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Music and dance blend in rhythmic harmony

K. N. Dandayuthapani Pillai's uncanny sense of laya made his technique rich and vibrant. His disciples across the globe will remember their Guru whose 84th birth anniversary falls on July 14. NANDINI RAMANI pays tribute to the doyen of Bharatanatyam.


``I CONSIDER him as my dear friend of high attainment," says a hand-written letter of appreciation, framed and preserved by the family. That was a praise from a stalwart, who was none other than the veteran musician Tiger Varadachariar, from the Kalakshetra in 1946, and the person whom he hailed was the illustrious musician-nattuvanar Natya Kalachakravarti, Padmasri K. N. Dandayudhapani Pillai. Such was the high reputation earned by this matchless doyen, who belonged to a glorious musical lineage of traditional nagaswara players of Karaikkal. To Karaikkal Natesa Pillai Dandayudhapani, the artistic community is ever indebted for the excellent repertoire legacy he has left for posterity. With his 84th birthday falling on July 14, the doyen is remembered with respect and affection. Born in 1921, Dandayudhapani learnt vocal music from his father Karaikkal Natesa Pillai, a versatile vocalist. Later one of the brothers of his grandfather, Ramakrishna Pillai, also a talented musician and nattuvanar of those days, taught him. Although the aim of the young Dandayudhapani was to remain as part of the Periya Melam, upholding the family's musical lineage, as a boy of 17, he migrated to Madras seeking livelihood as a singer for dance. He joined the Kalakshetra as a member of the orchestra. Dandayudhapani's passion to learn nattuvangam took him to Kattumannarkoil Muthukumarappa Pillai. Soon he moved out of Kalakshetra, and started teaching on his own. His innate talent for laya, combined with his training in vocal music, gave him the ability to develop his own vibrant technique, which brought him wide acclaim and innumerable disciples.

Dandayudhapani Pillai was a unique teacher who combined intricate and tough nuances of rhythm, in an astonishing manner that would leave the viewer in utter amazement. Such was his powerful recitation revealing his outstanding grip and expertise in laya-oriented choreographies. It still remains a vivid picture for this writer watching Vadyar rehearsing with Sri Vidya, daughter of the music legend, MLV. Srividya, endowed with a keen sense of rhythm, used to respond with equal vigour during those sessions. Equally fascinating was her arangetram in which both the teacher and the disciple revealed a unique rapport that ensured excellence, especially in aspects of Laya.

It is well-known that Vadyar's laya orientation was known for its complex nature. The complexity was used more to enhance the beauty of the technical aspects of Bharatanatyam. His Jatis were very different from those belonging to an earlier era of traditional nattuvanars. Dandayudhapani Pillai played with laya details with a deep passion, that he often displayed tough Korvais weaving into them intricate Kaarvais ( rhythmical pauses). ``His theermanams had clarity and were an aural delight and a joy to dance. Being a perfectionist, Vadyar was particular about the Kalapramana (timing) and the arudis (flourish). His sense of Talam was astounding," writes Vaijayanthimala Bali in a tribute to her teacher. She imbibed the bani in all its purity of lines, posture and execution. ``Vadyar was so simple and unassuming that many times when I was busy in film shooting, he used to come to the studios to teach or rehearse during lunch hour or between breaks," says this senior exponent who is still the finest among the veterans, known for her impeccable Nritta soaked in beauty, perfection and devotion, all of which she attributes to her guru Dandayudhapani Pillai. Talking of his keen interest in composing sizzling Jatis, Usha Srinvasan, Dandayudhapani Pillai's prime disciple, who was associated with him for more than two decades, said, ``His greatest obsession was composing and choreographing Jatis; the dramatic pauses, juxtaposing forward movements with diagonal placements or side movements, and warming up the tempos gradually during the patterns, kept up the visual interest in his style. Nritta was his forte and it is quite strenuous to train, especially in his Jati patterns," explains Usha who runs the Hasta School for promoting the Dandayudhapani style. In the preface to the book containing his own compositions, ``Aadalisai Amudam," (recently reprinted by his second wife Chandra Dandayudhapani), Dandayudhapani Pillai writes that he has realised his duties as a human being on this earth, which is to enrich the artistic world with his works.

Says he, ``I am not interested in accumulating wealth from my artistic attainments. My mission is to leave for posterity, a treasure of knowledge that can never perish."

