Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna was born into a noble family of Andhras in the island of Bali. His forefathers were great supporters of fine arts. His father never desired for his son to be a part of the artform dance was a taboo in society (although Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna’s passions said otherwise.)

Journey to becoming a dancer

Due to his deep love and devotion to dance, Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna abandoned his family and his wealthy shares in the property.  Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna went through severe poverty and spent most of his days in the Ramakrishna Math, Madras under the supervision and care of Swami Saswathikananda. He then took a leap to Gandhiji’s ashram where he met great personalities like Asha Devi, Aryanayakam, Deenabandhu, Prabhakarji, and other personalities as well. 

 

During his search for fulfillment of dance, he came across great dancers like Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai, Vendantam Lakshmi Narayana, Sastry, SMT. Naidupeta Rajamma and Pendyela Satyabhama under whom he learned various artforms of dance. 

 

One day, eventually, a family doctor by the name of Dr. Sonak witnessed his dancing. He was impressed by Dr.Nataraja Ramakrishna’s dancing and took him to Nagpur to introduce him as an upcoming dancer. Ramakrishna was required to dance in front of a crowd full of critics, poets, artists, and the elites of the city. He used his devotion to goddess Sarswati to help him perform on stage even though he hadn’t taken any food and he produced an amazing output on stage. This really marked something big for Ramakrishna and his future because from that day onwards he started to banish hunger and poverty and plunged into plenty, thus his dreams came true. 

 

He even had enough time to learn several different languages, and practice music and dance.

Education & Training 

Ramakrishna later graduated from the University of Nagpur.  He was appointed as an artist of Bandra state and was asked to perform items while performing. He was also asked to choreograph dances to songs written by poets. He was also very well appreciated for doing so.  He is also very educated when it comes to Shastras and studied Manodhrama deeply. 

 

He is a linguist and scholar in five different languages. His fluent and persuasive talking on dance in Hindi and Marathi was impressive to listeners. People of Telugu culture were not popularly known in the north except for a few prominent people like Rao Bahadur D. Laxminarayan,  Former governor E. Raghavendra Rao, Justice Sri Bhavani Shankar Niyogi who were all responsible for the development of all Central provinces.  

Visit to Tanjore

The Bhonsles of Nagpur were once the great Maratha rulers. They lost their kingdom to the Britishers in the battle of Sitabuldi. But their Dynasty still exists in Nagpur. 

 

The old Maharaja was a great patron of the fine arts, he was a good musician and played the tabla. He was very impressed with the dance performance of Ramakrishna and patronized him. 

 

One day, Ramakrishna spotted two new visitors in the palace. They were talking in a language mixture of Telugu, Tamil and Marathi. He was curious to know what they were talking about. He then approached and enquired with them. They told him that they were here from Tanjore and that they were related to Maharaja Raghuj Bhonsle of Nagpur and they were speaking Telugu. Ramakrishna on hearing this was wonderstruck and acclaimed 

“What! Your Telugu dialect  is quite different.” 

“It is Tanjore Telugu, our court language, our ancestors were great patrons of Telugu Language and literature. They wrote poems, songs, and Yakshaganas in Telugu,” they asked him. 

 

He was silent. From that day on, he had a desire to go to Tanjore and visit the Great Saraswathi Mahal library. So he at once approached the Maharaj and proposed his request to send him across with these two gentlemen. Maharaj agreed and requested the gentlemen to send Ramakrisha along to Tanjore. 

 

He stayed in Tanjore for some time and studied several old manuscripts of music and dance in the Saraswathi Mahal Library. Ramakrishna, there and then realized why scholars proclaimed Telugu as the cultural language as South India.

Propagation of Dance Art

Dr. Natraja Ramakrishna studied all the different types of dance forms of India, he realized that Andhra Pradesh had the richest one of all.  He ultimately made a decision that he would stay in Andhra Pradesh, just like his forefathers. 

 

He used to travel every nook and corner looking for youngsters who were willing to learn dance from him and his lectures and lessons. But unfortunately, watching dance was considered a sin in those days. People never used to have regard for this fine art. People who spent their life learning arts were afraid to renounce it  because it was considered a taboo. 

 

But Dr. Natraja Ramakrishna on the other hand, gave his life to learning this divine artform and stayed a bachelor for his life. 

 

It is this deep divine dedication of Dr. Nataraja spread the message of his mission throughout the length and breadth of Andhra Pradesh which had inspired every parent to get their children initiated into this great classical art. He has awakened and developed the slumbering art to Himalayan peaks. But for his Ardent endeavours this great treasure of art would have been permanently lost for Andhras. Dr. Nataraj, therefore, can be acclaimed as a real “Kala Tapasvi.”

