Adyar K. Lakshman passed away on August 19, 2014, Tuesday night at the age of 82. He was ailing for sometime and had been hospitalised.
We pay homage to Guru Adyar K. Lakshman, a beacon of bharatanatyam.
Born in a small town called Kuppam in Andhra Pradesh, on 16 December 1933, Adyar Lakshman’s awesome journey to acclaim as one of India’s greatest dance teachers and nattuvannars is indeed inspirational, and the kind that compels respect among India’s art fraternity.
His father, Krishnaraja Rao, was posted there as a school teacher. Lakshman and his brother Rama Rao were discovered at a young age by Shri. P.D. Doraiswamy Iyer, a representative of legendary Rukmini Devi Arundale.
Rukmini Devi Arundale sensed the talent…
Lakshman was 11 when Rukmini Devi told him she sensed great potential in him and he should take up dance. Lakshman’s father was only too happy to accept the offer made by Kalakshetra. But Lakshman wasn’t easily convinced !
An amused Rukmini Devi assured him that wasn’t the case and he would make a good dancer. He was still reluctant. Knowing that he was fond of sports especially cricket, she tried another enticement. “Look at it as a means of good physical exercise.” Thus persuaded, Lakshman began his training.
I thought dance was meant for girls! I was quite health conscious those days. Apart from my mridangam, vocal and nattuvangam skills, I wanted to give my body some physical exercise. The initiation into this divine art came much after my association with Kalakshetra.
About four years later, his passion for cricket had grown to a near-obsession. Rukmini Devi decided to step in again. She called him one day and said: “You have 24 hours. Make up your mind whether you want to make cricket or dance, your calling in life.” Lakshman says he pondered over the choice for a whole day. And, finally pitched for dance. ‘What tilted the balance was the thought that a cricketer can play only till around 35 but a dancer’s career lasts well into middle age and even later.
That was precisely when Rukimini Devi, in one of her classes, praised him for his diligence in learning a dance step. He remembers Arundale pointing him to her other students and saying, “look at this young boy. He is a born performer’.
Ever since, there was no looking back.
Shri. Adyar Lakshman began his education at Kalakshetra in 1944 at the young age of 11 years. He underwent vigorous training in vocal music, Bharatha Natyam, Mridangam and Nattuvangam under the able tutelage of eminent teachers. He had the good fortune to receive his early training and exposure from Smt. Rukmini Devi Arundale, Mylapore Gowri Ammal, K. Dandayuthapani Pillai, S. Saradha, Tiger Varadachari, Budalur Krishnamoorthy Sastrigal, T. K. Ramaswamy Iyengar, Mysore Vasudevacharya, Tanjore Rajagopala Iyer, V. Vital, Kamalarani, and Karaikudi Muthu Iyer, Mudikonda Venkatramana Iyer, Visveswaraya (at Tiptur, prior to Kalakshetra). Lakshman even learnt Kathakali from Ambu Panicker, and Chandu Panicker and acquired proficiency in Sanskrit. His most notable appearance in Kathakali was as Sudhama in ‘Kuchela Vrittam’.
Lakshman attributes his success to the long line of illustrious teachers, he had. From Rukmini Devi, he learnt the relentless pursuit of excellence which she embodied. “In my days, there had been five to six popular schools of Bharathanatyam. Rukmini Devi’s was one such style. I’ve always admired her innate grace and elegance but never really tried to get into the heart of the art. Mysore Vasudevacharya was humility personified. I have observed that it is this trait that enables one to rise higher and higher in life since humility cannot co-exist with complacency or smug self-satisfaction which lead to stagnation. From Dandayuthapani Pillai I learnt the importance of razor-sharp focus on rhythm (laya) which is a great asset in both music and dance. I not only learnt the highest quality of classical dance and music from them. But an equally big gain was the lessons of life and character-building that I learnt from them”
Subsequently he was cast by Rukmini Devi in prominent Kalakshetra productions like, “Kumara Sambhavam”, “Kutrala Kuravanji” etc. He played the role of Janaka in the Ramayana series Sitaswayam, as Shiva in Usha Parinayam which was a Bhagavatha Mela Natya Nataka from Melattur. Also danced with Rukmini Devi in kuravanji Kumarasambhavam with her as Parvathi and he as young brahmin Vatu.
