NRITHYODAYA was founded in 1942 in Chennai by Director K. Subrahmanyam - a film pioneer and Nationalist - who was a great parental personality in the cultural world. The objective of the founder was to propagate the Arts of Dance and Music in their true dimension and teach them free of charge to the deserving who cannot afford to pay and learn. Nrithyodaya is - perhaps one among the very few institutions in the country - serving the field of Culture for sixty years. Since the Founder had close links with UNESCO, Nrithyodaya was even functioning as UNESCO Information Centre till 1972.

Even during the forties, the institution had a performing wing also, called "Natana Kala Seva", the first of its kind in the South. Here, the artistes included film star luminaries like S.D. Subbulakshmi, V.N. Janaki, Lalitha, Padmini, Kausalya and others, while the teachers included stalwarts like Vazhuvoor Ramiah Pillai, Muthuswami Pillai and Gowri Ammal for Bharata Natyam Guru Gopinath and Kumaran Asan (from Kerala) for Kathakali, Kaminikumar Sinha (from Santiniketan) for Manipuri, Pandit Bolonath Sarma (from UP) for Kathak and Thangappan for Folk Dance. The gathering of this galaxy was possible because of Director K. Subrahmanyam's dream plan of producing the first full length dance film, "Nartana Murali" (Lord Krishna's life) in Tamil and Hindi. This ambitious project could not be completed due to financial problems; but the eighteen months of daily intensive dance rehearsals for over hundred artistes (along with recorded songs) saw the flowering of innumerable dancers and dance teachers. This laid the solid foundation for the efficient and regular dance training in Nrithyodaya.

In the early sixties, Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam (Founder's youngest daughter) took over as the Director of Nrithyodaya. In 1971, when the Founder passed away, his Eldest son V. Balakrishnan (a reputed Documentary Film, Producer, Director and Cinematographer for over four decades) became its President.


The aim is to give the students a wholesome and true perspective of Indian Art and Culture in all their ancient glory and of the imminent cultural unity of our great Bharata-Varsha. One of the measures to achieve this is - apart from the classes for dance (Theory & Practicals) and music - a weekly class for all students on selected chapters from the seven volumes of "Deivattin Kural" (Voice of Divinity), containing the discourses by the Centenarian Sage, Pujyasri Mahaswami of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam, involving study and discussion by the students. Presently, all the students go through a course on "Vedic Heritage", as formulated by Pujyasri Swami Dayananda Saraswati of Arsha Vidya Gurukulam. These provide the necessary foundation to understand and appreciate traditional values and enhance national self esteem. Nrithyodaya's activities are four-fold:- (1) Training (2) Research (3) Performances & (4) Documentation.


Students aged seven years and above are admitted, after due scrutiny of their Application Forms and after testing their aptitude. As a policy, preference in admission is given to deserving applicants belonging to lower economic strata; after sometime, and depending on their progress, classes are declared as FREE for those who, in the opinion of the institution deserve such help. The application form does not contain a column for religion, caste or community. But discipline is a must. The students are from many parts of India (and some times abroad, including a few holding scholarships from Govt. of India). They are also from various social segments of society. It is relevant to mention here that the students include daughters of postmen, masons, bus conductors, drivers, cart-men and even tribals. Director K. Subrahmanyam Memorial Trust gives scholarships and stipends to a few bright students who are trained as Teachers and Research Assistants. A few who have completed the Teachers' Training Course are now well settled in other institutions or in their own Centres, started in their respective places, affiliated to Nrithyodaya.

The pedagogy system is based on Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam's research findings. The courses are systematically based on syllabus, with annual examinations in Dance (Practicals and Theory), Music (Vocal/Instrumental), Sanskrit, Yoga, "Nama Sankirtan" and Vedic Heritage. Sanskrit is compulsory to enable the students to understand "Natya Sastra" and other works. Non-Tamilian students are advised to develop a working knowledge of Tamil to help them to grasp the meaning of the lyrics. Basic aspects of Indology are also taught to the students.