 

After settling down in Andhra Pradesh he started research in all the dance forms both classical and folk that prevailed in every region of Andhra Pradesh. In 1955 he established “NRITYA NIKETAN"at Hyderabad to impart training to young boys

and girls in dancing and to propagate this art.

Publications

At the age of 15, Ramakrishna started writing articles for the prestigious Telugu daily Andhra Prabha under the caption 'Nrityanjali' for a period of one and half years which were later brought in a book form. It is no exaggeration to say that he was the pioneer in modern times to write such a popular book on classical, traditional, folk, and tribal art forms of dances of Andhra and Eastern Countries. So he was requested by several editors of dailies, weeklies, and monthlies to contribute articles for their magazines. His articles were published in Andhra Prabha, Andhra Patrika, Andhra Jyothi (Dailies and Weeklies), Visalandhra (Daily), Andhra Bhoomi (Daily), Krishna Patrika (Weekly), Swatantra (Weekly), etc.

As a result of his research on Andhra classical dance forms. He wrote more than 45 books. Some of them, meant for ƒSivachildren to create interest in them to learn the art. Some of them, useful to scholars and research students. Six of his books have won the state and Central awards. They are:

  1. History of Dance traditions in Southern India

  2. Nartana Bala

  3. Dancing Bells (English version of Nartana Bala). This book was dedicated to Late Pandit Jawaharlal Nehruji who graciously accepted it.

  4. Nartana Bhoomi 

  5. Nartana Seema 

  6. Nartana Katha.

New efforts are being made to publish his “Andhra Natyam” in four voluminous books for the use of those interested in this great traditional art which lay obscure for 2000 years.

A complete list of his books is given below:

  1. Nrityanjali - 1957

  2. Dakshinatyula Natykala Charitra - 1968

  3. Nrityakala

  4. Andhrulu - Natyakala

  5. Nartana Nurali

  6. Andhrulu

  7. Kshetrayya padalu - Abhinayam 

  8. Devanartaki - Alaya nrityalu

  9. Lakuma

  10.  Andhranatyam

  11.  Nartanavani

  12.  Nrityajyoti 

  13.  Nartana Shobha

  14.  Nartana bala

  15. Nartana seema 

  16.  Toorpu Godavari jilalo Nrityakala

  17.  Bharatha sastram - Prashnalu - Javabulu 

  18.  Andhranatyam - Lasya Nrityalu 

  19.  Andhranatyam - Natya Sastralu

  20.  Andhranatyam - Amarnarthakulu

  21.  Andhranatyam - Janapada - Girijana Nrityalu

  22.  Andhranatyam - Prajanartanalu 

  23.  Andhranatyam - Perini - Navajnardanam

  24.  Andhranatyam - Alayalu

  25.  Andhranatyam - Grijana Janapada Nrityalu

  26.  Andhranatyam - Kuchipudi Natyam

  27.  Pasidi Muvvalu - Paarani

  28.  Andhranatyam - Asthananartananlu (1987)

  29.  Andhranatyam - Abhinayam

  30.  Kshetrayya - Muvva Gopola

  31.  Abhinayam - Andhranatyam (1974)

  32.  Arthastarbdhi - Andhranatyam

  33.  Aatmanivdana

  34.  Na Parishodana  

  35.  Swargadhamamlo Swarnakamalalu  (Taramati - Premavathi)

  36.  Golkonda Vajram - Premvati 

  37.  Dancing Bells

  38.  Perini Shivathandavam

  39.  Rudra Shivathandavam

  40.  Navajanardhanam

  41.  Amma

  42.  Andhranatyam parichyam 

  43.  Andhranatyam syllabus - Vyakhyanam

  44.  Nritya Rekha

  45.  Nritya Rani

Works in Folk Arts

Dr. Nataraj believes that folk art forms are as important as classical forms of art. So he helped in propagating the "Chindu Yakshaganam” an ancient folk form of the Telangana Region of Andhra Pradesh. The artists of this dance-drama are all poor Harijans, dedicated to this art form for generations. There are about 20,000 artists who perform this dance drama.   They live in remote hamlets far from the cultured society. 

