Bharatanatyam guru Adyar K Lakshman
Compiled by Lalitha Venkat
April 20, 2014
Lakshman began his education at Kalakshetra in 1944 when he was 11 years old. He had the good fortune to receive his early training and exposure to the classical arts from Rukmini Devi herself. He had the best guides and mentors in his rigorous training in vocal music, Bharatanatyam, mridangam and nattuvangam. Though he was originally accepted as a music student because of his beautiful singing, Rukmini Devi later suggested that he take up dance as a physical exercise! As a young boy, Lakshman was very interested in cricket and used to play the sport, till one day Rukmini Devi gave him an ultimatum to choose between cricket and dance. He chose the latter.
He trained in Bharatanatyam with a galaxy of gurus like Rukmini Devi, Karaikal Saradamba Ammal, Peria Sarada, Sarada Hoffman and Mylapore Gowri Ammal. His gurus in vocal music were Tiger Varadhachari, Veena Krishnamachari, Budalur Krishnamoorthy Sastrigal, TK Ramaswamy Iyengar, Mysore Vasudevacharya, Mudikonda C Venkatarama Iyer, Kamalarani and Visveswaraya (at Tiptur, prior to Kalakshetra). He honed his nattuvangam skills under Rukmini Devi, Peria Sarada and KN Dandayuthapani Pillai. Lakshman graduated in 1954 in Bharatanatyam, Carnatic music and nattuvangam. He stayed on in Kalakshetra, received a Government of India scholarship, and got his post-graduate diploma in 1956. He then went on to specialise in mridangam learning from Tanjore Rajagopala Iyer, V Vittal Iyer and Karaikudi Muthu Iyer.
His many years of study and interaction with Kalakshetra’s artists provided rich and meaningful experience to Lakshman. Rukmini Devi saw Lakshman’s talents develop even during the initial years of his education. Upon his graduation she gave him the opportunity to take part in Kalakshetra’s world famous dance productions such as Kutrala Kuruvanji and Kumarasambhavam. He played the role of Janaka in the Ramayana series Sita Swayamvaram, as Shiva in Usha Parinayam which was a Bhagavathamela natya natakam from Melattur. Lakshman also trained in Kathakali under maestros Ambu Panicker and Chandu Panicker. His most notable appearance in Kathakali was as Sudhama in Kuchela Vrittam. He danced with Rukmini Devi in kuravanji Kumarasambhavam with her as Parvathi and he as young brahmin Vatu. Lakshman is one of the privileged few to have shared the stage with Rukmini Devi when she danced in her productions.
Upon Rukmini Devi’s invitation, he began teaching at Kalakshetra at the age of 22. In 1956, Lakshman was chosen as a member of the Indian cultural delegation that visited Russia and Eastern Europe. Lakshman also began broadcasting his vocal music concerts over All India Radio station in 1958. He has the credit of recording a long play disc (LP) under the caption Inde Thala that was produced and marketed in France.
On leaving Kalakshetra, Lakshman felt there was a necessity to become a teacher more than a dancer. He taught for more than a decade in Vyjayantimala Bali's school Natyalaya, where he honed his skills as a choreographer of merit, assisting in productions like Tiruppavai, Azhagar Kuravanji, Chandalika and Sanga Tamizh Malai. He founded his own dance school Bharata Choodamani Academy of Fine Arts on August 22, 1969. He has trained many dancers including Anita Ratnam, Jayanthi Subramaniam, Padmini Chari, Kamadev, Bragha Bessell, Roja Kannan, Mavin Khoo and Ramli Ibrahim to name a few. Trained in close adherence to the traditional Kalakshetra style, many of his star students have established their own dance schools in India and abroad.
Hailed as one of India’s foremost nattuvanars, Lakshman has traversed the globe. He has conducted for Kalakshetra’s dance dramas and solo performances of Rukmini Devi, Sarada Hoffman, Krishnaveni Lakshman, Yamini Krishnamurthi, the Dhananjayans, Kamala, Narasimhacharis, Ambika Buch, Lakshmi Vishwanathan, Mythili Kumar, Jayalalitha, Anita Ratnam and Pritha Ratnam, Anandavalli Satchidanandan, Ramli Ibrahim, Mavin Khoo and so on.
