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The Gurus- U.S. Krishna Rao and U.K. Chandrabhaga Devi
The Gurus-
U.S.Krishna Rao and U.K. Chandrabhaga Devi
On Guru Poornima
Mamata Niyogi-Nakra (July 24, 2002)

There are moments in one’s life when destiny smiles in the face of adversity. One such moment came in my life when I had an accident in1969, which left me with a permanent injury and brutally cut me off from performing Bharata Natya. Some of my well-wishers helped me to overcome the initial shock and despair by encouraging me, to the point of coaxing and goading me, to teaching Bharata Natya in Montreal. “What a formidable task to undertake” I thought at the time; but, as if by divine intervention, my gurus, U.S. Krishna Rao and U.K. Chandrabhaga Devi (Guruji and Amma to me) appeared on the horizon just when I needed them most, to provide guidance and inspiration and above all, to help regenerate my passion for dance.

… at Maha Maya with their
… at Maha Maya with their

 

The Rao couple was on a visit to North America in the spring of 1980 and accepted an invitation from me to come to Montreal. They gave a scintillating lecture demonstration on Bharata Natya to a packed auditorium of over 500 captivated listeners. On that occasion, not only did they enlighten the Montrealers present, on the intricacies and aesthetics of Bharata Natya, but also endorsed, with warmth and generosity of spirit, my humble efforts to start a dance school by agreeing to return to Montreal for an extended stay. It was a wonderful way to re-establish our contact and renew our ties which dated back to the late fifties when I had gone to Bangalore for advance training in Bharata Natya after having earlier studied the art in Patna from one of their disciples, Guru Balakrishnan.

Their return to Montreal took place in September/October 1982 to coincide with a three-day symposium on Indian Classical Dance, sponsored by Kala Bharati, in collaboration with the dance department of the University of Quebec at Montreal. Guruji delivered the keynote speech at the inauguration of the symposium. They both conducted workshops and presented papers at the various sessions along with many other dancers who had come to attend the conference from all over North America. Their participation at the conference made an important impact on the local dance milieu. This was a widely acclaimed and well attended event of which Dance Magazine, a leading American Dance journal, noted: “Even taking into consideration the enormous achievements of last year’s Dance in Canada Conference here (Montreal), the Indian dance meeting was by far the most challenging event to be held in the city’s 35 year history of professional dance. Kathakali, Kathak, Bharata Natya and Odissi experts shared the secrets of their dance forms with about hundred students and over 550 who watched the single public performance, which helped break down the fear that Westerners often feel toward dance from the East.”

.. at Kala Bharati dance
.. at Kala Bharati dance

During this two-month stay, Guruji and Amma conducted special classes, in which they taught several items to the senior students of Kala Bharati. These items remain a valuable part of our present repertoire.

In 1985 Kala Bharati was once again privileged to welcome the Gurus to Montreal for a period of four weeks. This time they were accompanied by their grand daughter Anjali. In addition to the evening of lecture demonstration on the training of the Bharata Natya dancer, they gave special classes to the senior students of Kala Bharati, which enabled us to add some new items composed by them, to our repertoire.

.. being thanked by Mamata in
.. being thanked by Mamata in


...enjoying a private

The contribution of the Raos to Kala Bharati has come full circle, so to say. In the initial stages, they were here to encourage and inspire us when the foundation was being laid. Their untiring work during the second visit strengthened the base of Kala Bharati and also helped and guided us in building a solid and credible structure. In 1985 there presence and contribution instilled a sense of confidence and was a sign of affirmation of faith in the work of Kala Bharati.

Although Guruji and Amma did not travel outside India after the 1985 visit, the imprint of their contribution has been a lasting one. Kala Bharati has been carrying on the Pandanallur tradition of the great Guru Meenakshisundaram Pillai, handed down to us by them. Over the years we have maintained constant and close ties with them. They, in turn, have taken pride and joy in the successes of various Kala Bharati achievements. Most of the dance students who have given their Ranga Praveshes have received their blessings through personal letters from them. The acclaim and accolades that greeted the performance by La Troupe Kala Bharati during its tour to India was a source of great joy to both of them. In a letter dated 23rd Sept. ’89 Amma wrote:
“We went through all of them (reviews by Indian critics) in detail with breath- taking appreciation!
What superlatives-what kudos and what acme of perfection - according to all the critics who have with ONE VOICE so to say praised the show to the skies.
To me there are no words left to describe because all the adjectives and praising words are used by ALL the different critics at different places- in different papers- I can only hug you tightly (Bear Hug?) across miles and countries-to congratulate you from the bottom of my heart for the great – unsurpassed stupendous success you have had. I share your joy and fulfillment.”

