In memory of Guru Narmada
- Poornima Gururaja

October 7, 2015

Ananya, Bangalore, a cultural organization founded and run by Dr. Raghavendra organised an evening of Bharatanatyam to celebrate the memory of Guru Narmada, who would have turned 70, on the 22nd September. A student of the legendary Guru Kittappa Pillai of the Tanjore lineage, Narmada taught under the banner of Shakuntala Nrityalaya for over five decades, giving Bangalore its most noted solo Bharatanatyam performing artists and teachers of the next generation.

Choreographing strictly within the traditional demands of a Bharatanatyam margam, she was known for the vibrancy of her nritta pieces. Keeping the concept of karvais and the technique of usi, from the Kittappa tradition intact, she innovated creatively to add to the popularity of kritis like Ananda Narthana Ganapathim Bhavaye, in raga Naatai and adi talam. Almost every popular performer of the time learnt the piece from her as a treasure to preserve, and she also gave it generously to whoever wanted to learn and perform. She adapted works of contemporary poets and vageyyakaras like Dwarki Krishnaswami or Padmacharan,  as easily as a navaragamalika varnam of the Quartet.  She was the first to compose a varnam Shri Krishna Kamalanatho in raga Reetigowla, based on the slokas from Shri Krishna Ashtotharam.

Dr. Soundarya Srivatsa, one of her senior students performed in her memory.  She chose to open with “Janani” in raga Reetigowla and misrachapu talam. This was followed by the Kambodi varnam  set to adi talam. So many of her students, young and old present at the event, recited the jathis with the nattuvanar in hushed tones, standing testimony to the consistency with which Guru Narmada has taught over the years. Keeping all the adavus and calculations by her guru intact, Soundarya performed with a subtle strength, grace and dignity of a senior student setting a quiet example of how not to tamper with traditional pieces taught by one’s guru.

This was followed by an exceptional rendition of Ettanai Sonnalum. The effective and timely pause on the words Ratiriyil Ramayanam kettu by vocalist Srivatsa and the stress on the word “enna” in three octaves, also brought about laughter in the audience adding to the impact of the piece. Adigo Barutihane, a composition of Yoga Narasimha, questioning whether the young prince Rama will be able to break the daunting Shivadhanu followed. The piece celebrates the marriage of Rama and Sita. Soundarya's delineation of the piece was vivacious.  She concluded the evening’s recital with a tillana  in raga Dhanashri set to adi tala, a composition of  Swathi Tirunal.  Soundarya was accompanied on the nattuvangam by Prasanna Kumar. Vocal support was by D. S. Srivatsa. Vivek Krishna on the flute and Madhusudan on the violin ably lent instrumental support.

Guru B. Bhanumathi, Sugganahally Shadakshari, the compere for the evening, and Guru Narmada's senior disciples like Sathyanarayana Raju added color to the evening with anecdotes from their experiences with Guru Narmada over a few decades.

Poornima Gururaja is the director, Kalasindhu Academy of Dance, Bangalore.