Nrityagram – The Dance Village

Nrityagram sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Vasantahabba – you know what that is, for sure! So, now you can recollect what Nrityagram is – the force behind Vasantahabba; a ‘dance’ village you may have driven down to, 35 kms from Bangalore. But is that all there is to Nrityagram? Some may vaguely associate Nrityagram with a famous name, Protima Bedi.


  • Did you know that Nrityagram has been in existence, tucked away in that small, sleepy village of Hessaraghatta, for over 13 years now?
  • Did you know that the passion, tenacity, courage and zest of Protima Gauri Bedi conjured this place up out of mud and stones?
    • A place (in her words) where nothing exists, except dance.
    • A place where you breathe, eat, sleep, dream, talk, imagine dance.
  • Did you know that today the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble mesmerizes audiences all over the world with its artistry, energy, technique and beauty?

With the belief that ‘When you know what you want, the entire universe conspires with you, to realize it’, Protima Gauri Bedi came down, with just a vision and a dream, to a barren piece of land (the late Ramakrishna Hegde, the then Chief Minister of Karnataka, responding positively to her request for land). Starting with rocks, scorpions and snakes for company, facing criticism from many, and braving all odds, she put her heart, soul and body into creating this unique dance village – the only one of its kind in the world that envisages under one roof, seven gurukuls or schools of dance (Odissi, Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kathakali, Kuchipudi, Manipuri and Mohiniattam).

Protima Bedi Gauri (Founder, Nrityagram)

1989, Dumping my few personal belongings into my red Maruti car I drove from Bombay to Hessaraghatta. The land was dry and barren, infested with snakes and scorpions. I remember standing in the middle of nowhere and wondering how and where to start.

Nrityagram had its own longings, its own dictates… I was a mere tool, ready and able to do its bidding.

I was not the guru. I was the slave. I was working with my hands — planting trees, digging the earth, typing, collecting the money. I gave up my dance.

She created her dance school like a one-woman army, badgering ministers and battling panchayats, fighting forest fires and dacoits, beating down the doors of donors for money, finding students, collaborating with architect Gerard da Cunha to pile stone upon stone and, yet, successfully managing to coax the greatest masters of Indian dance to come and teach there.

Living in Switzerland. I was dancing all over the world but I started feeling this emptiness inside. I was not a brilliant dancer at all. But my packaging was great. You know, I have been a hippie all my life. And the dreams of the sixties that I had of living in a commune, of sharing, of never having more than i can use, of living life joyfully in nature — that was the spirit that was inside me. And in the isolation of being a dancer, I thought, where is the giving, where is the sharing? I knew I had to get back and I had to share what life had given me through dance. I was willing to give up my dance and work and beg to realise this dream. Because it would still be my dream, it would still be dance but how much joy it would give so many people.

But as soon as I opened a dance school many went, “Who does she think she is? She has become a guru!” In their mind they could not accept that anyone could build such a place not because they want to be a guru but because they want to give the best to a young bunch of girls.

“I am convinced that everything Nrityagram needs will come to it.”

Students started coming from all over India, from big cities and little villages, many of them disobeying their parents. They would ask, “what does it take for you to take us?” And I would say, “It only takes a train ticket to land here. Then I will look into your eyes and I will know if you want to be here for seven years or eight years. And in a month you will know and I will know. For there are no malls here, no shopping places, no transport — only dance and dance.”

When I first saw Odissi it could have been Kuchipudi or Thai for all I cared. But when I saw it I knew that is what i wanted to do — whatever it was. There was something so sensuously spiritual about it. I think I must have wanted that so much in my life.

My guru (Guru Kelucharan Mahapatra) said, – “You are too old.” I thought I was young — I was 26. And he said, “You can’t,” and I said, “I can. I’ll show you.” He said, “It will take many sacrifices.” And I said, “I’ll give up anything you want.” I had to give up my lifestyle, my family, my friends, my smoking, my drinking.

With great grit and determination she mastered its extremely complex rhythms, patterns and sophisticated hand-and-eye gestures.

In August 1998, she died in a landslide in the Himalayas while on a pilgrimage to Kailash Mansarovar. She had already moved on from Nrityagram telling girls who kept crying and saying she was deserting them: “You need to spread your wings and fly. You have your own destinies. I don’t want to control them. When you are in the nursery you need the shade. Now I must take the shade away so you can find your own sun.”

