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Chiru navvu momuna (The one with a cheerful face)
A tribute to Guru Adyar K Lakshman
- Revati Ilanko
Photos courtesy: Revati Ilanko

September 3, 2014

Adyar Lakshman

The Guru is one who removes the darkness of the mind through the illuminating power of knowledge. A physical form through which jnana or knowledge flows through to the disciple. Just as a statue is shaped and given its form, the Guru removes the observed and unobserved flaws through his wisdom, and allows the disciple to take his/her form. Adyar K Lakshman was my Guru.

I once read that "the flux of the human heart is gone forever at the transfixing effect of pure love." In Indian culture, the guru-disciple relationship is the highest expression of friendship, for it is based on unconditional affection and wisdom. It is a noble, nurturing and sacred relationship that enables one to evolve. The height of this relationship is experienced under a great guru. In the presence of a great guru, knowledge flourishes (Gyana raksha), sorrow diminishes (Dukha kshaya), joy wells up without any reason (Sukha aavirbhava), abundance dawns (Samriddhi); all talents manifest (Sarva samvardhan). This magical environment was created at Bharata Choodamani (Lakshman Sir's dance academy). Let's hope this tradition is able to continue to its fullest in the future.

Lakshman Sir had positive qualities. Sir was always punctual, was not corrupt, he had no drawbacks, conducted himself in a flawless manner, followed dharma and spiritual practices, and was devoted to his guru Rukmini Devi Arundale. He also often spoke to us of Saint Qadir Wali Baba and a picture of this sufi saint adorned the class wall. Sir was a very ethical man, often citing the story of Dhronacharya and Ekhalavan to explain how one should not be unethical. Sir was highly knowledgeable and people from all walks of life flocked to him, and he had a way of teaching all. He would often diffuse an intense situation with his sense of humour and would sometimes give us nicknames. All of this added to his highly engaging persona. He always gave without holding back, which allowed many to have faith in his guidance and flourish. As a guru, he challenged dancers and musicians of all abilities with his razor sharp theermanams. His abhinaya was dignified and had the capacity to transport the audience to inner worlds. His disciples were fortunate to experience his methodical teaching approach, and learn under his strict yet nurturing guidance.

Left to right: Sudhakar Mahalingam, Baba Prasad, Induvadana Malli,
Revati Ilanko, Guru Adyar K Lakshman, Uma Shankar

Sir and Revati
in the 90s

Sir in regional Victoria, Australia 90s

Sir conducting Revati's performance in Melbourne in 90s

Sir's institute Bharata Choodamani, was more than a school that produced dancers. Bharata Choodamani was an ashram dedicated to the cultivation of natya yoga, and a second home. Lakshman Sir and his entire family were involved in conducting classes. There was constantly a member of the family present who specialised in theory, veena, mridangam, Carnatic vocal music etc. Training was rigorous, from morning till night with a lunch break, and we often had an orchestra to accompany us whilst we practiced items. Manni (Vasantha Lakshman) like a mother, fed and nurtured us. It is a rarity for all these elements to come together. It was this united force that helped the learning process to take place. We were fortunate to learn under such circumstances in this day and age.

With Lakshman Sir on Feb 28, 2014

Personally, my relationship with Sir was a long distance one. I am fortunate to have welcomed Lakshman Sir at my residence in Melbourne in the 90s, and to have spent months on end in India to learn this beautiful art form under his guidance. During the last few years, he was ailing yet refused to be separated from the classical arts. He took classes occasionally and choreographed items. His daughter Induvadana Malli was instrumental in reviving some of his old items and sharing his new choreographic works. Few revived pieces were the rare Shakuntala Patra Lekhanam Padavarnam (Kannada) and Viriboni ata thala Varnam. For years, Sir had been interested in reviving Viriboni (Chiru navvu is a line from Viriboni Varnam). It was a masterpiece and I consider myself fortunate to have witnessed parts of its revival, and to have learned it. Sir's newest pieces (choreographed in the past 2 years) include Tulasidala, Paramanantham, Chaturashra Allaripu and Andru Ivvulagam (Thiruppavai).

On the 8th of January 2013, I consider it a blessing to have been able to dedicate a performance to Sir, which featured some of his legendary choreographies. I was pleasantly surprised when Sir once again wielded the nattuvangam and started reciting the theermanams for Abhogi Jathiswaram and Mohamana Varnam. This was an unexpected gift and a memory I will treasure. The orchestra included both his progeny Baba Prasad and Induvadana Malli.

His life, achievements, wisdom and choreography are a highly valuable gift to the artistic world. Let us cherish it.

Revati Ilanko is the artistic director of Navaratna Arts in Victoria, Australia

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