 

There are many Bhagavata dance troupes in Coastal Andhra, particularly in Srikakulam and Vizianagaram Districts. They belong to ancient folk theatre. They educate and entertain the villagers by presenting stories from Ramayana, Bhagavatam, and Maha Bharata as dance dramas. Dr. Nataraj has encouraged

Many other folk dance artists revived "Tappeta Gullu" of Srikakulam and Vizianagaram districts. “Veera Natyam" and “Garagalu” of East Godavari and West Godavari Districts.


 

There are some acrobatic families called 'Dommaras' in these districts who live by presenting acrobatic performances. They are also very poor. Dr. Nataraj helped these artists also. “Leather Puppetry” called popularly “Tolu Bommalata” is

another ancient art form of Andhra which migrated from here to Eastern Countries. It is very popular in India.

 

There are many folk dance artists like “GURAVAYYALU”, “URUMULU”,“VEEDHI BHAGAVATULU” Guravayyalu and Urumulu artists live by s begging and singing the stories of Shiva and Parvathi. They live in remote villages in Rayalaseema. Dr. Ramakrishna arranged their shows in several towns and cities and encouraged them. Which made their economic condition better. 

 

The Veedhi Bhagavatulu of Kottaindlu of Chittoor District is similar to Kuchipudi Bhagavatulu of Krishna District. For the last 400 years, they have been presenting their dance dramas. There are more than 400 families who are dedicated to this art. They can present a dance drama based on the 18 Chapters Mahabharata for 18 days at a stretch.

Seminars

A few years back, 'KUCHIPUDI DANCE' was not recognized as a classical art form by the Central Sangeetha Nataka Academy. That was when Dr. Nataraj as the convenor conducted a seminar under the auspices of State Sangeeta Nataka Academy and got it approved as a classical one and restored its past glory. He suggested several methods for its development and propagation. Dr. Ramakrishna found out that 'Abhinaya' of the Devadasi artists which are 2000 years old is rich in its tradition. To save it from extinction, he conducted a seminar under the auspices o fA.P. Sangita Nataka Academy at Rajahmundry in 1972 where all the old artists met and which paved the way to write a syllabus for Andhra Natyam. A similar seminar was conducted by him on Turpu Bhagavatam, an ancient folk art form of the east coast under the auspices of the Andhra Pradesh Sangeeta Nataka Academy to bring it more popular and encourage the poor artists.

Ballets

Dr. Nataraj was the first artist in Andhra Pradesh to write and compose the story of the Lord of the Seven Hills: Sri Venkateswara as a ballet (Nrutya Nataka). In this ballet, he introduced all the dance traditions and music traditions in ritual, classical, folk, and tribal forms of A.P. This is the first of its kind in the cultural history of Andhra Pradesh. This was later translated into Hindi as 'BALAJI'. He composed 'Kumara Sambhavam' the immortal classical poem of Kalidas Mahakavi as a ballet and presented it at Ujjain. Kalidasa Samaroh in 1962. It was adjudged as the best, all-around best dance ballet ever produced at Ujjain. He got 'Swarna Kalasa" for the best production and a special kalasa for all-round best production i.e. presentation of music, rendering of Sanskrit slokas, dress, presentation of the theme, dance, and Abhinaya. He presented 'Megha Sandesam' as a dance ballet at the same Samaroh on similar lines the subsequent year also.

Travel & exploration around the world

Dr. Nataraj Ramakrishna visited the U.S.S.R. and France as a research scholar sponsored by the Government of India in 1975 to propagate Indian dance art and to make a comparative study of Indian and Western classical dances and folk dances. He has written a book on this subject: “ Presentation of Ramayana as a dance story.” He has revived the dance tradition of the temples performing
‘Adhyatma Ramayana' and at present, he is propagating it. He is at present composing the great Telugu Janapada Ramayana as dance stories in Andhra Natya tradition. There are nearly 20 versions of Ramayana verses amongst village folk in
in addition to the classical translations of Valmiki Ramayanam. 
He collected old manuscripts on dance to acquire more information about the age-old classical dance traditions. Scholars consider him as a living Encyclopedia on dance. Students from various parts of India thronged around him for consultations about Natya Sastras, dance traditions of A.P. in particular. He is the only living authority on ancient temple dance. He is the sole artiste who practiced Satvika Abhinaya which is the soul of Indian Dance art. Till now more than 3000 artists have been trained under him and they are spread all over the world. Most of them have established dance institutions and are successfully running them.

Philanthrophy

Every poor artist whether deserving or not obtained help from him. He taught dance free of cost to all those who could not afford to pay. He even gave free food and shelter to those who deserved it. He honors every scholar who visits him. Many cultural institutions in the State which are rendering service to the art of
dance obtained his patronage. Dance is his life partner and disciples are his children. His inheritance is his knowledge of the art of dance.

