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Kalanidhi Naryanan (1928-2016)
- Ashish Mohan Khokar

February 23, 2016

She was universally known as Maami. As though the word was her name. In Madras dance circles, this name stood for Kalanidhi Narayanan (1928-2016) and for no other ordinary maami of Mylapore or Mambalam. She was the quintessential dance aunty, teacher, friend, guru. She was amiable, affable and admirable. Amiable to all, affable to many and admirable because she didn't dance for half her life professionally but when she returned to stage, even if for abhinaya items, she made a huge impact.

Born on December 7, 1928, she learnt from Kannappa Mudaliar (brother-in-law of Elappa Pillai) of Kanchipuram and from Chinayya Naidu renowned for abhinaya skills. Additionally she learnt abhinaya from Mylapore Gowri Ammal and used this learning to great effect when she did only abhinaya pieces. She also learnt meaning of shastras and hasta mudras from scholar-teacher S. Sarada. She stopped dancing in 1943 and returned to stage in mid seventies. Due to the halt in her dance career for over 3 decades (as per custom, she stopped dancing once married), she came back to active stage after her better half passed away and on insistence of well-wishers like Doraiswamy, the arts patron and promoter. Slowly, just teaching items became her mainstay and many flocked to her from all over to attend her workshops. She strode the Bharatanatyam scene as she was also articulate and spoke English, whereas many traditional masters and gurus of that period were not so fluent to speak at seminars and gatherings or meetings. In her dance, just her eyes were enough to watch, large and expressive. She taught many, many dancers, some who just wanted her name attached to their bios. In that, she became a brand by herself.

Rare début pic of Maami
Mohan Khokar Dance Collection

She was active on dance scene of Madras, attending shows and advising and blessing youngsters. She was popular and had vast outreach. Many gathered from all over the world to celebrate her last milestone birthday.

To say this one and that learnt from her is a long list but few names that come to mind as sincerely her followers are Vani Ganapathy, Jhanak Khendry, Malavika Sarukkai, Priyadarsini Govind, Bragha Bessell, Ratna Kumar, Malathi Iyengar. Her students are a legion. She was bestowed the Padma Bhushan, the Sangeet Natak Akademi award and many other major awards. A homebody, she was always smiling and a professional. On 21st Feb at 11.20pm, the dance world lost one of its veterans. Maami will be missed for long.

Ashish Mohan Khokar is a reputed dance historian, biographer, critic and author of many published articles and over 40 books on Indian arts and culture. He is the curator of the Mohan Khokar Dance Collection and chairs the Dance History Society which hosts an annual convention and dance discourses that afford many talents a platform. He has instituted five awards through attendance, the dance yearbook he edits and publishes.

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