Smriti Pushpanjali to Balasaraswati
- Lalitha Venkat, Chennai

February 16, 2011

On February 9, 2011 Dr. V Raghavan Centre for Performing Arts presented Smriti Pushpanjali on the occasion of the 27th remembrance day of the passing away into eternity of the legendary T Balasaraswati, at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Chennai. The evening was introduced by Bala's foremost disciple Nandini Ramani, the daughter of Dr. V Raghavan. She said for Dr. Raghavan, Bala was the torch bearer of an unadulterated sampradaya. "How I wish I had a Dr. Raghavan for support like Bala has," was oft said by Rukmini Devi. The three notable personalities shared an easy camaraderie and it was thus noteworthy that Leela Samson, the present director of Kalakshetra was called upon to preside over the function.

The chief guests of the evening were famed descendants of a bygone era, the veteran Bharatanatyam exponent Thiruvalapputhur R Jeevaratnamala and singer R Kasthuri, the granddaughters of Thiruvalapputhur Kalyani Ammal, who was one of the earliest traditional dancers to perform in 1934 at Music Academy. The contribution of the Thiruvalapputhur family remains unsurpassed in Bharatanatyam, said Nandini. Another guest was Ramaiah, the first recipient of the govt of India scholarship for nattuvangam in 1950.

‘Dance, Dancers and Musicians,' the collected writings of Nandini Ramani was released by Leela Samson and the first copy was accepted by musician and arts administrator Sujatha Vijayaraghavan. As a dance critic for The Hindu for around 15 years, Nandini Ramani has written articles on dance and compiled interviews and profiles on dancers and musicians. About 61 of these articles have been put together in this book and include an article on Karnataka's Venkatalakshamma, dance in the Diaspora, Arayer Sevai as well as an article from the Sruti magazine on Balasaraswati. With a foreword by Sonal Mansingh, the book would appeal to dancers, dance enthusiasts and those doing research.

Leela Samson said Nandini's efforts and dedication kept the memories of the great legends still burning. Dr. Raghavan's love for Sanskrit is well known and during his times, scholars were at a premium. Balamma was a legend whose eminence in her field is unquestionable and her charisma to musicians, dancers and audience was unsurpassed. "Her impression upon my generation was very strong indeed. We watched their every move and soaked in their greatness." Nandini is involved in many activities like dance, music, Sanskrit, drama, maintaining a library, disseminating her father's works and guru's works. Her veneration and continuation of their work is laudable. "I know she is fair in her reviews. It makes a dancer stronger to have another dancer critique her work. Criticism does not harm a dancer." Scholars then yearned for the practitioner's work. We've moved a long way down the road. Now dancers/scholars are so evolved and there's much ground to cover. Dialogue is and should be possible. The solo journey has to be carefully nurtured and preserved. Solo dance is not strong in all styles now and this is a matter of concern. The syllabus in schools does not allow children to enter the world of dancers, musicians and folk arts. The need is to think about what we can give back to the village children to explore dance forms from other parts of India, to learn about them. So many practitioners give up if they can't make it as soloists. They could devote their time by going into art education, arts management and taking arts to the children.

Sujatha Vijayaraghavan spoke on how difficult it is to write about the performing arts. A writer who is immersed in the arts, who knows the value of what is being presented and the value of tradition, and who is a critic, is one who can bring the performing arts to a reader. A critic is not one with a pen for scalpel to tear a subject to shreds. When you write about art, if people talk more about the writer than the art, it is harmful to the art. She commended Nandini Ramani for keeping up her relationship with all artistes of present and yore. She states their merit as it is without exaggeration and is able to appreciate traditional dancers as well as those experimenting with their forms like Chandraleka or Anita Ratnam. About 25 years from now, the book should be valuable as a historical document.

Jeevaratnamala and Kasthuri had come all the way from Kumbakonam to participate in the function. Jeevaratnamala recalled how she danced at the Music Academy in 1956 and had danced abroad thanks to the efforts of Dr. V Raghavan. She admired Bala for her abhinayam, nrityam and paatu.

A host of personalities associated with the institute were acknowledged and this took up a while but appreciation had to be shown and what better function than this. The second part of the function was Natya Samaradhanam by established dancers Jayanthi Subramanian, Roja Kannan, Priya Murle, Parvati Ravi Ghantasala, Urmila Satyanarayanan, Sreelatha Vinod, Sushama Ranganathan and Divya Sankar. All through her life, Bala followed the format of the Thanjavur Quartette and Nandini Ramani presented the dancers in a margam befitting Bala's style.

Lalitha Venkat is the content editor of