She firmly believed that life’s experiences could and should make one better, not bitter. The only person who stands in your way is yourself.

Designed by master architect, Gerard de Cunha, created as a model dance village Nrityagram won the ‘best rural architecture award’ in 1991.

The lifestyle followed is based on the age-old Gurukul tradition where students look after and care for their Guru by growing fruit and vegetables on the land, cooking, cleaning and earning through dance recitals. At Nrityagram the institution fulfills the role of the Guru.

The residential programme require the involvement of students in gardening, cleaning the gurukul and working in the campus. Work is allotted to them, which is fulfilled by them as their contribution to Nrityagram.

Natural raw faces of stone fill the walls of the Odissi Gurukul. When it was begun in 1990, Guru Kelucharan Mahapatra was in charge. Today under the direction of Surupa Sen and Bijayini Satpathy, a new generation of dancers are being trained, new training techniques are being created and the vocabulary of traditional Odissi is being extended.

Trainees learn under the tutelage of several gurus. Along with the intesive dance training, they learn Indian literature, mythology, poetry, Sanskrit, music, aesthetics, history of dance, philosophy, spiritual thought and dance theory. Regular workshops are conducted in martial arts, yoga, mime, meditation, sculpture, etc. The daily work schedule includes sessions of body conditioning exercises, jogging, youga, pranayama and informal discussions on the theoretical aspects of the dance form. Students are also taught to conduct lecture-demonstrations, to teach dance and to perform professionally.

The dining hall is where the entire community eats together.


A temple fashioned from the raw mud of Nrityagram and fired after it was built. Mohiniattam and Kathak Gurukuls. A Yoga Centre. An Amphitheatre. The Office Block. Gardens that have fruit to vegetables, to grain to dal, even olive trees!!

Today a bare room where she lived – a room that is unused now – is the only memorial to the founder of Nrityagram, affectionately called Gaurima by all whose lives she touched, in and around Nrityagram.


Surupa Sen, Bijayini Satpathy, Pavithra Reddy, Priyambada Pattnaik, Ayona Bhaduri and others.

Much more than a dance compnay, the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble comprises dancers, musicians and choreographers who have lived together for years, developing their ideas, perfecting their technique and pushing themselves to absolute limits of their abilities.

Bewitching audiences all over the globe, the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble has redefined both dance and theatre, creating and communicating with powerful imagery and captivating dance.

The Ensemble offers group, duet or solo performances for a fee.


Project Nrityagram, a programme of Dance Education to popularize the classical arts, comprises:

Village outreach – Free dance training every Sunday for approximately 300 local village children. Promising students, if they wish, are admitted into the residential programme.

School Outreach – Free lecture- demonstrations and master classes in local rural and urban schools, once every month, conducted by the residential students of Nrityagram. Students who show a keen interest in dance are encouraged to participate in Nrityagram’s free weekend training programme.

Lecture-Demonstrations – Include an introduction to classical dance, the language of dance and explanations of specific dance items along with a performance.


For the serious, passionate student of dance, Residential Programmes in Odissi, Kathak or Bharatnaatyam are being conducted. The basic training programme is for three years followed by an advanced training programme of three years. Dancers work six days of the week; 10 to 12 hours per day.(Free lodge, board and training).

After the Advanced training, the trainee may be invited to join the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble as a professional dancer. As a member of the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble, she/he will receive a stipend very month in addition to Lodge, Board and Training and will also receive a fee for every performance that she/he is a part of.


Day scholar programme A five-day programme.

City dance classes Weekly, in Bangalore.

Summer workshop Focuses on Basic training in Odissi/Kathak/Bharatanatyam.

Surupa Sen trained to be an Odissi dancer under the legendary Guru Kelucharan Mahapatra and Protima Gauri, the founder of Nrityagram.

Surupa was the first soloist to be presented by Nrityagram and has gained national and international recognition for the sensuous beauty of her dance and the dynamic imagery of her choreography.

Interaction and work with renowned dancers and choreographers, from all over the world, have given a new dimension to her traditional foundation. Surupa is the Artistic Director of The Nrityagram Dance Ensemble and is constantly in search of ways to expand the vocabulary of traditional Odissi dance and create new imagery and movement.

Bijayani Satpathy began her training in Odissi dance when she was seven years old, at the Orissa Dance Academy, Bhubaneshwar. Her first Gurus were Guru Gangadhar Pradhan and Guru Kanduri Charan Behara.

