Devotion to Dance: The Experiences of a Dancer-Teacher

A conversation with Jayanthi is sure to open new vistas. She is a dancer by habit and can demonstrate with effortless ease. This daughter of the Lakshmi Mills family (Coimbatore) became the daughter-in-law of the aristocratic Adusumilli family (Krishna District – Andhra Pradesh) in the year 1986. Marriage to Lakshmi Ramachandra of Siddhantam (near Gudiwada) helped her to continue with her passion, dance. Lakshmi Ramachandra’s great grandfather Adusumilli Gopalakrishniah was a very big landlord and had been responsible for the founding of several industries in Andhra Pradesh.  Jayanthi’s passion grew with her kids Anutham and Amruthavalli. The bharatanatyam exponent breathes our culture and tradition. Her vivid expressions and singing added to the flavor of the conversation. 

Jayanthi Ramachandra was born to G. K. Rajagopal, the man who put Coimbatore on the golf map of the world and Mani Rajagopal. Her grandfather G. Kuppuswamy Naidu happens to be the visionary pioneer who founded the iconic Lakshmi Mills in Coimbatore way back in the year 1910. The mother Mani Rajagopal had done her Master's in Education from the Columbia University (USA) those days and was known to fly planes. Mani hailed from the family which managed Coimbatore Spinning & Weaving Mills (Estd – 1888) and her grandfather Rao Bahadur V. Gopal Naidu had been an amazing textile entrepreneur. 

Jayanthi did her schooling from Mani High School and GRG Matriculation Higher Secondary School before moving over to WCC in Chennai to do her Nutrition & Dietetics programme. The passionate dancer started to dance at the age of three and she had given her first performance when she was just five. Her early teachers included Palaniappan, Palaniswamy and Jaishankar. Jayanthi remembers her relatives Shanthi Ranga Rao and Lalitha Anand being part of her dance classes. The youngster had done an ‘Alarippu’ in PSGR Children’s School and this was followed by her dance performance on ‘Thayee Yasodha’ song at the Ladies Recreation Club in Coimbatore. 

One, Harmonium Kannaiya Naidu of Pakshiraja & also Central Studios introduced the dance master Ganapathiappan to the Lakshmi family and Jayanthi learned under him. She did her arangetram at the age of eleven in 1971. “My arangetram was a grand affair and it took place for three days at the SITRA Auditorium (Southern India Textile Research Association) in Coimbatore. The great musician M. L. Vasanthakumari was then the Chief Guest. Her daughter Srividya had accompanied her. My parents G. K. Rajagopal and Mani put in their best. MLV saw my hard work and suggested that I continue with dance further.”

“Those days the arangetram-s were a big collation of people and ideas. Anyway, everything went on well and my parents decided to take me up the dance ladder. Now, I must state this. The Zamindar of Elayarasanendal, Appaswamy Naidu was really close to my father. I used to call him Zamindar Abba. He was greatly appreciative of my passion for dance. He insisted that I take up classes with a big teacher in Chennai. MLV had requested Zamindar Abba to make me a big dancer. Therefore, he decided to put me under the tutelage of the great dancer-cum-teacher T. Balasaraswathi and this became the auspicious beginning for me thereafter,” stated Jayanthi while serving us a thattai murukku (A South Indian snack). 

It had taken some time for Jayanthi to get the appointment of T. Balasaraswathi. It seems that the great teacher was an accomplished dancer and used to spend several months a year in the USA to teach the aspirants of the west. “Balamma wanted me to learn from the start and I agreed. My mother and myself would stay in the Lakshmi Mills Guest House and go to her house at Nungambakkam for my classes which were during my holidays only. Balamma would make nice lemon rice and coconut rice for us. It was served with ghee and cashew nuts for me. She was a fabulous teacher and believed in showcasing dance in a traditional manner. One could never perform like her when it came to expressions. She was a real master. Her dance was elegance personified and she did not believe in stretching needlessly.”

“M. S. Subbulakshmi was Balamma’s close friend and would visit her often. They used to chat up freely. M. S. Amma would talk with me and tell me that I had beautiful eyes. She would be absolutely informal.  I had the opportunity to see the programme of Kamala Lakshman at the Music Academy. She had given a fantastic performance. Balamma’s daughter Lakshmi Shanmukham had given a performance too. Well, Balamma used to get me butterflies and dolls during her trips to the USA. She would speak to me in a loving manner. Time went by and I joined the dance classes under Vazhuvoor Ramaiyah Pillai. This was the beginning of my full sojourn in the world of dance,” smiled Jayanthi while we were being served hot and tasty filter coffee. 

Vazhuvoor Ramaiyah Pillai had been a legend all his life. The Vazhuvoor Bhani or style was sustained by their family for centuries. He had been teaching dance from Chennai and his son Vazhuvoor Samraj was a great teacher too. Jayanthi got her training under Ramaiyah Pillai. She distinctly remembers the household. Nearly two dozen people had been part of the family. Ramaiyah Pillai had been slightly unwell and yet he would teach Jayanthi. The young Jayanthi would be dancing to his singing and notes. He would doze off, but she would continue. He would just continue to guide on waking up. Ramaiyah Pillai would just join in and carry on with the class. His son Vazhuvoor Samraj became the teacher and Jayanthi learnt much under him. She acknowledges his role in making her a well-known classical dancer. 

