Rama Vaidyanathan

Footprints of Dedication: Rama Vaidyanathan

By Anjana Anand

It was destiny that brought Rama Vaidyanathan to legendary dancer Yamini Krishnamurthy as her first Bharatanatyam student. She continued training under her mother-in-law guru Saroja Vaidyanathan, and spent the next decade finding her artistic identity as she assimilated the teachings of the two illustrious artists. Today, Rama travels the world bringing her own blend of tradition and innovation to her performances. It is no surprise that this dancing diva has caught the imagination of aspiring Bharatanatyam dancers and rasikas alike.

Rama had her arangetram at the age of ten. Subsequently, she received training in Carnatic music from vidwans Ramamurthy and Mahalingam, her guru’s maestros. Post-marriage, Rama continued her artistic evolution under the guidance of Saroja Vaidyanathan, the Founder-Director of Ganesa Natyalaya in Delhi, who was a steadfast pillar of support for her. With a performance career spanning over four decades, Rama has cultivated a distinctive style rooted in the core principles of Bharatanatyam. Her dance is a harmonious blend of rhythmic prowess, clear-cut movements, intense abhinaya and imaginative choreography.

                                           

Recognised as a top grade artist of Doordarshan and belonging to the ‘outstanding category of artists’ of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), Rama has performed globally, including a noteworthy celebration in Russia commemorating 60 years of friendship between India and Russia. Notably, she is a regular performer for international delegates at the Indian Parliament in New Delhi. Rama has garnered critical acclaim for maintaining impeccable standards of excellence and aesthetics in her dance presentations. Her repertoire includes special choreographic compositions such as the Mayura alarippu (composed in an unconventional cycle of fiveand-a-half beats by Nattuvanar Karaikudi Sivakumar), Brhamajaladhara (narrating the story of the Ganga), Akhilam Madhuram (symbolism of Mathura and Brindavan), Angikam Bhuvanam (depicting the cosmic self), Dance of the Birds (all with music composition by flautist G.S. Rajan), and Mad and Divine (interpreting verses by the 13th century Marathi poet Janabai and 14th century Kashmiri poet Lalleswari).

Beyond her role as a performer, Rama serves as the Director of Ganesa Natyalaya in New Delhi, actively engaging in teaching for over 30 years. Balancing a demanding performance schedule, she also conducts workshops and master classes worldwide. Renowned for her contributions to Bharatanatyam, Rama stands as a cultural ambassador, bridging the classical and modern realms of Indian dance with grace, precision, and emotive expressions. 



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Anjana Anand

You were born in Pune and brought up in Delhi. How did your journey in Bharatanatyam begin?

Rama Vaidyanathan

It was all quite dramatic. My father Major K.C. Gopalakrishnan was posted in the College of Military Engineering in Pune and my mother, Madhavi was pregnant with her fourth child - that was me. She was always interested in natyam but unlike my generation, did not get an opportunity to learn the art form. One day, there was an announcement at the college that Yamini Krishnamurthy was coming to perform. Excited about watching her and not to be dissuaded because she was pregnant with me, my mother sat mesmerised through the concert. Yamini Krishnamurthy performed both Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi as was common in those days. Would you believe that the enthusiasm to watch her was so strong that my nine months pregnant mother stood up on a chair to get a glimpse of the tarangam? I believe that throughout the item, I was kicking away at full throttle! It was an emotional moment in my mother’s life. Being deeply spiritual, she thought at that moment that the child born to her must become a dancer like Yamini Krishnamurthy. Perhaps because of her strong sankalpa (heartfelt desire) I was born that very night. My guru was decided even before I was born

Anjana Anand

When did you start learning natyam?

Rama Vaidyanathan

When I was about three, we moved to Delhi. I was six years old when my mother saw an advertisement for classes by Yamini Krishnamurthy (Yamini Amma). My mother immediately took me to her and before I knew it, I was her very first student. In fact, Yamini Amma did not even take fees for the first six months! I had my arangetram when I was 10 and she did nattuvangam for me.

Anjana Anand

What are your memories of your guru?

Rama Vaidyanathan

I remember learning the adavus with her. I used to stand right in front of the class with full enthusiasm. We even had a vocalist and mridangist who would accompany us in all the classes, much like the tabla artists who accompany the Kathak dancers. After about a year-and-a-half, we started alarippu. Some of the students who already knew the composition started dancing and I began crying as I felt left out. Yamini Amma just held me in her arms and said, “You don’t worry, I am going to teach you this item.” This is one of the earliest memories I have of my interaction with her.

Anjana Anand

What was her teaching style like?

Rama Vaidyanathan

She had an eye for detail and precision. Many teachers in those times would not be very specific when teaching movements to their students as they would sit and indicate the hand and feet positions. Yamini Amma on the other hand was hands on. She would give specific instructions on how to hold the body and execute a movement. The performer in her knew what she wanted. She gave of herself fully, not holding back in any way. It is a marvel that an artist in the peak of her career could be so generous. She performed well into the 90’s

Anjana Anand

Do you remember what you performed for your arangetram?

