K N Dandayuthapani Pillai
by Urmila Sathyanarayanan, Chennai
July 9, 2004
K N Dandayuthapani Pillai was born on the 14th of July 1921. He hailed from a highly acclaimed traditional family of musicians from Tanjore. His father was Natesa Pillai. His mother was Subbamma. He started his initial training in music from his father at the tender age of seven. From his grandfather Ramakrishna Pillai he learnt the nuances of dance for which he had natural talent and ability. He worked as a dance instructor in Kalakshetra under Rukmini Devi. In Kalakshetra, he worked on the research aspects of Bharatanatyam.
He was particularly renowned for the production of dance dramas. Some of the popular ones are:
'Chitrambala Kuravanji'- also published as a book
'Silapadigaram'using the songs of Saravanabavanandha
'Sri Andal'- for Vyjayanthimala Bali & troupe
'Sivagamiyin Sabatham'- for Chandrakantha & troupe using lyrics by Putteneri Subramaniam
'Padmavathy Srinivasa Kalyanam' for Rajasulochana & troupe
'Kaveri Thanda Kalai Chelvi' for Jayalalitha troupe
K N Dandayuthapani Pillai had the intention of producing the play ' Paavai Kuthu' wherein dancers would perform as dolls throughout the play.
Another noteworthy feature of his career was that he choreographed dance sequences for several films, which won him name & fame. Particularly praiseworthy was the Hollywood film 'The River' in which he composed the music, choreographed the dance and also rendered the song himself.
He was an exponent of Bharatanatyam and dedicated his entire life to popularize dance. He travelled widely and was known internationally. He received laurels from various leaders of countries and heads of state.
He was the recipient of various titles, some of the prominent ones being: Natyakalanidi, Natyakalachakravarthy, Kalaimamani. In 1971, he was the first Bharatanatyam Guru to receive the title of 'Padmasri' from the President of India.
He started the dance institution 'Natya Kalalayam' and served as its director. Students from different strata of society and difference parts of the world were admitted here. Children started their classes from the age of five. Students of all faiths were treated equally with love. They were taught dance along with good manners and culture. Students were expected to touch the feet of their elders before coming to class. Underprivileged children were given financial assistance as well as training in dance.
At 'Natyakalalayam' nattuvangam classes were also conducted. Several hundred students had their arangetram.
Some of the prominent students of K N Dandayuthapani Pillai were: -
Vyjayanthimala, Manjula, Srividya, Latha, Jayalalitha, Chandrakantha, Rajasulochana, Sheela Pathy, Yamini K, Geetha, Kausalya, Uma, Vidya, Padmini, Radha, Priyadarshini, Anuradha, Sarojini (Srilanka), Jaya Gowri, Padmavathy, Sarojini, Gayatri (Coimbatore), Suganthi S (Malaysia), Rani Williams (Singapore), Vasantha Daniel (Sri Lanka), Surya, Suryakala.
On 11th Oct 1959, the day of Saraswati Puja, Great Watson, an American joined the institution.
With his experience and ability K N Dandayuthapani Pillai had also envisaged publishing a book redefining the Bharata Shastra. One of his special qualities was to teach students items according to their age. His book 'Aadal Isai Amudam' will remain an eternal treasure for all Bharatanatyam artists.
K N Dandayuthapani Pillai was a man of rare courage. In May 1974, he traveled to America for an eye surgery in an internationally acclaimed hospital in Boston.
On 9th Oct 1974, he conducted the arangetram of a student at R R Sabha. While on stage he suffered a coronary attack. However, it was only after the completion of the arangetram he admitted himself into the H M Hospital. On 12th October 1974 he breathed his last. The entire art world was filled with shock and grief. He was associated with dance till his last breath. He had planned to celebrate the silver jubilee of 'Natya Kalalayam' on 17th November 1974 with great pomp and splendour. However he died before this dream could materialise.