Celebrate the Devi within U
Deepika ReddyKuchipudi Dancer
7 min read
Navratri is celebrated with a lot of fanfare and excitement, and the nine days dedicated to Goddess Durga’s nine avatars are considered very auspicious. Navratri, (Sanskrit: “nine nights”)in full Sharad Navratri; Navratri also spelled Navaratri; also called Durga Puja, in Hinduism, major festival held in honor of the divine feminine. Navratri occurs over 9 days during the month of Ashvin, or Ashvina (in the Gregorian calendar, usually September–October). It often ends with the Dussehra (also called Vijayadashami) celebration on the 10th day. We’ve asked nine powerful women how they celebrate and channel the devi within them.
What does Stree Shakti mean to you?
In my opinion and experience, Stree Shakti is the divine energy that can create, protect and destroy! It is the supreme power that consists of attributes that can love & teach. It can be fierce and compassionate too. I believe there is ‘shakti’ in every stree. I have personally experienced what can be considered as Stree Shakti – I once had a performance in in France and was running a temperature of 104. By the grace of mother Shakti – ‘the supreme one’ I was not only able to complete the show but also ended up getting a standing ovation! This is what I think the power of Stree Shakti can do for anyone who truly believes in Shakti. It gives you the power to persevere through any hardship or obstacle that life may present.
How would you describe UR relationship with the 9 Devis?
Worshipping the nine devis brings positive energy and helps us to understand the deeper meaning of our lives. My relationship with the nine devis is very personal and unique. It is in accordance with their distinctive characteristics that make them who they are. The nine devis help in guiding me and showing me the path to deal with the many obstacles in my day-to-day life. I’m fortunate to have these devis in my life and to guide me when I’m on stage. The power/force of all the devis tends to give me a moral compass, which guides me through life.
What Devi Shakti avatar do you most relate to & why?
I mostly identify myself with the Goddess of Knowledge ‘Saraswati’. I believe it is because of her blessings that I’ve learned the extraordinary art form of ‘Kuchipudi’, which I’m able to pass on to the next generation. One of the best compliments I’ve received in my life and one of the greatest acknowledgements too that ever I’ve received was after my performance in Khajuraho when a senior critic expressed that I’ve given birth to Saraswati Devi herself!
What role does perform arts play in one’s mental well-being journey?
For me, it has been a long and arduous journey of 49 years in the field of dance. I can’t imagine my life without dance. It’s an integral part of my life and has molded me to be the person I am today. For me it’s not something physical, it’s beyond that. It’s a form of worship! Sometimes when I feel low, I go and practice dance, and I get very involved in the character. This helps me feel rejuvenated and this is very important to me.
What is UR fitness regimen or go-to exercise to stay mentally & physically fit?
Dance has helped me to stay energetic, fit and healthy. Thanks to dance, I can manage my weight to a certain extent. At my age, I don’t push my body to do something that I could do when I was much younger. My fitness regimen starts with stretching and injury prevention exercises which are then followed by some strengthening exercises every day.
Dancers need to be a little more cautious since they frequently put their body in a ‘Saushtavam’ position which can be stressful on the lower back. This position/posture is an essential aesthetic posture. In this posture of Bharatanatyam, the back is erect, the torso is bent forward a fraction from the waist, and correspondingly, the fundament is pushed back ever so slightly. The body is held taut and yet relaxed. This position is a bit stressful on the lower back, for which I do special strengthening exercises to make my lower back more strong.
I also pay close attention to my knees, because we are always dancing on hard surfaces and thumping our feet, so we need to do a lot of exercises to strengthen them. As dancers, our core also has to be very strong to be able to maintain our posture. I also do a lot of exercises to improve my flexibility. When I do the jumps better than my students and outdo them, I feel very excited! I strongly believe there is no shortcut; it’s all about Sadhana!
What is UR relationship with food and what is UR diet like?
I’m a foodie, and I’m always thinking about the next meal. But, thanks to dance, this indulgence hasn’t harmed me.
Breakfast – Oats with fresh fruits, honey and nuts.
Lunch & dinner – Balanced intake of protein + veggies + adequate amount of carbs (I need to have my carbs to get my stamina for dance).
But one thing is for sure, I try hard not to give into my weakness for chocolates.
What has dance taught U in life, how and what did it heal for U?
Dance has taught me discipline, commitment, hard work, to believe in myself and also to multitask. As a performer, choreographer, as a guru and a cultural ambassador, I’ve learned so much. I’m still learning from my young students; they are so smart; they ask me such tricky questions that make me think and answer. When I had taken a sabbatical from dance, due to a few health concerns, the urge to perform on stage gave me the strength to fight and come back and perform even stronger.
How do you celebrate the Devi Within U?
I’m always there for my disciples; I’ve always taught them to be strong or resilient. I’m just a phone call away. I unhesitatingly share what knowledge I have. This is how I celebrate the Devi within me.
How has dance helped UR body, why do you consider it UR superpower?
Dance has helped me learn and teach my students the same art form, which has given me resilience, strength and guidance throughout these years. Dance has trained me to be the best version of myself and bring out the best in others as well.
What’s UR message to the world to stay optimistic during COVID?
Undoubtedly, we are going through challenging times due to COVID. It is very traumatic to lose our loved ones. Amidst the corona scare, we should be mindful and responsible for keeping our body engaged in physical exercises, while staying positive during these trying times.
In the initial stages of COVID, I choreographed a tribute to our healthcare warriors with my daughter for medical workers who are across the globe, fighting to suppress the virus. The message we tried to convey through dance was to be more mindful, responsible and safe by following all the safety protocols like using masks, washing UR hands and follow social distancing rules.
What is UR powerful message to all the wonderful women that are inspired by U?
Passion, Perseverance & Partnership is my mantra!
Identify UR passion, strive to reach UR goals and since UR working in isolation, always reach out to UR family and loved ones for support. This is my mantra which has helped me achieve significant accomplishments in my life and can help other women do the same.
What do you consider as UR blessings?
I thank god for bestowing me with good health to be able to dance and perform at my age, to follow my passion and also to teach the younger generation. I’m also very grateful to my parents for enrolling me in this art form; my gurus who have passed on their knowledge to me and helped me become who I am today. My brother is my biggest critic. He has always helped me by being truthful about my passion and has supported me when anything goes wrong. I’m also most grateful for my caring twins Abhinav and Shloka, who’ve frequently showed me with their unconditional support.
My husband is my most significant pillar of strength and my children have always been there for me. Last but not the least, I’m grateful to my students from across the globe who’ve always been supportive and believed in me.
Five women U admire
I admire my mother for the values she has taught me.
Mother Teresa for her selfless service.
Shobha Naidu for always inspiring me.
Actress Savitri for her expressions.
Michele Obama for her pleasant personality.