Guru Udupi Laxminarayan
Compiled by: Lalitha Venkat
March 18, 2014
Guru Udupi Laxminarayan was born on September 17, 1926 into a family of orthodox Sanskrit scholars. As per the family tradition, Laxminarayan leant the Vedas and Sanskrit and after six years of school, joined the local Sanskrit college known as Sriman Madhwa Siddhanta Samskrita Mahapatasala. He enrolled himself in Bharatiya Nritya Kala Kendra at Dharwar to learn Carnatic music, but ended up learning dance from Srinivas Kulkarni, the principal of Bharatiya Nritya Kala Kendra.
He moved to Chennai when he felt he wanted to further his training in classical dance. He learnt Bharatanatyam from Kanchipuram Ellappa Mudaliar through Gurukulavasam. Ellappa was a perfectionist who would spend even two months teaching a single adavu, if that was necessary. This approach also helped him to check if Laxminarayan was serious about learning Bharatanatyam. It was almost a year before the natyacharya began to teach Laxminarayan seriously but to compensate for this, he got him ready for the stage in another year. Curiously, he had not been told that the young man from Udupi had already received some training in dance.
Apprenticeship under Ellappa was a marvelous learning experience for Laxminarayan. In the 7 years of Gurukulavasam, he had to observe everything that his guru taught his students. His guru took him to watch programs of luminaries like Balasaraswati. All this was his training and inspiration. Apart from dance, his guru taught him Tamil; the importance of enunciating and understanding the lyrics of a song properly; the need to apply his mind to the meaning of the songs; and the art of nattuvangam and the skills needed for it, especially how to utter the jatis with the proper intonation and the appropriate stress on 'vallinam' and 'mellinam.' Even during his learning period, Laxminarayan had opportunities to practice what he had learned, for Ellappa would send him as a substitute to conduct the recital of one or the other disciples whenever he himself could not do so.
In 1963, he passed the Government Higher Grade examination in dance with a first class. Knowledge of theory is essential for this course and Laxminarayan studied all the relevant texts on dance in the original Sanskrit language. Laxminarayan's first major appearance on stage was as a member of the dance group of Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury, who was also a disciple of Ellappa.
With his guru's permission, in 1962 he started a dance company Natya Manjari in Chennai. There were not many male dancers those days. Ladies have natural body glamour but surviving as a male dancer was rather difficult. When he started his dance troupe, he had no help coming in despite his asking, so he had to do something to sustain his 25 member troupe. In those days, classical dance was the base for film song and dance choreography. Thus, Laxminarayan entered the world of cinema as a dancer and later directed dance in innumerable films.
He has danced in movies such as 'Raji My Darling,' 'Valliyin Selvan' and 'Paattum Bharatamum.' A versatile performer, he danced as Manmadha in a Rati-Manmadha sequence with senior Varalakshmi in 'Harischandra,' a Kathakali dance in 'Thirumalai Thenkumari,' and folk dances too to name a few. He has choreographed for a number of Kannada films including 'Purandaradasar,' 'Lakshmi Kalyanam,' the Shiva dance in 'Pon Oonjal,' Ramayanam song in 'Grahapravesham,' song with the baby in 'Galatta Kalyanam,' the train song in 'Sumathi en Sundari' in which he also dances. Among new age films, he has choreographed for 'Kaadhalan' and 'Jeans.' Laxminarayan has also acted in a Hindi film 'Kitna Badal Gaya Insaan' in a character role.
When he was invited by Sivaji Ganesan to compose dance for his film, the words of appreciation he received from the great actor was something that he would always cherish. There is no video proof of his dancing, just a few b & w photos and the one witness who has actually seen him perform in Sivaji's plays is Sivaji's son Ram Kumar!
Udupi Laxminarayan produced many innovative dance dramas like Dharmamoorthi, Shilpiyin Kanavu, Mayura Vijayam, Talatarangam, Chandragrahanam etc. He has trained number of students including Sujatha Srinivasan, Anandavalli, Jayanthi Ramanujam, Emi Mayuri, Divya Kasturi, Swathi Kamakshi, the incredibly flexible bodied film personality Prabhu Deva and his two brothers. He has given many lec-dems on different topics taking reference from Kalidasa's slokas. He has published a book Natanattil Pudiya Paathaigal which gives valuable information about dance. He has composed many items like Ganapathy stuthi, varnams, padams and tillanas in Sanskrit which his daughter Madhumathy Prakash has published as a book titled Udupi Spoorthi Ranjana. Daughter Madhumathy Prakash and granddaughter Mamtha Rao continue to propagate his teachings and dance style.
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Photos courtesy: Mamtha Rao
Once a year, Udupi Laxminarayan organizes a program titled 'Guru Charana Smaranam' to pay tribute to the memory of his guru Ellappa Mudaliar. A DVD on 'Kanchipuram Style of Dance' was released in August 2012 during the celebration of 50 years of Natya Manjari which may well be the only school which follows the Kanchipuram style of Bharatanatyam today. Guruji is a staunch supporter of the male dancer. “Unless you have the support of someone or family members, it is difficult for a male dancer to come up, as he must also earn and support his family. It's a rarity to see male dancers perform. Instead of going for glamour, one must also see what male dancers can present, encourage them and help them come up in life.”
Reminiscing about his younger days, Guru Udupi Laxminarayan holds one episode very dear to his heart. “I have come across many unforgettable incidents through which I have learnt the practicality of life and which have also added pride to my life's achievements. One of it involves eminent actor Sivaji Ganesan. I was once offered a program in Mangalore, Karnataka, for which I planned to perform a dance drama called Dharmamoorthi (depiction of Jesus Christ). Sivaji Ganesan was to preside over the function. Unfortunately due to very bad climatic conditions, all the flights were cancelled. Despite the difficult and risky journey by road, Sivaji Ganesan opted to drive all the way from Chennai to Mangalore because of the respect and love he had for me since I had worked with him in many films as a choreographer. During the presentation, there was pin drop silence in the auditorium and at the time of crucifixion of Christ, one could hear the whispers and see the tears. The Bishop, who was also the chief guest, appreciated my performance as he felt it was realistic and natural, be it the crucifixion of the Lord or the depiction when he woke up on the 3rd day. This is just one of the many memorable incidents that I have experienced in my lifetime.”
Some of his honors and awards include: Bharatanatya Chakravarthy - 1985 (Gnanananda Seva Samajam and Bhagavata Sammelana Samajam, Chennai), Karnataka Kalashree by the Karnataka state government - 2002, Acharya Choodamani by Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, Chennai - 2002, Kalaimamani by the Tamilnadu state government – 2003, Natya Kalanidhi by Association of Bharatanatyam Artistes of India (ABHAI), Nartaka Award - 2010.
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