Research is an integral part of Nrithyodaya's activities. Its Director, Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam (with a Master's Degree in Music) has been doing intensive research in the field of dance for over three decades, and received her Ph.D (in 1980) for her thesis on "Karanas in Indian Dance and Sculpture", based on Bharata's "Natya Sastra". Here, her unique achievement has been that she has successfully incorporated the fruits of her research in her choreography, which has resulted in the flowering of a so-called new style in dance which in fact is only a revival of an older technique. It is true that initially, there was criticism for this "new style" from sincere conservatives, out of ignorance and from self-styled intellectuals, out of prejudice. Dr. Padma braved all this with conviction Today, she is being actively copied with or without acknowledging her.

In the last over five decades since independence, India has seen the revival of the 'Desis' (the regional art forms). Dr. Padma was ordained to reconstruct theoretically and practically the 'Marga' (the common Rashtriya technique), through a holistic approach to Bharatiya philosophy of aesthetics. Her correlated study of Natya Sastra, its commentaries, and the Karana sculptures and inscriptions for about two decades, have enabled her to reconstruct the 108 Karanas practically, which has been widely acclaimed as pioneering and unique, in aesthetically bridging the gap between theory and practice which has existed for 500 years. She has been variedly described as one "who opened a new chapter in the history of Bharatanatyam", "a constructive rebel" and as one "whose work has influenced the entire Indian dance field". With dazzling dynamism and devotional dedication, she is passing on to future generations the artistic treasures discovered by her. For her, research is a life time work. Nrithyodaya offers guidance for Doctoral and post-Doctoral research on Indian dance, sculpture and theatre by scholars from India and abroad. Dr. Alessandra, an Italian archaeologist spent time in Nrithyodaya under Dr. Padma for her post-doctoral research on "Natya Sastra in Indonesia". Her book "Prambanan - A Link beyond Time and Space" (published from Thailand) deals with the special relationship between the Karana sculptures of Java and Dr. Padma's new designs for the Karana sculptures at Satara (Maharashtra). Veena Ramphal from SOAS, London spent a few months in Nrithyodaya for her research on Karanas.

Shyamala Balakrishnan, (Graduate in music) was the main singer for Nrithyodaya's concerts. Her voice became a household factor in the dance field. She was another research scholar with outstanding field work. She was awarded the post graduate degree of M.Litt., for her thesis on "Folk Music & Dance of Tamilnadu". She rendered great help for Dr. Padma's research. Both of them have delivered many Lecture Demonstrations in India and abroad, including two International Tamil Conferences, Seminar of the International Music Council at Western Australia, the Series arranged by the Japan Foundation (in Japan), the World Hindu Conference in Sri Lanka etc.

Dr. Gayatri Kannan, (Ph.D in Sanskrit) is now the main singer for Nrithyodaya's concerts; she is an accomplished disciple of Dr. Padma in Dance, S. Rajam in Music and a research scholar in Sanskrit. She obtained her Doctorate in 2003 for her thesis, "Madhura Vijayam - a Literary and Historical Study". She is a senior lecturer in Nrithyodaya and is also assisting Dr. Padma in Administration & Research.

The Teen-agers' Symposiums on Natya Sastra proved the mettle of Nrithyodaya students in scholarly pursuits. Also, the Natya Kala Conferences which are held in Chennai annually was initially organised by Nrithyodaya for two years where Dr. Padma was its Convenor. Numerous scholars, artistes and writers from India and abroad visiting Nrithyodaya for exchange of academic and practical information have expressed their admiration for its constructive activities.


The performance wing is in fact considerably sustaining the Training and Research activities. Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, the Chief Performing Artiste of Nrithyodaya, is one with an active continuous performing schedule in India and abroad. She has been presenting both solo programmes and dance dramas with group, consisting of staff and students of Nrithyodaya, trained by her. Even during the initial phase of the Inter State Cultural Exchange Project of the Govt. of India (to promote National Integration), Nrithyodaya's group was the first to venture to present concerts in the formidable forward areas of frontiers, to entertain our armed forces, with a sense of duty and patriotism. Dr. Padma alongwith Nrithyodaya artistes has participated in many International Festivals. The countries/continents where she has not performed are South America, Africa and China. Till now, about 20 special thematic solo programmes and equal number of dance dramas have been produced by Nrithyodaya, apart from numerous solo items choreographed by Dr. Padma. It is noteworthy that practically, the lyrics of all these programmes have been compiled from classical literature (in Tamil, Sanskrit, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Telugu, Marathi, Bengali and Kashmiri) with ennobling concepts. (Many songs used in contemporary classical dance, with obviously lower sentiments, bordering on vulgarity are meticulously avoided). Quite a few of these programmes have collected substantial funds for worthy causes. In the past decades, many bold experimental programmes have successfully been presented with an eye on the concept of National Integration. To mention a few:-

