Guest : Smt. Kalanidhi Narayanan
Kalanidhi Narayanan is the leading guru of Abhinaya- the mimetic aspect of the art of Bharata Natyam -in India toay. Between the ages of 11 and 16, she presented several performances. She has reached the position after starting her career as a dancer and then, following life as a housewife and mother, resuming it as a dance teacher. Since her reincarnation as a teacher in 1973, She has coached students from all over the world. She received the honorific of Padma Bhushun awarded by the President of India. She has choreographed and presented several dance programmes, focusing on the abinaya aspect.
Naadhabrahmam is proud to have honoured this veteran with the title 'Abhinaya Kovida' in December 2007. In this interview with Naadhabrahmam's editor N. Subramanian, Smt Kalanidhi Narayanan shares some of her thoughts on her work and teaching experiences.
N. Subramanian : Mami, now you have students throughout the globe, Tell us your learning experiences as a student of dance and now a grand guru of teaching dance
Kalanidhi Narayanan : I vaguely remember my learning with my teachers. My mother was a great admirer of dance and she put me to learn it. She also used to write articles about dance. I have learnt from different gurus. I remember well, my guru Chinnayya Naidu, who was very old when he came to teach me. I used to call him 'thatha'. He had taught me the abinaya pieces. I still remember he was meticulous to explain the meaning of songs that he taught. He did not hesitate to teach pieces like 'paiyyada pai'. In one of the reviews of my performances then, the caption was, 'Abinaya overpowers!' Probably that was a pointer to what I am today! It doesn't mean that my nritta was less, though!! (She gently laughs.)
I learnt varnam and some other items from Kannappa Mudaliyar. Later Gowri amma taught me a few pieces.
With my marriage, I totally withdrew from dance and came back to teaching after a gap of 30 years. My mother had meticulously written down sahityas of various authors in a note book. That was a treasure which came with me, even though we kept on shifting many houses. Later, with the help of scholars like Mr V A K Ranga Rao, I constantly kept increasing my repertoire of padams and javalis, which I taught to my students. My senior students would have learnt more than 50 rare numbers!
N. Subramanian : Did you remember what your teachers taught, when you started teaching, or was it all your own?
Kalanidhi Narayanan :As it told you, I vaguely remembered what I was taught. But when I opened my notebook, I was able to recollect the tune of the pieces and I started creating on my own.
N. Subramanian : Is it all the same, through these years?
Kalanidhi Narayanan :No, in the beginning, it used to be 4 or 5 variations and the dance would start instantly with the pallavi of the song. Later, I started adding prelude to create an ambience of the piece for the audience to enjoy it better. I included entries and exits where ever I found it necessary. It is finally, to the audience that we perform!
Nowadays, you see, after years of work, I am not able to repeat the same thing! Every time, there is a variation, subtly or strongly!
N. Subramanian : That puts us to this big question, mami! How do you create?
Kalanidhi Narayanan :To be frank, I don't know!! It just happens. When I finish teaching a verse, in one shade, the next automatically gets created! It comes from there! (She points to the sky!) In fact, the verse of the poetry is the base and the words tell everything. One has to know the literal meaning of the words, and then, also look at the totality of the song. Knowledge of music and theory help. You should be able to fix the nayaka/nayika, whether uttama, madyama or adhama and again whether she is a mugda, madya or a pragalba. In some pieces, where there is less clarity of these classifications, I listen to my inner voice and proceed in that direction. Also, whom the author - makes a difference. For example, Sarangapani's compositions would have a sense of 'wit' and kshetragna's would be serious.
N. Subramanian : So, you have also learnt theory and music?
Kalanidhi Narayanan : I did not seriously pursue my music, though. I attended some theory classes later, in the interest of knowing that I missed in my younger days. In that class, we also had various arguments and discussions. I have even worked on different shades of 'khanditha nayika'.
