by Muvva (Subha Rajeswari)
Fifteen fascinating days, many fierce discussions, many more heartful confessions, and nostalgic memories later, the Guru Nataraja Ramakrishnam Sadhaa Smaraami program left us reminiscing the life and legend of a great soul Padmasri Dr. Shri Nataraja Ramakrishna, a legend who went on to become the face and spirit of the ancient art forms like Andhranatyam and Perini Shivathandavam and his efforts to protect the rich and holistic ancient art forms like Chindu, Yakshaganam, Kuchipudi, etc.
In remembrance of the erudite scholar and admired Guru on his 9th death anniversary, we, the foundation of “Life n Arts,” under the guidance of Guru Sri Kalakrishna, conducted a 15 day online live-stream program where eminent speakers and scholars from various prestigious arenas, discussed and recalled the saga of Padmasri Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna and his distinguished contribution to the field of Indian classical Dances.
Respected Guest speakers, namely, Shri Jithendra Babu, Shri K.V Ramanachary Retd. IAS, Pandit Shri Jayanth Kastuar, Shri Dr. Gopinath Reddy Retd IPS, Sri Anjaneya Reddy Retd. IPS , Dr. Bhagavathula Seturam, Sri Badami Siva Kumar, Shri Vijaya Bhaskar, Padmasri Sunil Kothari, Sri Ponnam Ravi Chandra, Dr. Vanjaya Udhay, Dr Tadepalli Sathyanarayana, Smt Uma Maheswari, Sri T.K. Sridhar, Dr.Anuradha Jonnalagadda, Dr. Suvarchala Suresh, Sri Mandadi Krishna Reddy graced the program with their presence and profound participation. I have conducted and hosted the 15 days interactive sessions in the format of one on one interview on the occasion of Guru Nataraja Ramakrishna death anniversary, for which it would be the best source of knowledge for future generations to know more about the Legendary Guru and the Arts forms revived by him.
Over the course of 15 momentous days, through extensive dialogue sessions, scholars discussed the Art of Andhra Natyam as a rich and yet underrated cultural asset to not only the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana but also to the nation and the world. They also remembered Guru Nataraja Ramakrishna’s efforts to revive the ancient glory of Andhranatyam. Guru Nataraja Ramakrishna has worked tirelessly to give Telugu people a distinct style from Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam. Without this noble personality, Andhranatyam and Perini Shivathandavam would not have come into life.
Andhranatyam is an ancient temple dance form originating in the Indian states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. It is a traditional Dance form with a history of more than 2000 years. Unlike most other classical dance forms of India, both men and women are performed, thus balancing the Tandava and Lasya natures. Andhranatyam is an amalgamation of speed, delicacy, symmetry, body control, versatility, eye expressions, facial expressions, thought, words, and songs followed in a natural harmony stream.
It is sad to note that such an extensive, sagacious and holistic art form was perished from the limelight and continued to be in the dark until Guru Nataraja Ramakrishna had brought it to the forefront very recently and tried to restore it to its previous vibrance. In the course, he reminded us that it is our responsibility to protect and foster our rich cultural heritage that was once lost due to our own ignorance.
In this direction, speakers highlighted various significant facets of the Guru and implications that lay ahead in the road to recognizing the revered art form (Andhranatyam). During the discussion, prominent advocate Shri Jithendra Babu said that despite having the name Andhranatyam, the ancient art is the cultural identity of one state. The word Andhra is to denote the language Telugu. Hence it stands as a collective cultural identity of every Telugu-speaking individual from Andhra Pradesh and the Telangana States. Shri Nataraja Ramakrishna coins the term itself before the bifurcation. Besides, he also stated that Culture and Arts have no boundaries, and it is humanity’s duty to pay homage to the extensive artistic knowledge of historical importance.
Another speaker, a renowned Kathak exponent and an art curator Sri Pandit Jayanth Prakash kastuar, Former Secretary of Kendra Sangeetha Nataka Academy, emphasized his effort to uplift the status of Andhra Natyam to a classical art form of National importance by providing it a code in the Central Sangeetha Nataka Academy. He also commended that Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna’s efforts in protecting various other art forms such as Chindu, Perini, Kuchipudi, and Devadasi traditions from dissipating into the dark are impeccable. Sri Jayanth Kastuar stated that he was a great admirer of Guru Nataraja Ramakrishna Garu and was amazed by the grasp over the Abhinaya presentation skills of the Legend. Pandit Jayanth Kastuar Ji expressed that Guru Nataraja Ramakrishna's great works have to be taken forward and assured that he would like to work on taking Andhranatyam forward. Being a Former Secretary of the Sangeetha Nataka Academy, Sri Jayanth Kastuar Ji expressed that Guru Nataraja Ramakrishna has once rejected the prestigious Central Sangeetha Nataka Academy award only on the basis that he was not being awarded for ANDHRANATYAM, later the Renowned Kathak exponent had to come all the way from Delhi to the then Andhrapradesh to convince and handover the award to the Guru which was eventually celebrated as a significant incident that portrays the respect and attachment he has towards the ancient art form- Andhranatyam.
