Ramli Ibrahim is one of the most fascinating personalities I have met.
I saw him first in the German Embassy at Delhi when he gave a performance of Odissi dance with one of his young female disciples.
Ramli is an outstanding Odissi dancer. Odissi is one of the classical dances in India, perhaps one of the oldest, finding its mention in the Natya Shastra, the oldest Sanskrit dance text. Odissi is a devotional dance, depicting or honouring various Hindu gods, Shiva, Krishna, etc
Ramli is a Muslim. Nothing wrong in that, though ordinarily one would expect a Hindu to dance a Hindu devotional style. But what is strange is that Ramli is not an Oriya, he is not even an Indian, he is a Malaysian. And yet he is a master and teacher of Odissi, a dance style which originated in Orissa.
Ramli's life, like him, is fascinating. Born in Malaysia, he is a qualified mechanical engineer, but did not pursue engineering as a profession. He was attracted to dancing at an early age, and went to Australia, where he joined the Sydney Dance Company, and toured the world. He developed an interest in Indian dance forms, and learnt Bharat Natyam under Guru Adyar Laxman. However, he was dissatisfied with the rigidly structured style of Bharat Natyam, and was attracted to Odissi, which has more scope for improvisation. Hence he became a disciple of Guru Deba Prasad Das, and learnt Odissi from him.
Today, Ramli is well known in dance circles, and has set up his own Sutra Dance Theatre, which teaches and performs all over the world. Ramli has performed the Shiva Tandav furious dance, the dances of Krishnas with gopis, and as Yudhishthir in the Mahabharat.
Ramli toured Malaysia extensively, searching for ancient Hindu temples in hills and forests. At one time Malaysia was a Hindu country, which later became Muslim. Ramli wants to restore the Hindu temples, and has received death threats from Muslim fundamentalist groups, but he has remained unafraid. He is totally secular, and believes that Hinduism is as much part of Malaysian culture as Islam.
Ramli is truly a great man