It was indeed an emotion-packed event for the disciples of Bharatanatyam guru S.K. Rajaratnam (1931-1994) when they recalled his services and paid their homage on his 80th birthday, on Sunday last. While the gathering was a limited circle of a few of his disciples, family members and close friends, their reminiscences of the master’s extraordinary ability in teaching, singing and choreographic skill, came from their heart. It was marked not only for its solemnity, but also for sobriety and dignity.
While Priyadarsini Govind welcomed the select gathering, the doyen Kalanidhi Narayan opened the offering of salutations, recalling that he was the first guru to send his disciples for abhinaya lessons to her, when others had apprehensions. While she lamented that his two sons did not follow him in the profession, it was comforting that his daughter Jaya Kamala has picked up the mantle, to continue the tradition and his grand nephew Swamimalai Suresh had matured enough to scale heights in both nattuvangam and vocal.
Malavika Sarukkai reminisced about her joining the master after her tutelage under Guru Kalyanasundaram Pillai at Mumbai. “He did not ask me to change whatever I had learnt, which was nice of him.” Her early morning classes would go on till afternoon, when he would have taken only a glass of porridge made of ragi, offered by his caring wife.
Nellai D. Kannan, who had played the mridangam for almost 14 years in his recitals both in India and abroad, said that the master had adopted different methods of teaching for different students and not all performed an item in a similar style. Each one had her own individuality. When he queried him, the master had replied that he would devise adavus in such a way that it suited the disciple to perform naturally. He used to sing soulful viruttams preceding ‘Ka Va Va’ and ‘Krishna Karnamritham’ and they would mesmerise the audience, he remarked.
Rajasekar, who had accompanied SKR on several occasions as a vocalist, cited an incident that happened during the performance of Vidya Subramaniam. The master sang the raga Madhuvanti for almost thirty minutes (later Suresh corrected that it was Thilang, rendered before the Tillana), that made Lalgudi Jayaraman come to the stage and praise him for his ingenuity and creativity in raga elaboration. While Chitra Visveswaran recalled her brief association with the master, VAK Ranga Rao recounted his learning process dating back from Vazhuvurar up to Swamimalai Suresh now.
Master’s grand daughter Nrithya Pillai, in her tribute, said how as a playful child she had enjoyed his class despite his very strict regimen. Daughter Jaya Kamala Pandiyan spoke of the guru as a family man, his energy level during rehearsals in classes, his gentle nattuvangam with powerful jatis and his choreographic skills. She revealed that her father said, “Everybody raves about my singing, but none compliment me on my choreography on which I work so hard!” In a choked voice, Jaya Kamala mentioned that he did not spare much time for his family as he was always on demand for performances with a galaxy of star disciples.
Nirupama Vaidyanathan, the U.S.-based disciple spoke of her experience with Vadhyar and how he used to caution her while driving him back home, after a performances.
Swamimalai Suresh said he was fortunate to have him as his Guru and though as a child he was playful and inattentive in the class, his attitude was completely changed as he grew up under him and learnt the art.
It was Srinidhi Chidambaram who wound up the proceedings with an announcement of the plans for a grand celebration of the master’s 80th birthday, with a two-day dance festival by the disciples in association with Narada Gana Sabha on January 7 and 8, 2012. His choreographic masterpiece, ‘Bharathathil Bharathi’ comprising only the Mahakavi’s songs would be one of the highlights, she informed. A DVD with clippings from his life and career including excerpts from his musical and dance creations, and an audio CD of his vocal renditions in dance recitals and a monograph on him would be released on the occasion. Group discussion and panel discussion are also on cards.
Earlier, in a slide show, photographs of SKR with various dignitaries and disciples were presented, with his scintillating singing of ‘Aasai Mugam Maranthu Poche’ in the background, that instantly brought memories of the master.