Alongside dance, Lakshman continued his vocal-music pursuits and regularly broadcast concerts over All India Radio. Shri. Lakshman has the credit of recording a long play disc (LP) under the caption Inde Thala. This record was produced and marketed in France.
As a student-teacher…
Upon Rukmini Devi’s invitation, he began teaching at Kalakshetra at the age of 22. Eventually, he graduated in 1954 from Kalashetra in Bharatanatyam, Carnatic music and nattuvangam; though stayed on in Kalakshetra, and received a Government of India scholarship, and went on to received a post-graduate diploma in 1956. In the same year, Lakshman was chosen as a member of the Indian cultural delegation that visited Russia and Eastern Europe. Lakshman also began broadcasting his vocal music concerts over All India Radio station in 1958. He has the credit of recording a long play disc (LP) under the caption ‘Inde Thala’ that was produced and marketed in France.
He then went on to specialise in mridangam learning from Tanjore Rajagopala Iyer, V Vittal Iyer and Karaikudi Muthu Iyer. Later he was also Post Graduate of Kalakshetra in Nattuvangam and Percussion (Mridangam) in 1966.
As a Nattuvanar…
Lakshman mastered the art of nattuvangam when it was only the ‘paramparai nattuvanars’ who used to excel in nattuvangam. As his stature grew, he provided nattuvangam for solo performances of some of India’s greatest dancers. But while remembering his early days in career, I could not even afford to buy the entry ticket for a celebrity dancer’s show at the Music Academy nor was I offered a seat. As I walked home that evening, I wondered if I could ever aspire to conduct that artist’s recital. My dreams came true and within a year, I was performing nattuvangam for the same dancer at the Music Academy!” – he added.
The combination of being able to play the mridangam, to conduct the orchestra as nattuvanar and vocalist, placed Adyar Lakshman among the accomplished artists – a performer-musician – of the highest calibre. He was invited to do nattuvangam for Rukmini Devi, Yamini Krishnamurthy, Dhananjayans, Krishnaveni Lakshman, Kamala, Sarada Hoffman, Sudharani Raghupathy, Kamala, Narasimhacharis, Ambika Buch, Lakshmi Vishwanathan, Mythili Kumar, Jayalalitha, Pritha Ratnam, Anandavalli Satchidanandan and so on.
Hailed as one of India’s foremost nattuvanars, Lakshman has traversed the globe. His electric skills in nattuvangam was incomparable. He wielded the cymbals with such panache; his soulful singing interjected by his crisp expert sollukuttus (dance syllables). In his hands, rhythm is akin to the majesty of a great river. This harmony cannot be just a casual side effect. There is never just a unilateral or mechanical reckoning. Lakshman had very ordered mind and mathematical logic with which he approached the complex cross-rhythms patterns of his compositions. These were combinations of mathematical riddles disguised as sollukuttus, which could put dancers in knotted twists while performing, let alone reciting the dance syllables. Through his mastery of the mrdangam, he was able to translate the cross-rhythms into the most scintillating pure dance compositions, simultaneously bringing out the geometry of nritta in bharatanatyam.When pressed on how he achieves it, he used to say, ‘Well arithmetical calculations apart, I create patterns that link or flow from one set to another.’
As a Guru…
On leaving Kalakshetra, Lakshman felt there was a necessity to become a teacher more than a dancer. He taught for more than a decade in Vyjayantimala Bali’s school Natyalaya. Here over period of more than a decade, he conducted over ten arangetrams, assisted in productions like Tiruppavai, Azhagar Kuravanji, Chandalika and Sangatamil Malai.
After leaving Kalakshetra, he continued to live at Adyar in Chennai where he instituted Bharata Choodamani, an academy for fine arts on August 22,1969. His love to Adyar is incomparable. He used to say – ‘Wherever I went, be it for tours or for performances across the country, I returned to my home here in Adyar. I did not want to live anywhere else. The place has so many landmarks…the banyan tree, the Theosophical Society to name a few.’
Lakshman and his entire family were involved in conducting classes. There was constantly a member of the family present who specialised in theory, veena, mridangam, Carnatic vocal music etc. Lakshman’s brothers K. Rama Rao, K. Gopinath, sister Nagamani Srinivasa Rao and wife Vasantha Lashman, Son, Daughter, Daughter- in-law; all an inseparable part of his contribution to the art.
