The rare talent of Bharathanatyam dancer Thanjavur Balasaraswati and her legacy that is almost lost to the current generation was the focus of a memorial lecture by critic and journalist Veejay Sai at Bharat Bhavan on Monday.

The lecture was held in connection with the birth centenary celebrations of the accomplished dancer and musician.

Mr. Sai traced the roots of Balasaraswati’s artistic tradition – granddaughter of accomplished musician Veenai Dhanammal, Balasaraswati, however, was inclined towards dance.

He touched upon Dhanammal’s reluctance to let her learn dance and how she came around. Balasaraswati learnt under the tutelage of Kandappa Pillai and Gauri Ammal. As she began growing up, she realised she did not know much about the history of dance, and to learn more she struck a rapport with the last of the Devadasis.

Her repertoire also gained from her association with Vedantam Lakshminarasimha Sastri, Mr. Sai said.

He touched upon her marriage to Shanmugha Shetty, who was already married, and how their daughter Lakshmi too began to learn dancing.

Using photographs and videos, he traced her progress as a dancer and her association with renowned names such as dancer Uday Shankar who was responsible for her first performance outside Tamil Nadu.

Nobel laureate Rabindranth Tagore was present when Balasaraswati performed Bharatanatyam to the rendition of
Jana gana mana
… and this was before it became the national anthem.

Shambhu Maharaj, Ustad Amir Khan, association with Martha Graham and Yehudi Menuhin, her friendship with M.S. Subbulakshmi that began when they were very young, all helped provide a glimpse into the talent that Balasaraswati was.

Only woman

Balasaraswati was the only woman among the award winners of the first Sangeet Natak Akademi awards. She was an accomplished musician too, and the only Bharatanatyam dancer to get the Sangeeta Kalanidhi title from The Music Academy. She also received the Padma Vibhushan.

Mr. Sai talked of a documentary on her called
, for which the Tamil Nadu government had roped in film-maker Satyajit Ray. However, the two did not get along, Mr. Sai said.

The documentary is the only one made on Balasaraswati, he said, underscoring its importance.

He also spoke of Balasaraswati’s daughter Lakshmi following in her mother’s steps and of grandson Aniruddha who too is a dancer.

Little remained of Balasaraswati’s legacy for the younger generation, except for a generation of gurus who had seen her dance, Mr. Sai said, before concluding with a clipping of‘
Krishna nee begane
…, a song which Balasaraswati had performed in Guruvayur too.

A ‘guruvandanam’ performed by students of the Samudra Centre for Indian Contemporary Performing Arts also marked the valedictory of a two-day workshhop on creative physical dance theatre by Madhu Gopinath and Vakkom Sajeev.

Artistes Mattannur Sankarankutty Marar, Kalamandalam Kshemavathy, and Theyyam artiste K. Raghavan Gurukkal were presented with the maiden Balasaraswati award.

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