The South African Indian community mourns the loss of legendary Indian dance teacher, Krish Swamivel.
SPICE PEOPLE: Krish Swamivel is a name synonymous around dance circles, especially in Durban, South Africa. The 63-year-old Indian dance guru devoted his life work toward the preservation of South African Indian culture especially dance. The larger-than-life personality danced his way into the hearts of thousands of people alongside his students for many years.
With his genius creative spark, Swamivel synergized Indian & African folk dance in efforts to contribute towards social cohesion in South Africa.
Sadly absolutely shocking. Krish Swamivel gave me my first break in a stage play and we have remained friends ever since. Suddenly so memories come flashing back. RIP my “Muthu”,Zakia Ahmed Siddiqui, SA Indian radio personality
Swamivel founded the Krish Swamivel Dance Institute aimed at developing the youth through dance and preserving & promoting Indian culture and traditions across the community of KwaZulu Natal.
Swamivel’s life work
The dance guru, in an interview with the Post newspaper revealed that his father Swamivel Pillay was the driving force behind who he (Krish) was today.
“He was an actor, playwright and singer in the Tamil language. I considered him an ace dramatist, who lived and died for the Indian culture. He was also the first South African-born man to act in Tamil movies in 1961 alongside Sivaji Ganesan.”
“My father would train me by making me sweep the stage and wipe the chairs his audience would sit on and eventually, in 1968, he gave me the opportunity to play the part of a little boy who would go to the neighbour’s house to borrow sugar. I would also watch as my father taught dance sequences to his acting partners and I would imitate his style.”
It was, living in the shadow of his father, a great actor and stage performer that fueled Krish’s desire to perform – just like his Appa (father) did. The sudden and untimely death of his father in 1969 sent shockwaves through this starstruck boy ending any hope of joining his father on stage.
However, circumstances changed in 1970 when his cousin Kumari Ambigay returned from India, where she studied Indian classical art forms.
“When he passed away in 1969, I thought my craving for being on stage had ended. However, when my cousin, Kumari Ambigay, returned to the country the next year, she started a Bharatha Natyam, folk and film dance school, so my two sisters and I joined.”
In 1989, Swamivel headed abroad to India where he continued his tutelage in Indian classical arts.
The likes of seasoned dancers Leona Dean, Niven Moodley and Lineshni Nair are former students of Guru Swamivel, have become household names when it comes to SA Indian dancers of South Africa.
Krish Swamivel & Steve Biko
In the same Post newspaper interview Swamivel also recalled his days on stage and sharing a room with Black Consciousness Movement leader Steve Biko.
“A member of the community of St Stephan’s saw my performance on stage when I acted in Kumari Ambigay’s Ponniyen Selvie and he invited me to direct the Black Messiah (a passion play).
“Later, I travelled with the group to King William’s Town to a conference held by the Black Consciousness Movement and was a roommate to Steve Biko.”
“He showed me how to heat a tin of breyani and we would both eat together from a big plate.
He would tell me to start a black theatre group in Chatsworth and I took his ideologies and started a theatre group, Joint Art Cultural Movement, where we would perform cultural plays and comedy skits at functions and cultural organisations.”
The younger generation have not realised the greatness of our country and our cultural heritage and still hanker after western music and western culture. The fact that music, dance and classical forms of dance and folk arts have survived with its pristine purity despite of several invasions speaks volumes of our great basic culture.”Krish Swamivel, Rising Sun Chatsworth
Krish Swamivel took to the stage for a final performance in 2017 which signaled 1001 performances in his journey of dance. Go well good sir.