Dr. Gopinath Reddy, Senior IPS Officer, also spoke of his reverence to Andhranatyam and regarding the illustrious Guru. Despite being a strict and committed police officer of a high rank, he was so moved by the art that he took time out of his tight schedule to complete a Ph.D. in Andhranatyam, and that is evidence of how Andhranatyam and the Guru have had a pre-eminent impact on the mind of an intellectual bureaucrat. Sir Sri Gopinath Reddy had shared few precious memories where he obeyed the Guru's instructions when he was supposed to meditate in front of the sculptures of Ramappa to experience the spiritual cosmic dance of the sculptures before the practical, theoretical training. This discussion made me think how deep and a great soul Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna is, a complete artist who loved Andhranatyam out of all and wanted to get Andhranatyam’s previous glory back and that created more curiosity and anxiety to know more about the Art form and to achieve the code as classical dance status in Central Sangeetha Nataka Academy.
Shri K V Ramanachary, an accomplished Former IAS Officer and adviser to the government of Telangana, also spoke about his contributions to the recognition of Andhranatyam as a classical dance of India. As a Central Sangeetha Nataka Academy Member, during the discussion, he has also given the word to the people of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana that he will do everything he can to save and uplift the art form and will not let the efforts and aspirations of Sri Nataraja Ramakrishna go in vain. As a close associate to the Guru, he shared that Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna is an altruistic personality who lived only for the arts and Andhranatyam. During the Guru’s last days when Sri K.V Ramanachary visited him, he was always found disturbed about the future of Andhranatyam, which was emotional to me to hear the narration as an ardent follower and a student of Guru Nataraja Ramakrishna.
Adding to this, Sri Anjaneya Reddy, Senior Retd. IPS Officer, writer, and editor tried to clear the misunderstanding surrounding the term Andhra in Andhranatyam, not denoting the state of Andhra Pradesh alone. He said that it is in no fairness to delay or withstand the art its due recognition due to a conflict in its nomenclature. Sri Anjaneya Reddy expressed his anguish towards both the Governments, i.e., the Government of the State of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, by stating, “It’s a SIN to suppress Andhranatyam and the struggle of the Guru by retarding the status of Andhranatyam.” The Retd Bureaucrat recalled Bharathakalaprapoorna Nataraja Ramakrishna's works to the Taramathi Baradhari of Golconda Fort and other linguistic works.
Agreeing on the same Padmasri, Sri Sunil Kothari, a noted Indian art historian, scholar, and critic, affirmed that Andhranatyam is an art form that is magnificent in its due time to the recognition it deserves is still pending. He also commended Guru Kala Krishna for his acclaimed mastery in Navajanardhana Parijatham, his efforts to progress the mission of Dr.NRK. Apart from this, he also evaluated the aesthetics of why Andhranatyam must be termed a classical dance like any other classical dance of India. He approved of its qualification to be a classical dance form by all means.
Many other renowned speakers like Sri. Bhagavathula Sethuram, Smt Dr. Vanaja Udhay, Dr. Anuradha Jonnalagadda Tadakamalla, Dr. Tadepalli Sathyanarayana Renowned Kuchipudi Exponents have shared their memories with Dr. Natarajaramakrishna, Glory of Andhranatyam during the beginning of their dance careers respectively, literary, social and cultural works of Dr, Natarajaramakrishna. All the Kuchipudi exponents have conveyed that Kuchipudi has come once again into light only because of the Legendary Guru Nataraja Ramakrishna. They have unanimously opined that Andhranatyam needs to be recognized by the Central Sangeetha Nataka Academy for its critically acclaimed appreciation all through the years.
Speakers like Sri Badami Shiva Kumar, Chairman State Sangeetha Nataka Academy, Sri Vijaya Bhasker, Former Director of AP cultural affairs department, Mandadi Krishna Reddy, Chairman CAC Government of India, Sri Ponnam Ravichandra Renowned Senior Journalist and Smt Uma Maheshwari, Renowned Harikatha performer have raised their opinion that Andhranatyam has full-fledged eligibility to have a status code in the Central Sangeetha Natak Academy. Still, it’s the hindrance of Telangana and Andhrapradesh for not recognizing the art form Andhranatyam and works of Kalatapasvi Nataraja Ramkrishna just on a linguistic basis without looking into the roots and history of the art form.
Lastly, Prominent Advocate a social, cultural, and spiritual Activist Sri T.K. Sridhar summed up the discussion as a call to a unified effort by the two states' people to protect our rich cultural identity and transcend above geographical and socio-political difference by recognizing that art belongs to the lord and not to an area of authority.
The conclusion of the blood infuriating discussion over the course of 15 days thus stands so that conservation and recognition of Andhranatyam is the need of the hour. Beyond utilitarian goals lies a far more fundamental need to preserve the rich knowledge heritage of India itself. It takes centuries of building up mastery and artistic innovation to foster art as extensive and grand as Andhranatyam. It is by no means fair to let it dissipate due to ignorance and narrowly temporal differences or personal egos. Furthermore, all the speakers unanimously recommended that Andhranatyam requires code in central Sangeetha Nataka academy. Hence let us all strive to protect Andhra Natyam, a reflective grace of Goddess Saraswathi, an embodiment of superior knowledge and wisdom.
I am blessed to have an opportunity to drive discussions on the occasion of Andharnatyam Golden Jubilee Celebrations.