The veteran Nattuvanar, after he left Kalakshetra, turned to composing pure Tamil compositions for Bharatanatyam, to suit students of different age groups. The Bharatanatyam stage today reverberates with many of his original Jati compositions, enchanting Varnams, sparkling Jatiswarams and Tillanas. Especially noteworthy is the Pancharatna Tillana, which has a Sahitya with a touching note of devotion addressed to Lord Nataraja. A look at the galaxy of musicians and nagaswara players who were members of his family and who nurtured his talent and moulded him: nagaswara vidwan Ayyasami Pillai, the grandfather, his younger brother, nattuvanar Ramakrishna Pillai, father Natesa Pillai, musician, the illustrious T. N. Rajaratnam Pillai, brother of his first wife Subhadra, another brother-in-law, Tiruvengadu Subramanya Pillai, uncle Sangita Kalanidhi P. S. Veerusami Pillai, and quite a few more who made Carnatic music richer by their contributions.

Any one who listens or dances the Navaragamalika Varnam of Vadyar is bound to be thrilled by its lilting lyrical content. In quality and content, the compositions presented by innumerable dancers, with or without due acknowledgement on stage, may be considered on par with those of the illustrious Quartet. As one who is composer of both the Dhatu and Matu, Dandayudhapani Pillai is indeed a Uttama (true) Vaggeyakara (composer of the word and the musical format).

This most respected musician and nattuvanar was the first to receive Padmasri from the President of India, in 1971. The Tamilnadu Sangita Nataka Sangam honoured him in 1965, with the title Kala Sikhamani, as it was known then.

The list of the disciples in this bani seems endless. Vadyar's first disciple was Jayalakshmi Alwa who now teaches at Mangalore and from whom the renowned Odissi exponent Sonal Mansingh learnt and gave a vibrant performance in this city in the early 60's, with Vadyar conducting her. He taught a number of leading film stars like Waheeda Rehman, Asha Parekh, Rajasulochana, Chandrakanta, the Chief Minister of the State, Jayalalithaa, Manjula, Lata and so on. Other leading dancers who worked with him for brief periods were Yamini Krishnamurti, and Padma Subrahmanyam. Apart from his adopted daughter Uma Anand, there were bright dancers like his sisters-in-law, Surya Santhanam and Chitra Subramaniam, Sheila Pathy, Adyar Sisters — Padmini-Radha-Uma Muralikrishna and last but not the least Urmila Satyanarayanan who was his student for three years and had her arangetram shortly after his passing away.

Dandayudhapani Pillai composed several dance-ballets, scripted some, set to music, and choreographed some, that were staged by leading dancers and film stars. His long association with several leading film companies for whom he directed the dance sequences, made him the most sought after choreographer of that period.

It is interesting to note from his brief biography, that he made a breakthrough in Hollywood composing music and dance for the movie, ``The River." He even sang a song in the film. Recalls Usha, ``Always confident and courageous, Vadyar went in1974 on a very successful performance tour of the U.S., with me as the main artiste and accompanied by his wife Chandra. At Boston he underwent an eye treatment at the renowned Boston Eye Research Centre."

``At 9 a.m., everyday when he performed his daily puja, he would always pray that he should leave this world, in the midst of an active career," said Chandra. And that happened. After conducting the arangetram of one of his students at the R. R. Sabha, Chennai, Pillai suffered a massive heart attack and the end came shortly after on October, 12, 1974.

The technique of Dandayudhapani Pillai is being carried on by his own family members, his wife Kalaimamani Chandra Dandayudhapani (lecturer, Tamilnadu Music College), K. N. Dakshinamurti Pillai, his brother in New Delhi, niece, Kalyani Sankar (N. Delhi), daughter, Uma Anand (lecturer, Annamalai University), his senior disciples Malati Srinivasan and Vanaja Narayanan.

The other brother, K. N. Pakkirisami Pillai, carried the torch until he was alive. K. J. Sarasa, renowned teacher of the Vazhuvur Bani is a cousin of Dandayudhapani Pillai. Natanam and Tirugokarnam Kalyanasundaram were two of the male dancers of this school, who turned out to be well-known teachers in this tradition.

Vadyar was a pleasant and friendly person for all those who knew him well, although he appeared tough. Celebrities interacted with him showing reverence. And there Vadyar stood out as the true Vidwan who was universally respected - ``Vidwan Sarvatra Pujyate."

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