Finding bliss in dance

Kalamandalam Sugandhi.Photo:K.K. Najeeb   | Photo Credit: K.K. Najeeb

A danseuse par excellence, versatile choreographer and respected guru, versatile and a guru widely accepted, Kalamandalam Sugandhi has to her credit more than five decades as an accomplished dancer, beginning from her formative years as a Mohiniyattam artiste. from of unbroken stint in the terpsichorean area, beginning from the formative years of Mohiniyattam. For the same reason, Her contributions to the dance form have been seminal. Privileged to have been groomed by doyens of her times, both inside and outside Kerala, Sugandhi became the pride of her gurus and a much-sought-after disciple. turned out to be a much-sought dancer. a a had turned the most sought-after disciple of all of them. That they continue to invite her for performances, lecture-demonstrations and seminars even today, speaks for her inimitable dexterity as a dancer and her deep insight into the ancient treatises such as like Natyasastra, Chilapathikaram and Tholkapyam.

Myriad are the compositions and varnams that she has penned over the years, endowed with exceptional literary taste as she is. In this connection her translation of Dr. Padma Subramaniam's work ‘Bharata Kala Lakshanam' into Malayalam has been praiseworthy. Her organisational skills were proved in 2006 when 1,200 dancers performed in Ernakulam for receiving Sri Sri Ravisankar, the lyrics and music for which were composed by her. her own. Nrithyanjali Dance Academy at Thrikkakkara, instituted by her, is a home away from home for all dancers. of all cadres.In a recent interview, she explained how passionate she was right from childhood to enlarge the vista of her knowledge about dance. Excerpts:

Initiation into dance

I was born into an orthodox Gowda Saraswatha Brahmin family in Thuravoor, Ernakulam. I was initiated into dance by Sathidevi teacher at a very early age. Apart from Bharatanatyam, she taught us folk dance and ballet. Dance turned into an obsession for me. Realising my potential, my father, G.S. Kamath, opened a dance school, Kalamandiram, in our home, where I was the teacher. I started teaching young students. I remember how veterans like Guru Gopinath and Kavalam Narayana Panikkar used to encourage me after my recitals. They insisted on my joining Kalamandalam after completing my school education. Once, I had won the first prize in competitions conducted by Kalamandalam. So, I was keen to join that prestigious institution.

In Kalamandalam

The teaching staff included Sathyabhama teacher, Chandrika teacher, and veteran A.R.R. Bhaskara Rao. Three months after my admission, they promoted me to the second year through a written examination. This was because they wanted me to participate in Kalamandalam programmes, for which first year students are not allowed. It was a blissful experience to be a dance student in those days. The way in which my gurus groomed us with so much of affection, care and love, is beyond words. The method of training was systematic and strict. It was really a great blessing to be in Kalamandalam, as the first seminar on Mohiniyattam was organised by the institution in 1968 when M.K.K. Nair was the Chairman. Admittedly, it opened the gates of a hitherto unknown world of the terpsichorean art. As for me, I was called upon to perform padams such as ‘Panimathi,' ‘Tharuni' and also the Danisamjendra' varnam in Todi. The workshop turned historic as the style of the coiffure was changed to the present mode of ‘Kondakettu' for the first time. Also, I remember the visit of the maestro Vazhvur Ramayya Pillai to Kalamandalam. For the first time in our life, we had the privilege of interacting with such a great nattuvanar.

The years in FACT

The then Chairman, M.K.K. Nair, who was also the Managing Director of FACT, Aluva, was a great patron of art. When I completed my studies in Kalamandalam in 1969, he invited me to join the staff of FACT School's Fine Arts wing, his own brainchild to promote performing arts. This was a turning point in my life. M.K.K. Nair himself sent me to Vedantam Prahlada Sarma in Andhra Pradesh to hone my skills in Kuchipudi. I was selected as the best student there. As part of the FACT troupe, I performed on innumerable stages throughout India and I shot to fame mainly because of this exposure.

With Kalyanikutty Amma

It was quite accidental that Sridevi, Kalayanikutty Amma's daughter, came to stay with me at the FACT quarters for a few days. Having seen my classes, she suggested that I learn from her mother also. In a few days, I became her favourite student and she taught me all the advaus she had developed, and many of her choreographies too. Even though I could differentiate between the styles of Kalamandalam and Kalyanikutty teacher, the latter influenced my later productions.

Tryst with Dr. Padma Subramaniam

Once, when Padma Subramaniam danced in FACT, I was asked to play the tambura. As the performance progressed, I failed to play it and got engrossed in her dance. This was noticed by her and she asked me to sit in front of the stage. Thereafter, to this day, I am regularly invited by her to Chennai for workshops, lecture-demonstrations and performances. It was a 15-day workshop on Natyasastra organised by her that opened my eyes to the relevance of this treatise to all classical dance forms, including Mohiniyattam. A Mohiniyattam performance based on Natyasastra tenets was first staged by me in the Soorya Festival, Thiruvananthapuram, in 1989. I participated in the 13-episode Doordarshan production on Bharatiya Natyasastra directed by Dr Padma. My daughter, Nandita Prabhu, settled in Chennai, is a disciple of this great scholar. The source of inspiration for my degrees, BA (Malayalam) and M A (Mohiniyattam) has been primarily Dr. Padma herself.


Kerala Sangeeta Nataka Akademi, Sangeet Natak Akademi, Delhi, and Kerala Kalamandalam are the main institutions that have honoured me with their awards. Senior Research Fellowship of the Sangeet Natak Akademi was granted to me a few years ago. I could not have achieved all these but for the unreserved support of my husband, Damodara Prabhu.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2021 5:28:07 PM |

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