NOTE ON NRITHYODAYA
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
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
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
- 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
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
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
(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.