One of the finest cultural academies dedicated to the preservation of traditional values in Indian art, especially in the field of Bharatanatyam and Gandharvaveda music, turned 75 yesterday.
The Kalakshetra was founded on January 6, 1936, after Rukmini Devi's arangetram at the Theosophical Society in Adyar during its annual convention. She was a revolutionary who took this art form to a larger cross section. “Until then it [Bharatanatyam] was taboo in society. She gave a new life to the art and her mission was art in education,” says senior dancer V.P. Dhananjayan, who joined the institution in 1953.
Well-known personalities such as E. Krishna Iyer, film director K. Subramaniam, C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer and S. Radhakrishnan were others who supported Rukmini Devi.
The institution was inaugurated by S. Radhakrishnan, former President of India, with just one student, Lilavathi. Later Rukmini Devi Arundale's niece Radha Sriram [Radha Burnier, now the President of Theosophical Society] was initiated into naatya training under a tree. She was also the first diploma holder of Kalakshetra. “That Naatya vriksha (tree) has now become the big banyan tree of Bharatanatyam,” adds Mr. Dhananjayan.
Kalakshetra functioned on the Theosophical Society campus until 1963 and then shifted to Thiruvanmiyur, where it now functions.
G.Sundari, former assistant secretary at Kalakshetra, who worked there for over 30 years, says it was an unusual job managing the administration, but she did it, as she loved it. “Vidwans treated us like their own daughter,” she says.
The institution has produced many stalwarts in the field over the years and continues to do so.