Padma Subrahmanyam is grace personified, with a rich vision for the art of dance.
She was born for Bharatanatyam after Balasaraswati and Rukmini Arundale. Her life is for dance and of dance. Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam is a walking encyclopaedia of Natya Sastra. She spent all her beautiful years in pursuit, perseverance and propagation of this pure art form. To be awarded the ‘Natyakala Acharya' by the Madras Music Academy in the forthcoming music season, this doyenne of dance was the first to receive the Lifetime Achievement Awardby the Krishna Gana Sabha, in her field of expertise. Padma Subrahmanyam is grace personified, as she ushers you into the magnificent precincts of the Chowmahalla Palace guest house where she has been conducting a week-long workshop for Hyderabad's classical dancers.
“Most of them are pursuing the Kuchipudi genre. But it makes no difference to me. My workshop on Natya Sastra has a universal applicability in as much as it teaches body training and other such guidelines to traditional dance which is common to all classical dances. I've been conducting workshops in the last couple of years to propagate the study of Bharata Muni's Natya Sastra and garner funds for my mega project— Bharata Elango Foundation for Asian Culture. It is my vision, waiting in the wings to take off,” she gets to the point at the very outset. There are no grey areas with Padma Subrahmanyam. Her mission, vision and her mode of working towards the fulfilment of these, is transparent. The foundation is at a nascent stage as of now. In the five acres close to Mahabalipuram road in Chennai, Padma Subrahmanyam envisages a Pan-Asian research centre on performing arts with the statue of Bharata Muni adorning the centre. “Why I call it Pan-Asian and not just Pan-Indian, as I had done so earlier, is that I was pleasantly surprised when I came to learn about the existence and validity of Natya Sastra in Asian countries like Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand and to an extent even China and Japan. There are so many traces of Natya Sastra in Japanese Kabuki; while in Cambodia, there is a Bharatha Muni's mask which is worshipped every Thursday by all the dancers very diligently. Even the, non-Hindus perform a Ramayana ballet in Indonesia. All these are testimonials to a common origin for dance across the Asian sub-continent,” she explains. Her vision, she reiterates is to “revitalise civilizations of Asia through performing arts. I firmly believe that cultural ties are beyond the bounds of religion.” The project entails humungous expenditure; almost Rs. 15 crore. This is not a formidable sum if only the corporate bodies and the government chip in financially, she opines. Padma Subrahmanyam is a pioneer who started the first Natya Sastra camp abroad. She held camps within the country in a Gurukula model for the past 14 years. Her own dance school – not to mention the new foundation, has been going strong ever since her father started it, about 70 years ago.
The Nrityodaya is like an elder sister to Padma or so she feels. “I have a streamlined pedagogy system. We have a four-year certificate course, followed by a four-year diploma course, one-year teacher training and one year specialisation in Karanas,” she enthusiastically relates. The school is also affiliated with Sastra University of Thanjavur.
With her achievements, her excellence is evident through vast research, Padma Subrahmanyam says her ambition has been fulfilled; namely, to present through dance the abstract teachings of Advaita and Bhagvad Gita, which she did with aplomb. Her workshops like her earlier Gurukula system of dance camps are enriching, enlightening and all-enveloping. She is one of her kind who can bring a global vision to the Natya Sastra.