perform in front of the audience, so took part in a dance contest held in Petrozavodsk. She won the first prize. After graduating from school she headed to Moscow where she enrolled to the historical and archival department of Moscow State Historical and Archival Institute (now Russian State University for the Humanities), but studies were not the only reason for leaving. A lot of world festivals were held in the capital of the USSR, besides, it was much easier to find someone who could teach her Indian Dance there. And she got the opportunity – under the guidance of Mrs. Das Gupta Vera learned the basics of two Indian classical dance styles – Kathak and Bharatnatyam.
Video Ghoomar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?
Since then she says she has realised that she is a person who needs Indian music to be happy and Indian cinematography has become the object of her focused attention. In 1987 Vera Evgrafova, founded Mayuri an Indian dance group. They amazed the citizens of the Karelian capital with their exotic costumes, unusual music and impressive grace and have been winning their hearts ever since.
The repertoire of the ensemble consists of more than 200 dances, various in style, themes and musical arrangement. These are both mass items (with 10 and more performers) and items presented by a fewer performers. There are pop-shows here, where modern rhythms are combined with the intricacy of the East melodies, as well as bright folk dances with their playfulness and simplicity in every movement. The ancient cultural legacy of India is also represented in the programs of the dance group: the majestic Bharatanatyam with its sculpture like poses and incredibly difficult rhythmic combinations and the light and graceful Kathak seems to enchant audiences looking to dance to answer questions of philosophy in the art of dance.
Vera says “legends and myths, which are the base of classical Indian dances, represent the worldview of an ancient people and their search for the meaning of life, and the unusual manner of singing seems to stop the rapid march of time and induces contemplation and reconciliation.”
The main activity of Mayuri Group has been promoting Indian culture in the cold region of Karelia through teaching and performing Indian Dance. Apart from this Mayuri activities include dance choreography, Hindi lessons, learning Indian music, playing musical instruments, sewing costumes for dance, giving lectures on Indian mythology and culture, translating best Indian movies as well as Indian TV serials. Besides these, Mayuri also organizes different types of demonstrations such as fashion shows, demonstrating different types of Indian costumes, slideshows, and shows for charitable institutions and special lectures for children.
In an interview with CSP, Vera talks about her interest in Indian dance.
Please let me know how your interest in India started?
My interest in Indian culture arose in my earliest childhood, at the age of about 3, when I first heard Indian music and burst into tears as I felt like it was my own.
I began to collect whatever literature about India, that I could find, didn't miss a single film, a single program about culture and art of India. As a result of many years of collecting, there is a large books/video/music library that Mayuri members use. I established Mayuri Indian Dance Group in 1987 in Petrozavodsk city, Republic of Karelia, Russia.
What aspects of Indian culture do you find interesting?
I am interested in many aspects of Indian culture: dance, singing, music, cinema, architecture, mythology, philosophy, yoga, history, nationalities, nature.
Is there interest in Indian culture in Russia?
There is great interest in Indian culture in Russia. There are several hundred Indian dance groups throughout the country. Moreover, people are interested not only in Bollywood art, but also in ancient classical dances. Contests and festivals of Indian dance are held quite regularly in different cities in Russia, their organization is mostly based on enthusiasm and love for Indian culture.
Is there a connect between Vedic India and ancient Russian history.
A very strong connection between India and Russia can be seen in our languages: Sanskrit and Russian. In my opinion, our countries have a similar mentality.
What aspects of Indian dance attracts non Indians?
Non-Indians are attracted by exotic clothing, beautiful jewelry, dance, music, cinema.
Do you visit India frequently ?
Since 1977, I've been to India for 10 times, and in various parts of the country, both in the south and in the north, in the west and in the east. I also went on tour and with my team, took part in festivals in Agra, Kerala, and more recently in 2018 at Gita Mahotsav at Kurukshetra and Harmony Festivals in Kolkata and Agartala.
We also traveled to India to study Indian classical dance styles, such as Bharatanatyam, Kathak - through ICCR, and later took lessons from teachers of Kuchipudi, Mohiniattam, Kuravanji at the south of India.
Are youngsters interested in Indian culture?
Those who study with us are very interested, and this is about 200 people. There used to be even more, as Russian government had been supporting additional education: a section of pedagogy, which includes classes with children on dancing, music, sewing, playing music instruments, choral singing... Unfortunately additional education is no longer at that level. Luckily we have got a support from JNCC (Jawaharlal Nehru Cultural Centre - Embassy of India, at Moscow, Russia) for these last two years. This gave us an opportunity to participate in festivals and other events of Indian culture held in Russia.
(Pictures courtesy Mayuri Dance company)