Father Saju George Moolamthuvuthil is a Jesuit priest. He is also a classical dancer. Based at Satya Nilayam in Thiruvanmiuyur, Fr. Saju is now pursuing his research in ‘Philosophy and Religion of Indian Performing Arts (Dance)’ at the University of Madras, guided by Dr. A. Amaladass. He did his postgraduate course in dance at Rabindra Bharathi University, Kolkatta.
Earlier this month, he gave his first dance performance in the city, at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mylapore.
He spoke to KutcheriBuzz on his vocation, his passion for dance and his plans for the future.
How did you get interested in dance?
I used to take part in school performances back home near Kottayam in Kerala. My sister used to learn dance and when she practised at home, I watched her. I also performed in college festivals. Dance fascinated me.
What made you choose a religious vocation?
The thought of becoming a priest was in me when I was very young. I read a lot about the work of Mother Teresa in Kolkata. So, after finishing my undergrad course, I went to Kolkata, and joined the Society of Jesus, the congregation of Jesuits, in 1985. There, I studied Kuchipudi dance at Rabindra Bharathi. Derric Munro was my guru and under him, I got to also appreciate the spiritual side of dance, from the Hindu as well as the Christian angle. After that I learnt under Kuchipudi guru Vempati Chinnasatyam and later, studied Bharatanatyam under people like Leela Samson. Now, C. V. Chandrasekar and his wife are my gurus.
Have the Jesuits encouraged people like you who take to the arts?
Historically, the Jesuits have been involved deeply in dance, literature, and the arts. Even in India, the Jesuits have been in the lead in the enculturation process in the Indian Church. That is, using local arts and customs in the practices of the Church. Those who are keen to pursue any form of excellence, are encouraged by the congregation.
You seem to have had a rich exposure to the classical arts in Kolkata . . .
While attending my course in MA (Dance) at Rabindra Bharathi, I was exposed to all the dance forms – Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi and Odissi, and to music. We had the freedom to drop in at any of the classes and watch the training. Later, when I was doing my regency (internship) at the Jesuit-run Chitrabani media centre in Kolkata, I began to choreograph on Christian themes.
You have now chosen to specialise in Bharatanatyam. Do you intend to become a professional dancer?
Very much. Firstly, I am and will remain a priest. But I am also a dancer and I intend to perform, choreograph and teach. The Jesuits encourage us to expand intellectually. And I pursue this, after doing my basic duties as a priest. Unlike the priests who serve at local churches who also have to take care of the needs of their parish, we can pursue our profession – as teachers, dancers, artists, trainers, scholars . . .
How do other priests look at your profession? How do Christians look at what you are doing?
The older generation of priests don’t think much of what I do. There were many religious and lay people who came for my recital in Mylapore the other evening. Many were sceptical. But after the show, they said it was a prayer experience. Their perspective had changed (after they saw me do a few pieces on Christian themes).
So do you believe that through dance, your first duty is to spread God’s word?
I have been called by God to be his priest. He has also given me the talent to dance. So I would like to do both as best I can. To communicate His word through this form. It takes a lot of time to research, choreograph and perform on new themes. Last year, when I went home to Kerala, I was invited to perform at our local church. There were over 1000 people. Just curious people. But after my recital, they were overwhelmed. Maybe, through dance I can help people to pray better.
But you also dance to Hindu themes . . .
I love many of them. Like the ones from the Gita Govindam. In preparing for such items, it helps me to go beyond just the literal sense. I say to myself "If can I touch a few hearts in the audience when I perform these items . . . If this can create an experience in you, or help you get closer to God, then I may have accomplished something."
You can contact Fr. Saju George at Satya Nilayam. Phs.: 2492 8503, 2492 8314, email: email@example.com