“I had already done an arangetram and therefore did one big performance in the Central Jail Auditorium under my teacher Vazhuvoor Samraj. I would hang around in the Vazhuvoor household and watch him teach. Movie stars would come to the household and interact with Ramaiyah Pillai and his son. I would accompany them to the studios those days. Those experiences are unforgettable. I will be found in a Pratap Pothen’s movie too and it related to dance. Master Vazhuvoor Ramaiyah Pillai did a lecture demonstration on Door Darshan those days. It was anchored by the famous Sudharani Raghupathy. I was also a part of the programme. Life went on and when ‘Sruti’ magazine came to interview Ramaiyah Pillai, I was beside him. Well, I still remember the Vettilai petti (Betel nuts and leaves box) of the great master. Oh, I remember the critic Subbudu writing about my performance,” added Jayanthi while sharing tit bits from her past. 

Today, Jayanthi Ramachandra is a textile expert and an accomplished dance teacher as well. Her SCAFA (Shri Charan Academy of Fine Arts) is a well-known dance school in Coimbatore, and she has trained hundreds of students. Her father G. K. Rajagopal had been a great support and had been a good singer too. “My father sang for me during performances. He had eclectic taste and was highly skilled. I must share this fact too. M. S. Amma came to my wedding and told my husband that I should continue to dance. I had put on weight, and she advised me to churn butter milk in order to lose weight while also gaining fitness. Several dance performances were given by me, and it exceeds four hundred. I used to dance in weddings too. This was done with the permission of my parents. On one occasion, MLV was present, and she wanted me to do a programme before her concert. She gave me the space and time. I was so happy. M. S. Amma came along with her husband Sadasivam and watched me perform. She asked me to do the song ‘Sadinchane’ once again that day. Those were the days,” recalled Jayanthi. 

Late CM of Tamil Nadu, M. G. Ramachandran, in the presence of Vazhuvoor R. Samraj, praising Jayanthi Ramachandra at a function.

The Vazhuvoor Dance Festival began those days. She began to involve herself with the festival. She remembers one festival in which thavil, nadaswaram and dance were the theme. The audience had been great musicians. Jayanthi Ramachandra had performed for the singer Madurai Somu’s son’s wedding and the wedding of politician G. K. Vasan. Several political leaders, Chief Ministers etc., had attended her performances and it includes former President R. Venkataraman, Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi among many others. Her performance in front of Chief Minister M. G. Ramachandran is well known. The Chief Minister was to watch her performance and leave in half an hour. But he had stayed for a long time. The Chief Minister had made her repeat a few songs too. 

G. K. Devarajulu and G. K. Sundaram were the elder uncles of Jayanthi Ramachandra. They were known to be leaders of the society of the days. The Lakshmi family was extremely popular during the active dancing years of Jayanthi Ramachandra. Lakshmi had been an iconic name and brand. Jayanthi had gone on to dance at a time when she could have chosen to relax or enjoy life. This attitude of hers clearly exhibits her passion and interest for fine arts. 

“I am a traditionalist. Those days I was roasted, boiled, brewed, stewed, cut to pieces, and put together by my teacher. The Vazhuvoor family had their own works on dance. Chinna Master (Samraj) would let me go through it and learn. We were taught that the purpose of art was to elevate oneself through a fixed process. True art is above every boundary and the value cannot be explained. It must be experienced. Value is when the dancer and the audience together leave their plane and experience something together. I am grateful to my teacher Vazhuvoor Samraj for teaching me dance and Periya Master Vazhuvoor Ramaiyah Pillai for showing me the horizons while making me aware of the limitations too. I learnt about the Vazhuvoor temple, parampara and so much more,” spoke a thoughtful Jayanthi while talking about the sacred nature of dance. 

The teacher spoke about the styles and presentation. She demonstrated a few lines and showed different expressions. Her demonstration will make the common man understand the right style and approach. It was refreshing and educative to observe this senior dance teacher. She has been awarded with several titles. The titles and recognitions do not seem to bother her. 

Jayanthi Ramachandra went on to speak about ‘Naatya Shastra’ and the stage. Terms did not matter and just following them would make one a great dancer. The dance teacher stated that the stage had the Parabrahmam and the Devatas and a dancer was supposed to remember that each time. “Shricharan is the feet of the Guru. The feet of my spiritual Gurus Seshadri Swamigal and Kulandhaiananda Swamigal. It also represents the feet of my Natya Guru Vazhuvoor Samraj. I have had several marvelous opportunities and am grateful. Wish to continue with my dance and carry it to the next generation.”

“Dance is divine and is part of our ancient culture. The age of Indian dance is difficult to predict. The dance texts were written long ago. This must have been documented when it was fully developed and refined. Those were eras when time stood still for centuries. India that is Bharat is home to great traditions. The purpose of dance is to seek spiritual refinement. Oneness with the divine can be attained through dance. I am lucky to state that all these because my teachers and elders had taught me all those and ensured that I imbibed all of them. It was not a cut and paste system, but a complete one. Years of dancing and teaching has made me understand the divine nature of bharatam even more. I am enjoying every moment of it,” stated the involved dancer Guru Jayanthi Ramachandra. 

Devotion to dance is the approach of the Dancer-cum-Guru Jayanthi Ramachandra. This traditionalist is keen to ensure that divine dance continues to stay the way that was envisaged by the great gurus of the yonder era. Her work as such continues to be a wonderful tribute to bharatanatyam.  

Mr. Rajesh Govindarajulu is one of the founding members of the Verandah Club Pvt. Ltd. He is a leading columnist, historian, jeweler, entrepreneur, and a heritage enthusiast who is earnestly working to revive the past in the light of the present. Experiential learning about the history of Coimbatore is his main course of interest and he is also a panel member of many colleges in the city.


The Kirithigai Nannaal

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