For the sake of art
Vijaya and E. Mukunadan walk down memory lane with OLYMPIA SHILPA GERALD
Financial constraint is a primary reason why many trained artists do not become performers. The Corporate sector should come forward and sponsor artists.
Photo: M. Moorthy
WEDDED TO DANCE The Mukundans in Salangai Academy of Indian Classical Arts
She is a Mohini Attam exponent. He is a Kathakali dancer. But it was Bharatanatyam that brought them together. Meet E. Mukundan and Vijaya Mukundan, Tiruchi's leading dancing duo. Theirs has been an incredible journey from the backwaters of Kerala to the capital city and finally culminating in the temple town of Tiruchi.
“I trained in Bharathanatyam under her after our marriage. She is my wife and guru,” Mukundan beams.
They have two sons, Sushmit and Soumit, who were trained in classical dance but later moved on to academic pursuits. But their precious baby was conceived 25 years ago – ‘The Salangai Academy of Indian Classical Arts', where Silver Jubilee preparations are in full swing now.
Clad in a pink silk saree, charming Vijaya Mukundan narrates how it all began.
Her tryst with dance began at the age of seven in Shoranur. “My uncle who was a drama artist helped me take my first step. The Music Club was launched at that time in my hometown and my uncle persuaded me to enroll for Bharatanatyam classes.”
The gifted young lady pursued her art, winning accolades on the way and joined the Kerala Kalamandalam after passing her Tenth standard Board examinations. Following rigorous training in Bharatanatyam and Mohini Attam, she graduated from Kalamandalam in 1969 and entered the Song and Drama division of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry at Delhi as a staff artist.
While adding Odissi, Kathak, Kuchipudi and other folk dances to her kitty, she performed at various fora across the country winning admiration and appreciation from denizens and diplomats alike.
It was during this time, she met her soulmate and spouse in Mukundan, her colleague in the Song and Drama division then. After a courtship punctuated by performances of the highest order, the couple tied the knot and moved to Madras in 1977.
Mukundan's fascination with dance began with Kathakali at the age of nine in Minalur, Thrissur district. After eight years of intensive training at Gandhi Seva Sadan in Palakkad district, he won a scholarship to the Little Ballet Troupe, where he pursed theatre arts. This was his launching –pad where he performed in Republic Day parades and folk dance festivals around the globe.
After a stint with Bharatiya Kala Kendra, he served till 1983 in the Song and Drama Division. Simultaneously, Mukundan received training in Odissi under Sri. Mayadha Raut and Smt. Aloka Panicker. He later worked with director E.Madhavan and the renowned dancer couple, Natarajan and Sakuntala in dance productions.
While Vijaya Mukundan resigned her job in 1979 as the touring took a toll on family commitments, Mukundan followed suit in 1983. “I was advised against giving up a Central government post, but I realized I couldn't tend to my son personally,” she justifies.
The soft-spoken artist's demeanour belies her strong determination and capability. She successfully juggled family and career, while working at the Malayalee Club of Madras as instructor from 1979- 1983 and bringing up her two sons. She also received advance training in Bharatanatyam simultaneously under Shantha and V.P. Dhananjayan.
Transition, for art's sake
Mukundans hold the Dhananjayans in high esteem. “We owe everything to them -- our inspiration, spiritual guidance and professional growth,” they chorus, adding that the Dhananjayans were instrumental in their decision to move to Tiruchi in 1983.
“There are times when we have wondered whether it was a mistake leaving Madras, the Mecca of fine arts in South India,” reflects Mukundan, “But there has been no looking back. Our gurus insisted that art must flourish outside Madras as well. We are happy and proud that we have contributed in nurturing Bharathanatyam here.”
Interestingly, the Mukudans were the first Bharatanatyam instructors at ‘Kalai Kaveri' and together they trained around 300 students during two year stint.
1986 saw the birth of their dance school, Salangai, started out with six students. In the course of 25 years, more than 1,000 students have trained here under the aegis of the 60-plus couple. Presently, the Academy has five centres in the city and 100-odd students.
The Natyanjali festival, an all-night dance extravaganza held every year on Mahashivarathiri at Thiruvanaikovil is the institution's trademark event.
“It is a self-sponsored event. Despite lack of sponsors for the event, the show must go on and we always have packed houses,” notes Mukundan.
The Mukundans are renowned to be a treat to watch on stage, but unfortunately for connoisseurs of dance in the city, the couple do not perform any longer. “Technical difficulties abound. We are unable to find suitable accompanists in the city. We have to arrange musicians from Chennai which turns out expensive, with food and accommodation included.”
Age is no deterrent for the benign couple. They do not believe in engaging teachers to instruct their students. “We do not believe in haphazard training. Our students are personally trained by us,” asserts Vijaya .
Perfection and professionalism are matters that the Mukundans cannot dream of compromising with, whether it concerns postures in dance or preparations for programmes. And this is exactly why limited resources and indifferent response irks them.
“Tiruchi has limited resources and encouragement and informed appreciation of arts in the city is hard to come by. Senior artistes do not perform here and students do not have much scope to learn or better their skills by watching such performances. Getting a well-maintained sabha replete with all amenities is rare. We end up spending for all minor and major technical arrangements.”
“But today there is increased awareness about Bharatanatyam which has spawned a huge number of dance schools and students alike. It is a welcome development, with an adverse effect because the general standard of training has deteriorated,” they rue.
“There are crash courses in Bharatanatyam and the focus has shifted to obtaining certificates and diplomas. But the hallmark of a true dancer is performance and the public recognition won.”
For the Mukundans, commitment and dedication rank high and they wish more students in the city would take up dance professionally.
“Financial constraint is a primary reason why many trained artists do not become performers. The Corporate sector should come forward and sponsor artists. Academic pressure is also an important factor. Most students give up the art just before the board exams. Even arranging dance tours turn out to be difficult as students who go to tuitions are not available even if we manage to find accompanists.”
Dance predominates their life, leaving them very little time for anything else.The day starts at dawn with daily classes at 5.30 at their K.K.Nagar residence.
The couple who were awarded the Natyopaasaka award for service to arts in 1999, on the 10th anniversary celebrations of ‘Salangai' ,hold their students at the heart of every decision they make. A better artistic milieu is all that they wish for their students.
Looking back, they might have missed creative chances and performance opportunities being based in Tiruchi, but have taken it in their stride. Their glory today rests in the laurels their students bring home.
Their dream conceived 30 years ago has borne fruit. The artists they have trained and the art they have nurtured stand testimony to the fact. As Mukundan says: “It was a decision for the sake of art.”
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