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Updated: January 2, 2012 19:06 IST

Dance guru Sarasa passes away

Meera Srinivasan
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A file photo of K.J. Sarasa. Photo: S,S. Kumar
The Hindu A file photo of K.J. Sarasa. Photo: S,S. Kumar

Revered dance guru K.J. Sarasa, who devoted her life to deep engagement with Bharatanatyam, passed away in Chennai on Monday following a brief illness. She was 78. She is survived by her sisters and their families.

A precious torch-bearer of the famed Vazhuvoor bani of Bharatanatyam, Ms. Sarasa has the rare distinction of conducting nearly 1,000 arangetrams (first performance) and 2,000 recitals, including those of celebrated artistes such as Vyjayanthimala Bali, Baby Kamala and the Travancore Sisters Lalitha, Padmini and Ragini. She was the first female nattuvanar, too.

A range of pupils, including Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa and writer Sivasankari, hail from the 'Sarasa school'. Noted dancers Rathna Kumar, Urmila Sathyanarayanan, dance choreographer Raghuram, K. Shanmugasundaram, are among her disciples who have made a mark in the field. Over the years, many other youngsters were drawn to 'Sarasalaya', the dance school Ms. Sarasa set up in 1960.

Her life was marked by simplicity, and her story is one of tremendous hard work, commitment and rare grit during difficult times.

Ms. Sarasa, daughter of nagaswaram artiste Jagadeesan Pillai, spent her early years in Karaikal. Following initial training under Muthukumara Pillai, she went to the great Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai. Later, she moved to Madras to pursue dance under Ramaiah Pillai through the gurukula system for over a decade. Very soon dance became the central, driving force of her life and as she has said in one of her interviews to The Hindu, “I knew nothing else!”.

Fondly referred to as 'Sarasa teacher' by her students, she derived great joy from training students, sharing and choreographing. Not that she didn't consider performing. As a teenager, Ms. Sarasa, like almost all students of dance, was fascinated by the idea of performance. However, her guru had told her ‘You can teach all your life, but not perform'. She was asked to do the nattuvangam. Ms. Sarasa did not regret not having performed. She, in fact, maintained that what her guru had told her was right and worked out well for her. Teaching, she said, helped her take care of her family of four sisters and a mother after their father’s early demise.

She was not only a great artiste, but also a true rasika who simply loved music and dance. She believed that a dancer needed to immerse herself in melody to be able to emote well. Ms. Sarasa's choreography of Krishna Parijatam, Aditya Hridayam, Silapaddikaram, Kunrakkudi Kuravanji, Desa Bhakti and Kutrala Kuravanji won critical acclaim.

Her contributions won her several honours, including the ‘Kalaimamani’ title, the Swarnakalasam Award at the Kalidasa festival and the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademy Award from the Central Government.

Ms. Sarasa was unaffected by her success. Till her very end, she remained a loving, down-to-earth artiste, who was totally enchanted by dance.

Jayalalithaa's condolence

Tamil Nadu Chief Minsiter Jayalalithaa condoled the death of her dance teacher K.J. Sarasaa, saying her death was a loss to those who were in the field of dance and her contribution to the art was immeasurable.

Besides winning awards such as Kalaimamani, Natyaselvam, Swarnakalasam, Natyaratna, she was also the recipient of the Sangita Nataka Academy’s best Bharathanatyam dance teacher.

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I am extremely saddened to hear of the death of my loving Guru. She made such a huge impact in my life and turned me into the dancer I am today as I know she has done with all her other students. I will forever be grateful to her for so graciously sharing her knowledge with me and open heartedly welcoming me into her home. I unfortunately never managed to go back to India to see her after I left a few years back however her spirit and caring smile has always been close at heart. Rest in Peace Teacher and Thank You for all that you have taught me. I am also willing to contribute to an award in memory of this great Maestro.

from:  Auvasha Moodley
Posted on: Jan 4, 2012 at 17:35 IST

Saddened to hear Guru K J Sarasa's passing. She dedicated her life to teaching dance, was wonderful and selfless at it. I know of many who could have not afforded dance but for her compassion in accepting lower compensation not only for herself, but convinced the rest of the orchestra to accept lower fees as well. Although temperamental at times, she worked very hard with each and every student and brought out the best in them. No two students danced alike, she allowed room for creativity and allowed each one to develop their own style which is a rare virtue of any dance teacher. She sat in dance class all day and evening, weekdays and weekends barely taking any time off for herself. Her dedication to this art was her only life. I pray her soul rests in peace.

from:  Sujatha Ramanathan
Posted on: Jan 4, 2012 at 12:09 IST

I am deeply saddened to hear about the demise of my only Bharathanatyam teacher under whose tutelage I did my Arangetram many years ago. May her soul rest in peace. I, and my family, owe a lot to "Sarasa Teacher" and we convey our deepest condolences to "Sita Akka" and the rest of the family. If anyone can email me her current residential address and phone number, I would be grateful.

from:  Sreedevi Ramakrishnan
Posted on: Jan 4, 2012 at 03:38 IST

The death of our beloved Teacher is a big shock to all of us who've known her over the years. A simple , jovial person, Teacher was always loved by one and all. She spread joy wherever she went and her determination, will power, the discipline and the strong foundation that she gave us can never be matched. May we the students of such a Legend carry forward her Legacy and celebrate her life.......I completely agree with Mr.Koushik that we should institute an award in her honour and am willing to contribute my bit in making this award a reality.

from:  Poornima Sankar
Posted on: Jan 3, 2012 at 15:58 IST

I deeply mourn Ms. K J Sarasa's demise. In fact it is very important that all her true disciples institute an award in remembrance of the departed soul. My wife Bhargavi Gopalan is indeed one of her favorite disciples and I'm very unfortunate to not have met her despite she wanting to host us at her house. I'm willing to take up the charter of instituting this tribute, and wanting to reach out to her erstwhile disciples. Dear CM, please consider this and we would be honored to have this instituted by you.

from:  Koushik R
Posted on: Jan 2, 2012 at 22:37 IST
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