The most memorable moments in the life of a guru are when his disciples fetch him glories through their crowning achievements. For guru N.V. Krishnan Payyannur, such occasions have been myriad over the past three decades of his career as a dance teacher. Not many among his fraternity can boast of the number of Kalaprathibhas and Kalathilakams he has produced both in the State School Youth Festivals and also in the University Youth Festivals across Kerala. This singular achievement could be imputed to a pedagogy he has imbibed from his great guru Rugmini Arundale, founder of Kalakshetra and her disciples V.P. Dhananjayan and Santha Dhananjayan. While he benefitted from the association and interaction with stalwarts during the long years he spent in Chennai as a student and also as a teacher and performer, the motivation to consider teaching dance as a means for serving society was also imbibed from Rugmini Arundale. At 63, Krishnan Master continues moulding dancers for tomorrow. is a popular hotfooting teacher catering to the demands of his students that include senior dance teachers as well. Recently in Thrissur, Krishnan Master found time to take a trip down memory lane. Excerpts:
Beginning with Kalarippayattu
Payyannur is a land of Theyyam and Kalaripayattu. It had nothing much to do with classical dance forms during my childhood. My career also began with Kalari. I was lucky to have an institution near my home for Kalaripayattu training –Kalodaya Kalari Sangham. My father, M. Kelu, insisted that I join the Kalari as it would strengthen the body. I was only eight then. My gurus were N.V. Krishnan Gurukkal, Kannan Gurukkal and Narayanan Gurukkal. Training was in the traditional format. Three years later I had my arangettam. In those days, we were trained in both the Northern and Southern styles of the martial art form. To have participated in the famous Thirunavaya Mamankam was really memorable. Kolkkali was another art form that was imparted to us.
Into the Kathakali arangu
I was lucky that the Kalodaya Kalari Sangham had begun Kathakali training as well, as soon as I had finished my training in Kalaripayattu. My father was very particular that I train myself in an art form. We had Swamy Kannan Marar, disciple of Chandu Panicker, as our guru. My earlier footing in Kalaripayattu stood me in good stead in the Kathakali kalari. Four years of arduous disciplining created a strong performer out of me. My artistry had fetched me a title of ‘Kathakali Krishnan' in those days. As a pre-degree student in Payyannur College, I was a little proud of this. However, thanks to my obsession for the art, I could not pursue college education further.
Turning point in life
I met maestros V.P. Dhananjayan and Santha Dhananjayan at Payyannur when they came for a performance in a temple. They advised me to join Kalakshetra to learn Bharatanatyam. Those days, the Kalodaya group was invited by the Malayali Association, Chennai, for staging Kalaripayattu and Kolkkali. This gave me the chance to join Kalakshetra. Since then, I never had to look back. To this day, I am the protégé of the Dhananjayans. Five years spent in Kalakshetra under Rugmini Arundale moulded me as a Bharatanatyam artiste in all respects. Further, the stint there gave me opportunities to rub shoulders with great masters such as Maya Rao, Sarada Hoffman and the like. I remember the choreographic sessions of Rugmini Arundale that were systematic and disciplined. I participated in all her productions and the tours of ‘Ramayanam,' ‘Rugmini Kalyanam,' ‘Dasavatharam,' and ‘Kuchelopakhyanam' across India. It was a rewarding experience. Soon after the completion of the course I was absorbed as a staff artiste. I served Bharathakalanjali of the Dhananjayans for three years thereafter. This also provided me opportunities to visit many foreign countries for performances with them. I also worked in the Rishi Valley School of the Jai Krishnamoorthy Foundation for some time.
I was particular that I must serve my native land in my capacity as a dance teacher. And Payyannur wanted it. Bharathanjali Dance School has completed 27 years and has produced outstanding artistes, most of whom are professionals in various institutions in India and abroad. Manju Warrier joined my institution when she was in class six and so did Vineet (also a film actor). I never prepared my students for competitions. I impart to them what I have learnt from Kalakshetra without any dilution. Kalathilakams and Kalaprathibhas are by-products of this strict grooming. Those who brought laurels to me include, to mention only a few of my disciples, Murali H.Bhat, M.K.Shijithkumar, C.Vipindas, Namitha Vasudevan, Sreejaya, Arpana Sankar, K.P.Heera, Sanghamitra, Sangeetha Rajagopal and G.Silpa. For me, teaching dance is a service to society. I never demand fees from my students, especially from those who cannot afford it. Also, I take care to teach the students myself and never assign that to any assistants.
Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi honoured me with its award in 1998 and Kerala Kalamandalam followed in 2003.