Rama Vaidyanathan

You will be surprised to know that I performed almost a whole Kalakshetra margam! Ganesa kavutuvam, Tisra alarippu, Kalyani jatiswaram, shabdam, and Rupamu joochi varnam, Natanam Adinar and Hindolam tillana. This was because she had gone to Kalakshetra and learnt these compositions. I also performed a couple of other compositions that Yamini Amma composed. In a hilarious incident that followed, my mother took me to see Leela Samson’s performance and to my consternation, I saw my arangetram items being performed by her! I remember thinking, “How does she know all my items without even being in my class!”

Anjana Anand

When did Bharatanatyam become a career for you?

Rama Vaidyanathan

Post arangetram, I travelled extensively with my guru performing an item or two in between her solo performances of Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi. This continued till I was about 15 years old. I had no plans to make Bharatanatyam a full-time career. Perhaps I would have gone on to become a chartered accountant. Then the most unexpected thing happened – I fell in love! I was 16 when I met my husband, Kamesh. He was studying in IIT Delhi and I met him there at a cultural festival through a common friend. Coincidentally, I learnt that his mother was Saroja Vaidyanathan – a well-known Bharatanatyam dancer.

                                 

A couple of years later, Kamesh and I decided to get married and before I knew it I was Saroja Vaidyanathan’s daughter-in-law at the age of 19! A few years earlier, when my mother had checked my horoscope with an astrologer to find out if I would continue dancing even after marriage, he told her ‘Don’t worry! Even if your daughter wants to, dance will never leave her. It is not her choice, it is her destiny!’ That is exactly what happened. I married into a family where dance and music was their life!

Anjana Anand

Since you were already Yamini Krishnamurthy’s disciple, what was your equation with Saroja Vaidyanathan when it came to your Bharatanatyam journey?

Rama Vaidyanathan

It just happened that when I was around 17, Yamini Amma stopped performing and slowed down on her teaching completely. I was left on my own for a couple of years. After my marriage, Saroja Amma taught me a whole repertoire from her lineage. The style was very different but I continued dancing the way I had learnt. I completed about five margams. There were many compositions of Papanasam Sivan and Oothukadu Venkata Kavi and less of those by the Tanjore Quartet. Invariably, I would be involved in teaching some of the classes or taking part in the dance dramas that Saroja Amma choreographed. Soon I found myself immersed in a life full of dancing and teaching.


Anjana Anand

At which point did you find your own voice and establish yourself as a solo performer?

Rama Vaidyanathan

After my daughter Dakshina was born when I was 21, I slowed down on the travel and ensemble performances. I had time at home to myself and started choreographing my own pieces. This was a big shift in my dance journey. I knew somewhere that I had to find my own relationship with dance. I had the good fortune of being part of two great lineages. That confidence and the thriving arts scene in Delhi spurred me to move forward. I always tell my students how important it is to create one’s own work and not to just be satisfied with the repertoire handed down by a guru. That is of course the base, from which one must take a leap forward to truly understand art. For me, this new path I was walking on helped cement my relationship with Bharatanatyam. 



Anjana Anand

There was a period in your career where you did not perform much. Many dancers are insecure about not being in the rat race of performing. How did you feel at that time?

Rama Vaidyanathan


From the age of about 20 to 30, I hardly performed. I had two children and that took a large portion of my time. I went with the flow and never stressed myself out with ambitious career plans. Having said that, I remained actively engaged with Bharatanatyam -- creating work, reading and thinking about what I wanted to communicate. In fact those were the years that I rediscovered Bharatanatyam. Whatever I teach my students today is a culmination of the process I reinvented in those 10 years.

Anjana Anand

When you started performing once more, in what way had your dancing changed - as compared to that young student under two legends?

Rama Vaidyanathan

When I used to be under Yamini Amma, many people said I looked and danced like her. After my arangetram, a write up by the journalist, Shanta Serbjeet Singh referred to me as ‘diminutive Yamini’! Over the years, that influence reduced in terms of both technique and content. Every era looks at dance differently. Compared to the years when Yamini Amma danced, the later decades placed much more emphasis on anga shuddam. There was also a wider exploration of compositions and themes in the Bharatanatyam repertoire. Like language, our art forms too evolve in form and aesthetics.

Anjana Anand
You started performing more of your own work as you got back into solo performances.
Rama Vaidyanathan


Yes, I started experimenting with my own choreographed pieces. In the early stage, I had just discovered the versatility of the art form. I realised I could communicate anything through art. It went beyond perfection of technique. I began creating new compositions from scratch. For example, I took some verses from the Skanda Puranam or I would write my own poem on nature and convert that into a visual. These were true choreographies as opposed to setting old musical compositions to natyam, which I also enjoyed doing.


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