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Lakshman's Natyam: Delightful reading
- VR Devika

January 20, 2023

It makes delightful reading. This fun filled tribute of a Sishya to her Guru. Author Preetha Sampath does many permutations of adavus (movement units) to create a korvai that is part entertainment, part history and part devotion. "Lakshman's Natyam" is a myriad hued chiaroscuro of Adyar K. Lakshman's illustrious life story told with unbridled affection. She gives an enduring picture of her Guru's life and the river flows within one. Eloquent descriptions of life cycle rituals are just the beginning to a life so enriched by the circumstances it found itself in and grabbed opportunities presented with both hands and created a future for a large number of individuals.

Preetha Sampath, a medical professional herself, goes headlong into her Bharatanatyam training with equal vigour. This training is enriched by the solid experience that her Guru Adyar K. Lakshman himself had as a young lad in Kalakshetra. She tells the story as if she was there with him while it happened interspersing with her own experience of the training sessions and arangetram with him not without a tinge of pride.

Lakshman's Natyam

Preetha begins the story with the birth of Kathaanaayagan (hero of the story) as she calls him. Guru Lakshman was born in Kuppam into an orthodox family. Father was a school teacher and also performed Katha Kalakshepam (musical story telling) of Gods. A visit from a family friend becomes a turning point for brothers Rama and Lakshman later to be followed by others and the future generations. Preetha fills the pages with music and festivity bringing a smile on the reader's face. A magical world opens up to the brothers on their arrival at Kalakshetra. It is music of the highest order of the day that they begin to learn there from the likes of Mysore Vasudevachar, Karaikudi Sambasiva Iyer and others that followed Tiger Varadacharya. Rukmini Devi gets the reluctant boy Lakshman to learn to dance too and try his hand on the percussion mridangam. All this proves to be a great blessing for the young man as he grows up and becomes a teacher himself. The beauty that Kalakshetra brought into his senses, his own innate talent, the learnings inherited from his singing father and the need to prove himself makes him shine brightly as he leaves Kalakshetra to carve a world for himself more for sustenance and to take care of his family. This sustenance task also challenges him to become a creative artist while collaborating with the likes of Vyjayanthimala and Sudharani Raghupathy in conducting their recitals as a Nattuvanar. These become added qualifications for the Kalakshetra alumni.

The book is divided into chapters called Kaandam (branches) as used in ancient Tamil literature looking at different phases of Lakshman's naatya career. Baalya Kaandam talking about birth and early childhood, Kalakshetra Kaandam obviously entry and life in Kalakshetra, Naatya Kaandam where Lakshman utilises his skills conducting with Nattuvangam and singing for famous dancers like Vyjayanthimala and Sudharani Raghupathy and his travels. His skill in dance is now his livelihood to take care of his family of brothers, sisters, wife and children. Choodamani Kaandam describing the founding and nurturing of his own institution, Bharatha Choodamani. Interspersed between these Kaandams are delightful nuggets of Preetha's own experience of her classes, her classmates, her arangetram etc.

This book gives us a breezy and affectionate view of the life of an important teacher of Kalakshetra style and a sishya's glorious tribute.

V.R. Devika
V.R. Devika is an internationally recognized story teller, author and arts organizer. Her PhD is on Gandhi, she spins on the Charkha has given hundreds of presentations on Mahatma Gandhi, folk arts and Bharatanatyam. Her recent book on Dr.Muthulakshmi Reddy is garnering a lot of attention and has been translated into Tamizh.

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