Another production was on 'women of ramayana' like sita, trijata, mandodari etc. My orchestra has to be remembered at this juncture, I had very co-operative accompanying artists. They have worked for me without a money quotient. Today only few artists do for the love and perfection of art. I also remember that my teachers did not charge for performances. They were happier to see the student performing.
N. Subramanian : What was the repertoire when you performed in your younger days? Was your costume all the same as today?
Kalanidhi Narayanan : I remember - alarippu, jatiswaram, sabdam, varnam, padam and thillana. Pushpanjali, kavutuvam or mallari were not done. But a varnam would easily take an hour and more. In the temples the kavutuvams were done. Padams and javalis were done in the sabhas. All were performed only by the devadasis. Slowly, the nattuvanars started coming out of their home towns and started teaching students from other sects. A performance would go atleast 3 hours. Today, it has become like fast-food! Performances are just for 75 minutes.! Costume was stitched, of course… I even remember one of my costumes was done in georgette material.
N. Subramanian : What did you do in those 30 years, when you kept away from dance?
Kalanidhi Narayanan : I was totally into taking care of my family; I did not even watch performances, except one or two!!
N. Subramanian : I remember you have said before, the aspect of elaborating a story was not done in varnam before. Then how did it go for more than an hour?
Kalanidhi Narayanan : Yes, it was not dramatized and stories were not done. But they would go on improvising a verse in many shades and that would go long. There was also the practice of repeating the same hand twice.
N. Subramanian : What are the techniques you use to teach abinaya?
Kalanidhi Narayanan : I have from the beginning insisted that the lyrics be written properly. I explain the word meaning, and then start elaborating. One has to leave inhibitions to perform abinaya. It is not an expression of the person who is doing it. But the expression of the nayika portrayed through the poet's words.
I express them as dialogues and my students seem to both understand better and enjoy doing them!! It is also important that the teacher is not too strict or stern; that will not put the student at ease to explore. I also allow and encourage them to improvise and correct only if there is a deviation in thought process of the song. Being close to the students is essential to help them overcome their inhibitions. Particularly, when some of them say that they are not able to portray a particular 'nayika', I insist to teach them a piece on that nayika!!
N. Subramanian : Does a raga affect a mood? Can only one raga bring a particular mood? Why is chapu tala used extensively in most of the padams?
Kalanidhi Narayanan : Certainly a raga enhances a mood. But, 'valapu taala' and 'mera gaadu' both, are in ataana. Don't they effectively bring different moods? It is how the raga is rendered. Chapu talam - may be because it allows a natural 'chavukkam' required for the mood of a padam. There are unusual ones in adi tala with single 'kalai'.
N. Subramanian : What would you like to use: lokadharmi or natyadharmi?
Kalanidhi Narayanan : I am closer to lokadharmi than natyadharmi. It is also because I deal with padams and javalis more than the varnams. Human heroes are also addressed in padams and it is more human emotions. So, the lokadharmi suits better and the communication is also effective. Also minor and subtle nuances are possible in the lokadharmi. Again, I would insist, one should know the level of aesthetics and not make it vulgar or coarse. There has to be a dignity while performing in a stage.
N. Subramanian : Is Bhakti different from sringaaram?
Kalanidhi Narayanan :No, to me bhakti is same as sringaaram. Sometimes I even feel sringaaram is more than bhakti, because it is a two way communication, while bhakti invariably becomes one way. I am puzzled when people misinterpret sringaram and place a taboo. Why? Sringaaram is one of the basic human emotions and is very much part and parcel of life. There can be no 'rasana' in life without sringaaram! But, one has to know how to portray it aesthetically, without vulgarity.
In the nayikas, even a 'parakiya' is beautiful. If one is in family life and has devotion to God, then she is also a parakiya in that sense!!
N. Subramanian : We Thank 'Abhinaya Kovida' Smt Kalanidhi Narayanan for giving us her valuable time.. We wish her a healthy life and many more years of service to this art. We also thanks Smt Lakshmi Ramaswamy, disciple of Smt Kalanidhi Narayanan for coordinating this interview.