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Inimitable dance guru

The Music Academy honours four artistes — two with Sangita Kala Acharya and an equal number with the TTK Award for Excellence. Profiles...



Adayar Lakshman... Sangita Kala Acarya.

ADAYAR K. Lakshman was born on December 16, 1933. Ten years later, he joined Kalakshetra and began his training in music and dance under a host of vidwans and Rukmini Devi. Initially, his innate talent in music, discovered by P. D. Doraiswamy Iyer (critic Subbudu's uncle), was nurtured by his teachers. Later, Rukmini Devi, ever the shrewd judge of potential, encouraged him to specialise in all aspects of dance as well. "I had never seen Bharatanatyam before... I tried to say that only girls are expected to dance... but Athai convinced me that dance was the best physical exercise. I never dreamt that dance would become my priority in life," says Lakshman of those distant days.

Lakshman's gurus in dance and music make a list of the who's who of Kalakshetra's famous teachers.

They include Mylapore Gowri Ammal, K. Dandayuthapani Pillai, S. Saradha, Tiger Varadachari, Budalur Krishnamoorthy Sastrigal, T. K. Ramaswamy Iyengar, Mysore Vasudevacharya, Tanjore Rajagopala Iyer, V. Vital, Kamalarani, and Karaikudi Muthu Iyer. Lakshman graduated in 1954 in Bharatanatyam, Carnatic music and nattuvangam. He stayed on in Kalakshetra, received a Government of India scholarship, and got his post-graduate diploma in 1956. His quest for learning did not stop, for, he went on to specialise in mridangam. This is a huge asset for any dance guru, and speaks volumes about Lakshman's later work as a teacher. Like most male students of Kalakshetra, Lakshman too learnt Kathakali from Ambu Panicker, and Chandu Panicker.

Rukmini Devi cast Lakshman in her early dance dramas. This hands-on experience of participating in shows broadened Lakshman's horizon and prepared him for a future as a guru and composer of dances. "Kumara Sambhavam", "Kutrala Kuravanji", "Sita Swayamvaram" and "Usha Parinayam", based on the Melattur Bhagavata Mela tradition, are the prominent Kalakshetra productions which Lakshman had the privilege to perform in. "I am now one of the few who can say we were on the stage with Rukmini Devi when she was dancing in those productions," says Lakshman. To be touched by great artistes is the good fortune of students. Lakshman was not only influenced by Rukmini Devi, but had many close associations with other masters.

He remembers vividly being sent by Rukmini Devi to Papanasam Sivan to learn the Mukhari Ashtapadi, "Priye Charusheele". "I had the good fortune of learning the song from Sivan in all its bhava-rich detail," says Lakshman.

Lakshman's first foray into teaching outside Kalakshetra was in Vyjayantimala Bali's school, Natyalaya. Spread over more than a decade, he conducted over ten arangetrams in this school. It was at Natyalaya that he had honed his skills as a choreographer of merit, assisting in productions like "Tiruppavai", "Azhagar Kuravanji", "Chandalika" and "Sanga Tamil Malai".

In 1969, Lakshman took the bold step of starting his own institution and named it Bharata Choodamani. The work of this school of dance has been of a consistently high standard, with Lakshman and his able staff members keeping the technique sound and adhering to the traditional framework set by Kalakshetra. Over a hundred arangetrams have been performed. But above all, individual artistes have emerged from this school, making a name for themselves, and eventually establishing their schools of dance, both in India and abroad.

The vast repertoire that Lakshman has built up for his students, mark him as a creative teacher, with originality and imagination. His dance drama productions include "Varunapuri Kuravanji", "Aiychiar Kuravai," etc. He has also choreographed classical dance sequences in films like "Hamsa Geethe", "Subba Sastri" and "Ananda Tandavam".

A man closely attached to his family, Lakshman has trained his sons in mridangam. Besides, his brothers, Rama Rao and Gopi, are well known in dance circles as vocalist and mridangam artiste respectively.

His sister Nagamani Srinivasa Rao, a singer, runs her own dance school.

A Guru with a busy calendar, which includes long stints abroad, Lakshman is a generous teacher.

Prominent among his disciples are Ramli Ibrahim, Chandrabanu, Anita and Preetha Ratnam, Roja Kannan, Braga Bissel, Jayanthi Subramanyam, Padmini Chari, Kishore, Rukmaji Rao, the late Kamadev, and many more. The Music Academy recognises Lakshman's stellar role in Bharatanatyam with the `Sangeetha Kala Acharya' award in the centenary year of Rukmini Devi's birth.

LAKSHMI VISWANATHAN

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