Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna (March 31, 1923 - June 7, 2011)
Compiled by Lalitha Venkat
June 9, 2011
Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna, erudite scholar and the greatest guru responsible for reviving the ancient temple dance forms of Andhra Natyam and Perini, passed away in Hyderabad on June 7, 2011. He was 88. He was a bachelor. His body was buried on 8th June 2011 at a land given to him on the outskirts of Hyderabad.
Ramakrishna was born in Bali in 1923 to a migrant couple Damayanti Devi and Ramamohan Rao from Andhra, but the family soon returned to India. His first dance teacher was Sukhdev Kartak in Nagpur. At age 18, he received the title 'Nataraja' in Nagpur for his exceptional dancing skills by scholars in performing arts and this was added to his name! He learnt Hindustani tumris from Champa Bai of Nagpur. From a young age, Ramakrishna was interested in dance. He spent his boyhood in Ramakrishna Math at Madras and that gave him a spiritual bent of mind. He came in touch with great gurus like Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai, Vedantam Laxminarayana Sastry, Naidupeta Rajamma (a dancer attached to the Kalahasti temple) and Pendyala Satyabhama.
Responsible for reviving long forgotten art forms like Perini Sivatandavam and ancient spiritual dances Agama Nartanams and Navajanardana Parijatam, he is one of those few artistes who dedicated his life to dance. Perini, a dance performed in Prerna to evoke Shiva, flourished during the reign of the Kakatiya rulers of the Telugu country in the 10th to13th centuries. Performed by the warrior worshippers of Shiva, this dance belongs to the Tandava tradition - quick in tempo and depicting Veera Rasa. He revived Perini from its description in the Nritta Ratnavalli written (in 1253-54) by Jayapa Senapati, the 12th century commander-in-chief of the Kakatiya armies, and its depiction in the sculptures of the famous Ramappa temple near Warangal.
Ramakrishna's artistic inclination motivated him to assimilate the toughest abhinaya and reproduce it with precise emotions. For that, he mastered padams. He tried every aspect of dance on himself. He did deep research on Vaishnavite and Shaivite temple dances and their particular peculiarities. He is credited with the revival of the Andhra Natyam dance form, a devotional temple dance tradition performed in Andhra Pradesh for over 400 years that became virtually extinct. It took him nearly 2 decades to revive some features of the Telugu devadasi dances. He called it Andhra Natyam to classify it as a dance form that originated in Andhra Pradesh. Ironically, he had to popularize the female dance traditions of Andhra Pradesh through his male students. He was inspired in his quest by E Krishna Iyer who suggested how he could widen his knowledge of natyam. He learnt various languages, dance and music forms and became an erudite scholar in sastras and a linguist in five languages. Patrons of his art included many, even the great Maratha ruler of that time.
He was the first artiste in Andhra Pradesh to write and compose the story of Lord Venkateshwara as a dance drama in which he introduced all the dance and music traditions in ritual, classical, folk and tribal forms of the state. With his innumerable performances, lecture demonstrations and through his extensive travels he created an awareness not only of Kuchipudi, but also the lost and forgotten dance forms of Andhra Pradesh. He believed that folk art forms are as important as the classical forms and helped promote Chindu Yakshaganam, an ancient folk form of Telangana, and revived other folk arts like Tappetagallu of Srikakulam and Vizianagaram districts, Veera Natyam and Garagalu of East and West Godavari districts, and dance tradition of temples performing Adhyatma Ramayana. He also encouraged folk dance artistes like Dommaras, Guravayyalu, Urumulu and Veedi Bhagavatulu.
As a research scholar sponsored by the Government of India, he worked in the then USSR (now Russia) and France to propagate Indian dances, making a comparative study of Indian and western classical and folk dances. Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna authored about 40 books on dance traditions of Andhra Pradesh and ancient dance forms. In 1955 he established Nritya Niketan in Hyderabad and also served as chairman of Andhra Pradesh Sangeet Natak Akademi. For his outstanding contribution to classical dance, he won several awards and honours including NTR State Award and Padma Shri in 1992. In January 2011 he was elected as Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellow (Akademi Ratna).
Some of his foremost disciples include Uma Rama Rao, Kala Krishna, Alekhya Punjala, Perini Venkat.
- Recollecting his recent emotional meeting with Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna in May 2011 at the felicitation function by Andhra Pradesh State Cultural Council, Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam expressed his deep felt grief on hearing the news. They met in Hyderabad, both frail and in wheelchairs, reaching out to clasp each other's hands, "Our time is over; it is for the next generation to take the art forward" with tears in their eyes. Such was the emotion in the meeting that it brought tears to all the dancers on stage and eventually was shared with one and all through a news report in Andhra Jyothi.
"Nataraja Ramakrishna played a very prominent role in the achievement of classical dance status to Kuchipudi. A scholar, his role in articulating the cause of art in English in those days in making a case along with Banda Kanaka Lingeswara Rao to the central agencies helped. He revived dance forms Perrini and Andhra Natyam and thereby brought back the glory of Kakatiya Era. His services would remain forever in the form of these dances," says Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam.
- Expressing her respects to the departed guru, Bala Kondala Rao informed that there would be a short meeting at Kuchipudi Kalaakendra for a prayer. "Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna welcomed anyone wanting to learn dance with open arms. Even the best of the dancers found there is something more to learn when they approached him. He was there to teach any students wherever they had learnt earlier and shared knowledge lovingly and affectionately."
- The Secretary of Visakhapatnam Arts and Dance Association expressed condolences and said that the loss is irreplaceable.
- "Very sad to hear the news of Nataraja Ramakrishna-ji's demise. He was great Naatyaachaarya and his contributions to the Andhra Naatya traditions will be written in golden letters in the History of Bhaarateeya Kala." - The Dhananjayans (Chennai)