As a four-year-old, Saroja was dazzled by Kamala Lakshman, whose performance at the RR Sabha was enough to draw the young child to Bharatanatyam, despite the reluctance and opposition of her orthodox family. Born on 19 September 1937 in Bellary, Saroja Vaidyanathan grew up in Chennai. Marriage relocated her to North India, but life brought different opportunities. She started teaching dance, choreographed several productions and showcased Bharatanatyam in many festivals in India and abroad. Many accolades came her way. Saroja was conferred the Padma Shri in 2002 and the Padma Bhushan in 2013 by the Government of India.
She is also the recipient of the Sahitya Kala Parishad Samman, the Kalaimamani title, the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi award and the title of Bharata Kalai Sudar, from the Pollachi Tamil Isai Sangam.
Saroja Vaidyanathan has written a number of books on Bharatanatyam and Carnatic music, including The Classical Dances of India, Bharatanatyam – An In-Depth Study, Carnataka Sangeetham, and The Science of Bharatanatyam.
Bharatanatyam has extended its roots deeper into her family. Her daughter-in-law Rama Vaidyanathan and granddaughter Dakshina Vaidyanathan are well-known performers of the art.
At 85, Saroja still oversees the students and teachers at her dance school, Ganesh Natyalaya, and imparts learning outside of her school through workshops and demonstrations.
In this interview she shares with us her life story and the integral part dance played in it.
Interview by Sreelatha Rajan