Enthralled by a Story Told in Classical Dance, Audience Pledges Support for Seva

The organizers of the AIM for Sewa fundraiser held last Friday night, October 4 before the event. From left: G.N. Prasad, Suma Mudan, Chandrashekar Ragunandan and Krishna Mudan. Photos: Jawahar Malhotra

The organizers of the AIM for Sewa fundraiser held last Friday night, October 4 before the event. From left: G.N. Prasad, Suma Mudan, Chandrashekar Ragunandan and Krishna Mudan.
Photos: Jawahar Malhotra

By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: For the second year in a row, the All India Movement for Seva, better known as AIM for Seva, has brought focus on its nationwide fundraising efforts through the exquisite story-telling technique of classical dance as choreographed by the young and talented Rukmini Vijayakumar. Last September, AIM-S presented Vijayakumar’s “Nayani” at the Stafford Civic Centre to rave reviews when the work the organization does was initially introduced to the community. This year, Vijayakumar’s dance company, Radha Kalpa, was again on a ten-city tour of the US to promote fundraising efforts, which have reportedly brought in $1 million nationwide.

The dancer and choreographer of the dance “Prabhavati”, Rukmini Vijayakumar  introduced the cast after the end of the performance.

The dancer and choreographer of the dance “Prabhavati”, Rukmini Vijayakumar introduced the cast after the end of the performance.

Audiences in Houston were able to catch the tale of “Prabhavati” performed on stage at the Berry Center in the far northwest corner of the city  last Friday, September 4 and show their appreciation for the work that the AIM-S organization is doing across India by donating over $130,000. In turn, they saw the latest production from Radha Kalpa, as it mixed elements of modern media and dance with the classical Bharatanatyam form to tell a tale in a 90-minute long program.

AIM-S is a charitable trust started in 2000 under the guidance of Swami Dayananda Saraswati to bring education and healthcare to rural India. The 83 year-old Swami, born as Natrajan and the eldest of four children, helped raise his younger brothers after the his father’s death. He went to a District School, later worked as a journalist and even aspired to become a fighter pilot in the Indian Air Force before renouncing everything to follow a life of religious pursuit. He became a disciple of Swami Chinmayananda and helped set up the Chinmaya Mission in Madurai. In 1962, he was given Sanyasa by Swami Chinmayananda and given the name by which he is universally known now.


Photo: Navin Mediwala

Swamiji went to the newly inaugurated Sandeepany Sadhanalaya of Chinmaya Mission in Bombay, and in 1971 developed a curriculum to unfold the vision of the Vedanta to students through a 30-month course. In 1979, his students asked him to establish a similar program at an ashram called Sandeepany West in Piercy, California, and later, in 1990 established the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania in 1986.

AIM-S was founded by Swamiji as an initiative of the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha, with the vision of working for the welfare of the less privileged people of India through a network of seva (service) and caring. Its singular concept to make education available to children in tribal and rural areas through a free student home or chatralaya has become a national movement in 15 Indian states that will open its 100th facility early next year in Lucknow. Along with these, AIM-S assists 18 educational and 270 evening tuition centers in over 2,500 villages, making an impact on 80,000 families.

In the Houston area, Krishna and Suma Mudan have thrown themselves tirelessly since last year into the effort to bring recognition to the AIM-S program and raise money for the student home project. The Mudans are three-year transplants to Houston from Pennsylvania, where Krishna worked as an executive at KPMG and Suma worked at DeLoitte. Beckoned by the warmer weather here, they retired and set up their own consulting business in Houston and also embarked on spreading the word of the AIM-S. Krishna has worked with AIM-S for 10 years and has been on the Board for three, and Suma, who has known Swamiji for 30 years, is the group’s General Counsel.

The Mudans have found equally energetic organizers in Chandrashekar Ragunandan (known as “CR”) and G. N. Prasad, both of whom, along with their families and friends, pulled together this year’s fundraiser last Friday. Every seat in the 500-seat auditorium at the Berry Center was sold and it was close to full to see the performance of “Prabhavati”.

The drama envisioned by Vijayakumar is adapted from a 16th century Telegu novel based on a story from the Mahabharat about a beautiful princess born and raised by the powerful asura (referring to demons) king Vajranabha. She is different from her clan, disapproving of their asuraic ways and turns down many suitors. One night Parvati Devi appears and hands her a painting of a man she foretells she will marry. Prabhavati falls in love with the painting of the handsome man, who happens to be the son, Pradyumna, of Lord Krishna. Vajranabha, through extreme penance is rewarded by Brahma by making his city impenetrable, and attacks Indra, the king of Gods, who in turn seeks help from Krishna.  Krishna sends Pradyumna to marry Prabhavati and the defeat of Vajranabha is inevitable.

Vijayakumar, with her chiseled, pretty features and lithe body is excellent in the role of Prabhavati, showing her skill as both a Bharatanatyam artiste and also an adept exponent of Western ballet (she graduated from the Boston Conservatory) and modern dance. She is also a model and actress, having acted in a Tamil and a Hindi movie. She uses all these skills to bring Prabhavati to life and is very well supported by the other members of the Radha Kalpa dance company as they enacted the seven-act play.

The performance began with a short speech by Krishna who acted as the emcee, followed by a melodious invocation by a teenage Lekha Yesantharao, exhibiting marvelous range and control in the vocals. A short video in English on AIM-S by Swamiji (who just celebrated his 83rd birthday) was followed by an explanation and statistics by Krishna why the AIM-S program worked. A follow-up video showed a testimonial from a young woman who was helped by AIM-S and received her PhD and later became a research scholar. The evening closed out with Vijayakumar (her parents were in the audience too) introducing the cast and then a concluding video on AIM-S featuring the organization’s anthem, for which the audience was asked to stand.