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Individual Issues

Guru K.J. Sarasa
Issue : 247
Published on : April, 2005



3 Sruti Box

7 News & Notes

12 Tribute

17 Main Feature

35 A Series For The Younger Generation

37 Opinion Column

47 Heritage Landmarks In Music

52 Editor's Note

Front Cover: K.J. Sarasa


SRUTI FOUNDATION HONOURS THREE PERSONS OF EMINENCE -SRUTI STAFFERS At a function held under the auspices of the Sruti Foundation on the 15th March at the Dakshinamurthi Auditorium of the P.S. Higher Secondary School in Mylapore, Chennai, the following awards were presented: l The E. Krishna Iyer Medal to Guru K.J. Sarasa, l the Vellore Gopalachariar Award to vidwan P.S. Narayanaswamy, and l the M. Venkatakrishnan Memorial Award to Dr. Mrs. Y.G. Parthasarathy. The E. Krishna Iyer Medal instituted by the Sruti Foundation in 1989 is presented every alternate year to a person or institution that has made a significant contribution to the preservation and promotion of Bharatanatyam traditions. Previous recipients of the medals are Kamala Narayan, Kalakshetra, Kumbakonam Bhanumathi, T.K. Mahalingam Pillai, K.P. Kittappa Pillai, Kalanidhi Narayanan, M.K. Saroja, and U.S. Krishna Rao. The Vellore Gopalachariar Award was instituted in 1999 by vidwan Vellore Ramabhadran in memory of his father. In the initial years it was called a prize and was awarded to young talented percussionists but was later converted to an annual award for meritorious contribution to Carnatic music. Last year's recipient was vidwan S.V. Parthasarathy. The M. Venkatakrishnan Memorial Award was instituted in 2002 by Bharatanatyam and Koochipoodi dancer Ramaa Bharadvaj, Director of the Angahara Ensemble, Yorba Linda, California, in memory of M. Venkatakrishnan who ran an organisation called Sankarabharanam for the specific purpose of encouraging and providing opportunities to young classical dancers. This is also awarded in alternate years to a patron and promoter of talented dancers. The first recipient was R. Yagnaraman, Secretary of Sri Krishna Gana Sabha in Chennai. After K.V. Ramanathan, Editor-in-Chief Sruti honoured K.J. Sarasa with a shawl and garland, M. Subramaniam, Trustee of the Sruti Foundation presented the Medal, citation and a purse to her. Vellore Ramabhadran presented a shawl, garland and a purse to P.S. Narayanaswamy. K.V. Ramanathan presented him with the citation and cheque for the sum of the award. M. Subramaniam honoured Mrs. YGP with a shawl and garland after which Ramanathan presented her with the Venkatakrishnan Memorial Award and a citation. The award was in the form of a traditional lamp (diya) in acrylic. Prof. C.V. Chandrasekhar, vidwan S. Rajam and dance theatre artist Anita Ratnam felicitated the awardees. Senior dancer-guru C.V. Chandrasekhar, felicitating K.J. Sarasa on being awarded the E. Krishna Iyer medal of honour, spoke about her special qualities-- her generosity in attending performances of young dancers, thus encourag-ing them; her intuitive gauging of the capacity of each of her students and allowing them to grow in their own direction. He could vouch for the fact that her disciples presented even the same items differently and were not carbon copies of each other. She entered the male bastion of nattuvanar-s to become the first woman exponent of that art in recent times. And she did this not with fanfare, but with grace: her very uttering of the solkattu-s was beautifully modulated, bringing out a little magic of her own, elevating the dance. She belonged to the Vazhuvoor school, but was always open to ideas from other bani-s. Chandrasekhar pointed out that every bani has something beautiful to offer, and a dancer should be able to adopt and adapt it to his/her own style; that would be true growth, without which the art would become stagnant. It was fitting that with this coveted award, Sarasa had been placed in the exalted firmament along with stalwarts like U.S. Krishna Rao, Kalanidhi Narayanan, Mahalingam Pillai, Kittappa Pillai, Kamala Narayan, M.K. Saroja and others who had received the E. Krishna Iyer Medal in previous years. Veteran music guru S. Rajam spoke about the service that Vellore Gopalachariar had rendered to the cause of music, not as a career, but for the love of it. It was highly commendable that his illustrious son Vellore