1) "Parijata-apaharanam" - was the first dance drama with Hindi lyrics, Carnatic Music and choreographed as Bharatanatyam.

2) Gurudev Tagore's "Shyama" - was presented in Tamil with Rabindra Sangeet in Manipuri style.

3) Tamil translation of a few verses from Tagore's "Gitanjali" was produced as a dance drama in Bharata Nrityam style.

4) Other group productions of Nrithyodaya include "Meenakshi Kalyanam", "Viralimalai Kuravanji", "Valli Kalyanam", "Ardhanariswarar Kuravanji", "Silappadikaram", "Krishna Tulabharam", "Nagarukku Appal", "Dasa", "Pannum Bharatamum", "Jalam", "Natya Sastra Avataranam", "Pavai Nonbu", "Sri Gurave Namaha" (dedicated to Pujyasri Kanchi Mahaswami) and "Vande Mataram" (for Golden Jubilee of India's Independence)

5) Dr. Padma was the first to venture to transcend linguistic limitations by composing and choreographing a Hindi "Varnam" in Bharata Nrityam style, using the lyrics of a Meera Bhajan. Also, she composed music and choreographed a full concert in Bengali language - in Bharata Nrityam style - for her Bengali student.

6) Dr. Padma revived the "Banika" style of presentation wherein one artiste depicts various roles; all her programmes under this category are extremely popular and in great demand. Some of them are, "Krishnaya Tubhyam Namaha", "Ramaya Tubhyam Namaha", "Kamba Ramayanam", "Jaya Jaya Sankara", "Bharatikku Anjali", "Purandara Bhakti", "Sangamam", "Nayanmar Moovar", "Valluvarum Veda Neriyum", "Bhagavad Gita", "Navarasa", "Sakti Darsanam", "Stree Sakti" etc.,

7) Dr. Padma choreographed and performed "Jatayu Moksham" as solo in Bharata Nrityam style for the Russian Orchestral Symphony of the world renowned Tchaikovsky. She performed "Gajendra Moksham" for the Japanese music of the blind genius composer Miagi Michio.

8) In earlier years (even during the fifties), Smt. Neela Krishnamurthi, (Dr. Padma's elder sister and an accomplished classical singer) was accompanying Dr. Padma's concerts. She was giving regular music concerts with lyrics compiled from "Tirukkural". She was also singing the Hindi translation of Saint Thyagaraja's songs, retaining the original music.


1) Meenakshi Subrahmanyam (Dr. Padma's mother) was a composer of a few hundreds of songs in Tamil and Sanskrit. She was also accompanying Padma's concerts on the Veena or Harmonium. Many of her songs are being utilised for dance concerts.
2) Dr. S.V. Ramanan (Dr. Padma's elder brother) is a well known music director and has composed music for some dance dramas of Padma.

3) Dr. Padma - herself a singer and music composer - has been conceiving music and movements simultaneously for several of her stage productions. On invitation from the Govt. of Singapore, she went there, composed and recorded music with a Pan Asian orchestra of over 30 members including Chinese, Malay, Indonesian, Western and Indian instrumentalists, for an Indian dance programme, "Ritu Mahatmiyam" for the Singapore Arts Festival.

4) Shyamala Balakrishnan started the Folk Song Ensemble of Nrithyodaya. The famous dance dramas of Nrithyodaya "Meenakshi Kalyanam" and "Viralimalai Kuravanji" (both lyrics and music) are products of her research.

