Here’s how Paulomi Pandit came to establish Rangashree. There's more about what she has accomplished with Rangashree since then, and where Rangashree is headed, in the Rangashree - India and Rangashree - USA pages.
Rangashree grew out of Paulomi’s twin interests in folk dance and Bharatanatyam.
While she was in third standard (grade), Paulomi started Bharatanatyam lessons at the Darpana Academy in Ahmedabad. She transferred to the Nrithya Bharati institute during fifth standard, and did her arangetram at the age of fourteen, trained by Elakshi Takhore. After her arangetram, Paulomi continued Bharatanatyam activities, which included studies, performing, and eventually teaching at Nrithya Bharati. She stayed active with Bharatanatyam through high school and college.
Starting while she was in seventh standard, Paulomi took up folk dancing at the Shree Payal Institute of Folk Dances in Ahmedabad. It was a side activity for Paulomi, with weekly classes, usually on weekends. In 1986, as a sixteen year-old in twelfth standard, Paulomi went on a U.S. tour with Shree Payal, where she performed folk dances and solo Bharatanatyam items.
After returning from the U.S. tour, Paulomi and some friends from Shree Payal formed a folk dance group to enter a dance competition for drought relief in Gujarat. They were interested in doing something creative and using their imagination. They named their group Tahuko, which means voice, especially of a peacock. Peacocks are associated with dance because in Gujarat, when the monsoon rains are over, when peacocks dance, it’s time for Garba. This group would be a new voice in the dance scene. Paulomi, Mona Mehta (now Mona Parikh), Mamta Shah, and Priti Shah were the leaders of Tahuko. A number of other dancers joined as performers. The Gamthi Garbo they choreographed for the drought relief dance competition won first place.
Tahuko was active in the Ahmedabad folk dance scene for four years. It won many competitions, held annual performances, and conducted workshops and folk dance training. During this time, both Mamta and Priti got married and left the group. Mona found success in clothing design, but still participated in Tahuko. Paulomi, by far the youngest of the four, became its leader.
After her graduation from MG Science College in 1991 with a Bachelor of Science degree in microbiology, Paulomi felt a need for expanding her knowledge of dance. She had ideas for music and rhythm and themes, but wasn’t able to express them without technical knowledge.
Meanwhile, a friend of Paulomi’s from Nrithya Bharati, Rupal Patel, had completed two years of Bharatanatyam training in Kalakshetra. Rupal told Paulomi about Kalakshetra and the different style of Bharatanatyam taught there. She demonstrated the differences between what they had learned in Ahmedabad and the neat, clear movements of Kalakshetra. Their earlier training had left them with a limited range of expression, and Kalakshetra had shown Rupal so many ways to express herself. She also described life on the Kalakshetra campus, surrounded by music and dance, with frequent performances at the Kalakshetra theater. Paulomi decided to join Kalakshetra.
When Rupal returned to Kalakshetra, she sent Paulomi an application. After visiting Kalakshetra for an admission interview, Paulomi was accepted. At the same time, Paulomi also won admission into a Master of Science program in microbiology, which would have led to a career in cancer research. But the beauty of what she had seen in Kalakshetra won her over, and she chose the path of dance.
Mona was too busy with other activities to take over Tahuko, so it’s activities ceased while Paulomi was in Kalakshetra. In fact, after a final performance in Bangalore, Paulomi continued south to Kalakshetra while the rest of Tahuko returned to Ahmedabad.
In 1995, Paulomi completed her training in Kalakshetra, but stayed on for two more years of post-graduate studies. Paulomi’s instructors at Kalakshetra were Vasundhara Thomas, A. Janardhanan, Krishnaveni Lakshmanan, and Vijayalakshmi Krishnaswamy. During her post-graduate studies, Paulomi received a Central Government scholarship, which allowed her to extend her time in Kalakshetra. She was named best outgoing student in 1998.
Paulomi returned to Ahmedabad with ideas for teaching and performing Bharatanatyam, and for expanding the repertoire of Tahuko’s folk dances. To better fit the new scope of activities, Paulomi chose a new name for her organization: Rangashree.
“Rangashree” is a combination of the word “rang”, which is associated with theater (rang-manch means theater in Sanskrit), and “shree”, which is used for deity. Thus, Rangashree implies a deity of the theater. At the same time, Paulomi had close feelings for the Srirangam temple in Tamil Nadu. Her grandfather adored that temple, and the beautiful story of the Tamil saint Andal took place at Srirangam. Andal’s story is like that of Mirabai in the North. “Rangashree” is also a play on “Srirangam”.
Rangashree was registered as a Public Charitable Trust to facilitate charitable activities. These activities include using charitable contributions for scholarships to support students who otherwise couldn’t afford to study dance. Few parents support their children in pursuing the arts; artists often struggle to make ends meet. In India, a charitable trust also can more easily contribute to charitable causes. Rangashree eagerly performs for fundraising events to support worthy charities.
After a couple of years, the Tahuko folk troupe was absorbed into Rangashree.