Honors & Titles

His services to the art of dance were well recognized. The most important honors conferred on him are:

  1. Nataraj: Conferred by the ruler of Bandara State Sri Raja Ganapati Pandya at his 18th year.

  2. Bharatakala Prapoorna: By Andhra Pradesh: Sangeetha Nataka Academy in 1968.

  3. Bharata Kala Savyasachi: By the Artistes Association of West Godavari in 1979.

  4. Kalaprapoorna: An honorary doctorate conferred by theAndhra University in 1981.

  5. Kala Saraswathi: By Kala Vedika of Hyderabad in 1982.

  6. Best Natyacharya of South India: By the Central Sangita Nataka Academy in 1984.

  7. Best Research Scholar: By LVR Trust Madras in 1986 for recreating 'Perini'.

  8. Asthana Natyacharya of Srisailam Devasthanam 1980.

  9. Asthana Natyacharya of A.P. 1980.

  10. Rare Honour: He was presented with a Gold Crown by the art lovers of A.P. which no other artist could get.

  11.  Prestigious Award 1991: Raja Lakshmi Award.

 

But for Ramakrishna's dedication and devotion, Andhra Natyam the spiritual art of Andhras of 2000 years old would have been a dead art buried deep in the pages of History. Dr. Nataraj Ramakrishna is a connoisseur of arts of whom Indians should be proud, specially telugu speaking people.

Reconstructing Perini SivaTandavam

Perini flourished centuries ago in the Telugu-speaking regions, reaching its peak during the Kakatiya rule. The dance finds mention in the early medieval work Bharataarnavam by Nandikeshwara. Based on this work, Ramakrishna first made mention of Perini in his award-winning book Daakshinaatyula Natyakala Charithra (1968). Later, he made several visits to Ramappa temple, Palampet, to write a commentary on their sculptures as part of Rallapalli Ananta Krishna Sarma’s Telugu translation of Jayapa Senani’s Sanskrit classic, Nritta Ratnavali.

That translation was published but not his commentary. Ramakrishna felt slighted. Moreover, he realized that none of the later works on dance had given due importance to Perini. He also believed it had great potential. All this created in him a resolve to revive that lost art.

 

It is believed that Perini was presented for soldiers as inspiration (before the war) and entertainment (after the war). My guru based his re-conceptualization on textual evidence from Bharataarnavam, Nritta Ratnavali, Sarangadeva’s Sangeeta Rathnakara, and Sarvagna Bhoopala Yachendra’s Sabharanjani. These works helped him visualize Perini’s movement techniques as did a study of sculptures in Telangana temples especially Ramappa. Valuable inputs came from his guru Rajamma and his own vast knowledge of several classical dance forms.

His revival and reconstruction of Perini was the culmination of his decades-long study of Telugu dance traditions, the dance-texts and musical traditions pertaining to this part of the country, and study of (his pet-topic) the intimate relation between music and dance. He emphasized that sounds of percussion instruments and ‘solukattu’ (’shushkaaksharaalu’) generate a kind of vibration that in turn shapes the structure of movements of a dance.

Hence, Ramakrishna decided that Perini music ie., sound and vibrations should be in sync with a dance for soldiers. He used music's dhrupada sampradaya's inviting experts of that tradition like Dhoopam Suryalingam and Dharmavaram Guruvulu to develop a specific mridangam-playing style for Perini. He employed jathis/shabdas drawn from dance-text Nandeeshwara Bharatam and Shaiva Agamas. He thus reconstructed Perini’s sequence of movements and found ideal accompanying musical instruments. The aaharyam was visualized on the basis of descriptions for Perini in Nritta Ratnavali ’s 7th chapter, with some modifications to suit a classical-dance form. Wisely, he also considered the modern stage when reconstructing it.

It was conceptualized as a Shiva-thatvam dance because Ramakrishna understood the importance of Shaivism/Veera-Shaivism for the Kakatiyas and the people of the region where Perini flourished.

Ramakrishna’s revival efforts were supported by Andhra Pradesh Sangeet Natak Akademi. In one essay, he wrote: “My 14-year-old-dream came true on January 26, 1974, when the first Perini performance was held under the aegis of AP Sangeet Natak Akademi.”

 

His passion for Perini led him to give lecture-demonstrations, conduct workshops across India for both the laity and the learned. He also authored articles on the art-form. To understand more about Perini Siva Tandavam, check out the page on Perini. 

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