The Man Who Popularised Bharatanatyam In The North

K Balakumar

Jun 26, 2024, 05:19 PM | Updated Jun 27, 2024, 01:13 PM IST

C V Chandrasekhar.
C V Chandrasekhar.
  • C V Chandrasekhar, a product of Kalakshetra, who taught classical dance in BHU and MS University, Baroda, is no more.
  • A few years ago, I was at a friend's place in Mumbai. In the evening, his neighbour, a woman from the Hindi heartland, dropped in to invite him to a Bharatanatyam performance of her daughter to be held a few days later.

    I was surprised with the passion she spoke about Bharatanatyam. My curiosity piqued, I asked her how she became so involved with the quintessential south Indian dance form and also had her daughter train in it. 

    She was visibily unimpressed with my stereotyping her. But she, the graceful lady that she was, didn't let that show that in her words. But she told me that she originally hailed from Baroda, and was a student at the Maharaja Sayajirao University there. "I learnt dance from C V Chandrasekhar," she said with some finality as if that explained everything.

    Seeing the blank expression on my face, she queried, "you don't know about guru Chandrasekhar, and you say you are interested in south Indian arts and also write about it". My knowledge of dance was (and is) indeed limited. But since she kind of mocked me, I mentally noted down Chandrasekhar's name to get information on him later.

    A few days later when I did indeed begin to dig for details about him, I must say I was mighty embarrassed at having had no idea about him earlier.

    For, his achievements in the field were stellar enough to be classified a true legend.

    He had done everything that one could ask for a performing artist — performed at every major art venue, travelled wide for his dance, created new dance dramas that mixed tradition and novelty in agreeable dollops, taught a wide cross section of people, established a defining legacy, taken the art form to new places and made it take roots there, won all major awards in the field, and above all, remained a good human being all through.

    If this is not legendary, then what is.

    It is such a man that I didn't have any clue about despite being a journalist. 

    But it could also have been due to the fact that CVC or Chandru anna, as he was called by fans and students alike, was never one to seek the neon-light publicity of the headlines.

    He was old-school in his dance and he was even more old school in his attitude and approach. Grace and class were attendant both in his dance and personality. 

    He Was Handpicked By Rukmini Devi For Dance 

    When CVC passed away last week, there was a palpable sense of grief in the dancing community.  But there was also a feeling that suggested that his was a life well lived.

    For his students — and there were many — he was more than a dance guru. One of his students P Praveen Kumar says he was as much a guru as was a father figure. 

    Praveen Kumar, who is a well-known dancer, choreographer and guru himself, cannot stop the adjectives flowing when he talks about his revered "Chandru sir" as because  "aside from teaching dance, he showed us light". It is a feeling that is echoed by almost all his students.

    CVC's dancing technique had a natural poise and flow. It was not a dance for music. It was a dance with music. And that is because CVC was innate connected to music.

    He was first initiated into music at the age of 10 in the famed Kalakshetra in 1935. But even as he learnt music,  Kalashetra's doyenne Rukmini Devi Arundale, looking at his clean cut features, felt he would do equally well in dance too.

    So he set out on an eventful journey in Bharatanatyam. 

    In music, he had apprenticeship with the likes of Budalur Krishnamurthy Sastrigal, T K Ramaswamy Iyengar and M D Ramanathan.

    In Bharatanatyam, he had mentorship under Rukmini Devi Arundale, Karaikkal Saradambal, K N Dandayudhapani Pillai, and Vasantha.

    "I was sent to Kalakshetra to study and learn music. When I was 10 years old, Athai (Rukmini Devi) wanted me to train in Bharatanatyam as well. Maybe she heard reports of me constantly peeping into dance classes! I learnt the first tattadavu from Karaikal Saradambal who was then teaching in Kalakshetra. After that, Chinna Sarada (Sarada Hoffman) and Peria Sarada taught me for many years. I will never forget their meticulous training," CVC recalled later in an interview with the Sruti magazine. 

    Rukmini Devi wrote to his father to ask if she could enroll him in the dance department.  His father wrote back saying “I leave him in your hands. You mould him.”  The rest is, as the cliche would have it, a big success story in dance.

    Rukmini Athai (aunt) was confident about his abilities that she featured him in dance-dramas much before his formal arangetram in 1950.  

    His first role was that of a kattiakaran in Kutrala Kuravanji. Right from his early days, CVC honed his anga suddham and nritta, which remained his hallmark all through his long dancing career — he performed till the age of 80, by the way. And his abhinaya was all well appreciated as he had a protean-face. All this combined to help CVC to throw up his own unique style in dance.

    A Dancing Family 

    The Shimla-born dancer was also no slouch in studies. To pursue his masters in botany, he went to the Banaras Hindu University (he later acquired a PG diploma in Bharatanatyam too).

    BHU was a place that fascinated him so much that he taught dance for over 20 years there. He and his wife Jaya (she studied law but focused her energies in art as she was a trained dancer) were popular gurus in BHU.

    The popular dancing couple have also performed with their daughters Chitra (Chandrasekhar Dasarathy) and Manjari (Rajendra Kumar). His was a dancing family. And everyone who took up Bharatanatyam was a family to him. Such was his bondage with the art form. 

    Later he joined MS University in Baroda, where he retired as the Head and Dean of the Faculty of Performing Arts in 1992. It is here that CVC achieved the legend status as his approach and attitude endeared him to the students. This helped Bharatanatyam get popular in the north of Vindhyas too.

    All through his life and career, CVC remained humble and accessible to his students and others alike. And he was forever an inspirational figure for his students till his last years. Praveen recalls CVC sir dancing till the age of 85.

     He never compromised on the dance movements because of age. He stuck to the tradition and pulled off all the body movements without any dilution. "At an age when people have difficulty in carrying out their daily chores, he was dancing with all the purity intact. It was so inspiring," says Praveen.   

    Awards and recognition came his way naturally. A Padma Bhushan awardee (2011), CVC has also been conferred the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi award, Kalidas Samman, Nadabrahmam, and Sangeeta Kala Acharya, to name a few.

    CVC not only taught dance with ardour but also fought for recognition of dance, which when compared to other art forms, was not getting an equal status. He bemoaned the fact dance was given a step-motherly treatment in academic circles. He was upset and fought for more funds for research in dance at  universities.

    All through his dancing life, CVC sedulously adhered to the traditional Kalakshetra forms.

    "This is not to say I have not evolved, nor even that the Kalakshetra style has stayed the same,” he said. This nuance comes from his essential grasp of dance technique.

    "It is important to know the difference between being stiff and being firm in form. Line, anga-shuddam and neatness as well as the aesthetics of movement are important," he would say.

    In his last days, he told many an interviewer, "art has taught me many things. I am now glad transferring those things to my students. I have internalised dance to such an extent that today, there is nothing else that I know."

    What he knew was, of course, everything in dance. 

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