The rhythms of two worlds
At 77, the celebrated Sudharani Raghupathy appears to be like again at a protracted and eventful journey full of legends, phantoms and restraints
“Folks have requested me why I selected to be a dancer. I didn’t select. I used to be chosen to be a dancer, and with that, you reside all of your life.” Martha Graham
This line of Martha Graham’s, who she considers amongst her “influencers”, sums up Sudharani Raghupathy’s life equally properly. As she prepares to hint her journey, remembering all those that impacted her — celebrities and non-celebrities — we draw our personal private recollections of the attractive dancer. A danseuse with a regal bearing, it usually appeared as if she have been a portrait that had come alive. The colors she wore, her jewelry and drapes, and the gorgeous gold chain she wore diagonally throughout the chest spoke volumes of her aesthetic sense. Though it resembled most the sacred thread worn by privileged castes, Sudharani says she didn’t flaunt it as a caste image however as a part of her ornamentation.
In a major approach, although, the golden cross-band in all probability stayed as a reminder of the distinct divides within the genres of coaching she acquired in dance. It was additionally maybe a relentless reminder of the ‘restraint’ she was taught to take care of each in life and in her artwork.
Sudharani learnt Bharatanatyam at a time when the privileged castes didn’t fairly approve of their daughters being on stage. It was additionally the time when the legendary Rukmini Devi introduced in reforms to the dance type that have been met with each applause and criticism, reforms that have been all about bringing “aesthetic restraint” to Bharatanatyam. This had a profound affect on Sudharani. “I used to be all the time made to take care of decorum in public areas. Right here in Madras, whereas performing, I needed to be aware of my in-laws and different excessive society individuals sitting within the viewers, and so I ensured that my expressions have been delicate and understated.”
Curiously, Sudharani learnt abhinaya from Mylapore Gowriammal and was deeply influenced additionally by the legendary Balasaraswati (a frequent customer to her home), each artistes from hereditary dance communities. But, on a parallel monitor, two different ladies performed an necessary position in her life: Rukmini Devi and Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay.
The aesthetics that one discerned in Sudha’s presentation and aharya will be attributed to the affect of Kamaladevi. Sudharani had the nice fortune of working together with her in shut quarters, and it was she who steered Sudharani in the direction of documentation as properly. It led her to a severe research of Arayar Sevai, a temple ritual artwork type of the Vaishnavite custom, which she documented for Sangeet Natak Akademi.
An knowledgeable mimic
Sudharani had the capability to watch and mimic from a younger age, and pals would name her ‘Copy-Cat’. The story goes that Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay requested her to show her nickname by making a duplicate of A.Ok. Haldar’s drawing, ‘The Laughing Hyena.’ So impressed was Kamaladevi with the outcome that she took the copy and offered Sudharani with the unique.
Talking about Rukmini Devi, Sudharani remembers an incident. “In 1958, I used to be the primary dancer chosen from a non-hereditary dance neighborhood for a authorities cultural scholarship. The panel had E. Krishna Iyer, Justice T. L. Venkatarama Iyer and Rukmini Devi. A petition was filed towards me and I needed to reappear earlier than a committee in Delhi. I used to be chosen once more, purely on benefit,” she says.
The primary Indian on the Randolph Macon Ladies’s school in Virginia, the U.S., Sudharani majored in World Historical past of Dance, Studio Arts and within the Martha Graham approach. This coaching taught her callisthenics. Whereas ballet saved her on her toes, Bharatanatyam saved her grounded. Melding the 2 disciplines would have been the simplest possibility for Sudharani, however she determined to undertake the strategies of ballet and incorporate the respiration practices into her natyam, with out straying from the normal margam.
Sudharani’s dance journey started with U.S. Krishna Rao, a disciple of Meenakshisundaram Pillai. Across the similar time, she skilled in music from the legendary violinist T. Chowdiah. “It was after watching me carry out at an occasion that Guru Kittappa Pillai sought me out to coach me,” she says. “His robust musicality and wealthy legacy of dance left a deep impression on me, which led to my blossoming as a mature dancer. Essentially the most important pokkisham (treasure) that I received from him was the Navasandhi Kavuthuvam, which I handed on as a legacy by releasing a DVD of the identical.”
Sudharani was additionally lucky to work together and collaborate with a tower-house of information, Dr. Thangaswamy, the Sanskrit scholar, and with Madurai N. Krishna Iyengar, a musician who influenced her and created a number of compositions for her margam and dance productions.
Shree Bharatalaya, the dance college she based 50 years in the past, has performed a pivotal position in nurturing dancers and producing beneficial analysis. The college has printed Madura Margam (containing all of Madurai N. Krishnan’s compositions), and three volumes of Sudharani’s private notes known as ‘Lagu Bharatham, illustrated by her expert stick figures. She labored on the Nataraja icon, inserting it on two triangles to type a six-sided star or Shatkonam. Her drawing of Nataraja, which she utilized in a number of lec-dems and papers may properly be in comparison with Da Vinci’s Vitruvian man.
Sudharani remembers dancing on the UN Basic Meeting in 1981 for Human Rights Day, on the invitation of the then Secretary-Basic Kurt Waldheim. In her paper titled, ‘Bharatanatyam – The Dance Artwork of The Tamils,’ offered on the 1981 Fifth Worldwide Convention – Seminar of Tamil Research, she traced the Tamizh origin of Bharatanatyam, drawing from Silapadikaram and Tirumandiram, and from Purandaradasa. The essence of her paper was to ascertain that Bharatanatyam was a dance type of the Tamil individuals.
Her tv serial, Bharatanjali, was the primary of its form on Doordarshan in 1979 and 1981, the place she offered the legends of the time. A senior educating affiliate of Indian Research at Colgate College, New York in 1995, Sudharani has acquired a number of honours, together with the Padma Shri, the Sangeet Natak Akademi award and the Kalaimamani.
Simplicity, proportion, emphasis on type, readability of construction, restrained emotion and charm are some attributes related to Sudharani. And he or she says she acquired these qualities by observing, finding out, studying and imbibing. She acknowledges the presence of each the celebrated and the “not-so-well-known” or “phantom-legends” in her life.
As our dialog tapers off, our ideas stray again to her gold cross-band. And he or she repeats the way it has been a relentless image of the stability she needed to strike between two worlds: household and artwork, abandon and restraint, Western and Indian. As an artiste and a girl, she made her selections. And so they labored for her.
The writer is a Chennai-based freelance author.