Priya Parikh is a children's book writer whose first picture book, Dancing Devi, is a tribute to the ancient Indian dance form, Bharatanatyam.
Growing up, Bharatnatyam played an important role in Priya's life. Training as a Bharatanatyam dancer for more than a decade, she completed her dance graduation performance (Arangetram) in 2009. Priya's hobbies also include creative writing and singing.
When she's not dancing and writing, Priya is a public health professional, working with nonprofits and the public sector, to improve access to healthcare services globally.
In this Q&A, Priya sheds insight into Bharatanatyam and the inspiration for Dancing Devi.
1. What inspired you to write this story?
When I started researching what books were available on Bharatanatyam, not even one picture book for children popped up on my radar. It was so surprising to me ! By publishing this book, I hoped children felt that they matter, and that they felt seen and heard. Seeing themselves in a book can have such a transformative impact in their lives. I genuinely wish I had these types of diverse and cultural books in my life growing up.
2. Tell us about Bharatanatyam and why you enjoy dancing it.
Bharatanatyam is a dance style that originates from South India more than 2000 years ago. When the word is broken down, Bharatanatyam beautifully combines Bhaav ("feelings and emotions), Raag (music), and taal (rhythm).
I continue to find ways to incorporate this style of dance because it gave me an avenue to understand and become more aware of my emotions. For instance, Bharatanatyam has nine main facial expressions called navarasas, which include how to feel and show different emotions: surprise, compassion, love, courage, disgust, anger, fear, peace, and laughter within the dance form.
3. What do you want to tell readers with your story?
I wanted to highlight the importance of learning from our mistakes, the importance of parental support, and the importance of developing socio-emotional learning skills. If they take the time, and with a supportive environment, children can learn to build self-compassion, self-acceptance, and self-love.
4. How do the illustrations complement the text?
The illustrations were created by N Dejeshwini. I loved collaborating with her. In all the illustrations, Dejeshwini had a natural knack for bringing little Devi and the story to life. I wanted to show all the intricacies of the dance form, and she found ways to incorporate all the well-known dance steps into the book. She even added cultural items into the pages so that a reader can feel welcomed into an Indian home.
Follow Priya Parikh on Instagram.