Ramabhadran had instituted this award in his father's name. He said that good teachers were not necessarily good performers. Yet here was P.S. Narayanaswamy-- a musician with a good lineage, who had made a mark as a respected performer, coming forward to train students, so that the art could flourish in the future. He urged more senior musicians to follow him and be willing to spare time for teaching. PSN could boast of an array of disciples who had benefited by his teaching and made a name for themselves in the concert field. Anita Ratnam felicitated Mrs. Y.G. (Rashmi) Parthasarathy. She had a personal word of praise for Mrs. YGP, for holding her own in a domain of men, and carrying on gallantly even after her husband's death. She said any new idea was always welcome at Bharat Kalachar. In a field where recognition usually comes only with advancing age, the Yuva Kala Bharati was a brilliant concept to encourage talented youngsters. At the same time senior artists are honoured with the Viswa Kala Bharati award. At an age when traditionally one is ready to roll over and play dead, Mrs. YGP's enthusiasm is amazing-- she never fails to attend performances, and is ready with her review at the end, picking out and appreciating the good points. It was commendable that Ramaa Bharadvaj had instituted this award in memory of Venkatakrishnan-- a person who went out in search of talent and promoted it under the aegis of his Sankarabharanam. It was truly fitting that an organiser like Mrs. YGP was the recipient of such an award. Accepting the E. Krishna Iyer award, K.J. Sarasa expressed extreme happiness at being chosen to receive the prestigious medal. Krishna Iyer was solely responsible for making Bharatanatyam a respectable art. He staged a performance at the Music Academy in the early thirties, and since then the art had grown and spread all over the world. P.S. Narayanaswamy expressed happiness that he was receiving this award, instituted in the memory of a great vidwan, by his son who was himself a great artist, and presented through Sruti, the highly respected magazine dedicated to music and dance. He reminisced about the old days when Vellore Ramabhadran had accompanied his guru Semmangudi, and their friendship and association that went back fifty years. PSN also spoke with deference about S. Rajam with whom he had worked in AIR. Though he was simple and unassuming in appearance, Rajam's knowledge was immeasurable; whenever there was an emergency at AIR, it was Rajam who came up with material to get a programme ready at short notice. He was still an active teacher, with scant regard for money, and students of music should make use of his vast repertoire and learn as much from him as possible. Mrs. YGP said she was greatly honoured to be included in the triumvirate of awardees this day. She spoke of Sruti Pattabhi Raman's initial struggle to set up the magazine; his straightforward and impartial outlook, and his courage to attack the 'establishment' when needed. The classic articles in Sruti set a standard hard to match by anybody else. Again, to be the second recipient after Yagnaraman of Sri Krishna Gana Sabha was an added honour. Finally, to receive an award in memory of Venkatakrishnan was a source of great satisfaction. Venkatakrishnan was a humble person who had dedicated his life to the service of music and dance. Mrs. YGP also spoke about the other two awardees. She praised Sarasa for her generosity in teaching poor students without remuneration. She recalled that her institution had awarded the Semmangudi Veteran's award to P.S. Narayanaswamy and S. Rajam this year. All the speakers used an easy informal style, freely mixing English and Tamil. Their feeling for the art and the artist came through strikingly. Nirmala Ramachandran, another senior dance guru then gave a performance that comprised singing of padam-s and javali-s in a seated position with abhinaya. Some of the songs she presented were Nee matalemayanura, Ososi, Indendu vacchitivira, Adi neepai and Varugalamo. The programme was compered by S. Janaki, Deputy Editor, Sruti; the invocation was rendered by Gayathri Sundaresan, Assistant Editor; and Editor-in-Chief K.V. Ramanathan delivered the welcome address. The function ended with a vote of thanks by P.S. Narayanan, Publisher and a Trustee of the Sruti Foundation

