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Abhinaya Expert Padamabhushan Kalanidhi Narayanan

This an interview by Ranjani Saigal published on

While the art of Bharatanatyam dates back to over 2000 years, the tradition in its current form was reestablished only around the time of the freedom movement. Padmabhushan Kalanidhi Narayanan was the first non-devadasi girl to learn this art form and perform it on stage. She learnt this art form from Kannappa Pillai, Chinnayya Naidu and Mylapore Gauri Ammal in 1935. Drawing from the training she received from her Gurus and her own immense talent, Smt. Narayanan has given a new dimension to the art of Abhinaya (mime or expression).

Her career path was unusual. While she trained intensively from the age of seven to sixteen, she completely gave up her connections with the world of Bharatanatyam for thirty years. At the age of forty-six she re-entered the field and has gained awards and recognitions including the coveted Padmabhushan from the Government of India. Now seventy-five, she continues to work tirelessly to bring this art to interested students around the world. She gave a riveting presentation on Abhinaya in Stoneham, MA. Her multiple interpretation of Krishna Nee Begane using Vatsalya, Rathi and Bhakthi was a treat to the viewer. In an interview with Lokvani, she speaks of her unusual career path and gives us some insights into the art of Abhinaya.

Lokvani:It is exciting to meet a pioneer like you who in 1935 against all social norms learnt this art. You must have been quite a rebel with a passion for the art. Could you describe your experience with dance as a young girl?

Kalanidhi: I am sorry to say that I learnt dance only to be obedient to my mother. I was no rebel nor did I have a particular interest. My mother Sumitra was very motivated to teach me dance. I do not know how she developed this interest. My father fully supported the endeavor. My mother also introduced dance to other households in our neighborhood. Unfortunately my recollection of that time period is not very clear. I do remember giving a lot of programs in support of various charitable causes. I gave up dance when my teachers died. Later my mother also died. I was married into a traditional family. I never craved for dance. I must say I was not a very motivated student.

Lokvani: I am really surprised. How did you re-enter the field and rise to such heights?

Kalanidhi: All thanks to Shri. Y.G.Doraiswamy. When I was forty-six years old, he called me out of the blue. He is a great connoisseur of the arts. He had seen me perform in my younger days. He felt that Abhinaya was not getting the recognition it deserved. He was a friend of Alarmel Valli. He felt that while she was very good at Nritta, she needed training in Abhinaya. Teachers at that time used to say that training for Abhinaya is not possible and that it is a natural talent. He asked if would be her Guru. The offer came as a surprise and shock to me. I told him that I had not danced in years. Yet he felt confident that I would help. My sons who were grown up encouraged me to persue this. That is how I re-entered the field. The re-entry was not easy. Somehow my books from my younger days had survived. Once I started teaching it must have been a suceess for more students began to want to learn from me.

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