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Guru Chitra Venugopal: Dedicated to Kathak

May 20, 2009

Born on 28 July 1936, Chitra Venugopal, the younger sister of Kathak guru Maya Rao, hails from a family of artistes. Dancer, choreographer and teacher of Kathak for over fifty years, Chitra is the head of the Kathak section of the Visual and Performing Arts Unit of Kala Bharati, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bangalore Kendra. She imparts rigorous and disciplined training in Kathak to over forty students of various age groups in both theory and practice. Some of the students are prepared for the 5 year Diploma Examination in Kathak and the first batch of the Junior Diploma passed out in the year 2006.

Chitra started dancing at the tender age of four. Initially trained by Guru Sohanlal of Jaipur Gharana and later by her sister Guru Maya Rao at Natya Saraswati, a school of Music and Dance founded by Maya Rao and her late husband, musician MS Natarajan at Bangalore, Chitra was conspicuous in dance activity at Maharani’s College, where she completed her BA in Home Science in 1957. During her college days, she taught dance at Baldwyns Girl School and was featured in many programs in solo and group dances. The most successful program was in honour of visiting dignitaries Marshal Bulganin and Prime Minister Kruschev of USSR, organized by the Karnataka Government under the direction of Devika Rani Roerich in 1956.

For Chitra, an art which was taken up as a hobby, turned out to be a specialized study. After completing her BA, she was awarded the Government of India Scholarship for study in Kathak at Bharatiya Kala Kendra (now Kathak Kendra). Chitra was the second South Indian to receive this award. She had the opportunity of being trained by Gurus Shambu Maharaj, Birju Maharaj, Devendra Shanker and Maya Rao. She took part in lead roles and programs presented by Bharatiya Kala Kendra and Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography, Delhi. She has travelled all over India with both these institutions. At the Kendra, she had exposure in musical composition for dance from Dagar Brothers, the famous exponents of Dhrupad style.

On completion of her specialized training in Kathak, Chitra propagated Kathak in places where Kathak was not popular. She taught students at the Kendriya Vidyalaya in Coimbatore till 1975 and later at Adarsh Vidyalaya, Chennai. She was perhaps one of the first to present ‘Abhigyana Shakuntala’ and choreographed the entire ballet with a cast of over a hundred participants. This was presented under the aegis of the Punjab Association at Chennai and was staged at the University Centenary Auditorium. The choreography was adapted for the first time to Kathak, Kandyan and Bharatanatyam styles. In 1979, during the International Year of the Child, the ballet was telecast by Madras Doordarshan in two parts. Chitra has presented several other programs on stage and her ballet ‘Vision of Surdas’ presented by AIR at the Music Academy in Madras was well received.

Chitra continued her work abroad from 1979 to 1988 in the United Kingdom and Egypt, where her husband was on an assignment with a multinational company. In UK, she conducted a workshop in Kathak at the Commonwealth Institute and gave programs at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and several other British associations. Chitra moved to Egypt in 1981 and was actively involved in training students and presenting programs in close association with the Indian Embassy in Cairo and the Egypt India Friendship Association. Kathak programs were presented at the American University and the Ain Shams University. Her students participated every year at the International Children’s Festival sponsored by the Egyptian Government and many of her programs were telecast on Egyptian TV. On the eve of her departure from Cairo, the Egypt-India Friendship Association presented a lecture demonstration on Kathak at the Italian Cultural Institute followed by dances.

On returning to India in 1988, Chitra settled down in her hometown Bangalore, and was actively involved in coaching of students at Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography in Kathak classes. She was a lecturer on the faculty at the Institute fully involved in the task of imparting traditional training to scores of students as a day to day activity. Chitra holds a diploma in Choreography from NIKC. Some of her foremost students are Madhu Nataraj Heri, Nirupama and Rajendra, Syed Sallaudin Pasha, Nandini Mehta, Suma Vijay, Prakash, Mysore Nagaraj, Sathyanarayana Raju, Bharati, Chitra and Sankhya who are all well known artistes of Karnataka, who have distinguished themselves with credit on the national and international scene. Chitra was appointed as Chairman of the Text Book Committee for the first text book released for Junior exams for Kathak in 1994. She was also appointed as a member of the Audition Committee for Dance by Prasar Bharati, New Delhi, for Doordarshan Kendra, Bangalore, in 1999 for two years.

Chitra has to her credit many ballets choreographed by her and to name a few -Abhigyana Shankuntala, Chandalika, Rani Jhansi, Govardhan Leela (all Madras Doordarshan presentations in Kathak style), Raja Nartaki by Ana Kru, Flight of the Paradise Fly Catcher (a children’s ballet) and Cauvery, all in Bangalore.

In recognition of her contribution to dance, Chitra had the honour of receiving the Kala Shri award for 1996-1997 bestowed upon her by the Karnataka Sangeetha Nritya Akademi at a ceremony held on 29 January 1997. She was also a recipient of the Senior Fellowship Award for research in ‘Abhinaya in Kathak’ bestowed by the Ministry of HRD, Central Government for the years 2000-2002.

Chitra is now fully involved in training and development programs of students of Kathak at the Kala Bharati, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.