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by Radha Ganesan, MD, USA

Dec 2002

Guru Mahalingam Pillai, one of the past century's most influential contributors to Bharathanatyam, died in December 2002 in his adopted city of Mumbai. All of us here felt that the passing away of Guru Mahalingam Pillai has left a void in the world of Bharathanatyam.

Guru Mahalingam Pillai was a committed teacher and traditionalist. Bharathanatyam was not only his career, but it was his great love. He operated simultaneously at the level of deepest theory and most concrete particulars. No thought, remark or observation occurred to him in any other way. Through vivacity, wit, and a flair for clarity, he made dancing into a joyful experience.

I have been a student of Mahalingam Sir for more than 25 years now. I do not recall any day when Sir was late for a class. He was extremely punctual, rain or shine, whether it was a dance classe or a performance. Travelling with him for programmes outside Mumbai was a fun experience. That's when we got to see his lighter side. He would treat the orchestra with utmost love and respect. They were very well taken care of under his supervision.

Sir would rarely get up to show a dance and when he did it was a treat that is indescribable. One of his favorites was Meenakshi Memudam Dehi. I have yet to see anyone walk as beautifully and gracefully as he did, when he walked as the coy Meenakshi! Varugalamo Ayya was a padam that would test his emotions. He would do the item with his eyes brimming with tears, pleading as Nandanaar.

He was one of the prime architect of Sri Rajarajeswari Bharatha Natya Kala Mandir, regarded today as an institution par excellence for Bharathanatyam. Regrettably, his voice has been silenced. As befits a major theme of his teachings, he leaves a network of loving and appreciative students and friends, his presence helped create. All of his students have the great responsibility of carrying forward his legacy.

Radha Ganesan runs her own school Natya Nilayam in Maryland.