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Tribute to my Guru Shyamala Mohanraj
- Vasugi Singh

August 14, 2015

It was with sadness and shock that I recently learnt about the passing away of my beloved dance Guru Shyamala Mohanraj.

I was very fortunate to have Shyamala as my guru. My late father Jugaheesan R. Devar accompanied me to Chennai (Madras) in 1973. Today I believe that providence led my dad to Shyamala Akka who agreed to be my teacher of Bharatanatyam.

Subsequently I learnt that Akka was a senior disciple of Balasaraswati. Shyamala took me under her tutelage as a private student. I was most fortunate and privileged to have lived with Akka at her home in Sastri Nagar in Chennai. Dance classes were held between 6am and 8am and in the evenings between 5pm and 8pm at the Madras Music Academy. During this time, Balamma would arrive for six months from the USA and she conducted classes at the Music Academy. I was most fortunate to be in those classes as well and learn from the most revered legend of abhinayam. To date, I was the only South African student to have had an arangetram under Shyamala Mohanraj's training, at the Madras Museum Theatre in 1975.

Over the years, Akka and I lost contact when she moved out of Madras. Recently we found each other through a mutual dancer friend, Verushka Pather. I returned to Chennai in 2012 and we had an emotional reunion. I called her regularly and she kept me informed about all that she was doing in the dance world. Her proudest moment was when she participated in the 2014 Margazhi Festival at age 74. She even alluded to the fact that she missed me since she performed a padam that she had taught me.

Today I feel deeply saddened that my family in Chennai is no more. She was my older sister, my guru, my friend, my mentor and my guardian angel. I met her at an impressionable age of 18 years and left Madras when I was 21. She was influential in shaping my spiritual and worldly values which are responsible for who I am today. For whatever it's worth, I will always remain Akka's younger sister Vasugi.

Vasugi currently is the artistic director of KZN Dance Theatre. She also runs a consultancy concerning Indian dance in South Africa.

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