Another place, another time

The heritage walk around Kalakshetra mirrors the history and culture of the art foundation

December 16, 2014 08:15 pm | Updated 08:15 pm IST

STORIES FROM THE PAST: The Padma Pushkarini at Kalakshetra. Photo: K.V. Srinivasan

STORIES FROM THE PAST: The Padma Pushkarini at Kalakshetra. Photo: K.V. Srinivasan

Veenas and tampuras jostle for space in that tiny room. They recline on the floor; are perched on the walls… each of them, a piece of art with a story to tell. The veena with a chocolate-brown kudam with intricate white carvings, for instance, belonged to veena exponent Sambasiva Iyer. The Instruments Cottage at the Kalakshetra Foundation also houses M.S. Subbulakshmi’s grand piano and Rukmini Devi’s small piano. It’s our second stop at the heritage walk organised by the foundation to give people a peek into its world.

Under a banyan tree, an “offspring” of the one at Theosophical Society, where the institution for arts education was originally located, Apoorva Jayaraman, the project coordinator, narrates the story of Kalakshetra, a dream nurtured “by a young girl called Rukmini from Madurai”. She talks of how Rukmini wanted to give more children access to Bharatanatyam, which was once confined to people from certain communities. “This is the starting point of the institution,” says Apoorva. The tree was the first to be planted in the 100-acre campus that’s now a teeming manmade forest. We walk through the tree-lined, leaves-strewn campus; listen to snatches of veena and mridangam from the classrooms; see students clad in cotton saris practise dance as a kingfisher flutters past their classroom window. Here, Nature, music, and dance co-exist. A Vishnu sculpture in stone, from Rukmini’s personal collection, stands under a tree, while a bust of Tagore occupies pride of place at the entrance of an L-shaped performance space called Tagore Hall.

“Tagore spent eight months teaching English at the institution when it was located at the campus of the Theosophical Society,” explains Apoorva. “Rukmini approached him when she was about to start Kalakshetra,” she adds. “Tagore was delighted to meet someone much younger than him with similar ideas.” The first structure to be constructed at the campus, the Hall stands in memory of Tagore’s stint at Kalakshetra.

The Padma Pushkarini, an amphitheatre constructed around a lily pond, is our next stop. With granite mandapams and steps, the structure is among the more recent additions to the institution. Thiruvanmiyur was once home to several natural trenches that maintained a reasonable level of groundwater in the area. “But they were all encroached upon,” says Apoorva. The pond at Padma Pushkarini, she explains, is Kalakshetra’s effort to preserve our natural resources. She adds that the amphitheatre has been named after Padmasini, who was a caretaker at the hostel some four decades ago. “She was like a mother to the students… she was a big support to Rukmini,” adds Apoorva.

We stop at the art, sculpture, and pottery classes; nod at kohl-eyed students and sit through a Bharatnatyam class in progress. But the best part of the walk comes when we arrive at a clearing near a mud path. Terracotta horses, aruval -wielding moustached Ayyanars and goddesses tower above us — this is the Ayyanar shrine. The shrine is a slice of life from another place and time. Cut off from the rest of Kalakshetra, its earth-scented silence brings a perfect closure to the heritage trail.

The Kalakshetra Heritage Walk will be offered to groups of five to 15 on an advance registration basis. The walk, that lasts 70 to 90 minutes, costs Rs. 1,500 per head. To register, email

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