The dance fraternity is shocked at the sudden demise of Guru M.V. Narasimhachari in Chennai. He was 72 and was active till his last breath. He left us peacefully in his sleep.
Hailing from a modest background, Narasimhachari and Vasanthalakshmi attained a place of eminence through hard work and commitment. The couple were generous to help members of their family to come up in life. Narasimhachari’s legacy will be carried on by Vasanthalakshmi, his two brilliant daughters, Lavanya and Lasya, and through Kalasamarpana, the institution he founded.
Maranganti Venkata Narasimhachari was born in Rajahmundry a beautiful city on the banks of River Godavari in 1942.
His father Sri Maranganti Satyanarayanachari was an artiste par excellence and was his first teacher.
Little Simham, for that was how Narasimhachari was lovingly addressed, was only five when he gave his first performance with his elder brother Anand.
This happy scene changed with his father’s sudden demise. While Anand took on odd jobs to support the family, Narasimhachari with the help of his uncle Sri Ramachari, a renowned critic and journalist of the time, revived the Burra Katha, a ballad form of Andhra Pradesh.
Along with his younger sister Lakshmi and brother Krishna he formed a troupe called ‘Simham and Party’ and performed Burrakathas winning accolades from the likes of Babu Rajendra Prasad, Uday Shankar and Harindranath Chattopadhyaya.
The trio very soon became the most popular group in Andhra Pradesh, so much so that they had the honour of performing for the then President of India, Dr.Rajendra Prasad. They called themselves ‘Simham & Party’!
Later he learnt by gurus including Pasumarti Venugopala Krishna Sarma and Mahankali Satyanarayana. As a student of the first batch at the Music College of Tirupathi, Narasimhachari had the privilege of learning from stalwarts such as Chittore Subramaniam Pillai, Prof. Sambamurthy, D. Pasupati, S.R. Janakiraman and V.L. Janakiram, Mridangam from Shanmuganandam Pillai and Bharatanatyam from Smt Kanchanamala.
A turning point in young Chari’s life was when Smt Rukmini Devi Arundale upon witnessing one of his performances invited him to join the internationally renowned Kalakshetra. So impressed was she that she even offered him a scholarship!
While at Kalakshetra between the years 1962-67, Narasimhachari was trained in vocal music by the legendary M.D. Ramanathan and in Mridangam by Karaikudi Krishnamurthy. Rukmini Devi Arundale , N.S.Jayalakshmi instilled in him the unique Kalakshetra Bani or style of dancing while Smt. Pushpa Shankar introduced him to the fascinating world of nattuvangam. Later he got additional inspiration coming from Balamuralikrishna.
While he was the architect of their Kalasamarpana creations, the equally versatile Vasanthalakshmi was the force behind executing his vision. He married Vasanthalakshmi in 1969 and together they danced, taught, composed and set up their dance school Kala Samarpana at Alwarpet in Chennai. It was the earnest desire of Chari Sir (as he was popularly known) to give back to the arts field that had nurtured them for so many years. Few know that the Charis have instituted endowments in reputed organisations like Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, Narada Gana Sabha, Indian Fine Arts Society and Kalakshetra, to encourage young talent.
For this couple, dance is a penance-a beautiful tool to convey messages of historical, religious and social relevance with aestheticism. ‘Dance is a representation of beauty. It’s a powerful tool. What is not there in the dance ? We may not have a huge fan following. Yet, we can use dance to take up social causes.’ They are convinced that it is the responsibility of artistes, sabhas and the media to ensure that quality performances happen often. ‘Criticism has to be constructive. It should promote the art and artistes. Artistes too should be open-minded and truthful in their art. Sabhas should choose the right kind of artistes to perform they argue.
The couple has spent a good part of their life in learning every subtle nuances of the classical art. They have invested much of their time and energy in learning. Apart from Music, Bharatanatya, Kuchipudi they also learnt Odissi from Sri. Ramani Ranjan Jena, Kathak from Sri Vishnu Vaichalkar, Mohini Attam from Smt Vasantha Aravind and Kathakali from Kavi Aravind.
For the Narasimhacharis their students are more like their own children. The atmosphere in their dance studio is vibrant, friendly and interactive, and practiced a divine art and pursue it religiously. For them, it’s kind of yoga. It’s not a means to an end. It’s an end in itself. Trials and tribulations notwithstanding, this dancing duo, parents of two lovely children – stand cheek by jowl and speak in perfect harmony.
The Charis have travelled extensively both in India and abroad (Mauritius, Burma, West and Central Africa, Middle East, North America, Europe, Singapore, Malaysia to mention a few).They were on the faculty of the U.C.O. (University of Central Oklahoma) from the year 1995 where they gave summer courses both in music and dance.
For this couple, there was no holiday in life. ‘What are we without dance? Dance relaxes us very much. If art does not make a person a good human being, the artiste has then lost the wonderful opportunity that God has given him/her.’
As a person he was always cheerful, punning on words, encouraging young artists and spreading joy wherever he went. Pious, not religious, he was righteous and steeped in Sanatana dharma. There was never a dull moment in his presence. His sense of humour made his conversations lively, making his listeners laugh.
According to Narasimhachari, a dancer should also be a musician and know the laya, so as to help him introduce appropriate sangatis. He was keen to promote male dancers and attended recitals at sabha halls if he had the time, thus encouraging the artistes. His colleagues say that he networked with all arts bodies and dance schools freely.
He was the president of ABHAI (Association of Bharatnatyam Artistes of India) which has more than 1000 members for nine years and actively directed its projects.
