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Saroja Vaidyanathan (1937-2023)
- Ashish Mohan Khokar
Archival material courtesy: Ashish Khokar, curator Mohan Khokar Dance Collection @IGNCA

September 22, 2023

Saroja Vaidyanathan
Saroja Vaidyanathan (Photo courtesy FB)

Delhi-based senior active guru Saroja Vaidyanathan is no more. Born in Bellary on 19 Sept, 1937, she passed away just a day after her 86th birthday, on 21st September 2023 in the wee hours of the morning, in her sleep, after a prolonged illness.

Saroja Vaidyanathan learnt Bharatanatyam from vidwan Kattumannar Muthukumaran Pillai's ace disciple in Chennai those days named K. Lalitha (Sastry) in Triplicane. Hers was a school (Saraswathy Gana Nilayam) where for five rupees (those days; today 5k!) one could learn any art form, mridangam or violin or dance. It is to Saroja Vaidyanathan's credit she mastered a form and after marriage to an IAS officer of Bihar cadre - where there was no eco system for fine arts, that too southern forms like BN - that she made it a point to propagate it and promote Bharatanatyam in Bihar in the 1960s and 1970s. She told me once, "Ashish, it was so difficult to even explain who Andal was sitting in a pandal. There was hardly any hall with proper stage in a state which was then backward."

Saroja Vaidyanathan's programs

Saroja Vaidyanathan's program

Moving to Delhi with her husband in the 1970s gave her art an impetus to do more and she also had her guru Lalithama visit and teach at Tamil Sangam, Birla Mandir. Saroja Vaidyanathan had two qualities that few had: perseverance and dedication. She worked hard in Delhi darbar culture and established herself slowly through local sangams and Sahitya Kala Parishad gave her career a boost when Surendra Mathur and yours truly were incharge in the 1980s.

She was active in Delhi dance scene for decades and got institutional land in Qutb Institutional area to establish her pet dream Ganesa Natyalaya. As her husband was by then union Health Secretary, he was important too, so babudom also helped with grants to sustain the institution. Today, the institution stands tall thanks to her hard work and Rama Vaidyanathan's sweat and toil. Guru Saroja Vaidyanathan was a tough task master, sparing none and initially all students were subjected to hard work.

Science of Bharatanatyam by Saroja Vaidyanathan

Science of Bharatanatyam by Saroja Vaidyanathan

In the last decade, Guru Saroja Vaidyanathan grew from strength to strength as prima donna Yamini Krishnamurthy had retired from active stage shows and there was no one else in that age group in Delhi in Bharatanatyam. No one can deny Saroja Vaidyanathan ran a tight ship and her students grew and she was the only one who could provide 200 trained students for an opening ceremony of CWG (Commonwealth Games) in stadiums. She also tried her hand at penning a book or two like the Science of Bharatanatyam.

Science of Bharatanatyam by Saroja Vaidyanathan

She will be remembered most for her pleasant nature, ability to get on with almost everyone and generally availing state support, schemes and sinecures. She was decorated with the Padma Bhushan and she often wore the medal with pride on important occasions. She will be missed much by her followers and Delhi has lost a Bharatanatyam veteran. Saroja Vaidyanathan's institutional work is taken forward by her illustrious daughter-in-law Rama Vaidyanathan.

Ashish Mohan Khokar
Critic, connoisseur, historian, author, artivist, archivist, administrator and more - editor, columnist and mentor Ashish Khokar remains true to his muse.
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