His son L. Baba Prasad has made a documentary on the maestro that was screened during Adyar Lakshman’s 76th birthday celebrations. Lakshman has composed dance for various dance pieces like invocatory items, jathiswarms, varnams and thillanas. His dance drama productions include Varunapuri Kuravanji and Aiychiar Kuravai. He has choreographed classical dance sequences in films like Hamsa Geethe, Subba Sastri and Ananda Tandavam. Lakshman also had the unique opportunity to work with Pt. Ravi Shankar. He was one of the first gurus to send his students to Kalanidhi Narayanan to learn abhinaya. He was of the firm opinion that if one wants to excel in the performing arts, one should read the biographies of great artistes, and draw inspiration from their journeys and remember that there is always room for more learning. Lakshman’s disciplined approach, hard work and dedication to teaching have earned him great respect and admiration in the dance community.
Over the years of his illustrious career, Adyar Lakshman has been honored with many prestigious awards and titles for his prowess as a natyacharya. He has received the Kalaimamani from the state of Tamil Nadu in 1981, Padma Shri in 1989, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1991 and Sangeetha Kala Acharya from Music Academy in 2004.
Photos courtesy: Bharata Choodamani
Guru Adyar Lakshman’s prime disciples share their experiences
Adyar K Lakshman is a great guru with complete mastery of the subject. His extraordinary knowledge of music, rhythm, his way of saying the jathis and conducting the nattuvangam and his choreography skills are everything to be praised. At the same time, he is a very humble person who never shows off that he is a great guru to others. He is a very simple man and when he talks to people we can see the child in him. He always speaks very highly and positively of everybody. He appreciates everyone’s talent and believes that one should not change another person’s choreography. He believes in tradition and is a very punctual, hardworking and disciplined person. It is a great blessing for me to be his student.
- Bragha Bessell, Chennai
Lakshman sir is a guru par excellence, an international guru with disciples from all countries standing testimony to his skill and superior teaching skills. He is an all rounder guru in the sense he is an expert in nattuvangam, vocal, mridangam and also a skilled orator. His teaching methods are so unique that he has the knack of bringing out the best in every student. A scholarly composer and musician, he is one of the few gurus who can sing and do nattuvangam very well. His jathi renderings are a treat to the ears with his powerful voice and modulations and are always appreciated with thunderous applause. He has many unique compositions to his credit which are very popular the world over. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been his disciple all along and am very proud to be carrying forward his legacy. I wish god gives him good health and long life.
- Roja Kannan, Chennai
My Bharatanatyam guru Adyar Lakshman sir has a very ordered thinking mind. This is why he is able to conceive and compose the difficult cross-rhythmic patterns and combinations which are basically mathematical riddles disguised as sollukattus. Through his mastery of the mridangam, Lakshman sir is able to translate this into the most scintillating pure dance compositions simultaneously bringing out the divine geometry of nritta in Bharatanatyam. With his commanding base voice, he is not only an amazing nattuvanar, he is also a compelling vocalist. Dancing Bharatanatyam to his accompaniment is an inspiring experience that always brings out the best in me as a dancer.
- Ramli Ibrahim, Kuala Lumpur
Lakshman Sir is a living embodiment of the great gurus of Indian culture. To be his sishya in this lifetime is the best blessing any sincere aspirant of natya yoga can have. Saluting the greatest of natya acharyas of our beloved Bharatam.
- Balayogi (May 1, 2014)
I am truly blessed to be a disciple of Lakshman sir, my beloved Guru, who has taught me dance and so much more. Being himself a humble person, he has taught me humility is everything for an artist. His discipline, adherence to punctuality, his boundless energy and his sense of humor to defuse even the most tense moments have never ceased to amaze me. I have had the good fortune to host him several times in my home at Houston. I cherish all those moments spent with him - every minute with him was a learning experience. From a strict guru, he would suddenly transform into a child relating anecdotes and incidents from his early days in Kalakshetra with Rukmini Devi. I would listen to him in rapt attention and be more and more inspired. Being forever indebted to him for inculcating the passion for this divine art, I hope to impart to my students what Lakshman sir has taught me all these years.
- Padmini Chari (May 5, 2014)
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