 Inauguration of the golden jubilee celebrations...welcoming Mamata and the other guests at the inauguration of the golden jubilee celebrations
The capitalization and underlining of parts of her letter reflected Amma’s emotional involvement in sharing “our joy and fulfillment” at La Troupe’s success.

I had the pleasure and privilege of being part of the Golden Jubilee Celebrations of Maha-Maya to mark the outstanding contributions of Guruji and Amma to the world of dance and Bharata Natya in particular. Held in August 1992, for four days, it was a momentous and glittering occasion, attended by many important personages including leading dancers, scholars, teachers and critics from all over. Guruji’s heartwarming remarks acknowledging my presence, is a testimony to the special bond and relationship between Guru and his disciple:


... honoring Mamata as a guru
“In this connection we would like to mention that your presence in Bangalore during the Golden Jubilee Celebrations of our “Maha-Maya” school of dance from 1st to 4th August, 1992 was indeed a great event. You took part in all the proceedings and recitals we had arranged for the Jubilee function. In fact the prestige of the festival had gone up due to your presence here.”

Such expressions of love and warmth leave me humble with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Just as I was when I found that I was one of their two disciples, (the other being Guru T.S.Bhat of Bangalore) among a group of sixteen Gurus from different styles they had chosen to honour on the occasion of their Golden Jubilee. There is no greater award for me to aspire for or treasure when my own Gurus have shown such faith and approval of my modest contribution to the art of Bharata Natya.

Equally heartwarming was Guruji and Amma’s thoughts expressed in a letter when Anjali Jayadev came to Kala Bharati on the Oneil De Scholarship in August 1993. They wrote to say they were “extremely glad” as
“we know how well Kala Bharati is working for the progress of Bharata Natyam since more than a decade. We have seen the teaching methods at Kala Bharati during our three visits there. We have been deeply impressed by the strict and disciplinary way Kala Bharati is imparting this art in a traditional manner. The richness of this art is strictly practised and presented. Considering all the excellence of Kala Bharati’s achievements, we are happy that Anjali will get an opportunity to enrich her art under the banner of Kala Bharati.”

...  with La Troupe and the producer Kamalini Dutt at CPC, New Delhi
... with La Troupe and the producer Kamalini Dutt at CPC, New Delhi
Maha-Maya has been a regular stop we love to take during our visits to Bangalore when in India. During one such visit, on Thursday, 26th December 1996, we visited Guruji and Amma. I had with me a video recording of Seasonscape, which I had choreographed and presented that year at Tangente, Montreal, to the accompaniment of an original score by the well-known Carnatic musician Shri T.N. Seshagopalan, who had been commissioned by Kala Bharati to compose it. We were gathered in their drawing room, when discussion on the creative process of Seasonscape came up and Amma asked me to show them the piece. With much trepidation I put it on. As it turned out, I need not have had that feeling. Amma jumped out of her chair as the credits rolled on the TV monitor, came rushing towards me, arms outstretched, and gave me the bear hug she had referred to earlier. Not many words were exchanged but the tight embrace and just “Oh, it is so wonderful, it must be seen by others here in India” spoke volumes for me. It was the last time I saw Amma in person. She passed away in April 1997.

.. with La Troupe at a reception at the Habitat Centre, New Delhi, by Arshiya Sethi
As if by Amma’s prophetic acclamation, Seasonscape was indeed seen by many in India. La Troupe Kala Bharati was invited by CPC Prashar Bharati (formerly known as Doordarshan) to record one hour of my choreographies of Bharata Natya items as part of a weeklong music and dance special programme to be telecast as part of the closing ceremony of 50 years of Independence of India. In this connection it was first telecast on the 13th August 1998, and then chosen to be re-telecast on the 15th August, Independence Day, immediately following Prime Minister Bajpayee’s speech to the nation. What made this event most memorable was the fact that Guruji accepted an invitation to be with us in New Delhi at the end of December 1997 while the recording was going on. He spent time staying in the same premises, with the troupe members, as well as being present during some of the recording sessions.

As we look forward to Guruji’s 90th birthday this year on December 31st, we offer our deep gratitude for the blessings we have always received from both of them.

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