Author: Anupama Jayasimha, Bengaluru
(October 20th, 1930 – May 29th, 2019)
Natyasree / Vidwan Guru Sri Raman was born to K.M. Krishnayogi and Maaniyamma in his maternal grandfather’s house in the village Neelesavram in the Kasaragodu district, Kerala. He had two elder brothers Ambu, who died very young, Krishnan, who is the only surviving sibling today and a younger brother Balakrishna, who has also passed away. He was born on October 20th, 1930. His full name was Kunhi Raman.
Sri Raman’s father lived in Candera with his wife and children almost in penury. The village had 15 houses belonging to Yogi Gurukkal community of which his father was the head. Raman with his two brothers was studying in the Government School in Candera. When he was in fifth standard his father passed away and the three brothers had to stop studying and seek work to sustain the family. The little boy Raman started doing whatever work was available to supplement what his mother earned as a daily wager, which was as meagre as two annas a day. When his mother found it difficult to make two ends meet she shifted to her maternal home in Neelesvaram with five coconut saplings in a basket and four sons trailing behind her, walking all the way from Candera to Neeleshvarm. Since Maaniyamma was from a Matriarchal system, she had an acre of coconut grove with a small house in it. Raman in later years when he had some money in hand bought the land from his brothers and renovated the house so that his mother could live peacefully there. Smt. Maaniyamma who refused to move out of her village lived in her house up to the ripe age of 92 years and passed away there.
Interest in Bharatanatya and Pursuing his interest:
Raman was sitting in a small thatched hotel in Neelesvaram, when he heard some people speaking about just coming from Mysore after watching Dasara. They were speaking with lot of enthusiasm of a Bharatanatya performance they had watched there. The nine year old Raman was hearing their conversation avidly and the desire to learn Bharatanatya sprouted in him. Raman’s family when he told them of his desire did not encourage him. So the little boy one fine day took whatever money he had earned and went to Mangalore. From there he went to Madikeri. He worked in a sand factory and hotels there to meet his needs. His yearning to learn dance remained at the bottom of his heart.
He eventually reached his maternal uncle Krishnan’s house in Mysore. He started working in a hotel to earn a living. He began going to Garadi Mane (gym in today’s parlance) and began learning Katti Varase (sword fighting) regularly. He became friendly with a boy, Srinivas to whom he confided his desire to learn dance. Srinivas took him to Guru Mysore Rajagopal who ran a dance school called Sri Nruthya Kalamandira, who used to teach dances in the style of Kathakali, a few Bharatanatya items and also many folk items such as Peacock dance, Fisherman and his wife, Snake Charmer and Gypsy. Guru Rajagopal asked him to attend the class every evening but Raman said that he had off from the hotel only between 1 – 2:30 PM. Happy witnessing the enthusiasm of Raman, though that was the time he had his siesta, Sri Rajagopal agreed to teach him at I:15 PM.
Raman joined the class by giving a grand sum of Rs.5 as fee in the year 1943. To meet the condition of the guru that he had to be there exactly at 1:15 at his place, he used to run from the hotel which was at a distance of one and a half kilometres. Practice with him and run back to the hotel to report for duty at 2:30. He learnt dance for two years like this.
He then came to Bangalore to pursue his interest in dance and became the first boy to learn Pandanllur Style of Bharatanatya under the pioneering couple Sri U.S. Krishna Rao and Chandra Baaga Devi from 1945, for 20 years. He also taught as a teacher in their school for many years.
Then an offer came from Gubbi Company for a dancer and a dance teacher. Sri Gubbi Veeranna who was the owner of Gubbi Channabasaveshvara company, recognising the talent of Raman appointed him as Dance Choreographer in his company. There was a tradition of doing Rangapooje (stage worship) in the beginning of a drama and it would start with the Bharatanatya of Raman.
In addition to dancing, choreographing dances, teaching the actors to dance in the drama, he started doing roles in the dramas too. He was getting a pay of Rs. 55 from the company. He stayed in the company for four years from 1956 -60.
