News & Notes

Brh -30 years of excellence and emotions

Brh -30 years of excellence and emotions

By Ilakkiya S

A theme encompassing graceful growth and gratitude, Brh (to grow), was Sri Mudhraalaya's 30th-anniversary celebrations on 5 November 2023. The brainchild of senior Bharatanatyam dancer and teacher Lakshmi Ramaswamy, Sri Mudhraalaya was started on the terrace of Lakshmi's grandfather Sundaram's house in 1993 with just three students. What began as a humble dream with the blessings of her guru, Chitra Visweswaran evolved into a legacy producing four generations of dancers, marked soloists, graded artists, national scholarship holders, award-winning researchers, and teachers. The institution has also produced 30 productions, 250 solo units with rare choreographies, and has published several books.

Lakshmi commenced her training in Tirunelveli when she was five and completed her arangetram under Indira Krishnamoorthy. After marriage, she moved to Chennai in 1989 and came under the guidance of Chitra Visweswaran at Chidambaram Academy for Bharatanatyam. She received the United States Fulbright Fellowship in 2000, and in 2004, she joined the Master's program in Bharatanatyam at Madras University and after completion, she started teaching at the university. Lakshmi is also the first doctorate in Bharatanatyam from the Music Department of Madras University. 

With a passion for research, Lakshmi has translated the book History of Tamil's Dance by Prof. S. Raghuraman, co-authored the book Natana Kalaichol Kalanjiam' and published her book Shall We Know Natya. She continued her learning process by studying Tamil texts from Prof. S. Raghuraman.

Reminiscing on the 30 years, Lakshmi says, "As time passed, I simply went with the flow. Teaching or choreographing wasn't something I had planned, but whenever an opportunity arose, I gave it a shot. I always believe that a good teacher must remain a perpetual student. I consistently embraced learning, which naturally led me in this direction."  

"I started Sri Mudhraalaya (SM) for students from all walks of life to learn dance. The dance takes a lot of financial support. It has always been difficult for me. I saved for eight years to get my first Natya Sastra book. Coming from a humble economic background, I wanted my institute to be a place for students to learn without any financial pressure."

To commemorate the year, Lakshmi published Lakshana Lahari – a compilation of articles based on ancient dance texts written by her first batch of students from the Teacher Training course. In October, she also curated 'Punarva, ' a comeback festival to encourage four dancers who have had a pause in their dance careers.  

In these 30 years, Lakshmi has choreographed several items, and she says each has a special memory. The 30th anniversary celebrations at Vani Mahal on 5 November 2023 featured excerpts from several of her past productions.

The event opened with Tatthai Kautuvam, one of Lakshmi's innovative choreographies penned by G. Sankaranarayanan and tuned by Rajkumar Bharathi. The kautuvam was performed by students of SM and two students from an online workshop conducted by ABHAI marking SM-30. This piece is a part of their production called Suka Marga, an entire margam created with a parrot as the inspiration.

The students next presented an excerpt from a new and unique varnam. In this presentation, students of different ages performed stories from mythology and Panchatantra, depicting several characters and entertaining both the audience and the performers.

Next came a solo padam rendered as a group choreography, Mugathai kaati composed by Papavinasa Mudaliaar in Bhairavi. Lakshmi performed a soulful solo padam Neen Yako, sung by  S. R. Veeraragavan and composed by Rajkumar Bharathi. Vishwanata Ashtakam was also gracefully performed by seven senior students of SM.

Lakhmi's guru, Chitra Visweswaran, who could not attend the event, sent her wishes and blessings through a video. She said, "It is not an easy task surviving and being successful in this field for a long time. Lakshmi has taken the institution forward. I bless her and pray that she may take it even further into the future and achieve much success in Bharatanatyam."

A special mention goes to Jagyaseni, Prajna, and Vidhyalakshmi, students of SM, who put together the beautifully curated evening. The seamless weaving of audio-visuals and live dancing was a treat to the audience.

(The author is a journalism student, a Bharatanatyam dancer, and an ardent rasika of classical music.)