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Princess Aswathi Thirunal Gowri Lakshmi Bayi on Guru Gopinath
- Tapati Chowdhurie

August 10, 2022

Guru Gopinath had taught Aswathi and Puyam, the daughters of Karthika Thirunal Lakshmi Bayi at Thiruvithamcore Palace in Adyar in Madras, at the behest of Amma Maharani of Travancore, Sethu Parvathi Bayi. Karthika Thirunal Lakshmi Bayi was her daughter. Yours truly had the good fortune of asking Princess Aswathi Thirunal Gowri Lakshmi Bayi, a noted writer, to tell me about her experiences in learning dance from Guru Gopinath. She said:

Princess Aswathi Thirunal Gowri Lakshmi Bayi

"My elder sister and I learnt for a brief period of time of just two months under Guru Gopinath while we were in Chennai with our whole family. Guruji was very enthusiastic and meticulous in teaching us, as our grandmother, Maharani Sethu Parvathi Bayi, was very particular in the way we were taught and kept a close watch on the words of the lyrics, or rather the sahitya. The songs were uneventful by and large.

Thaaye Yashoda.... was one of the padams he taught. My watchful grandmother made him omit two lines from the lyrics, because she thought that the portrayal of those two lines was rather unsuitable for a child. I remember Guru Gopinath as being fairly serious unlike Indira Bai Thankachi, my teacher at home, who was direct in the line of the famous poet Irayimman Thampi. She too was a well known name in our city Thiruvananthapuram.

The child that I was, I still have vivid memories of two very dainty porcelain figurines of women kept close to where Guru Gopinath used to beat his sticks rhythmically to teach us. Once accidentally his beat fell on one of the two which broke into pieces. The one that he broke was mine. My remorse gave way to uncontrollable tears. I have no memory of how he was able to pacify me.

Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and Guru Gopinath were two artistes on whom the Travancore Court bestowed special favour. Though there were many luminaries who were given solid recognition from here, among those who received the most were Guru Gopinath and Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. They were extra special. They were Maharani Sethu Parvathi Bayi's protégées and she lifted them to great heights. Needless to say, they were highly talented and once they reached a certain level they took off and became famous under their own steam. But the Maharani's unlimited patronage went a long way. For every function of importance, official or domestic, a major slot would be reserved for them. No significant family function would be complete without their presence. Even after Thangamani (Guru Gopinath's wife) had stopped dancing, he continued. Once upon a time, not very long time ago, they were a stunning pair. He confessed to Amma Maharani that age had caught up with Thangamani, but not with him."

About the contribution of the Travancore Palace, she said, "The contribution of Travancore Palace in the making of the guru was a vital factor in itself."

* Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer (1908-2003) was a Carnatic vocalist, known as the grand sire of Carnatic Music or 'Pitamaha'. In 1934, he was invited by Sethu Parvathi Bayi to edit the Swati Tirunal compositions. From 1940, he served for 23 years as the Principal of Swati Tirunal College.

* Indira Bai Thankachi, granddaughter of Irayimman Thampi - a vocalist and a dancer.

Tapati Chowdhurie trained under Guru Gopinath in Madras and was briefly with International Centre for Kathakali in New Delhi. Presently, she is a freelance writer on the performing arts.

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