He was an Msc. in Yoga and has done extensive research on the use of yoga in dance. He has equipped himself with courses in Naturopathy, Homeopathy, Pranic Healing, Meditation, reiki and advanced yoga training.
Thus he was not only an exponent of Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi, but also a dance guru, musician, music composer, laya expert, Nattuvanar, mridangist, imaginative choreographer, an erudite scholar, organizer, convener, and yoga practitioner,. In totality, Narasimhachari was really a Sangeetagna (Geetam, vadya, nrityam), a rare phenomenon in the art field.
Narasimhachari, in collaboration with Dr.Samuel Magrill, Professor of Music, U.C.O, brought out the first and second volumes titled -Music of India. This series of four volumes explains from the basics to the concert level both theory and practical aspects in detail of South Indian classical Music in western notation, facilitate learning and comprehension to the Indian and Western students of Music. The two volumes of the series were prescribed for the music syllabus in the University.
Work, work and work always -For them, the art itself is their public relations officer. ‘We have worked a lot to conceive these themes’- they used to say. The duo does every thing. From composing music to choreography, they done all these themselves
They have done 32 dance-dramas and thematic productions. A glance at the list of dance dramas they have produced reveals the wide variety of themes and sources ranging from the mythological (Sivaleela and Kambaramayanam), the literary (Meghasandesa, Manimegalai,and Kalingathu-p-parani), the biographical (Bharathi Kannamma, Annamacharya and Yashodhara), the scholarly (Natya Veda) to the contemporary (Voice of Ganga and Bharathi kanda Bharatham), Subashitham ( from the Jathaka tales, Panchatantra and Indian folk tales).
In U.S.A. they have produced the dance drama ‘Siva Leela’ in the year 2000, Kalidasa’s Meghasandesa in 2003, and in the year 2004 the ‘Landscape of Emotions’ based on Ainthinai from Sangam literature in five different languages sponsored by the university and Art Council of Oklahoma. The show was premiered on the 26th of June, 2004 and the Mayor of Oklahoma proclaimed it as the ‘Day of Narasimhachari and Vasanthalakshmi’.
The Sooladi saptatala pada varnam- a dance dedicated to the life and work of Smt. Rukmini Devi Arundale is the first of its kind in the Bharatanatyam repertoire. The entire biography is described in the seven talas, in three ragas. This varnam has been described by the press as ‘almost a documentary which deified Rukmini Devi without elaboration….depicted Rukmini Devi as her disciples saw her – as a strict disciplinarian, as a kind animal lover and a woman of great aesthetic sense…. all in all an aesthetically choreographed piece, with a neat presentation accompanied by sweet music’.
It starts like this: ‘Kalakshetra Nayak, Kalavathy, Saraswathi Ulagam pugazhum’. This idea came just as a flash to him. Hs uncle usually used to say “Do things differently’. Narasimhachari also believed that ‘God brings people together for some purpose. God is always with us. Whenever I need him, he is there with me. If God is not with me. I am with him’.
The Narasimhacharis are also known for their special dances in Kuchipudi – Ravana Mandodhari, Prahlada Charitham, Tarangam, Ashtavidha Nayika Padam, Subhadra-Arjuneeyam, Mohini Bhasmasura (music by Dr.M.Balamuralikrishna) and Simhanandhini – a unique number belonging to the ritual dances of the temple in Andhra Pradesh.
Narasimhachari choreographed a special programme titled ‘Tri-bandhi’ presenting three major classical dance styles of South India – Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi and Mohiniattam. The group of six travelled extensively in France, Germany and Belgium during November and December 1998. ‘Tirukkoneswaram’ a dance-drama on the manifestation of Lord Shiva in Sri Lanka was performed in Queen Elizabeth Hall in London in the year 2002.
Couples’ selfless endeavours paid dividends in the form of honours and awards, each well deserved. Narasimhachari has the unique distinction of having received appreciation and awards from five presidents of the country. Proving correct the cliché that behind every successful man is a woman, Vasanthalakshmi too shared the honours he received from four of the five distinguished premiers.
Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (2008) for Kuchipudi.
Kalaimamani by the Government of Tamilnadu
The Nrithya Choodamani by the Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, Chennai.
The title “Nritya Ratna” has been conferred by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (Coimbatore Kendra)
The Lalitha Kala Vedika Gold Medal.
The Kala Vipanchee award which is given to the doyens in the field of fine arts was conferred upon the Narasimhacharis by Padma Vibhushan Dr. Balamurali Krishna.
The Pollachi Tamil Isai Sangam honoured them in recognition of their exemplary contribution to the field of bharathanatyam.
The Param Acharya Awards for 2011.
Narasimhachari will be missed by not only his family members and students, but the art fraternity as well. But the one to feel the loss acutely will be his life and dance partner. Vasanthalakshmi and Narasimhachari were an inseparable couple, who complemented each other on and off stage.
Noopura Bhramari offers its heartfelt condolences.
‘When Narasimhachari joined Kalakshetra, he was my ward at the hostel. Soon a rapport was struck and the bond remained till his death. We had many things in common, in life and art. When Shanta and I established Bharatakalanjali in 1968, Narasimhachari was just married to the petite Vasanthalakshmi and they had an open invitation to come and practice with us. Probably, their first professional tour abroad was with us to the South-East Asian countries in 1970. This opened up a potential career path for them in the Singapore Fine Arts Society. With experience in teaching and performing, they returned to establish themselves in Chennai and became sought-after artists. Both Shanta and I always admired this couple who worked only for the sake of art without looking for returns.
– V.P.Dhananjayan, Dance Guru, Chennai.