Renowned dancer and actor Vyjayantimala Bali takes a nostalgic trip down memory lane. She speaks of her early interactions with greats in Carnatic music such as Maharajapuram Vishwanatha Iyer, Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar and others who shaped her interest in music
I reminisce some of the many memorable moments, incidents and experiences with an amalgam of hues and colors that have added to the lustre of my life’s many-splendoured canvas. As a child born in a conservative Sri Vaishnava family in Triplicane, my upbringing had a strong undertone of piety. Even the walls in the house seemed to reverberate with the chimes of bells, the chanting hymns and filled the atmosphere with a spiritual fervour. The sound of the nagaswaram and tavil played in the precincts of Sri Parthasarathy Swamy Temple would thrill me. My grandmother Yadugiri Devi would narrate verses from the sacred Nalayaram Divya Prabandham, Andal’s Nachiyar Tirumozhi and Tiruppavai with ease as she knew them by heart.
I was greatly influenced by the spiritual approach and strongly believed that devotion was supreme. As I loved dancing, my grandmother had me trained in the Vazhuvoor style initially At the same time, she insisted that I learn Carnatic music dance and music were considered as one entity. My first music teacher Manakkal Sivaraja Iyer came from a family of reputed musicians. I used to be quite playful but my guru was very patient with me as I was just four then. My home resonated with classical music and dance and we had great maestros such as Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar visit us. He was quite fond of me and taught me the Todi varnam ‘Era napai’ in Adi tala. It was a special experience for someone as young as me when the doyen of Carnatic music felt I had learnt and sung the composition to his joy and satisfaction.
Another outstanding violinist and a great family friend Mysore T. Chowdiah would often come home. He taught me a beautiful invocation to Goddess Chamundeswari in Kannada. He was pleased to learn later that I sang his song on AIR when I was just five as a child artist.
I recall a very humorous and great singer, none other than the renowned Maharajapuram Vishwanatha Iyer. The vision of his jovial, betel chewing countenance is fresh in my mind. He taught me to sing a Tamil line in raga Kambhoji. It was fascinating because each time he sang it he would break up the words differently to lend a new meaning. Not just this, he would convey the meaning with expressions and mudras!
Azhakulla durai ivar yaaradi? (Handsome lord, who is he?)
Azha ‘kulla’ durai ivar yaaradi? (Handsome ‘dwarf ’ Lord, who is he?)
Azhakulla durai ivar ‘aaradi’? (Handsome Lord, who is this tall 6 footer?)
He was truly amazing!
I speak now of my one and only guru, goddess and teacher, the revered and respected Vidushi D.K. Pattammal, an epitome of patience and compassion. I was so fortunate to learn from her and be close to her. She always told me that had I not pursued dance, I would have made a fine concert singer. While teaching, she was most attentive and at all other times, most affectionate. Every Saturday evening was reserved for chaste Carnatic music at home. I have had the pleasure and honour to listen to my favorites such as Tanjavoor K.P. Sivanandan and Sarada akka, Veena Doraiswami Iyengar, T.N. Krishnan, Sikkil Sisters and K.V. Narayanaswamy. Incidentally, I also learnt from KVN and how can I not recall the grand elderly Vidwan Mysore Vishveswaraiyya who visited my home and taught me a tillana in Surati raga and also a couple of other kritis?
Having my roots firmly connected to traditional Bharatanatyam and Carnatic music — if I can call them twin arts —- I am truly inspired to delve deeper into it. I am a strict follower of the legendary Tanjore Quartet who gave us and the world of fine arts, the precious artistic heritage of Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam. They became the embodiment of bhava, raga and tala and their musical excellence and apt lyrics were ideally suited for dance. I feel my dance is elevated with soulful music and lyrics. Bharatanatyam is a complete art form and Carnatic music adds to its totality.
na bhooto na bhavishyati — Such as this never was, nor will ever be.