News & Notes

Nrithyodaya 80 celebrates 75

Nrithyodaya, a premium institute for arts and culture, celebrated its 80th anniversary, with a grand three-day festival from 5 to 7 August 2022, at the prestigious Narada Gana Sabha auditorium in Chennai.

“80 celebrates 75” was the theme, referring to the 75th anniversary of India’s independence and, adding to the ongoing Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav, being celebrated all over India by both the Government of India and all the citizens and various institutions on their own.

The three-day commemorative event was a glorious tribute dedicated to its founder, the late K. Subrahmanyam—a freedom fighter, philanthropist, lawyer and film director.

Day One

A grand mangala isai by nagaswaram vidwan Semponnarkoil S.R.G.S. Mohandas and party lent an auspicious start to the festival. The lighting of the lamp by Sadguru Madhusudan Sai, founder and Chancellor of Sri Satya Sai University for Human Excellence, signalled the inauguration. Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, MP and President, ICCR, New Delhi, presided, while Revathi Ramachandran, Director Kalakshetra, offered felicitations. Vande Mataram, an ode to the nation, was performed by an ensemble of 60 Nrithyodaya dancers dressed in the colours of the national flag, using original lyrics by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, interspersed with the Tamil translation by poet Subramania Bharati. Set in a melodious pace, the songs interwined seamlessly – both in the same metre.

Welcoming the august gathering, Padma Subrahmanyam, President of Nrithyodaya, dedicated the festival to her illustrious father, Director K. Subrahmanyam, and remembered all the gurus who had served Nrithyodaya. K. Subrahmanyam was an ardent lover of dance, music and the arts. Padma said that he had planned to produce a panoramic dance movie, Nartana Murali, which unfortunately had to be shelved due to the outbreak of the Second World War. The hundred-odd disappointed artists were then asked to teach in the villages by providing them the wherewithal for stay, food, and shelter. On returning to then Madras, he founded ‘Nrithyodaya’ in 1942, to provide free tuition to the underprivileged, and also invited gurus from various dance styles to teach at the institution, thus giving it a pan-Indian outlook. As promised to her father during his last days, Padma Subrahmanyam painstakingly continues to nurture his legacy with a pan-Indian and a pan-Asian presence. With this brief welcome address, she initiated the release of a set of books authored by her:

 Karanas -- Common dance codes of India and Indonesia, 2nd edition, comprising three volumes.

Karana to Adavu.

For the Dancer’s Intellect: Theory and History, sponsored by her brother S. Krishnaswamy.

Madhusudan Sai, in his anugraha bhashan, extolled the virtues of music, dance, poetry and literature, the “soft power” which had integrated the entire ‘Bharata desa’. He lavished praise on K. Subrahmanyam, for his patriotic contributions and philanthropic acts, thus leaving a glorious legacy in the form of Nrithyodaya and also congratulated Padma Subrahmanyam for her steadfast devotion in sustaining this institution for 80 years. He remarked that he was also glad to be present alongside Sanskrit scholar and multilingual poet Shatavadhani R. Ganesh.

Paying rich tributes, Vinay Sahasrabuddhe mentioned how happy he was to have interacted with Padma Subrahmanyam in various forums and valued her immense contribution to the various activities of ICCR. He was greatly humbled to be honoured by her and was amazed at her singular focus on the development of art not limited to one genre and her firm belief that the confluence of diversities was primordial.

He announced that ICCR has plans for ‘Pratibha Sangamam’—a confluence of talents, during the Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav envisaged under the vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, by inviting foreign nationals from the world over (not NRIs), who excel in our various art forms, to perform in India during the Republic Day celebrations. He also stated that there would be an award for excellence in each field. The audience and the dignitaries applauded the surprise announcement by Vinay Sahasrabuddhe to honour the lofty contribution of Director K. Subrahmanyam by instituting an award for Bharatanatyam in his name.

