Bharatanatyam Dance

V S Ramamoorthy: A visionary turns 100

V S Ramamoorthy with daughters Manjula, Usha and wife Rajalakshmi

V S Ramamoorthy with daughters Manjula, Usha and wife Rajalakshmi   | Photo Credit: scanned

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Guru V S Ramamoorthy has influenced generations of dancers with his dedication and passion towards dance

While India was celebrating its freedom from Britain on August 15, 1947, the classical dance fraternity in Mylapore, Chennai, had another reason to celebrate. They were welcoming into their fold a multi-talented young man who was set to perform his Bharatanatyam arangetram on that day. V S Ramamoorthy, at 27, was no mere young dreamer, but a passionate and dedicated artiste who had set out to make his illustrious guru Dandayudhapani Pillai proud, by virtue of being his first male shishya.

Now, nearly eight decades on, at the mention of dance, V S Ramamoorthy’s eyes light up and his lips curl in a smile. As his family, friends, disciples, dance connoisseurs and cultural associations gear up to celebrate his centenary year, Ramamoorthy is a picture of poise and content.

Though Ramamoorthy arrived in Hyderabad/Secunderabad only in 1969, he embraced the twin cities like a second home and selflessly imparted Bharatanatyam training to scores of students here.

Turning point

Born on September 20, 1920 in Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu, Ramamoorthy, as a young boy was charmed by the tradition of katha-kalakshepam and was drawn towards the narratives from the Ramayana and Bhagavatam. The role of a grief-stricken Kausalya, after Lord Rama leaves for vanavasam, was enacted so well by the young Ramamoorthy in school that he won accolades; that became a turning point in his life in pursuing his passion towards arts. Despite not having any formal training in dance or drama, Ramamoorthy successfully imbibed the nuances of dance-dramas.

After completing his Diploma in Electro-technical engineering, Ramamoorthy moved to Calcutta and then to Bangalore to join Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, as Sub-divisional Officer. In 1942 he joined Military Engineering Services (MES) and was posted in Madras.

Arriving in Madras, he found himself at the threshold of opportunities. At the age of 22, Ramamoorthy approached Kalasagaram Rajagopal — a sculptor-dancer at Kalakshetra — to get trained in Bharatanatyam, even if he had to travel from Avadi to Mylapore after work. He also strengthened his repertoire by acting in plays by Amateur Sabha.

Realising that he was inclined towards the dance style of the then eminent guru Dandayudhapani Pillai, Rajagopal introduced Ramamoorthy to the guru, who accepted him. Ramamoorthy was his first male disciple. A memorable occasion for Ramamoorthy came in the form of his arangetram, held at Rasika Ranjani Sabha on Independence day.

His continued his tryst with plays and Sri Ramakrishna Kripa Amateurs Association brought him laurels, specially in the roles of Sita in Sita Kalyanam, as Chintamani in Chintamani and Krishna in Karna Arjuna. What perhaps took him to the zenith of his acting career is Kalki Krishnamurthy’s popular Tamil play Sivakamyin Shapadam where he played the role of Sivakami that was staged across the country. His prowess in dance enhanced his portrayal of Sivakami. Soon the portrayal of female roles became his forte in drama — Kundavi in Parthiban Kanavu, Anarkali, Sita, Kaikeyi, Kousalya, Thilakavathy and many historical characters were enacted by him flawlessly. He held sway over a series of dance-dramas that also gave him scope to portray characters that need to dance.

A guru emerges

A master of technique and tradition, Ramamoorthy stood out for his impeccable expressions and abhinaya during his performances. His versatility ranges from being a dancer, singer, actor, painter and also turning into a make-up man when required.His experience in theatre resulted in distinct productions and dance ballets. Going beyond Bharatanatyam, Ramamoorthy trained himself in Kurathi dance — a folk tradition of Tamil Nadu. His repertoire would always generate a lot of interest and budding dancers were eager to learn the new genres. On request from his well-wishers, Ramamoorthy started a dance school, Sri Devi Nritya Niketan in Perambur, Madras in 1966. His second daughter Manjula became his first disciple. Ramamoorthy revelled in the experience of training a batch of students who went onto give their arangetram on March 29, 1970. Soon after, Ramamoorthy had to move to the twin cities on job transfer and settled down at the Defence quarters in Mudfort, Secunderabad. He ensured that his daughter continued her practise between 4 and 5 in the morning.

Eventually, as word spread, children, mostly from families of defence personnel joined in the training, thus paving the path for establishing Sri Rama Nataka Niketan, a new name for Sri Devi Nritya Niketan. By now Manjula had started assisting her father in running the dance classes. Post- retirement, Ramamoorthy focussed on choreographing and producing innovating ballets and compositions that were gaining wide recognition. Rigorous rehearsals, discipline and dedication to the art became the hallmark of Sri Rama Nataka Niketan. Performances standing atop inverted mud pots became another unique feature of the repertoire of guru Ramamoorthy’s students. From winning various competitions to coming out with flying colours on TV reality shows, became the order of the day for his students.

Acknowledging his dedication, renowned Bharatanatyam dancer Ananda Shankar Jayanth says, “He has taught generations of students with the same dedication. That is so rare! What is also amazing about him is the love and warmth he has for me and my students — even though I’m not his student! He always treated all dancers in Hyderabad as his children, taking pride in all our work and taking time to call and share his appreciation for our work.”

Ananda was at the forefront of the Artists and Arts Association that honoured guru Ramamoorthy in the city recently. “A Centenarian amongst us — one of our own gurus and an icon of our city — when we felicitate such a living guru, we receive blessings. What can be a more apt than all artists coming together to celebrate a doyen who has served the cause of arts in our city? And so a simple idea, got traction with every senior artist joining in enthusiastically,” she adds.

Last month city-based Kalasagaram honoured Ramamoorthy with the ‘Centenarian Award’ during their annual cultural festival.

For guru Ramamoorthy though, as his daughter Manjula Ramaswamy says, happiness is when he observes his students carry forward the dance legacy in the path that’s laid by him.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 6:24:06 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/dance/v-s-ramamoorthy-a-visionary-turns-100/article30357233.ece

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