ABHAI honors Pandanallur Subbaraya Pillai and S Sarada 
- Lalitha Venkat, Chennai 

October 17, 2006  

It was a beautiful evening at Krishna Gana Sabha where all senior gurus, dancers and well wishers turned out in good number to see two veterans of Bharatanatyam being honored with the first Natya Kalanidhi Award instituted by Abhai (Association of Bharatanatyam Artistes of India). 

The occasion was the 18th anniversary of Abhai. M V Narasimhachari, the President of Abhai, gave a brief summary of the achievements and aims of Abhai, that has brought together, all the Bharatanatyam artistes under one umbrella. With a vision to having its own premises that would include a performance space, room for archives, recording studio and so on, he was hopeful that the appeal submitted to the Tamilnadu chief minister last week for a plot of land for Abhai, would emerge fruitful.  

A minute silence was observed as a mark of respect for the late critic KS Mahadevan and musicologist TS Parthasarathy who passed away on October 13, 2006 at Chennai. The writings of these two eminent scholars will be greatly missed.  

The 2 chief guests of the evening were Mrs.YG Parthasarathy (Bharat Kalachar) and N Ram (Editor-in-Chief, The Hindu). Because of the nightmare traffic in the T Nagar area, many roads have been closed to traffic due to Diwali shopping rush. The traffic police were not allowing vehicles into the road where Krishna Gana Sabha is located. So, despite having made it that far and driving around, N Ram had to unfortunately return without making it to the function! Since this information was conveyed right away, the function proceeded without delay.  

Mrs. YGP spoke about how as a young girl, she had always wanted to learn Bharatanatyam but was not allowed to. She is realizing her dreams through her organization Bharat Kalachar and by making Bharatanatyam a compulsory part of the education curriculum in her Padma Seshadri group of schools.  

There was much cheer in the audience as 93 year old Pandanallur Subbaraya Pillai and 91 year old Peria Sarada became the first recipients of NATYA KALANIDHI on October 15, 2006. The award carries a citation, a gold medal sponsored by Sukra Jewellery and a purse of Rs.25, 000 each. This amount was collected through contributions made by the dance gurus. Apart from the happiness that this gesture induced in all present, it was also the fact that despite being in frail health, the nonagenarian gurus were there in person to receive the honor. About half a dozen aged artistes were also given purses to meet their medical expenses.  

Narasimhachari sang a Sanskrit song written by Kamakshi about Sarada, the grand daughter of Subramania Sastri, a scholar in Sanskrit and the Vedas, the right hand of Rukmini Devi.  The Tamil song about Subbaraya Pillai written by Vasanthalakshmi described him as the grandson of Meenakshisundaram Pillai and the son of Chockalingam Pillai, how he has safeguarded the purity of the style without making changes and about the speciality of the Pandanallur bani that he has offered to the future generation the firm adavus, beautiful korvais and the aesthetic blending of dance and music (Azhuthamaana adavu, azhagaana korvai, isaiyodu inanindhu poradhu thani thanmai). Sarada tapped a frail finger on her cheek keeping tune while Subbaraya Pillai beamed in happiness.  

Guru Nirmala Ramachandran was so moved that she had to share the information that her arangetram at 11 was conducted by her guru Chockalingam Pillai and Subbaraya Pillai sang for the recital. Meenakshi Chittaranjan honored Subbaraya Pillai with a shawl - he and his father had conducted her arangetram too. Mrs.YGP spoke about how the Pandanallur style of Bharatanatyam is pure and still holds its place despite fusion dance having become the latest rage! A representative of guru Kalyanasundaram from Mumbai honored Subbaraya Pillai with a shawl.   

G Sundari, the ever loving companion of Sarada, spoke about her reminiscences of Rukmini Devi and Kalakshetra and how the shy Sarada who was transported from Thanjavur, was encouraged by her grandfather, Sankara Menon, George Arundale and Rukmini Devi into the wonder woman of Kalakshetra who helped edit all the dance dramas in many languages, who could play several music instruments and became an authority in Bharatanatyam. Through Sundari, Sarada conveyed her thanks to all those who had helped and inspired her.  

Sundari also reminisced about the three generations of Pillais. She has seen Meenakshisundaram Pillai as a small girl. Chockalingam Pillai taught her sister Leela and Radha Sriram who later became Radha Burnier. When she used to wait for the bus to go to college and Chockalingam passed by in a rickshaw, he would stop and ask her to get in! She lauded Subbaraya Pillai and his father Chockalingam Pillai for training eminent dancers like Nirmala Ramachandran, Meenakshi Chittaranjan and Alarmel Valli to name a few, who are devoutly carrying on the Pandanallur style.   

Speaking about Raji (as she calls Mrs.YGP!), she pointed out that Raji was the first woman journalist in the city of Madras, then working for Madras Mail. Then she changed course and entered the field of education, where she was and is continuing to do good service in creating responsible citizens with an awareness of the arts. "When I was young, it was impossible to think there could be an association where dancers of any style would get together and share their work and contributions. Abhai has succeeded in bringing dancers together and doing just that," said Sundari as a finishing touch to the Abhai celebrations.