Revathi Ramachandran, Director, Kalakshetra Foundation, spoke of her long association with Padma Subrahmanyam and also with Swami Dayananda Saraswati, which they shared. She described Padma as having set the pedagogy for dancers and highlighting the importance of both theory and practice.

Ujjivanam, a dance-drama on the interesting research journey of Padma Subrahmanyam, was presented by Jayashree Rajagopalan (Director, Nrithyodaya Academy of Performing Arts, Mumbai) and her troupe. Day one concluded with the singing of the National Anthem.

Day Two

HariHara, a short dance presentation on Pattadakkal, a heritage site which stands for the samanvaya or confluence of the cults of Vishnu and Siva, as seen in the unique icon of Harihara, was performed by Nrithyodaya artists from Bengaluru—Anuradha Vikranth, Rukmini Vijayakumar, Veena Nair, Dhanya Nair, Samudhyatha Bhat, and Samanvitha Bhat, to the lyrics of Shatavadhani R. Ganesh, and the music and choreography by Padma Subrahmanyam. Both the lyrics and the choreography highlighted the various attributes of the two deities in quick succession.

Amara—a rich and brilliant dance production specially curated for Nrithyodaya 80 by Apsaras Arts Dance Company, Singapore, threw light on the Indian imprints in South East Asia. The well coordinated team brought to life some of the stories depicted in the Banteay Srei Temple in Cambodia – including Krishna lifting the Govardhanagiri to protect his devotees, Mahishasuramardini slaying the asura, and Ravana lifting mount Kailasa. The music was composed by Rajkumar Bharathi, with concept and artistic direction by Aravinth Kumaraswamy; it was choreographed and danced by Mohanapriyan Thavarajah and group. It was interesting to observe the ten heads of Ravana vertically depicted aesthetically on the grand magnificent crown worn by the dancer.

In his address, chief guest N. Murali, President, The Music Academy, said that it is easy to start any institution, but to sustain it, and more so for so many long years, requires a lot of hard work. He applauded Padma Subrahmanyam and Nrithyodaya for the efforts by all concerned with wishes for a glorious future. Bharatanatyam exponent Priyadarsini Govind expressed her heartfelt desire to perform for Nrithyodaya and be blessed by Padma. Danceractor Shobhana paid rich tributes to the late Director K. Subrahmanyam, tracing both the association of the Travancore Sisters and their mother, who were first brought to Chennai by him.

Day Three

On the concluding day, Prabho Ganapatey by Nritya Pravesika students of Nrithyodaya was followed by Bhavayami Raghuramam by Nritya Visharada students. A tillana composed by S.V. Ramanan, brother of Padma was presented by the senior students. 

The grand finale was Valli Kalyanam, a revival of a Nrithyodaya production that premiered in 1980, a humorous narration of Lord Kartikeya’s marriage with the tribal girl Valli (enacted by Mahati Kannan), set to music and choreographed by Padma Subrahmanyam. Thunderous applause greeted Padma,  who herself performed the brief role of Muruga, coming as the old man. Among the noteworthy points in this production, was the costume design for the birds and animals in the vibrant and colourful tribal dance. The bunch of young children depicting chirpy birds, had the beaks above the forehead, thus enabling a clear vision. The idea of a mini elephant head placed similarly showed how costume designing can combine ideal symbolism and ease for performers.

Chief guest Sachchidanand Joshi, member secretary, IGNCA, was full of praise for the veteran Padma, for her dedication and impromptu appearance as an old man. She had been a member of the august audience till a few minutes ago! Guest of honour Roja Kannan, President ABHAI, too paid rich tributes. Appreciating the involvement of all those who participated, including the audience, B. Kannan ably aided by his wife Gayatri Kannan, proposed the vote of thanks and bade farewell. Wishes expressed for a blissful, healthy and long life to Padma Subrahmanyam and best wishes for the continued success of the onerous institution she heads. Viva Nrithyodaya! 


(The author is an airline official and a rasika)