Natyapriya institute of Bangalore acquires a new open air auditorium
- Dr Sunil Kothari

October 29, 2011

Padmini Ramachandran

On 15th and 16th October 2011, Bangalore based Bharatanatyam guru Padmini Ramachandran, Director of Natyapriya, saw her dream come true. She had acquired a plot of land on which she by her own dint of hard work built an open air theatre, which was inaugurated in the presence of a large number of admirers, contemporary gurus, dancers and well wishers in Bangalore including leading gurus Radha Sridhar, Lalitha Srinivasan, Bhanumathi and others. Former chief secretary of Karnataka, soft spoken Shri Chiranjiv Singh, veteran dance and music critic SN Chandrasekhar, dance scholar and critic Dr Surya Prasad, were present to felicitate Padmini Ramachandran on this auspicious occasion. On account of pressing engagements, His Excellency the Governor Mr. Bhardwaj and author Ananthamurty could not make it.

Situated at Hoysala Nagar, it is a beautiful construction on a spacious ground with adjoining rooms for rehearsals, practical classes and another part is her residential quarters. Natyapriya is the name of the dance school and Nrithyakshetra is the name of the 1 acre of land that was granted to Natyapriya Trust by the Govt of Karnataka. Therefore Natyapriya Trust owns Nrithyakshetra which will be a Center of Performing Arts, including Natyapriya - a Bharatanatyam dance school and Kasthuri Rangamandira - the amphitheater (open air theater) that has a seating capacity of 500, with 2 green rooms. There are plans to build hostels for art lovers who want to stay to study fine arts and an auditorium for art lovers to conduct shows and demonstrations. Since the plot is spacious covering one acre, there is scope for constructions of  these other buildings. With the passage of time, it shall become a major centre of art activities in Hoyasala Nagar area of Bangalore.

Though I had heard a lot about Padmini Ramachandran, this was the first time that I got an opportunity to know her and see her choreographic works which she presented on both the days. I understand that she is a well known film star of yesteryears (not to be confused with one of the Travancore Sisters Lalitha, Padmini and Ragini).  She studied Bharatanatyam under veteran nattuvanar Pandanallur Chokkalingam Pillai and completed her Rangapravesha under the able guidance of Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai. She was also under the guidance of Guru SK Kameshwaran. Her passion and true calling remained dance, even when films had made demands on her. It was quite obvious when I saw her wielding the cymbals. One did not need any further proof to admire her mastery of subtle and complex rhythms, attained over the years. The Vazhvoor bani stamp was there in her presentations. Her desire to attain new heights of perfection in choreography resulted in her establishing Natyapriya in 1974. I understand that she has to her credit more than 100 rangapraveshas and many of her students have also started their own institutions following her footsteps.

Over the years and her long career, Padmini has held several distinguished positions. She was the Chairman of Karnataka Government’s Bharatanatyam Education Board for the year 1996. She has won innumerable awards including Sangeetha Nrithya Academy of Karnataka Award. In 1996, she also received the title of ‘Natyarani Shanthala.’ In 2004, she received the much coveted Rajyotsava Award from the Government of Karnataka. Other awards include ‘Nrithya Ratna’ from the Chief Minister of Goa, ‘Bharatha Shikharam’ and Best Guru Award of Music Academy, Chennai. Besides her daughter Kanya, the young dancer Lakshmi Gopalaswamy has won critical acclaim during her recital last year at The Music Academy’s dance festival. I was impressed by her and did not know she was Padmini’s disciple. Though she has also made forays in Malayalam films, Lakshmi is a well trained dancer under her guru’s sound training.

Padmini has choreographed more than 70 dance dramas, starting from ‘Sambhavaami Yuge Yuge,’ ‘Life and teachings of Raja Ram Mohan Roy,’ ‘Vittala Darshana,’ ‘Himashwetha,’ ‘Navarasa Nayaka,’ ‘Kannagiyin Silambu,’ ‘Andaal Charitha,’ ‘Durbhagobhathi Elokeshi,’ a composition of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore in Bengali, and  her latest production ‘Navarasa  Gejje.’  Some of these have been telecast on Doordarshan also.

