Bharatanatyam Guru SAROJA VAIDYANATHAN (born 19 Sept 1937), Founder President of Ganesa Natyalaya in New Delhi, passed away in the early hours on September 21, 2023 after a long illness. She was 86. In her career spanning 50 years, Saroja Vaidyanathan choreographed many full-length dance productions and individual Bharatanatyam items. To promote a holistic learning approach to the Bharatanatyam art form, she taught Hindi, Tamil, and Carnatic music alongside the dance form to students. She got her institution affiliated with a university and had students take proper exams. Her illustrious daughter-in-law Rama Vaidyanathan carries forward her institutional work.
Ganesa Natyalaya was started in 1974 and the current Natyalaya building came up in 1988. The institute boasts of many Indian and Western students and was the first dedicated Bharatanatyam institute in Delhi. Its choreographies and productions have been showcased all over India and abroad to much critical acclaim. Saroja Vaidyanathan has won numerous awards for her contribution to this classical Indian dance form. Her titles include the Padma Bhushan (2013) from the Government of India, the Padma Shri (2002), Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (2008), Kalidas Samman (2011) by the Government of Madhya Pradesh, Kalaimamani (1999) from the Government of Tamil Nadu. She is also an author of books on classical dance and music. Her disciples are settled all over the world as dance professionals and so the banner of Ganesa Natyalaya spans many continents.
Bharatanatyam exponent Saroja Vaidyanathan passes away at 86
- Suanshu Khurana
Saroja Vaidyanathan (1937-2023)
- Ashish Mohan Khokar
RUKMINI RASIAH of Yogaville, popularly known as ‘Amma Rasiah,’ passed away on 27 August 2023, at the age of 105 at her daughter Padma Rasiah's residence in Richmond, USA. Under her able leadership and management, the Yogaville Fine Arts Society let the door open to a world community to Bhaarateeya Samskaar through our classical performing arts such a Bharatanatyam, Sangeetam and other fine arts.
Manipuri dancer and teacher RAJKUMAR ACHOUBA SINGH, also known as Achoubisana (born on 5 December 1936) passed away on August 19, 2023 at his Loklaobung residence. Singh, who is credited with several books and articles on Manipuri culture, was a former Principal of the Jawaharlal Nehru Manipur Dance Academy, Imphal, and Shree Shree Govindajee Temple Board ‘Bor Senapati.’ A holder of post graduate degrees in Raas and Lai Haraoba, he was also a visiting teacher at the Government Dance College, Imphal. He was honoured with the Padma Shri (2010) and the Manipur State Award.
Bharatanatyam dancer RATHI KARTHIGESU passed away on August 7, 2023 in Singapore, at the age of 87. Considered to be an early pioneer in the establishment of the Indian fine arts scene in Singapore, her legacy spans over more than three decades from the late 1950s. She briefly served as the Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society’s vice-president. Known for her philanthropy, she donated a collection of rare Indian sculptures in dancing poses to the National Heritage Board of Singapore following which she received a Patron of Heritage award. She was a great support to emerging artistes and she shared her talent through benefit dances across countries.
V HARI MOORTHY, one of the youngest and talented dance costume designers/tailors, passed away in Chennai on July 18, 2023 aged 37 due to jaundice.
Veteran dancer-choreographer nonagenarian guru VALMIKI BANERJEE passed away on June 25, 2023 at his home in Delhi at 11.20am. He was 97. He taught nearly every early dancer of Delhi in the 1950s-1970s. He was a pioneer who loved dance and went to Kerala to learn from Guru Gopinath and hailing from Bengal, he taught ballet and tried long and hard to establish Rabindra Natyam, as a classical form. He was possessed with this cause. He tried very hard to get it recognition and acceptance as a 9th classical form but none of the agencies or institutions helped his cause. He leaves behind his daughters Nupur and Jhumur, sons Partho and Tanmoy and many students in three generations. His principal disciple and right hand, Nancy Sahu served him like a daughter in his end years.
Guru Valmiki Banerjee: A lifetime in dance
- Ashish Mohan Khokar
Bharatanatyam guru from Malaysia, Sri Ganesan passed away on June 9, 2023 after performing at a program at Bhanja Kala Mandap in Bhubaneswar.
