Icon of Abhinaya

Sujatha Vijayaraghavan and Priyadarsini Govind recall their association with the exponent Kalanidhi Narayanan, who passed away recently.

February 25, 2016 05:36 pm | Updated February 26, 2016 12:52 pm IST

fr_Kalanidhi Narayanan abhinaya at Thennangur temple

fr_Kalanidhi Narayanan abhinaya at Thennangur temple

A treasure trove

Was it clairvoyance that she was named Kalanidhi — treasure of art? If Balasaraswati, Kumari Kamala and Rukmini Devi brought about the Renaissance of Bharatanatyam in the forties, it was Kalanidhi Narayanan, who, since the 1970s, tirelessly trained dancers in abhinaya. She made an incredible comeback after a hiatus of more than 30 years. She picked up effortlessly where she left off. Soon students of several gurus came to her to learn the nuances of abhinaya. Mami, as she was called by all who knew her, revolutionised the approach to abhinaya. Students and senior artists of various classical styles in India and abroad trained with her to learn and enrich their art.

She did not stop with whatever she had learnt. With a zeal and passion she went in search of padams, javalis and compositions that served as a fertile ground for her imagination and creativity and added to her repertoire.

Natyarangam, the dance wing of Narada Gana Sabha had a close association with her as she was always available to help further the cause of dance. Her unfailing presence in the front row was an encouragement to every dancer and she would give them a candid feedback. She gave lecture-demonstrations, officiated as a judge in the competitions and attended all its activities over the years. Natyarangam was proud to bestow upon her their annual award for a guru. She came as a faculty member to one of the early dance camps at Thennangur. A memorable moment was when she danced spontaneously to ‘Krishna nee begane’. It was at the camp that one could witness how she had evolved a methodology to impart the intangible to young dancers. She spent a whole hour in the use of the eye movement.

She introduced a strong awareness of the lyrics. Abhinaya is said to unfold in three progressive stages, padartha, the verbal interpretation, vakhyartha, depiction of the whole line and dvani, which is the evocative multi-layered interpretation that is the essence of abhinaya.

With Kalanidhi mami the third level was reached at the very first level. For instance, the invocatory slokam ‘Mooshika vahana’ taught by her expressed wonder at the incongruousness of a large figure of Ganesha riding on a tiny mouse without making it appear caricaturish. Nothing overdone, nothing dramatised, it was drsya kavyam, visual poetry.

To teacher, with love

It is impossible to capture in words a relationship that has spanned more than 40 years, a relationship that has impacted every aspect of my life. I was nine years old when I started classes with mami and it was through her vision that I learnt to look at the world of abhinaya.

Kalanidhi mami along with my mother instilled in me immense passion for dance. Very rarely does one come across a teacher to whom personal fulfilment meant the growth of her students. Kalanidhi mami belonged to that rare breed, who ignited the minds of her students so that they could explore and reach their full potential. She was never confused by the dichotomy of maintaining the traditional while telling her students to be progressive as artists . She set very high standards for herself as a teacher . She was simple and austere yet incredibly generous with her art. When she spoke, she spoke straight from the heart but her abhinaya could show you a hundred different ways to approach a situation.

Though she staunchly believed in the institution of marriage, she also ensured that her students didn’t stop pursuing their art after marriage. Every student was equally important to her. She was an integral part of her student’s family and participated in every important event in her students’ life. A legendary teacher, to me she epitomised a karma yogi.

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