From l to r: Sridevi Unni, B Bhanumathi, Sri Chiranjeev Singh, Padmini Ramachandran, Lalitha Srinivasan, Dr. Sunil Kothari, Sai Venkatesh, Rathna Supriya (first student of Padmini Ramachandran)
Padmini Ramachandran's fond dream was of a centre for cultural excellence and well rounded education in dance and music. Therefore when the Government of Karnataka granted her an acre of land to build her cultural institution, she felt that her prayers were answered. Through dance, she has touched many lives and continues to mould the careers of the young generation.  The students of Natyapriya are known for their outstanding performances. Many have performed in national festivals at Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and main cultural centers in Karnataka. Several students are Central and State government merit scholarship holders. Her daughter and disciple Kanya Ramachandran Tayalia, has dedicated her life to carry forward the legacy of Natyapriya.
After the formal inauguration, the performance began with nadaswaram and Ganesha Sthuthi – “Pari pari nee padame” by Mithun Shyam, his brother Vipin Shyam and Kanya Tayalia. Both the male dancers have commanding stage presence and Kanya has imbibed the Vazhuvoor bani, reminding one of the grace of Kamala.

Of other numbers, in ‘Navashakthi’ senior students of Natyapriya presented the nine forms of Devi or Goddess Shakthi. Viz., Brahmi, Kumari, Indrani, Maheswari, Varahi, Sarswati, Vaishnavi, Durga and Chamundi. The quick succession in which they appeared one after another, with other dancers forming the backdrop and the dancer in front taking an iconic form of the Goddess was presented imaginatively. In particular, Maheswari, Durga and Chamundi in their ferocious mood were well conceived enhancing the impact of these goddesses. All the young dancers acquitted themselves well and their entries and exits were flawless for forming the many armed goddesses. The tableau effect was spectacular.

Vipin Shyam, Kanya, Mithun Shyam

In Shiva Nama Darpana, the story of Ravana lifting the mount Kailas and how his arrogance was subdued by Shiva was presented effectively. Though the story is well known, how it is performed always engages the audience’s attention. Both Vipin and Mithun performed with vigour and stamina. The choreography was further embellished with a composition including some of the Shiva Shlokas and Keerthanas. Padmini’s daughter Kanya Tayalia’s students presented ‘Mukunda Mala’ depicting the various stages of Krishna's life in a playful mood, giving glimpses of Kanya’s choreographic brilliance.

But the show stealer was ‘Kumara Darshana’ presented by the students of Mithun Shyam, depicting the six famous temples of Lord Muruga. The episode of Ganesha doing pradakshina of his parents and Kartikeya astride his vehicle peacock taking a round of the universe was well choreographed. The young female dancer enacting the role of Kartikeya stole the show. She was completely immersed in her role and stood out for her acting at such a young age. The flow of the narrative was engaging, and the groupings were impressive. I was surprised to watch folk and patriotic song of Karanataka set to dance. It looked like concession to popular demand, though it was in classical mould and groupings were arresting. The program concluded with Thillana in Raga Mohankalyani, adi tala. It was indeed a delight to watch various disciples of different age groups. Padmini visualizes and composes sequences with imagination and the choreography has her own signature. Her range is vast and as a teacher, she has earned her fame in an exemplary manner.
She enjoys commendable and endearing goodwill in the dance world of Bangalore. Bangalore with its present awful and difficult to negotiate traffic poses problems to reach the present venue. But as she said, “If we can go all the way from here to Chowdaiah and Ravindra Kalakshetra halls, why can’t people come to our place?”  With the passage of time, the neighbouring population would surely support Padmini’s activities. Her institution is a major cultural landmark. Her dreams have already come true.

Dr. Sunil Kothari is dance historian, scholar, author and a renowned dance critic. He is Vice President of World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific India chapter, based in New Delhi. He is honored by the President of India with Padma Shri, Sangeet Natak Akademi award and Senior Critic Award from Dance Critics Association, NYC. He is a regular contributor to and is a contributing editor of Nartanam for the past 11 years.

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