PADMINI DAHANAYAKE ARIYADASA, one of the most celebrated artists of Srilanka, and a Kalakshetra alumni, passed away on May 16, 2023. She was not only the first Srilankan Sinhalese to graduate in Bharatanatyam from Kalakshetra but also an actress and dancer in Srilankan films in the 1950s and 60s. She was director of Shri Padma Ranga Nrithya Nikethan, and a Member of the Arts Council of Srilanka. She imparted her dance training to innumerable students over five decades. She was known for films like Seda Sulang (1955) filmed in Chennai where she did a dance sequence while she was studying at Kalakshetra at age 12, and Daruwa Kageda (1961). Her daughter Rangana Ariyadasa is also a graduate from Kalakshetra. Both mother and daughter are experts in Srilankan Kandyan dances.
Mridangam maestro KARAIKUDI MANI (11 Sept 1945 - 4 May 2023) passed away after an illness aged 77.
He learnt Carnatic music from the age of three but soon gave up his vocal training in favour of learning the mridangam. He received his first national award at age 18 from the then president of India, Radhakrishnan. Mani learnt mridangam under the tutelage of Karaikudi Ranga Iyengar, Harihara Sharma and KS Vaidyanathan. His concept of ‘Thani Avarthanam’ concerts without sruthi accompaniments like violin or vocal, gave solo percussion instruments prominence. Mani was known for his technical brilliance and unique style of playing, later known as the Karaikudi Mani style. He performed with eminent Carnatic musicians and collaborated with many international artistes. He also composed for dancers, notably Rajeswari Sainath and Vyshnavie Sainath.
In 1986, he started an ensemble, Sruthi Laya that combined melody and percussion. Three years later, he founded the Sruthi Laya Seva School that has centres at Chennai, Bangalore, Australia, London, US, and Canada. Mani founded a magazine called Layamani Layam. In 1999, he received the Sangeet Natak Akademi award. He donated his cash awards towards philanthropic causes.
JALABALA VAIDYA (12 Aug 1936 - 9 April 2023), eminent theater actress and founder of Akshara Theatre, is no more. She was 86 years old. Born in London to Indian author and freedom fighter Suresh Vaidya and English classical singer Madge Franckeiss, Jalabala began life as a journalist, writing for various national newspapers and magazines in Delhi. She was briefly married to well-known journalist and columnist, C.P. Ramachandran, but soon after, met and married the love of her life and lifelong partner in the arts and life, poet-playwright Gopal Sharman.
.......Jalabala's theatrical life started in 1968 with Full Circle, a dramatized selection of poems and stories, which became an instant success on its first European performance tour, culminating in seasons at the Mercury Theatre and the Arts Laboratory in London. The critical acclaim for Full Circle led to an invitation to Gopal to write and direct a play based on The Ramayana for the Royal Shakespeare Theatre's World Theatre Season. Gopal wrote the play for a cast of 25 actors, but the play became internationally famous as a one-woman performance in which Jalabala played all the characters, in a style based on the traditional 'katha'. Gopal Sharman's The Ramayana, a contemporary interpretation of the epic as a play in English is still the only Indian production to have played on Broadway where the New York Times called it 'India's Gift to Broadway'.
.......Jalabala and her husband Gopal Sharman are co-founders of the Akshara National Classical Theatre in New Delhi, an exquisite arts complex and much-loved hub of theatre performances, designed and built by Sharman, where she has played the lead role in more than 20 plays, including Full Circle, Larflarflarf, The Ramayana, Let's Laugh Again, India Alive, Karma, The Bhagavad Gita, In Goethe's Magical World, I, Galileo Galilei, The Cabuliwala, Gitanjali, The Strange Case of Billy Biswas, Tyger Tyger, Ritusamhara, etc. She has directed various plays at the Akshara Theatre, as well as its highly successful dramatized book reading series.
.......In recent times, Jalabala presented another version of The Ramayana, where she performed the opening and closing Acts of the play, supported by a brilliant group of young actors of the Akshara Repertory painstakingly trained by her, to perform the rest of the play. Jalabala produced, performed in and narrated most of the Akshara Theatre's television films, such as India Alive, The Kashmir Story, The Sufi Way, etc.
.......She is the author of five books: Be, This Is Full, That Is Full, Life Is But A Dream and The Akshara Acting Method.. She was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi's Tagore Award, the Delhi Natya Sangh Award, the Andhra Pradesh Natya Akademi Honour, Honorary Citizenship of the City of Baltimore, USA., and recently in February 2023, the Delhi Government's Varisht Samman for her lifelong contribution to the performing arts.
Bharatanatyam guru JAYALAKSHMI KANDAIAH is no more.
In 1963, she established her dance school Natanalaya in Sri Lanka, in England in 1970 and in Australia in 1990, to promote and nurture Bharatanatyam.
