Alumni meet with a difference

Natyarangam discussion on ‘Our Kalakshetra Days’ by C.V. Chandrasekhar, V.P. Dhananjayan, C.K. Balagopalan at Narada Gana Sabha Mini Hall. Moderated by Janaki.   | Photo Credit: M.Karunakaran

C.V. Chandrasekhar, V.P.Dhananjayan and C.K.Balagopal shared their memories of the time they spent at Kalakshetra, at an event organised by Natyarangam. S.Janaki, the moderator, rued the absence of A. Janardhanan who had a high fever that day.

When they recited the set of daily prayers strung together by Budalur Krishnamurthy Sastrigal, singing which ensured a familiarity with different ragas, it was an introduction to the Kalakshetra way of teaching. Of creating an environment conducive to the arts where learning continued through the day, in and out of classrooms, with or without teachers observing, nourished by the presence of great artistes and conveyers of tradition. “The chhanda-s of the Tiruppugazh inspired me later in life when it came to my own choreography,” said Chandrasekhar,

In 1943, when Chandrasekhar arrived at Kalakshetra, it was to a place where cow dung was spread on the classroom floors to prepare it for the next day’s exertions and students’ bedding was stored in racks at the hostel. By the time Balagopal and Dhananjayan joined in 1953, things had improved marginally.

‘Athai’ Rukmini Devi decided their fates by pronouncing them Rama and Lakshmana at first sight, roles the boys were to play in ‘Sita Swayamvaram’. Food was not plentiful and all three spoke of how their stamina was built dancing on empty stomachs.

‘Theosophical Society grounds’, ‘mirror cottage’, ‘hostel’, ‘thatched-roof classroom’, ‘Athai’s house’, these words recurred in their narratives, conjuring up the magical geography of a sacred place for the arts —Kalakshetra. If a young Chandrasekhar practised voice exercises with Mrs Chase, Dhananjayan and Balagopal spent an hour doing kulukki nadai in the mirror cottage. If Chandrasekhar was deeply influenced by hearing the Dagar brothers, Dhananjayan and Balagopal imbibed the essence of Carnatic music by spending time with Mysore Vasudevachar and M.D. Ramanathan in the evenings.

Audience interest deepened when the three artistes danced, to Shanta Dhananjayan’s nattuvangam and K. Hariprasad’s singing, each choosing a particular point to demonstrate.

Sources of inspiration

Chandrasekhar talked about how Athai was open to many sources of inspiration, evidenced in the puppet dance of ‘Sita Swayamvaram’, with staccato steps and jerky movements.

Balagopal and Dhananjayan did the famous ‘pashyan vanaani ramyaani’ description of the forest as Lakshmana and Rama, enthusiasm and excitement apparent on their faces as they went back in time.

“Rukmini Devi skilfully decided which scenes were best depicted in the grammar of Kathakali,” said Dhananjayan. To introduce some variety in ‘Sita Swayamvaram’ she used a verse from the Adhyatma Ramayana ‘Enaiva nirjitaan lokaan’ and, Dhananjayan, who normally essayed satvika roles, once had to portray an arrogant Ravana during a performance in Bombay. “Our training was such that we knew each other’s roles and in an emergency could bravely substitute for another dancer.”

As the audience grew bolder in its requests, Balagopal portrayed the scene in ‘Sri Rama Vanagamanam’ where Bharata berates his mother Kaikeyi, accusing her of sending Rama away. Quiet until then, Balagopal spoke animatedly of the evening when he had hurt himself on stage playing Hanuman, “a role that gave me everything in life.” A doctor gave him an injection that helped numb the pain. “I was not aware of how I danced, but the performance was a success.”

When Balagopal’s mother died, the Kalakshetra troupe was on a tour to Delhi. Athai did not inform him until the performance was over. Years later, in 1986, Rukmini Devi breathed her last in his devoted presence, her head on his lap, and he felt that he had rendered the service he owed his mother to his guru and mentor, the beautiful long-haired lady in whose presence he was so awe-struck and tongue-tied as a teenager.

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Printable version | Jul 31, 2021 7:26:44 AM |

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