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Main Feature
K.J. Sarasa

K.J. SARASA A Natyacharya With A Distinguished Record - S. JANAKI with inputs from V. KARPAGALAKSHMI K.J. Sarasa has the distinction of being one of the first and most successful lady nattuvanar-s of the traditional community in modern times. She is a famous Bharatanatyam guru who has carried aloft the flag of the Vazhuvoor tradition of Bharatanatyam most impressively for more than five decades. The Sruti Foundation honoured her with the E. Krishna Iyer Medal for 2004 on 15th March 2005 in Chennai. Karaikal Jagadeesan Sarasa had turned 68 five days earlier. Sarasa was born to Jagadeesan and Valliammal in Karaikal on 10th March 1937. Her ancestors were court musicians who enjoyed the patronage of the Tanjavur rulers. Her grandfather Rajagopalan was the asthana vidwan of the Tirunallar temple. Her father Jagadeesan Pillai and her uncle Natesan Pillai were nagaswara artists in Tanjavur. Vazhuvoor Ramiah Pillai was related to the family and K.N. Dandayudhapani Pillai was her paternal cousin...... Sarasa spent her early childhood in Karaikal. When the little girl saw "Baby" Kamala perform, she fell in love with dance. She wanted to learn the art and soon got an opportunity to do so when natyacharya Kattumannarkoil Muthukumara Pillai-- Kamala's first guru-- agreed to come from Mayavaram every week to teach a few children. This continued for about a year. "He had an inspiring personality," recalls Sarasa. But Muthukumara Pillai was a busy nattuvanar and found it difficult to make the weekly journey to Karaikal. He therefore suggested that Sarasa should learn from Vazhuvoor Ramiah Pillai. Sarasa's parents did not have any apprehensions about sending their daughter to Madras with Ramiah Pillai as he was a part of the extended family.... Sarasa would often accompany Ramiah Pillai to the film studios and to the homes of some of his disciples when he went there to take classes. She has choreographed dances for about ten films for actresses like E.V. Saroja, Rajashree, etc. but gave up since her timings and the shooting schedules did not match.... Sarasa is well versed in Carnatic music having learnt from well-known guru-s like Ramanathapuram Krishnan, Rajagopala Iyengar, and Valliyoor Gurumurthy. "Appa would wake us up before daybreak and make us do saadhakam," recalls Sarasa who has also given some solo Carnatic vocal recitals. With Ramiah Pillai's encouragement Sarasa had started taking dance classes even as a teenager. Her first student to perform an arangetram was Rathna Papa who started learning in 1952 and made her formal debut in 1956. Seated in a rickshaw, Sarasa would go to the house of her students like Sivasankari (now a famous writer), and Jayalalitha (now Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu).... ...Sarasa moved from Ramiah Pillai's gurukulam to a house on Bheemanna Mudali Garden Street where she established her dance school Sarasalaya in 1960. It was there that she taught for about 25 years before moving to her present residence in Rani Annadurai Street in Mandaveli in the 1980s.... ...Sarasakka or Sarasamma, as she is popularly known, has conducted more than 500 arangetram-s and over a 1000 Bharatanatyam recitals. She has groomed hundreds of students, many of whom have established a name for themselves in the field of Bharatanatyam as good performers and teachers.... Sarasa established a branch of Sarasalaya in Coimbatore in 1974.... ...Sarasa and her troupe of talented dancers travelled far and wide in the sixties and seventies in India-- to places like Gujarat, Calcutta, Patna, Nagaland, Manipur-- and abroad, and won awards and accolades.... Over the years, Sarasa has produced and choreographed more than 50 dance productions. Many dance-dramas like Sakuntalam, Vikramorvasiyam, Krishna Parijatam, Aditya Hridayam, Silappadikaram, Kunrakudi Kuravanji, Desa Bhakti and Kutrala Kuravanji have won acclaim from varied audiences. The first two won the Swarna Kalasa award at the Kalidas Samaroh in Ujjain in 1966 and 1969 respectively.... Guru K.J. Sarasa's style is marked by grace, ornamentation, sculpturesque poses, sparkling glances and the charm of the traditional Vazhuvoor style of Bharatanatyam. She has imbibed the true spirit of the Vazhuvoor tradition. Her emphasis is on encouraging individuality and creativity within the confines of tradition and not on imparting an assembly-line uniformity and rigidity in her disciples. Sarasa has always been open to accepting what is good in other bani-s as well as in encouraging individual dancers to be imaginative in their presentations.... Her nattuvangam has good "taalakattu" and is aurally and visually pleasing, with no "aarbaattam" (undue fuss) on stage. Apart from teaching traditional items of the Bharatanatyam repertoire Sarasa has also choreographed dance for many popular compositions-- old and new.... It is quite amazing how Sarasa-- a single young woman established a name for herself in Madras in the nineteen sixties and has since emerged as a highly respected natyacharya on the strength of her art... Sarasalaya celebrated its golden jubilee in a big way with a two-day festival on 5th and 6th February 1999 in Chennai. (See Sruti 176). ...Sarasa was appointed Honorary Director of the Bharatanatyam department at the Tamil Nadu Government Music College in 1992.... K.J. Sarasa is the recipient of many prestigious awards, honours and titles. The latest jewels in her crown are the Isai Peraringnar title conferred by the Tamil Isai Sangam in December 2004 and the E. Krishna Iyer Medal awarded by the Sruti Foundation in 2005, both in Chennai. ...Looking back on her life, Sarasa says she is happy and contented as she has led a full life. "It is a good feeling to sit back and watch my disciples, who are all my children, doing well as dancers and teachers." ...Such is her zest for life and dance.