In 1988, she was the first Bharatanatyam artist to be conferred with the national honour (Kalasuri class 1) by the president of Sri Lanka for her fostering of the arts at home and abroad. In 1996, she was the recipient of the Order of Australia Merit and included in the Queens Honour list for her contribution to the arts in Australia.
Natanalaya has been renowned for its creative choreography and exceptional performance quality, staging many commended dance productions that have also raised funds and awareness for charitable organisations.
Renowned guru of Manipuri Nata Sankirtana SOUGAIJAM THANIL SINGH passed away at his Singjamei Yumnam Leikai residence in the early morning of March 31, 2023.
Sougaijam Thanil was born to Sougaijam Ksher Singh and Ibemhal on February 1, 1946. He completed diploma in Manipuri dance and post graduate diploma in Nata Sankirtana (pung) from Jawaharlal Nehru Manipur Dance Academy (JNMDA), Imphal. Later, he joined JNMDA as Guru of Nata Sankirtana (pung) in 1976 and was promoted to Pradhan Guru in 1988. He held the post of director (in-charge) of the academy in 2005 before retiring from service the next year.
He was conferred Padma Shri in 2005 in recognition of his contribution in the promotion of Nata Sankirtana. He was honoured with Manipur State Kala Akademi Award (1980), Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1994), Manipuri Sahitya Parishad Vadya Bhushan (1997) and Vadya Ratna (2011) among other awards and recognitions.
His notable books on Nata Sankirtana are Meitei Pung Rajmel Humphumari (1971), Khomjillaba Meitei Punglon Tanjao (1981), Punglon Rajmel Taranithoi (1986), Nata Sankirtana Raag Punglon (1999) and Raas Humphumari Seishak (2007).
Leading Indian contemporary artist VIVAN SUNDARAM passed away in New Delhi on March 29, 2023. He was 79.
"Dance is my meditation, my prayer and my life."
UMA RAO of Kalakshetra passed away on March 9, 2023. She was born at Bellur, Mandya District (Karnataka), in the family of poet laureate B.M. Sree. Even at the age of ten, she excelled as a child performer in Kathak, from Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, New Delhi, under the able guidance of Guru Teerathram Azad. Uma got a surprising opportunity to act in the Hollywood film 'Maya' produced by MGM. The film put her on the world map as an artiste of inborn talent. But a film career did not attract her and she took to classical dance, under the expert tutelage and direct guidance of Rukmini Devi Arundale, the doyen of Indian art and culture. This turn in Uma's life was the timely encouragement given by the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and the matinee idol of Tamil films, M.G. Ramachandran who saw her inherent talent. MGR and his wife Janaki were Uma's local guardians in her initial stages of Kalakshetra life.
Uma completed her post-graduation in Bharatanatyam with First Class distinction from Kalakshetra, Chennai, followed by her arangetram (along with dancer Jayalakshmi Eswar) on Dec,1 1972 at Kalakshetra College of Fine Arts. She established herself as an outstanding performer and able teacher during her 24 years of stay at Kalakshetra. She was a graceful dancer and a perfect receptacle for Rukmini Devi's ideas. She took part in all major dance dramas produced by Rukmini Devi in leading characters winning laurels and globetrotted to many countries of Europe, Russia, China, Vietnam, Korea, Hong-Kong, USA, Japan and other countries.
Later, Uma Rao joined SIFAS (Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society), Singapore, in the Dept. of Bharatanatyam and created an unparalleled history on the Singapore arts scene during her stay. The crisp stage productions, choreography and dedicated teaching brought her unstinted name and fame from her students, art lovers, press and general public. Uma Rao being also a vocalist with a sweet voice, her command over nattuvangam, ability to teach in multi languages and the privileged close association with Rukmini Devi, has placed her in a unique place in the field of Bharatanatyam.
Dr. KANAK RELE (11 June 1937- 22 Feb 2023)
A visionary, academician and Mohiniattam performer par excellence, Dr. Kanak Rele, founder-director of Nalanda Nritya Kala Mahavidyalaya (1972) and Nalanda Dance Research Centre (1966), passed away in Mumbai on February 22, 2023. She was a qualified lawyer with an LLB from the Government Law College, Mumbai and had a diploma in international law from the University of Manchester. She also had a Ph.D in dance from the University of Mumbai.
