Without missing a beat

Vazhuvoor S. Palaniappan.  

The Vazhuvoor style of Bharatanatyam is well-known not only in India but even abroad, thanks to the disciples of Vazhuvoor Ramiah Pillai, who have taken the bani far and wide. Among them is Palaniappan, who also happens to be the grandson of the legendary nattuvanar. The torchbearer of this family and its tradition, Palaniappan started learning dance from his grandfather when he was very young. One of the first lessons that he was taught was how to hold the ‘katta kuchi,’ the small stick used to keep the beat or ‘talam.’ “From there, we progressed to basic adavus and bhavam. This paved the way to core nattuvangam, which was one of the more important lessons,” says Palaniappan.

Cherished memory

He is the third generation artist of this tradition. His father Samraj too was a well-known teacher and nattuvanar himself. Palaniappan’s cherished memory is of performing nattuvangam alongside his grandfather and father when he was 13. It was during a tour of Chitra Visveswaran to New Delhi, Jaipur and Lucknow. He had no inkling of what was to come. Ramiah Pillai asked the the boy to sit next to him. “Little did I know that this was just one of the many to follow,” recalls Palaniappan.

While Ramaiah Pillai taught his students, the boy was asked to sit along side and watch him teach, correct mistakes and understand the nuances. Where Samraj was concerned, the boy had to take over often when he walked off.

“It was like being pushed into a pool and being asked to swim.” He also had to take over when his father was away for a performance or teaching elsewhere. He also had the opportunity to learn the finer points of the art such as choreography for a ballet or dance drama.

Going to Coimbatore with his father as the nattuvanar for Jayanthi Rajagopal’s first performance is an unforgettable moment for Palaniappan. In 1980, Samraj founded the Vazhuvoorar Dance & Music Festival. Palaniappan helped him in organising, advertising and other aspects.

By 1977, Palaniappan began to teach on his own. To start with, he used to teach at other centres in Chennai, but by 2001, teaching Jayanthi Ramachandra’s daughter during weekends became a routine.

When Jayanthi started the Sri Charan Fine Arts Academy, Palaniappan moved to Coimbatore, though he continues to be in charge of Vazhuvoorar’s Bharatanatiya Arts Academy, Chennai, founded by his grandfather. He feels that the students’ approach and attitude to this classical art in the two cities are rather different, which has helped him hone his abilities to teach youngsters with different attitudes.

His sister Kala Senthilnathan joined him in 2006. A performing artist herself, she has taken part in several dance dramas and has proved to be an efficient teacher too. In 1989, something happened that turned out to be an important lesson in life.

Palaniappan was to accompany his father as one of the nattuvanars to the World Tamil Conference in Mauritius. Just as they were to leave for the airport, his father turned around and told him to stay back and take care of his grandfather. Those were the days when sons obeyed their fathers and thus Palaniappan had to swallow his disappointment in missing out on his very first trip abroad. It taught him never to take anything for granted.

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Printable version | May 8, 2021 8:50:37 AM |

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