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Sangeeta Sthalam-s - 6 Heritage Landmarks in Music -SRIRAM.V Tiruvottriyur If there is a sthalam in and around Chennai that can claim to be truly ancient, it is Tiruvottriyur. The very kshetra name-- Adipuri, testifies to its age. The name Ottriyur is said to have come about because of the fact that its exalted status ensured that it was exempt from taxes (variyilirundu otri vaikka pattu-- in Tamil) during ancient times. Located beyond Royapuram, Tiruvottriyur till recently had all the hallmarks of a peaceful village. But now it has changed beyond all recognition and has rapidly been absorbed in ever growing Chennai. Locating the temple is not all that easy.... The temple proper is an imposing one, with a high wall topped by a single gopuram of five levels. A unique aspect that strikes one on entering the temple is that the dhwaja stambham and the main sanctum are not aligned to the gopuram and are towards its left.... At the outer periphery, aligned with the wall, is a series of shrines for many Sivalinga-s. Thus one sees the sahasralinga (in reality 1000 linga-s carved on one stone), Jwaradevar, a Sivalinga for each of the 27 nakshatra-s and an enormous akasa linga that is true to name, open to the skies. The sthala vriksha which is the Athi tree is also here.... The temple has a history of verse and music that goes back many centuries. A Pallava king Kadavar Kon of the 6th century composed on the Lord here and his songs form part of the eleventh Tirumurai. Tirugnanasambandar and Appar among the Nayanmar-s have composed verses in praise of this deity.... The Tripurasundari Ashtakam of Adi Sankara is said to have been composed at this shrine. In terms of music, it is however the Tiruvottriyur Pancharatnam-s of Tyagaraja that come immediately to mind at this sanctum. All five songs are dedicated to this Goddess.... Hideous grille gates, lavish use of plastic emulsion on the walls and in many places cladding with polished granite have ruined what was once a heritage area. As for music, it might appear to be far removed from these surroundings. But happily that is not so. Some chaste nagaswara music is played over the public address system both in the morning and evening. The evening I visited the place, I was treated to Kamalambam bhajare, Ra ra ma intidaka and a brief alapana of Kuranji raga. A faint and tenuous link with the musical past is being maintained and let us hope it will be strengthened with time. Articles on Musical Heritage sponsored by Bharatiya Sangeetha Vaibhavam

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A Series For Youngster
Stamp On Annamacharya

Hie Department of Posts issued a commemorative stamp (and a First Day Cover) on Annamacharya on 18 March 2004. The fiverupee stamp was printed by photogravure process in India Security Press, Nashik. The picture below shows a 'block' of the stamp. (In philatelic language, a 'block' means a block of four).

The First Day Cancellation depicts the ektara associated with Annamacharya, but it is shown in a horizontal position. The cover carries a picture of Annamacharya.

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