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Guru K Kalyanasundaram

February 26, 2012

A senior guru and Director of Sri Rajarajeswari Bharatha Natya Kala Mandir, regarded as an institution par excellence for Bharatanatyam, K Kalyanasundaram is the torch bearer of the Thanjavur tradition of Bharatanatyam. He celebrates his 80th birthday on March 1, 2012.

Hailing from a family of Nattuvanar parampara, traditional dance teachers, now in its eighth generation, Thiruvidaimarudur Kuppiah Kalyanasundaram made his debut at the age of six at the Sri Kumbeswaran Temple (of Maha Maham fame) in Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu, on the auspicious day of Aarudhra Darsanam. "People were curious to see a nattuvanar's son dance. It was the 1940s, so the only lighting came from the temple lamps, and my costume was a dhoti and angavastram tied around my waist," remembers Guruji. He imbibed the art from his father Guru Kuppiah Pillai, his brother Guru Mahalingam Pillai, his brother-in-law Guru Govindraj Pillai and sister Karunambal. His grandfather Guru Panchapakesa nattuvanar was an authority on abhinaya and is credited with compiling the Tamil treatise 'Abhinaya Navaneetham,' a monumental treatise on abhinaya, a practical guide specially on Hastabhinaya.

As a youngster training in Bharatanatyam, he went through a tough regimen. Early morning would be devoted to practicing the entire set of hundred adavus from the basics to the thattimettus in four speeds. Clarity of footwork, a sense of timing, and rhythm was an absolute must for all students. The next half of the day was devoted to training in abhinaya with both teacher and student being seated and not moving around.

Guru Kalyanasundaram's dance productions Thirukkutrala Kuravanji (Vasantavalli), Sri Andal, Skanda Leela, Krishna Leela, Thyagabrahmanjali, Purandara Vandana, Jaya Jaya Krishna, Bhakthi Nritya and many more are known for their rich tapestry of choreography, music and literature. In 1986, he choreographed along with imminent gurus of the other classical dance forms, a widely acclaimed presentation titled 'National integration through dance.' 'Mahathmanjali' is a unique production based on the noble ideals of Gandhi. A moving dance drama 'Nandanar' on the great devotee of Lord Nataraja was presented at Los Angeles in July 2002 and received great admiration.

He was the leader of a 10-member dance troupe representing India at the International Arts Festival of China. He presented a thematic program at the Manifestations of Shiva World Meet, Philadelphia and also at other International dance festivals in Australia, America, Canada, Europe, Indonesia, Columbia, Mexico, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Nepal.

Guru Kalyanasundaram has trained an array of well known dancers, who have featured at prestigious dance conferences and festivals in India and abroad. Some of his prominent disciples include Sudha Chandrasekhar, Malavika Sarukkai, Vani Ganapathy, Lata Pada, Preeti Warrier, Sunitha Pillai, Viji Prakash, Gowri Rao and Padmaja Suresh.

For his outstanding contribution to Bharatanatyam, he has been conferred with Sangeet Natak Akademi Award by the Govt. Of India, Kalaimamani by the Govt. of Tamil Nadu, Best Teacher and Choreographer Award by Madras Music Academy to name a few.

Guru Kalyanasundaram, President R Venkataraman

President Dr. Abdul Kalam and Guru Kalyanasundaram

Sri Rajarajeswari Bharatha Natya Kala Mandir
The year 1945 saw the inception of Sri Rajarajeshwari Bharatha Natya Kala Mandir in Mumbai by Guru AT Govindraj Pillai, assisted and motivated by his wife Karunambal, all amidst the volatile and patriotic atmosphere in India.

The success of this venture led to the migration of his father-in-law, the patriarch maestro, Bharatha Vidwan TP Kuppiah Pillai and family from Thanjavur, that repository of our ancient art and culture, to Mumbai, the city of dynamism and growth. Starting with just four students, the Kala Mandir grew into a large banyan tree in no time with his sons Guru TK Mahalingam Pillai and Guru K Kalyanasundaram adding their expertise.

The Rajarajeswari gurus have an illustrious lineage of ancestors dating back to more than two centuries. The gurus have blazed new trails in adapting the training to the needs of changing times, inculcating Gurukula norms in institutional coaching and giving a new facade to presentational format. They have been adept in adapting polyglot lyrics to Bharatanatyam so as to instill national integration in the true sense. The versatility of the gurus shines through the dance dramas, the ekaharya depictions they have choreographed, in all of which, the aesthetic grace of the Thanjavur bani glows unalloyed.

Spreading its wings far and wide, the institute has carved a niche for itself, training thousands of students and etching its own path to maintain the rigor and vigor of this art and for preserving and propagating the tenets of Thanjavur style, the essential hallmark being aesthetic grace. Over the years, a number of students have won the National Cultural Talent Scholarships both at the Junior and Senior levels, and many have established their own schools both in India and abroad for carrying on the Thanjavur bani.

The Kala Mandir has been a part of many cultural delegations and foreign tours across the globe including Australia, UK, France, Holland, Canada to name a few. The institute has also contributed to the Prime Minister's Relief Fund, Koyna Relief Fund and a host of other efforts for helping academic and cultural institutions. Currently, Sri Rajarajeswari Bharatha Natya Kala Mandir, Mumbai, enters into its 67th year. These golden years depict the undaunted and dedicated service of the Guru Parampara to Bharatanatyam. It unfolds a significant phase of the saga of seven successive generations, which deserves to be etched in letters of gold.

Members of the family, AT Govindraj Pillai, TK Mahalingam Pillai, Guru K Kalyanasundaram, Karunambal and Mythili Kalyanasundaram have helped the institution to blossom into what it is today - a legend of unalloyed, pristine Bharatanatyam.

Just read about him in the Hindu Friday Review of today 1st July 2022. Very pleased to know he celebrated his ninetieth birthday this year.
(July 1, 2022)

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