He met his wife Smt. Devaki in the Gubbi Company. Devaki joined the company with her sister Pankaja which was at Bagalkote then. She was originally from Karinyaali a village in Palghat district Kerala. She belonged to a rich undivided zamindhar family, born to Appuswami and Valliyamma. She had three siblings an elder brother Sukumar, a younger brother Ramesh and younger sister Pankaja. There was a break in their joint family and the village was hit by drought. So Devaki’s parents had to leave their village and stayed in Chittoor for some time where Devaki studied up to 5th standard. They then moved to Sampige, Karnataka, and got shelter in the house of Sri. Honnegowda. Honnegowda was a close friend of Gubbi Veeranna, who was the owner of the Gubbi company. There was a dance teacher called Kumar known to Honnegowda and he sent the two sisters to learn Bharatanatya from him. They both joined Gubbi theatre which was stationed at Bagalkote. Since Raman met Devaki while he was in Gubbi Company.
Raman taught dance in the mornings and danced with Devaki in the Dramas in the evening. Love blossomed between the two. The dances Siva Tandava and siva lasya done by Raman and Devaki in the play Akkamahadevi became very popular among the spectators. Gubbi Veeranna had great respect for the young and sincere Raman and created a special place for dances in his plays so that Raman could display his talent.
K.V. Kannan Maran who was a Kathakkali guru came to witness one of the dramas, he liked the dance of Raman and Devaki very much that he suggested to them, they should go with him and start dance classes on their own. They both left the Gubbi company and moved with K.V. Kannan Maran to his house.
Establishing Sri Raja Rajeshwari Nruthya Kala Mandira, Marriage and acquiring a house:
A rented room in a building in Hosa Mandi Pete, Tumkur was taken by Raman. The inaugural function of Sri Raja Rajeshwari Nruthya Kala Mandira (SRRNKM) was held in S.L.N. Theatre, Tumkur in the year 1962. SRRNKM was inaugurated by Sivakumara Swamiji, known as the walking God. There were 40 students attending the dance classes.
K.V. Kannan Maran with many other well- wishers was instrumental in Raman and Devaki getting married and settling down in Tumkur. A Bharatanatya program was arranged in Tumkur and the money collected from it was used for the marriage which took place in Chikka Tirupati, Arasikere on 14th Febraury 1963. The newly married couple started their life in a rented house paying Rs. 20 every month. Here it should be mentioned that Sub inspector S.I. Shivanna and his wife Deeviramma, who were the parents of the very popular Kannada star Late Manjula, were also one of the well wishes who assisted Sri Raman and Smt Devaki to get married and settle down in Tumkur. They also helped Sri Raman to start dance classes in Bangalore. When Sri Shivanna was transferred to Bangalore he started living in the police quarters in M.N.Krishna Rao Park, Basavanagudi. Sri Raman started teaching dance in the central building of the Krishna Rao Park visiting Bangalore from Monday – Wednesday from the year 1963. He would stay with Manjula’s parents at the police quarters in Krishna Rao Park, Basavanagudi. The dance classes in Tumkur were held from Thursday – Sunday.
After being in Hosa Mandi Pete for four years, and another house for two years, Raman couple shifted to 2nd cross, K.R. Extension, Tumkur for a rent of Rs 200. There is a very interesting story how they could afford to come to that house. It was known as Ghost house and nobody rented it but Raman couple took a bold decision. Raman put the garland of his beloved god Ayyappa and stepped into the house. The couple lived in the house for many years running their dance school there. The owner of the house came one day and said he had decided to sell the house. Raman and Devaki wanted to buy the house but they did not have any money. Devaki suggested to her husband that he should go and borrow the amount from his very good friend Contractor Nagaraju. Raman hesitated but Devaki persuaded him that for a secure future they needed to own a house.
Finally with lot of hesitation he went to his friend’s house, told him about his desire to buy the house but lack of finance. Sri Nagaraju gave him the needed amount Rs 85,000, on trust not even making a written agreement with Raman. The only question he asked was how and when Raman would return the amount. Raman asked him for five years, but he was so conscious about his commitment that he worked incessantly from morning 3 AM to night 10 PM and returned the money in three years to his friend. To do this he would wake up at 2 Am and start going to the students houses to give private dance lessons from 3AM – 10 PM both in Tumkur and Bangalore. He also manged the classes at his house with help from his wife and sister in law Pankaja.
Devaki also was a great help to Raman since she saw to it that money was spent only for absolute needs and saved as much as she could to help her husband. The house which is in a big site has expanded today, with a built-in area of nearly 3500 square feet to include a big dance hall in front of the house where classes take place and a guest room with a bath room upstairs for the visiting artists and accompanists. It also houses the joint family of his three sons their wives and the three grandchildren.
