Tomorrow, July 14, is the 97th birth anniversary of the Bharatanatyam guru, who had many dimensions — vaggeyakkara, choreographer, laya expert, natya exponent and so on
“I am not interested in accumulating wealth from my artistic commitments. My mission is to leave behind a treasure trove of knowledge that can never perish,” says the veteran Natyacharya, Padma Awardee and Kalaimamani K.N. Dhandayuthapani Pillai in the preface to his book, Aadal Isai Amudam, reminding this writer of the words of saint-philosopher Appayya Dikshitar — ‘Dhanena na ramaamahe’ (I will not entertain wealth).
Great are those nattuvanars, who spent all their lives enriching the Bharatanatyam repertoire with their innumerable compositions and choreographies. Such masters need to be celebrated. One of them is guru K.N. Dhandayuthapani Pillai (1921-74) whose 97th birth anniversary falls on July 14. It is an occasion fit to be remembered by the entire Bharatanatyam fraternity.
The illustrious master
The illustrious master was a firm disciplinarian, with whom trained some of our renowned exponents such as Vyjayantimala Bali, J. Jayalalithaa and Srividya, daughter of the legendary MLV. He taught Yamini Krishnamurti and Padma Subrahmanyam for brief periods. However, his first disciple was Jayalakshmi Alva of Mangalore.
K.N. Dhandayuthapani Pillai receiving the Padma Shri from President V.V. Giri
Apart from his adopted daughter Uma Anand, he trained bright dancers of yesteryear such as Usha Srinivasan, Sheila Pathy and Adyar Sisters, his own sisters-in-law — Suria Santanam and Chitra Subramani — Kuchipudi dancer Uma and last but not the least, the vibrant Urmila Satyanarayanan (Bharatanatyam), who was one of his last disciples.
‘Vaadyaar,’ as he was fondly addressed, (KND in the Bharatanatyam circle), taught many film stars such as Waheeda Rehman, Asha Parekh, Rajasulochana, Chandrakanta, and much later, Manjula and Lata among others.
A striking Bharatanatyam performance that Vaadyaar conducted for Sonal Mansingh (then a disciple of Jayalakshmi Alva) in the 1960s at the Kalaivanar Arangam, Chennai, remains fresh in the memory of this writer. However, the unique occasions that stand out are the classroom sessions of Sri Vidya, which this writer attended along with her guru Prof. B. Krishnamurti, who taught music to Srividya. What a great confluence of music, dance and rhythm happened when Srividya, an impeccable dancer, responded to the brilliant jatis of Vaadyaar! Suddenly Vaadyaar would ask this writer to keep the beats of the tala. Scary experience! At times both the music and dance masters made Vidya attempt at singing a tough Pallavi on the spot —Vaadyaar would say, “Meenkuttikku neechchal kathukodukkanumaa? (Should the fish be taught to swim). Vidya would rise to the challenge with an astonishing understanding of the rhythmic intricacies.
Dhandayuthapani Pillai and Chandra with President V.V. Giri in this undated photograph
KND’s greatest obsession was composing and choreographing jatis; the dramatic pauses juxtaposing forward movements with diagonal placements or side movements and warming up the tempos gradually during the patterns kept up the visual interest in his technique. Vaadyaar’s jatis were unique and strenuous to train but built up a fascinating synthesis of perfection and joy.
“His theermanams had clarity and were an aural delight and created a unique joy to dance. Being a perfectionist, Vaadyaar was particular about the tempo (kalapramana suddham) and the flourish (arudi). His sense of taalam was astounding,” says Vyjayantimala Bali in her tribute to her teacher. “He was so simple and unassuming that many a time when I was busy in film shooting, he would come to the studios to teach or rehearse, during lunch hour or between breaks,” says the legendary dancer, who fondly recalls the association. Vaadyaar was a complete master. Although initially trained to be a part of the ‘Peria Melam,’ to uphold the family’s musical lineage, KND moved to Chennai seeking to become a vocalist for dance. He soon moved out of Kalakshetra, where he assisted Chokkalingam Pillai for a brief period, before joining the veteran Kattumannarkoil Muthukumarappa Pillai for nattuvangam training.
Vaadyaar with MLV, T. M. Prabhavati and Sri Vidya
Karaikal Natesan Dandayudapani was surrounded by illustrious galaxy of nagaswaram players — in his own family. Vidwan Aiyyasamy Pillai (his grand father), Nattuvangam Ramakrishna Pillai (his younger brother), the venerated T. N. Rajaratnam Pillai, brother of his first wife, Subhadra and brother-in-law Thiruvengadu Subramania Pillai, and uncle Sangita Kalanidhi P.S. Veerusami Pillai, all of whom made Carnatic Music richer by their outstanding contributions.
K.N. Pakkirisami Pillai, Girija Pakkirisamy, their daughter and renowned film star Sripriya and her older sister Vyjayantimala, K.N. Dakshinamurthy Pillai in New Delhi and niece Kalyani Sankar and K.J. Sarasa — were all family members, who carried on the KND dance legacy, as also his senior students — Vanaja Narayanan, Malati Srinvasan, male students — Natanam and Tirugokarnam Kalyanasundaram. These names have to be remembered on this occasion, for being part of a great Natya heritage.
Vaadyaar, occupies the most precious place after the Thanjavur Quartet, whose Bharatanatyam repertoire has stood the test of time. Each of KND’s compositions is endowed with unique features such as the lilting lyrical content, subtle incorporation of raga names and conveying exquisite poetic expressions of the different sentiments. The brilliant Navaragamalika Varnam, which can lift the viewer to a different plane is a sample of his extraordinary skill as a composer.
Guru Dhandayuthapani Pillai with Kathak dancer Gopi Krishna. Srividya watches
Vaadyaar was a Uttama Vaggeyakaara, having set the Dhaatu (Word) and the Maatu (Music). In his musical gems one can visualise the form of the dance. Vaadyaar’s musical expertise received appreciation from none less than the doyen Tiger Varadachariar, who addressed him as “a dear friend of high attainment.”
KND penned, choreographed and conducted some dance-dramas of other poets; quite a few of these were specifically done for famous film stars. However, it is “Kaviri Thandha Kalaichelvi” that Vaadyaar choreographed and conducted for J. Jayalalithaa that remains so memorable even now for its lively composition and the charming performance of Jayalalithaa.
As a choreographer, KND was ahead of his times; it was interesting to watch his dance composition for a Hollywood movie, “The River” in which Dr. Radha Burnier, former International President of The Theosophical Society and niece of Rukmini Devi Arundale, had danced for his choreography. He also sang and conducted a dance in that movie.
KND with Malathi Srinivasan, one of his prime disciples, Rajasulochana and Padma Subrahmanyam
KND passed away in 1974. His second wife Chandra, who continues to propagate his style, says, “He always wanted to leave this world amidst an active career and that actually happened in 1974, while conducting the recital of one of his students at Chennai’s R. R. Sabha.”
Going through the letter that was received with his blessings by this writer on the occasion of her Arangetram decades ago, eyes fill with emotion. K.N. Dandayudapani Pillai stood tall and fearless as a multi- faceted genius during his life and illustrious career, feted with awards and recognition from several quarters. KND seemed unapproachable but he was a true, generous teacher who shared his vidwat with many students; indeed he was a Vidwan in every department of the arts — Gitam, Vaadyam and Nrityam and hence adored by all those, who dance his compositions that have remained a perennial source. The Sanskrit saying fits him perfectly — “Vidvan Sarvatra poojyate!”— the learned is worshipped everywhere!
Pictures courtesy: Chandra and Suria
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