Her thirst and quest for knowledge brought her to Nrityagram in 1993. Bijayini flourished in the fertile soil of Nrityagram under the guidance of Protima Gauri and in collaboration with Surupa Sen.

She is one of the soloists to graduate from Nrityagram and has achieved national and international recognition for the sheer perfection of her dance.

At present, she is the Director of the Odissi Gurukul at Nrityagram and is involved in the training of a new generation of dancers.

Lynne Fernandez was an Assistant Director when she met Protima on the sets of a movie that Protima was acting in. She came down to Nrityagram in 1995 at the invitation of Protima and assisted her in various activities. SInce 1997, she has been in Nrityagram the organizer, administrator, public relations officer, marketing manager and whatever-else-one-can-think-of.

A non-dancer, she bubbles with plans for Nrityagram, dancers and artists.


A Whole Body Centre will house two studios for dance (with wood flooring), a gymnasium, yoga room, massage room, steam room and jacuzzi. In addition, one of the dance studios will also serve as an indoor performance space, which will seat 250 people and have all the facilities of a well-quipped auditorium.

Gurukuls Nrityagram will eventually house all the 7 classical dance forms of India in one campus. The Gurukuls that still await completion are for Bharatanatyam, Kathakali, Kuchipudi and Manipuri

Centre for Modern Work A unit independent of the other Gurukuls to develop a movement vocabulary that is unique.

Centre for Nrityagyan A resource centre that will have the following wings:

  1. The Dance Collection: Open to and drawing scholars from all over the world, a history of Indian Dance over the last 100 years will be housed here.
  2. Library: A complete library on Dance, including dance from all over the world and any dance-related discipline. The library will be updated continuously.
  3. Costume Gallery: A comprehensive display of dance costumes from all over India.
  4. Music Centre: A display of musical instruments from India and a collection of dance music over the ages.
  5. The Protima Gauri Collection: A display of photographs, writings, video recordings, costumes, music, etc covering the life of the founder of Nrityagram and specially pertaining to dance and this village. This will in essence also be an exhibition that traces the beginnings of Nrityagram.

Vasantahabba (Spring Festival)

For 13 years now, mid-day onwards, on the first Saturday of every February, thousands have thronged the Nrityagram – 3000 in 1990, 40,000 in 2003 – to witness living legends and leading artists congregate together, under one sky, making the Vasantahabba what it is – an electrifying celebration of music and dance! It is perhaps the most awaited classical event in India.

Covered on the web and on television networks, millions have witnessed the even live on Doordarshan, the public broadcasting station of India.

Vasantahabba has had some of the best artists performing in the amphitheatre at Nrityagram, entertaining an audience comprising families, groups of friends, people from all over India, people from abroad, city dwellers, villagers, people knowing nothing about Indian culture. From 6 pm onwards till the early hours of dawn, as dancers and musicians cast a spell with their virtuoso performances, all seems well with the world for one night.


7 February 2004 – 6pm onwards Dusk to Dawn

“Want to get into the Amphitheatre? Please be there by 3 pm!”

  • Beliappa and Party (as always) – Dollu Kunita
  • The Village Ensemble – from Nrityagram’s Village outreach programme.
  • The Nrityagram Dance Ensemble – Presenting an excerpt from a new work.
  • Priyadarshini Govind – Bharatanatyam
  • Rudrakshya – An all-male Odissi Ensemble
  • Astad Deboo – Contemporary dance
  • A surprise dance act
  • Bombay Jayashri – Carnatic Vocal
  • Kadri Gopalnath – Carnatic Saxophone
  • Shubhendra Rao (Sitar) and Saskia (Cello) – Hindustani Instrumental
  • Antaragni – Bangalore’s own world music band
  • Indian Ocean – Fusion Music

How to Get to Nrityagram for Vasantahabba

Private Transport: Follow the map on the first page of this feature (Page 5), Nrityagram is 35 kms from Bangalore. It will take you approximately 90 minutes from the city.

Bus: From City Market, bus number 266, 253, 253D, 253E, 253K. From Majestic, bus number 253J. All buses go up to Amphitheatre, Nrityagram on 7th Feb between 3:30 pm and 7:30 pm and Return buses ply between 12 midnight to 8:30 am. (Buses ply every 30 min).