Sisters Anoushka, Ananya Gokhale Show Tremendous Poise, Symmetry in Their Bharatnatyam Arrangetram

Photos: Navin Mediwala

Photos: Navin Mediwala

By Pradeep Gokhale

CLEAR LAKE: The Clear Lake campus of the University of Houston is a peaceful setting; it was especially so in the late afternoon following the rainfall last Saturday, August 5. The air was sullen and humid but the green lush lawns along the banks of the bayou brought out the deer and its fawn to graze by the roadside. Though quite a trek from the city’s predominant Indian community on the city’s west side, close to 400 people made the journey to witness what was a marvelous Bharatnatyam dance arrangetram by the two sisters Anoushka and Ananya Gokhale.


And they performed in the aptly named Bayou Theater in the Bayou Building. Amidst the flags hung from the second floor handrails of the many countries where the university students hail from, large easel-mounted posters of each dancer adorned a stage set up in the landscaped first floor foyer. Hung along the mid-landing of the stairs was a giant canvas of a colorful Ganesh and below it a large bronze Natraj, adorned with a white flower garland. Snacks and tea (by Annam Indian bistro, which also catered the dinner after the program) was setup in the area just outside the second floor entrance to the auditorium and on a side table were program souvenirs and a photo album of the girls performance setup.

Inside the Bayou Theater, on a dais set on one side sat the talented artistes who accompanied the dancers – Shraddha Mohan and Srisanvitha Sridhar on vocals, N.K. Kesavan on Mridangam and B. Muthukumar on the flute – and keeping taal and the cymbal was Dr. Rathna Kumar, – known to her students as Rathna Aunty – the Executive Director of the Anjali Center for Performing Arts.


Anoushka, 18, and Ananya, 16, have studied under Rathna’s guidance and their other guru Venugopal Joysula since 2007 and have performed at numerous festivals and cultural events over the years, in and around Houston. Anoushka will be attending the University of Houston, majoring in Biomedical sciences, while Ananya will be a junior at Hightower High School Medical Academy.

Bharatanatyam is one of the oldest forms of Indian classical dance that originated in the temples of the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. This form of dance is known for its grace, purity, tenderness, expression and sculpturesque poses.  Lord Shiva is considered the God of this dance form which has origins believed to be about 3,000 years old.

The Tamil word arangetram means ascending the stage by a dancer on the completion of formal training. To perform an arangetram is an old tradition, which marks the pathway for a dancer to then perform alone or be able to give training to other aspiring dancers of the art. Once a dancer has completed training he or she should have an understanding of classical music and the many aspects of dancing.

The audience was guided through the Performance by a descriptive narration of the meanings of each dance by one of Rathna Kumar’s youngest disciples to complete an arangetram, Samyukta Hari. The emcee for the evening was Dr. Rupa Iyer, Associate Dean of the College of Technology, University of Houston. Lighting was conducted by Seetha Ratnakar, Rathna’s sister and event photography by Navin Mediwala while videography was by Murali Santnam.  

Anoushka and Ananya began their set of seven dances by seeking the blessings of the God of auspicious beginnings, Lord Ganesha, at a small altar by the podium.  They opened with a duet by standing onstage, Ananya lined behind Anoushka with her hands posed out front like a Goddess with four hands giving blessings. This was followed by the solo by Anoushka, “Jatiswaram” which are “Jatis” or dance sequences set to varying lines of musical notes or “swaras” and later the solo “Jaya Durge”, a representation of Mother Goddess “Durga”, by Ananya.

Anoushka and Ananya presented the long 45-minute duet “Varnam” the highlight of the evening, to the lyrical composition of the most important episodes from the Ramayan as often portrayed in the Ram Leela. Other dances performed by Anoushka and Ananya included “Vrindavani Venu” in honor of Lord Krishna and “Shankar Srigirinadha” to honor the Lord of Dance, Shiva Nataraja. The recital rose to a crescendo and ended on an exciting note with a vibrant duet dance known as “Tillana” replete with complex footwork patterns.

Midway through the second half, after the intermission, Anoushka and Ananya were presented with a Certificate of Graduation by their Guru Rathna Kumar. Their friends; grandparents Ashok and Surekha Gokhale who arrived from India for the program, and parents, Madhavi and Pradeep spoke about their accomplishments and years of dedication under the guidance of their Guru. After the program, Anoushka and Ananya posed for pictures with the guests who stayed on for a buffet dinner in the first floor banquet hall.

A special thank you to friends from Sienna Plantation and Riverstone without whom this would not have been possible!

Jawahar Malhotra contributed to this report