Descendant of an illustrious tradition
ONE OF the most reputed styles of Bharatanatyam, practised by dancers across the globe is that of the Vazhuvur School. Known actually as Vazhivoor, this village in the vicinity of Mayiladuturai in Thanjavur district is the native place of Ramaiah Pillai, whose disciple is the renowned Kamala Lakshman. Such was the unique approach of the Vazhuvoorar Bani propagated by the veteran Ramaiah Pillai, laying focus on the beauty of movement, picturesque poses blending with a charming graceful technique that gave visual delight in contrast to the rigorous routine practised by the traditional artistes of the Fifties and Sixties.
Any serious rasika of Bharatanatyam, retaining the fragrant memories of the past, would love to recall the elegant performances of Kamala, who literally ruled the scene at that point of time, dancing to the majestic accompaniment of veteran Vazhuvoor Ramiah Pillai, assisted by his vocalists K. R. Radhakrishnan and S. K. Rajaratanam.
The torch lit by this traditional Nattuvanar, whose lineage flourished, centuries ago, directly under the patronage of the Chola kings, was nurtured by his son, Vazhuvoor Samraj, who passed away recently. Named after the renowned Nattuvanar, Samu Pillai, hailing from this traditional family, Samraj's Natya parampara traces its origin dating back about 2,000 years ago at this village of Vazhuvoor, which has a Siva temple, the presiding deity worshipped as Gajasamharamurti.
In the passing away of Vazhuvoor Samraj recently, son of Ramaiah Pillai, the field of Bharatanatyam has lost one of the direct inheritors of this grand lineage. Samraj worked with his father and trained several students in this discipline. After the demise of Ramaiah Pillai, the mantle fell on Samraj and he continued the task with the dedication his father was known for. Brochures and invitations of Arangetrams of the Vazhuvoor School of Art that functions at Mylapore, shows the firm adherence to and respect for the traditional format of Bharatanatyam, which is still maintained at this academy of dance. Samraj taught with devotion and ambition and fostered the ideals and values cherished by his father-teacher, Ramaiah Pillai. In keeping with the practice of giving the students freedom to think and improvise, Samraj encouraged his students to work with zeal.
Gifted with a rich, resonant voice, Samraj wielded the cymbals with a sparkle and added the typical Vazhuvoor touch to his recitation of the Jatis. Samraj choreographed several dance-ballets including Alli Tirumanam, Kumaresar Kuravanji, Kutrala Kuravanji and Oliyin Nizhal, on themes from Hinduism, Christianity and those based on patriotism.
Samraj continued the annual Vazhuvoorar festival, where several of his father's and his own students from India and abroad were featured, with a view to upholding the dance heritage and creating a platform for many talented young dancers. Through these festivals, Samraj, recipient of the titles, Natya Kala Samrat and Kalaimamani, revealed his generosity and silently carried on his mission, which was to keep the Vazhuvur flag flying.
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