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Honoring Lilavati Naik (Part 1)

Updated: Feb 28, 2023

(This is the first part of a 2-part blog post on how I have chosen to honor my grandmothers through my work as a kathak artist)


In Fall 2014, I was speaking to Guruji about my gandabandhan - a ceremony that formalizes the profound relationship between guru and shishya or disciple and initiates the shishya into the tradition and lineage. My gandabandhan was to be held on Saraswati Puja - January 25th, 2015. I spoke with him at length about my desire to honor three women at the ceremony - my grandmothers Smt. Lilavati Naik and Smt. Rukhmani Mehta and his mother Smt. Nilima Das. Guruji passed away suddenly on Jan 4th, 2015, just 21 days before the ceremony. Although the ceremony never happened, my desire to honor and memorialize these three women through my work has stayed with me. In some ways it feels like doing so stands as the ceremony itself.


My dance company, Leela Dance Collective, bears my maternal grandmother’s name. I was blessed to have spent many of my early years with her. She possessed an enduring strength and steadiness, along with a warmth that nourished everyone around her. At a time when many women were not able to, she stood simply and quite elegantly in her truth and in her being. She raised her daughters and granddaughters alike to be whole and beautiful in the world.

Many people ask me about the meaning of Leela. Quite honestly, it's a hard word and concept to translate. According to Indian philosophical thought Leela is a way of describing all of reality as the outcome of divine play.


I like to refer to a quote by Sri Aurobindo when I think about it: "Lila is a purpose-less purpose, a natural outflow, a spontaneous self manifestation of the Divine." As I understand it, this Divine does not exist outside of us but rather within us as the very source of life. Leela is a creative energy and outflow - natural, spontaneous and playful. All of reality is Leela and all of reality is in its essence, creative.


My Guruji was the embodiment of Leela. He was naturally creative and generative. He didn't teach us to dance so much as he taught us to pursue our own true nature. This true nature he would tell us is divine, connected to life, and generative. From this place the dance and everything else will flow as it is meant to.


My grandmother too embodied her given name. She was at peace in her own being. From this place of peace, an energy flowed through her that was life-giving. Her creative endeavor was her family. She molded and shaped it every day with love, warmth, strength and understanding.


Leela is my north star. With my Guruji and my grandmother's examples in mind, it is what I strive towards in my practice, teaching and performance. My hope is that Leela Dance Collective is a place and vehicle through which we can all find within us that ever-creative, nourishing source of life.



Photo Above: My maternal grandmother, Lilavati Naik, with me at the age of four.








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