Guru Sri Raman’s pursuit of Dance along with his teaching:
Sri Raman’s desire to learn and perfect Bharatanatya, lead him to learn Pandanallur style of Bharatanatya under the pioneering couple Sri U.S. Krishna Rao and Smt. Chandra Baaga Devi for 20 years. He also taught in their dance school for many years.
He used to say that he would go riding a bike long distance to attend classes and if the teachers were not in mood, he had to come back without learning anything. He learnt many times just by observing his Gurus teaching other students. He had great reverence for his Gurus and said that he learnt the subtle nuances of expression and the right way of execution of Adavus by watching and hearing their experienced inputs on many aspects of dance.
He learnt under Sri Kittappa Pillai for two years. He had also learnt Bharatanatyam from Srinivasa Kulkarni, a very well -known teacher from Dharwad in his younger days. He learnt some special items of Kuchipudi such as Manduka Shabdham and dancing on plate carrying a pot of water on the head under Smt. Sunanda Devi, a very popular teacher of Kuchipudi and Bharatanataya in Bangalore. This kind of passion for learning and imbibing the finer aspects of dance from each of the teacher he learnt, stood him in good stead when he taught his students and later when he started choreographing dance items and dance dramas.
My 55 years long Dance Journey with Sri Raman Sir:
My Bharathanatya classes started under the guidance of Raman Sir at the age of six and a half years in 1963. I learnt there for some time but the classes in the central building stopped for some reason and I used to go and learn at Manjula’s parent’s quarters. Finally Sir started coming home and teaching me for a fee of Rs 15. The learning process continued through my school years, college, after marriage and even after the birth of my two children and it has been going on for 55 long years.
At the request of his student Geetha Krishnan, Raman Sir had started teaching Bharatanataya in “Hemrose” school, which was run by her brother Hemanth, in JP Nagar III phase, Bangalore. The dance school was given the name ‘Vishwa Bharati Natya Shala’(VBNS) and inaugurated in September 1981. The class had six students and Sir took classes regularly till November. Raman Sir was a great devotee of Ayyappa. He visited Ayyappa temple in Sabarimalai every year during November. Since he did not want the classes to stop in his absence, he took the permission of my in-laws and asked me to handle the classes till his return, since my house was very near the school.
When he came back from his pilgrimage he found it difficult to come all the way for two days in the evenings. He handed over the reins completely to me and with his blessings and grace I have nurtured the school for 38 years. The school which began with six students has 80 students today and seven teachers including me. More than 1500 students have learnt in these 38 years and many have passed secondary board and Prayag Sangeet Samiti Bharatanatya exams with distinction.
When Sir was thinking of whom to hand over the class, Devaki Amma said, “why are you thinking so much hand it over to Anupama, she will handle the classes well”. I have run the school along the ideals set by my Guru, bowing to the trust shown by my Guru Patni. The blessing of my Guru made me venture to do my higher education. He was very happy when I went and showed my MPhil Dissertation.
Smt Anupama Jayasimha with her Guru and Gurupatni during the 30th Aniiversary of VBNS
The Method of teaching and Devotion to Bharatanatyam
Time sense: As already mentioned Master learnt dance under many Gurus with ardent devotion. He imbibed what he learnt very well. He was always on time to the classes. Raman Sir when he became a teacher carried on the discipline of going to the students houses on time, sometimes even before time. He expected the same from his students. If they were not ready when he went to their houses he would go back without teaching. If the student came even five minutes late to the class, she/he would be turned back and asked to come for the next class. I have experienced both while learning under him. He used to go to his student, Nalini Murthy’s house which was in Jayanagar at 3 AM in the morning and come to my house in JP Nagar III phase at 4 AM. I was so apprehensive that he would go away if I was not ready that I would keep the alarm at 3-30 AM, go down stairs and open the lock of the door and would be dozing on the sofa till he came.
Raman Sir’s time sense prevailed during dance programs too. They were started on the dot even if there were only two people in the audience and without the chief guest on so many occasions. The rehearsals were also conducted in a similar manner 6 AM early mornings with the students and accompanists both grumbling, not used to the unearthly hours. Being with Raman Sir for so long, this became second nature to me that I keep the exam classes for my students at 5-30 AM and rehearsals for exams and programs with the accompanists at 6-30 AM !