Anita Ratnam, Jayanthi Subramaniam, Bhrga Bassel, Radha Anjali, Meena Raman, Padmini Chari, Kamadev, Rojas Kannan, Mavin Khoo and Ramli Ibrahim are some of the well-known dancers who were under his tutelage.
Choreographies and Directions
He honed his skills as a choreographer of merit, assisting in productions like Tiruppavai, Azhagar Kuravanji, Chandalika and Sanga Tamizh Malai. The Nandichol, Varunapuri Kuravanji and Aiychiar Kuravai and the Khamas raga varnam are hallmarks, which no one would ever forget.
He also revived few pieces like Shakuntala Patra Lekhanam Padavarnam (Kannada) and Viriboni ata thala Varnam. For years, he had been interested in reviving Viriboni (Chiru navvu is a line from Viriboni Varnam). His newest pieces (choreographed in the past 2 years) include Tulasidala, Paramanantham, Chaturashra Allaripu and Andru Ivvulagam (Thiruppavai).
Lakshman also had the unique opportunity to work with Pt. Ravi Shankar. He has choreographed classical dance sequences in Kannada films – Hamsa Geethe, Subba Sastri and Ananda Tandavam.
Ever the pragmatist, he was the first to start the practice of monthly workshops when he took over as president of ABHAI.
Appreciated and believed in…
I appreciate everyone’s talent. But I believe – One should not change another person’s choreography.
There is beauty involved in dance. It’s not just about sweating your bad cholesterol out. You will gain exceedingly good amount of radiance and grace.
Art enhances the value and quality of life and the young students of today should read and hear about the masters of the yesteryear and emulate rich values in them. If one wants to excel in the performing arts, one should read the biographies of great artistes, and draw inspiration from their journeys.
I insists on early learning. But I also encourage adults who want to learn it for the art’s sake to take the dance as a hobby. It’s never too late to start. The only challenge they might face is to cope up initially. But interest in the art could make it look all simple and enticing.
Awards and Recognition
This doyen of dance has deservingly received many awards and citations like ‘Pupil teacher’ title by Rukmini Devi Arundale, Sangeeta Kala Acharya, Natya Shikhamani, Kalaa Vipanchi, Nattuvanga Chakravarthy, Shruti-Laya-Nritya Rishi, Bharataratna from various organization.
Kalaimamani from the state of Tamil Nadu in 1981
PadmaShri in 1989
Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1991
Sangeetha Kala Acharya from Music Academy in 2004
Lakshman son L. Baba Prasad has made a documentary on the maestro that was screened during Adyar Lakshman’s 76th birthday celebrations.
I was already in my 20’s when I became Lakshman Sir’s student. At that stage, he made allowances for my individualism and encouraged me to perform without any rigid mindset. When I asked permission to learn the singularly beautiful adavus in the lexicon of Muthuswamy Pillai and again when I wished to learn abhinaya from Kalanidhi mami, he readily agreed. He was one of the first gurus to send his students to Kalanidhi Narayanan to learn abhinaya.
– Bragha Bessell, Chennai
He left a rich legacy of dance repertoire for posterity. However, an era of bharatanatyam left with him. Not many in Malaysia know that Lakshman Sir had a profound influence on a generation of male dancers in Malaysia.
Before Lakshman Sir became too popular overseas, his dance studio in Gandhinagar was a veritable ‘dance factory’. The main dance room was a thatch-roofed square pavilion without walls. The cement floors were not overtly hard and made such slapping noise when students stamped that they almost sounded like cracks of gunshots. The floor had been specially compacted before it was cemented and was lovely to dance on. The classes started early in the morning and continued till night.
Lakshman Sir himself gave the morning adavu class and taught his repertoire afterwards. His works such as Todayya Mangalam, kautvams, thillanas and varnams were considered the ‘in’ items in the 70’s and 80’s. It was here in the Gandhinagar studio that we sweated it out, drunk with dance, performing untiringly and with relish, to master his repertoire, which are now ‘classic’ pieces.
Lakshman Sir was not known for his abhinaya or expressive dance but his signature works would always have the complex rhythmic dance nuggets. His compositions were made for us to move and dance! However, Lakshman added his own creativity with new works, which further took the Kalakshetra bani (lineage school) into another quantum jump of positive and heightened creativity.
– Ramli Ibrahim, Kuala Lumpur.