The Gurus
Vazhuvoor B. Ramaiah Pillai
Photo of Vazhuvoor B. Ramaiah Pillai

Late Sri. Vazhuvoor B. Ramaiah Pillai hailed from a family of vidwans. He learned the art of Bharatanatyam and Nattuvangam (the art of wielding the cymbals) from his maternal uncle Manickka Nattuvanar (son of Samu Nattuvanar). The Vazhuvoor style that Ramaiah Pillai popularized emphasized beauty in movements, curves, glides and fluid grace rather than the technically correct but aesthetically less pleasing stiffness. Without compromising on tradition, he introduced a lot of newer, refreshing trends in Bharatanatyam like resurrecting the karanas that stemmed from his study of temple sculptures, re-introducing teermanams that were lost in vogue and expanding the scope of the dance form. He was a pioneer in choreographing dances to the patriotic songs by Subramanya Bharati, a poet and freedom fighter and boldly made his students perform them on stage during the pre-independence period. He was well versed in Tamil and Telugu and frequently included dances to tamil kritis and tamil poetry by Andal, Kamban and Kuttrala Kuravanji in the repertoire. He has himself composed a few tamil sabdams, varnams, jathiswarams and thillanas. His pleasing and majestic rendering of jatis added dignity to Nattuvangam. He was sincere, humble and taught with affection. He has trained numerous dance teachers and numerous outstanding dancers of today.

The many honors Ramaiah Pillai received include Natya Kala Kesari in 1948, Isai Perarignar in 1961 by the Tamil Isai Sangam, The Sangeet Natak Academy Award in 1966, President’s award of Padmasri and Kala Sikhamani from the Tamil Nadu Eyal Isai Nataka Mandram. He served on the committees of Central Sangeet Natak Academy and was President of the Tamil Nadu Eyal Isai Nataka Mandram. He brought about the resolution of awarding the title Kalaimamani to expert artistes in various fields, a pension system for the aged Gurus of the art form and a lump sum grant for those Gurus who are poor. He housed poor students at his home and taught them for free. His fame lives on through his outstanding students.

Vazhuvoor R. Samraj
Photo of Vazhuvoor B. Samraj

Late Sri. Vazhuvoor R. Samraj, son of the maestro Sri. B. Ramiah Pillai, inherited the Vazhuvoor tradition when he was barely 25 years old. Sri. Samraj conducted classes for the students and choreographed new items under his father’s guidance while also accompanying him in many performances, lending vocal support and nattuvangam. When the latter retired in the early 1960’s, he handed down the tradition to his son to be carried forward.

Like his father, Sri. Samraj too mastered the majestic rendition of the intricate Vazhuvoor jatis to bring forth its beauty. He introduced some changes and innovations in his choreography and teaching style. He stepped up the speed of the adavu-jatis and pioneered the practice of interspersing unique stories in the "sancharis". He has choreographed dances to many compositions of Oothukaadu Venkatasubba Iyer and Periasamy Thooran. When teaching choreography to his students, he taught them to interpret the same composition in different ways and was open to new suggestions from them. He trained many popular disciples who now promote the Vazhuvoor style by teaching new students in their own schools. He was honored with the titles Natya Kala Samrat, Natya Peraraiyan and Kalaimamani.

Swamimalai K. Rajarathinam
Photo of Swamimalai K. Rajarathinam

Late Sri. Swamimalai K. Rajarathinam was trained in Bharatanatyam by doyen Sri. Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai. He learned the intricacies of the art form, the art of conducting recitals and choreography from the maestro in gurukula style and accompanied his Guru’s star disciples in their stage performances as a vocalist. He also learned a few pieces from Thiruvalaputhur Swaminatha Pillai, Mylapore Gowri Ammal and Kalyani Ammal. He married Nagalakshmi, the daughter of Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai’s younger brother, Natarajasundaram Pillai. Later he founded his own school, Rajarathnalaya, where he trained over 200 students. Many of his students are now famous dancers in their own right.

The elegant recitation of rhythmic syllables, the flexibility of his golden musical voice, his creative choreography and his immense scholarship won much acclaim from critics and connoisseurs alike. He hailed from a family of musicians and was adept at incorporating the “brigas” used by nadaswara vidwans in his vocal renditions. The rhythm groupings in jathis and the elaboration in sancharis were each given a rightful place in his choreography. No two students performed a given piece the same way. He has choreographed many Annamacharya Kritis, Lalgudi Jayaraman Varnams and Thillanas, Subbarama Dikshitar songs, Bharathiyaar songs etc. and composed many songs for dance.

He was conferred the titles of Kalaimamani, Natya Selvam and Sangeetha Kala Sikhamani by prestigious art institutions. He was not only known for his immense talent but also for his humble, patient and pleasant nature and his witty sense of humor, thereby sharing a wonderful relationship with his students and colleagues. He passed away in 1994 but his golden voice and his contributions in the field of Bharatanatyam are still remembered today.

Smt. Revathi Ramachandran
Photo of Smt. Revathi Ramachandran

Versatility, talent and inspiration rarely find a home together and when they do, they form an artist of caliber that can be neither measured nor expressed. Revathi Ramachandran - dancer, choreographer and teacher, is the disciple of Guru Mangudi Dorairaja Iyer, a maestro of the Melattur style of Bharatanatyam, and the visionary who revived the Suddha Nrittam (an ancient temple dance). Revathi’s performances in India as well as the U.S.A, Canada, U.K., France, Singapore, Italy and Malaysia have received great appreciation.

She is the Advisory Council member of the IDA (International Dance Alliance) which interacts with artistes from across the Globe. Revathi has coordinated the production of a CD-ROM "Bharatanatyam" apart from choreographing and directing many tele-serials for national television in India. Being granted a fellowship by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Revathi has researched the Bhagavatha Mela tradition. She has assisted many scholars in demonstrating Suddha Nrittam and Tri Tala Jathi. She currently serves as the Director of Kalakshetra Foundation.

Revathi has over the years travelled far and wide in the realm of Bharatanatyam, guided by various gurus including Dr. Padma Subramanyam. Her foray into dance was further enriched by her training in Nattuvangam under Guru Bhagavatulu Seetharama Sarma, in Veena under Smt. Kalpagam Swaminathan and in Kuchipudi under the renowned Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam.

Revathi’s works have received critical acclaim and recognition and awards have sought her out. She has many awards to her name including Nadana Mamani, Yuva Kala Bharathi, Isai Kalai Chelvar, Vani Kala Sudhakara and Natya Kala Sikhamani to name a few.