Teaching Style: When Raman Sir began coming home to teach dance to me twice a week, the routine of practice was:
Only after doing the above three would start the real dance lesson.
Sir gave emphasis to Angashuddate (proper way of executing Adavus) and would not compromise on it. Unless the student practiced the way he expected he would not teach further. If the student had not practiced what had been taught the previous week and if the dance learnt was not done properly the first time there would be no new steps taught or there would be no further progress in the dance being learnt.
I have to tell my experience here. I took one year to learn Ananda Bhairavi Varna Sakhiye, going to his Modi road rented house once a week. After that another six months to sing it properly. I got stuck in carana for weeks. I would have practiced and would be getting it correct in the house and when I sang in front of him, out of fear I would go wrong. I would beg him, ‘sir I know the proper way of singing please can we go to Etthugade Swara’. He would stick to his guns and say till I hear you sing it properly I will not go further. Even the Trikala Jatis and the ones which come between the pallavi pieces and Anu Pallavi pieces had to be said exactly to the tala, even quarter Matre this way or that way would bring out his anger. Though it was very tough and the progress was slow I am grateful today for the rigorous training given by him since after becoming a teacher, I realised how confident that training has made me.
Sir in his 57 years of running SRRNKM has conducted the Rangapravesha of only 19 students including his two daughter and two sons. After teaching all the items chosen for Rangapravesha, he would start the practice which would go on for six months to one year. When he was confident of the student, the venue would be fixed.
He never compromised his integrity for money. He was known for sending away students who were not serious about dance. He would not yield to pressure from parents to do a Rangapravesha unless he thought the student had talent and was hard working. Today when so much commercialization of dance has happened and Rangapravesha is done without giving enough training and preparation, Raman Sir stood apart in his conviction that teaching Bharatnataya should never be diluted or compromised.
Choreography: Raman sir was an excellent choreographer. After choosing a composition, he would learn to sing it properly. He would get every word and the overall meaning translated. Then he would search for the proper hand gestures and Adavus to fit the meaning of the lyrics. After these preparations he would choreograph the item.
He has choreographed many items in his 57 years as a teacher. Three out of five Pancaratna Krithis of Thyagaraja, Endaro Mahanubavulu, Sadhincine and Jagadananda Karaka have been beautifully choreographed by Sir. He has also choreographed Bhavayami Raghuramam in the form of a dance drama.
Photo is Family of Guru K.M. Raman with his Gurus U.S. Krishna Rao and Chandra Bhaga Devi
Raman Sir and his wife Devaki have five children.
Vidushi Sathyavati Suresh
Vidushi Gunavati, Vidwan Harish Raman, Vidwan Girish Raman. Four of Raman Sir and Devaki Amma’s children are carrying on their legacy. The grandchildren are also learning from the parents and next generation to carry the flag of Raman Sir and Devaki Amma high, is getting ready.
Awards and Accolades:
Karnataka Kala Tilaka title from State Sangeeta Nrutya Academy -1993
Karnataka Rajyotasava Award from Govt of Karnataka -1998
Rashtriya Ratan National Award from National Integration and Economic Council of India – 2003
Shanthala Natya Prashasti from Govt of Karnataka – 2010
Sreshta Natyacarya – 1965 v Natyakala Praveena – 1967
Natyshree title, silk shawl and a from V.C. Keirala Varma Valiyaraja of Kerala -1986
Karnataka Sangeeta Nrutya Academy Purasakara -1986
Nritya Vidyanidhi – 1998
Natya Kala Sindhu – 2001
End of a Puritanian of Bharatanatya:
Natyasree K.M.Raman born in Kerala, settling down in Tumkur came to be called Tumkur Ramanna fondly. He learnt to write and read Kannada fluently. Read the newspapers regularly, had grasp as well as strong opinions on many topics. He integrated well and earned the respect and love of the residents of Tumkur and all the people who got acquainted with him. Everyone recognised his values, integrity and sincerity when it came to his profession as well as passion, which was dance. All these have left an indelible mark on his students and everyone coming to know him well. 29th June 2019 – Raman Sir left for heavenly abode to join his wife Devaki Raman, who had gone five months ahead of him. He will live eternally through the numerous students.
2.Profile of Sri Raman given by his son Sri Harish Raman.
3.Inputs from Sri Harish Raman.