5) B. Kannan (Dr. Padma's nephew) is a reputed Veena Vidwan (instrumentalist). Apart from his solo concerts, he has been accompanying his aunt on Veena, Suddha Maddalam, Mridangam and Vocal. He is a music composer in his own right, composed music for dance dramas and has a few "Tillanas" to his credit, which are being utilised for dance. He also assisted Dr. Padma in music direction for the internationally acclaimed TV Serial, "Bharatiya Natya Sastra", "Ritu Mahatmiyam"
(for Singapore Arts Festival) and the prestigious biographical film for posterity, "The Sage of Kanchi". He is the Secretary of Nrithyodaya.


1) The then Soviet Union, Film Australia, Films Division, Govt. of India, NHK of Japan (Asia's Who is Who Series) and Singapore TV have each made a film on Dr. Padma. They depict her as a teacher (in classroom and outside), her research and her devotion to the Art of Dance and to Bharatiya Culture.

2) "Folk Songs of Tamilnadu" (HMV - LP & Audio Cassette) contains a few of the authentic collection of Shyamala Balakrishnan - sung by her along with Dr. Padma. Many of these have been copied as popular film hits.

3) "Jayadeva's Ashtapathis" (Polydor - LP) sung by Dr. Padma with music by Dr.S.V. Ramanan.

4) AVM Audio brought out an audio cassette "Deiva Tamizh Isai" with devotional songs from Tevaram - sung by Shyamala Balakrishnan & Dr. Padma

5) Publications:-

(i) "Bharata's Art - Then & Now" (English) by Dr. Padma (published by Nrithyodaya in collaboration with Bhulabhai Memorial Trust, Mumbai)

(ii) Bharatakkalai Kotpadu" (Tamil) by Dr. Padma - a text book followed by many teachers and students. (published by Vanathi Pathippakam)

(iii) "Natya Sastra & National Unity" (English) by Dr. Padma (published by the Govt. Sanskrit College, Tripunithura, Kerala)

(iv) "Kanchi Mahaswami's Vision of Asian Culture" (English) by Dr. Padma (Vanathi Pathippakam)

(v) "Valluvarum Veda Neriyum" (Tamil & Sanskrit) by Dr. Padma (Vanathi Pathippakam)

(vi) "Bhagavad Gita for Dance" (English & Sanskrit) by Dr. Padma (Vanathi Pathippakam)

(vii) "Legacy of a Legend" published by Mumbai Nrithyodaya (on Dr. Padma);

(viii) "Padma Subrahmanyam Oru Sagaptam" ("Padma - an Era") - Tamil, by Sundari Santhanam (published by Vanathi Pathippakam)

6) Nrithyodaya produced (for Doordarshan - Govt. of India) a 13 Segment TV Serial, "Bharatiya Natya Sastra" (English), based on Dr. Padma's research and script, and with her appearance with a group of dancers from various styles. This film, directed by V. Balakrishnan, won international acclaim as well as a few awards in India for projecting the imminent cultural unity of Bharat in its true perspective and its civilisational boundary. A milestone in dance history is the actual performance of the 108 Karanas of Natya Sastra by Dr. Padma (and her disciples - artistes of Nrithyodaya) in this film, inter-edited with the Karana sculptures of Tanjavur, Kumbakonam and Chidambaram temples.

7) A project of historic importance is the sculpting in granite of a new set of 108 Karana sculptures and fixing them around the new shrine of Nataraja built at Satara in Maharashtra. The uniqueness of this is that each Karana panel has twin figures of both Siva and Parvati, depicting different stages of the movement together with the respective Sanskrit couplets from Natya Sastra. The Centenarian Saint, Pujyasri Mahaswami of Kanchi (with whose blessings this temple was built) graciously commanded Padma to design these sculptures based on her research.

8) Nrithyodaya has devotionally produced a biographical film, "Sage of Kanchi" (69 minutes) on the life of Pujyasri Mahaswami of Kanchi. It has been written and directed by V. Balakrishnan and sponsored by V. Shankar of Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Veda Vidya Peetam (SIES), Mumbai. The film has received wide public acclaim and was telecast in Doordarshan's National Network.