Prof C V Chandrasekhar: A legend

“I never gave up practice because I wanted to be ready at any time for any opportunity.” Indeed, he put his audience and connoisseurs in awe of his energy and perfection even in his late seventies when he was found performing on stage. Professor C.V. Chandraskehar (22 May 1935 – 19 June 2024), a recipient of many prestigious awards including the Sangeet Natak Akademi award for Bharatanatyam (1993), Kalidas Samman (2008) and Padmabhushan by the Government of India (2011) was one of the senior most performer, academician, choreographer, musician and mentor in the field of Bharatanatyam.

His journey in Bharatanatyam is a testament to his unwavering passion, exceptional calibre, and profound commitment. His work would continue to inspire and elevate the dance fraternity, making him a true maestro whose legacy will be cherished for generations to come.

Here is an excerpt of his interview published in Sruti in the year 1989.

Tell us how you got into dance and about your training and career in it.

My introduction to dance was very early—at the age of four or five. My father probably sensed something in me and got me to learn dance from my school teachers in Shimla and Delhi. I remember that the first padam I learnt was Velavare (Bhairavi). I had a good voice and took tuition in music simultaneously. I came over to Madras in 1945 to pursue my interest in music and dance and landed in Kalakshetra where I had the fortune to be associated with great stalwarts in both these performing arts. Dance was taught me by both Peria Sarada and Chinna Sarada. Rukmini Devi to me was more of an inspiration and not a direct teacher, though she recognised and wrote about my penchant for dance and potential as a dancer. She taught me two items before my arangetram or formal debut as a dancer. My music teacher was Budalur Krishnamurthy Sastrigal and I also learnt from T.K. Ramaswamy Iyer, Mysore Vasudevachar and M.D. Ramanathan. The great Papanasam Sivan taught me an ashtapadi. I was exposed to the music of Veena Sambasiva Iyer and the Dagar Brothers….

In 1956, I finished M.Sc. In the 50's if you were a young dance master, parents would not send their daughters to you for learning. So, deciding to continue with botany, I got back to BHU and took up a job. There I also started teaching dance. This was in 1958. Unfortunately my botany research got held up because of some problem with my guide who had to go and so I had to give up my Ph.D. work. After this, my teaching was entirely in dance and music; I forgot my botany. I was in BHU till 1979 when I came to Baroda.

In 1955 I got married and fortunately to a dancer. Two children were born and they started dancing too, with us. I think we are a rare family in which the father, the mother and the two daughters all dance together on the same stage. The Baroda (M. S.) University, started in 1949, has had a Department of Music and Dance since 1950. I became the Principal. Later I was elected to the faculty [of Fine Arts] and became its Dean. All this gave me a place, a distinct standing, in the dance world

What do you have to say about the role of a guru in dance?

When a student of mine here wants to dance, wants to perform, I tell her : "Ask me to teach you anything, but don't ask me 'how much do I pay for an arangetram or a performance'. I have made sure I am available to the students as much, for as long, as they need. I may not have made any money as a result, but I've never let that make me feel I haven't been a good teacher.

By V.S. Kumar