News & Notes

A celebration of the artist and artistry by ABHAI

The 35th anniversary of ABHAI (Association of Bharatanatyam Artistes of India) was a starstudded event with legends in the field of Bharatanatyam, senior gurus, performing artists, accompanying musicians, scholars, students and rasikas coming together at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in Mylapore, the cultural hub of the city of Chennai. Looking at the colourful gathering, the words of Papanasam Sivan flashed across my mind Mathiyodu tara ganam nirai anthi vanamo Kamala vanamo!

The 33rd annual day function and award ceremony of ABHAI, kick-started with a soulful prayer to Goddess Sarada by Uma Sathyanarayanan, an executive committee member. Founded in 1987, ABHAI was the brainchild of guru Pakkirisamy Pillai whose vision was to bring together practitioners of Bharatanatyam, accompanying artists, writers, technicians, make-up artists, costume designers and rasikas, to harness their collective energy for the betterment of the art fraternity and serve as a common voice to A celebration of the artist and artistry by ABHAI address the concerns of artists. Since its inception, the organisation has grown from strength to strength under the presidency of legendary artists like Sudharani Raghupathy, Adyar K. Lakshman, V.P. Dhananjayan, Lakshmi Vishwanathan, M.V. Narasimhachari, Padma Subrahmanyam, Chitra Visweswaran and currently Roja Kannan.

Priya Murle, Vice President, ABHAI, who compered the proceedings, highlighted its wide range of activities such as abhivriddhishalas, performing opportunities for young and aspiring artists, medical assistance to indigent artists and outreach programmes (along with Aanmajyoti) to spread awareness of the classical arts to children in corporation schools. The work done by ABHAI and its shakhas or branches over the last few years in reaching out to artists, whose very livelihood was threatened by the floods and the pandemic, is indeed commendable. The compositions taught in the abhivriddhishalas—Prabho Ganapati and the Poorvi raga tillana choreographed by Kiran Subramaniam and Nidheesh respectively—came alive with the spirited performance of a group of talented young dancers. The presentation was brief but powerpacked.

The award function that followed was a sheer delight. What started as a formal sadas with Priya Murle and Priya Dixit as emcees, transformed into a most enjoyable morning with revered guru Kalyanasundaram Pillai taking complete charge of the entire proceedings, enlivening one and all with his inimitable sense of humour. The list of awardees for the years 2021 and 2022 was indeed impressive. The recipients of the Natya Kalanidhi award Chitra Visweswaran and Lakshmi Vishwanathan, Nrithya Perunjoti award Geeta Chandran, Uma Anand and Rangasri Sreenivas, Special Achievement Award Madurai R. Muralidharan, Nartaka Nipuna award—V. Balagurunathan, Aniruddha Knight and Chinnamannur J. Krishnakumar, the Gandharva Nipuna award—Saraswathi Shankaranarayanan and K. Hariprasad, received their honours amidst thunderous applause. A pleasant inclusion was the Nataar Kalai Kon—Special award for folk arts—instituted recently by Padmalakshmee Suresh and bestowed upon the veteran Purisai K. Sambandham. The numerous citations for 2021 and 2022 were well presented in a crisp and impressive manner by S. Janaki, Vice President, ABHAI and Nithyakalyani Vaidyanathan, executive committee member.

The felicitation of artists by veteran exponent and guru Sudharani Raghupathy was an award in itself. What more can an artist ask for than whole-hearted recognition from fellow artists! On the loving command of guru Kalyanasundaram Pillai, who was presiding over the function, Chitra Visweswaran’s acceptance speech got transformed into a spontaneous outburst of natyam. As she traced the evolution of ABHAI from its inception to the present day and the essence of what it stood for, she had many in the audience moved to tears. A few moments of sensitive abhinaya is all it takes to achieve what hours of talking cannot. The annual day celebrations drew to a close with a vote of thanks by Binesh Mahadevan, Secretary ABHAI.

It was one of those days when our hearts were full, and we felt proud to be part of the fraternity of Bharatanatyam artists. There was a sense of goodwill, positivity, belonging and oneness that prevailed that would have made its founder proud.


(Senior Bharatanatyam dancer, teacher and ABHAI member)