Dr. Rele trained in Kathakali under Guru 'Panchali' Karunakara Panicker. Her initiation into Mohiniattam came much later under Kalamandalam Rajalakshmi. A grant from the Sangeet Natak Akademi and later the Ford Foundation helped her delve deeper into her interest in Mohinattam and during 1970-71 she traveled to Kerala filming exponents of the dance form such as Kunjukutty Amma, Chinnammu Amma and Kalyanikutty Amma. The project helped acquaint her with the nuances of Mohiniattam and record its traditional and technical styles while also enabling her to evolve a teaching methodology for it. Her study of these artistes and their technique against the backdrop of classical texts like Natyasastra, Hastalakshanadeepika and Balaramabharatam led her to develop her own style of Mohiniattam dubbed the 'Kanaka Rele School of Mohiniattam.' Rele's association with the Malayalam poet and scholar Kavalam Narayana Panicker led to her introduction to Sopana Sangeetham and creation of choreographic pieces set to Sopana Sangeetam's talas.
Nalanda Nritya Kala Mahavidyalaya was established with the sole purpose to provide and promote academics in Indian classical dances in its pristine purity. Performing Arts (dance) was brought on par with every other stream of education. Rele's vision was to bring about the traditional sanctity of Guru-Shishya Parampara to every stratum of the society and especially to young minds. Nalanda's educational degrees is affiliated to the Mumbai University. Kanak Rele herself created a record by earning her Ph.D in dance, the first in India, in 1977. Her doctoral thesis was titled 'Mohini Attam: All aspects and Spheres of Influence'. She is the author of 'Mohini Attam - The Lyrical Dance' (1992), 'Bhava Niroopana' (1996) and 'Me and My Mohini Attam' (2022).
Kanak Rele's awards and honors include Gaurav Puraskar by the Government of Gujarat (1989), Padma Shri (1990), Kalidas Samman from Government of Madhya Pradesh (2006), Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, M S Subbulakshmi Award, Padma Bhushan by the Government of India (2013).
Kathak Guru PT JITENDRA MAHARAJ, artistic director of Sangeetika, passed away in Delhi on February 18, 2023 after a brief illness on the day of Maha Shivaratri. A disciple of Guru Kishan Kumar Maharaj, he was an exponent of Varanasi gharana of Kathak. There was music in the modulated tonal richness of his fluent 'paddhant' (dance vocabulary) of rhythmic syllables. He was renowned for long breathtaking 'kavits' (lyrical poetry), dizzying 'chakkars' (pirouettes), incredibly complicated 'tatkar' (footwork) and the infinite laya (rhythm) and abhinaya variations. A consummate dancer and an accomplished percussionist, he had many dance productions to his credit. He set a trend in selecting themes of mythological and non-mythological stories. Along with his disciples he set a world record dancing at the height of 18,000ft at Kailash Mansarovar in 2003. He was a recipient of Sangeet Natak Akademi Award given by the government of India. His prominent disciples include Kathak dancers Nalini and Kamalini
SHYAMALA NARAYANAN, a respected and loved Bharatanatyam teacher in Temple of Fine Arts, Kuala Lumpur, is no more (July 15, 1955 - Jan 27, 2023).
LAKSHMI VISWANATHAN (27 January 1944 - 19 January 2023)
Renowned dancer, scholar and writer Lakshmi Viswanathan, passed away in Chennai on the morning of January 19, 2023. She was 79. A prime disciple of Guru Kanjeevaram Elappa Pillai, Lakshmi Viswanathan was an exponent of the Thanjavur style of Bharatanatyam. Her dance arangetram in 1952 was presided over by E Krishna Iyer. She was especially known for her creative abhinaya presentations that have been described as visual music. She was also a trained vocalist and learnt Padams from T. Mukta. She received training in Kuchipudi dance from Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam. Often described as a poetic dancer, she combined tradition with innovation without diluting the classicism.
A gold medalist in English Literature, she was the author of several acclaimed books: Bharatanatyam - the Tamil Heritage, Kunjamma - Ode to a Nightingale, Kapaleeswara Temple, Women of Pride -The Devadasi Heritage. Her film ‘The Poetry of Dance’ was commissioned by the Festival of India. The Mamallapuram Dance Festival started in 1991 was Lakshmi's brainchild. She served on several arts committees and was twice elected as vice-president of the executive committee of Music Academy Madras. She was the editor of Kalakshetra Journal.
As a cultural ambassador of India, she has performed extensively abroad in important festivals and earned the admiration of dancers and choreographers. Prestigious research fellowships enabled her to research the history and ethos of dance. Her scholarly lectures and demonstrations have been showcased in both Indian and international academic forums. She has received the Tamilnadu state award Kalaimamani, the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi award, Nritya Kalanidhi award from Music Academy Madras, among numerous others. A recipient of the Nritya Choodamani, Lakshmi was convenor of Krishna Gana Sabha’s Natya Kala Conference in Chennai for two years.
Passion, wit, humour and intelligence were braided in her persona.
Atma Shanti to her soul.