ORIGIN OF MUSIC AND DANCE:
Music, Dance and Drama are ancient Fine Arts, which form an integral part of our Indian culture and heritage. These exquisite art forms are believed to have originated in the south and are practised since time immemorial. Moreover, Music and Dance are considered as purely celestial and once used to be practised in the kings’ courts in all pomp and flamboyance. Music and Dance go hand in hand and music is an inevitable element or part and parcel of dance at all times though not the vice versa at any time.
It is believed that SAGE BHARATA designed the science of NATYA SASTHRA, extracting the requisite essence from the FOUR VEDAS viz, RIGVEDA, YAJURVEDA, SAMA VEDA AND ADHARVA VEDA respectively. BHARATA NATYAM, being the principal branch of NATYA SASTHRA, can be defined as a classical dance form that primarily originated in the temples in the south. TANJORE has always been considered as the seat and centre of learning and practising these traditional Indian classical dance forms. Bharatanatyam has become popular and globally well-known for its grace, purity, tenderness and sculpturesque poses. Similarly, it is s an embodiment of music in visual forms to express the depth of devotion and the extent of emotional involvements, while portraying the various episodes extracted from the Hindu epics and mythologies. While music can be practised independently, dance and music designed for dance are inherently interdependent like the soul and the supreme soul, each breathing in life into the other as an integral part for their lively existence.
It is strongly believed that there are sixteen hospitalities to be offered to the various deities of which music and dance, pleasing to the aesthetic senses, are of supreme importance. That’s why dance and music were practised together in the temples in those days and these arts thrived in the temples as well as in the royal courts with dignity and elan. Though there was a serious setback in the medieval period, it was revived and rejuvenated by the renowned danseuse RUKMINI DEVI ARUNDALE during the A D 1936 epoch through her SCHOOL OF MUSIC AND DANCEviz, ‘KALAKSHETRA’, which was operating on the outskirts of Madras. In those days only women practised Bharata Natyam and men opted to be dance masters only. The renowned danseuse Ms PADMA SUBRAMONIAM with her incessant researches and tireless practices promoted this art with her commendable additions.
In this KALIYUGA, paramount importance is given to BHAKTI (devotion). Bharata Natyam is the spectacular manifestation or embodiment of music in visual form to express the depth of devotion to various deities.It is also considered as the flame of fire (like the five elements in the body). The movements of a Bharata Natyam dancer resemble the movements of a dancing flame. The analogy drawn by the exponents is true par excellence. So, Bharata Natyam and music are deeply bonded together like two peas in a pod!
Bharata Natyam has principally THREE distinct elements viz,
1)NRITTA (rhythmic dance movements)
2)NATYA (mime act with dramatic aspects)
3)NRITYA (amalgam of Nritta and Natya elements)
Next, theFOUR integral aspects of Bharata Natyam are-
1)BHAVAM (expression) through facial expressions and physical movements.
2)RAGAM (music) the timbral aspect of singing which is related to accent, meter and tempo.
3)THALAM (rhythm) an orderly flow of sound, vocal or instrumental melody.
4)NATYAM (dance) the sequence of rhythmic movement of steps in consonance with the music.
So Bharata Natyam has acquired greater significance now and is learned, practised and performed with greater aplomb and dignity by aspiring enthusiasts all over the world.
SMT. PREMA NAGASUNDARAM, a well-known danseuse and a popular, veteran classical dance teacher, with innumerable students taught so far and still going strong, is a familiar name to all dance lovers in MUMBAI!
She resides in Chembur, Mumbai, with her family and is fully dedicated to classical dance-BHARATA NATYAM-and her whole mission in life is, DANCE! DANCE!DANCEONLY! With her pleasing personality and exemplary amiable nature, she has grown andcaptured the hearts of many dance and music lovers like a tiny spark becoming a gigantic bonfireor a dedicated disciple becoming an astute master or a seed germinating and growing into a huge branchy tree over the years. The latent talent also one day, breaks open all impediments/barricadesand inspires and enthuses an aspirant to blossom into an accomplished artiste one day! Of course,Smt. Prema could convert her fondled childhood dream into an unbelievable reality, only by dint of hertirelessperseverance and steadfastness!
A PEEP INTO HER EARLY LIFE:
Smt. Prema Nagasundaram was born into a very satwikc family as the daughter of Late Shri. S. Rangan, a British Airways employee and Smt. Sarada Rangan, a home maker in Kolkata. Though she does not belong to a family with art lineage, such shortcomings never deterred nor debarred her from learning the art of classical dance i.e.,Bharatanatyam. Her father, mother and brother Dr. Shankar Rangan an E N T Specialist in the United Kingdom, extended to her all constant support and encouragement to persevere which paid her rich dividends by bringing out the hidden talent in her.
A BRIEF NOTE ON HER GURU AND PRACTICE:
Let it be any kind of education, it always depends upon the quality ofa seasoned master, besides the potentials of the disciple. An adept Guru can easily convert any raw aspirant also into a brilliant performer, provided the aspirant also works hard in tantum with the teaching of the Guru, which otherwise will be a distant inaccessible dream only.
Here, the young aspirant, PREMA, who was born and brought up in Kolkata, got a very well-known and highly respected Guru, Smt. Rajalakshmi Venkateswar, a direct disciple of renowned pioneer in this genre Late Guru Dandayudapani Pillai and learning the intricacies of this art form, under her tutelage, gave her enough impetus to walk the narrow lanes of success. She continued her learning with unremitting enthusiasm and determination. Her Guru Smt. Rajalakshmi always cherishes and recalls that ‘young Prema had genuine interest in this art form and learned Bharata Natyam with robust enthusiasm’. She exhibited profound interest and inquisitiveness to master this much-adored art form. The career trajectory of any astute artiste, be a danseuse, songster or a dramatist, will indicate what kinds of hassles, trials and tribulations he/she must have passed through before becoming a seasoned artiste at a later stage.
“Though Prema faced some initial difficulties to learn this art form”, her Guru recalls,” it was for sure that she would tide over this unpleasant situation soon and turn out to be a grand success one day”. In close consonance with her expectation/prediction, Prema focussed and worked very harder than others every day, without absenting from the dance classes. It is really amazing and praiseworthy that she has presented more than 200* stellar stage performances, mostly in Kolkata and the rest in Mumbai. Besides, she could also portray many epic characters with subtle care and utmost perfection in dance ballets. Her Abhinaya or performance was so impactful that people still cherish those portrayals with profound admiration.
THE TURNING POINT:
Getting united in wedlock with Shri. R.NAGASUNDARAM was a great and decisive turning pointto Prema, which led her to MUMBAI to open a new chapter in her artistic life! As she had already done her graduation in Kolkata, she completed her L.L.B after coming to Mumbai vis a vis, thedailydanceclasses. Though she was inclined to practise as an advocate, she was strongly dissuaded by her aunt Late Smt. Rajalakshmi K to discard that thought and start teaching Bharata Natyam vis-a-vis, the basic family responsibilities as a married woman.Her husband Shri R. Nagasundaram also strongly endorsed this suggestion and extended her all support and cooperation.
A DREAM COME TRUE:
Everybody cherishes hopes and ambitions. In the past, dreaming was considered a trivial affair and nobody attached any importance to dreams. But, in the present corporate scenario, dreaming is given great importance. Accordingly, one should start dreaming of that object(end)to beachievedfirst and then only start working towards the means. If one wants to own a bungalow or a car on his own earnings, he should first dream of it and then start working hard to make his dream an amazing reality!
Similarly, Smt. Prema Nagasundaram had also a genuine dream to blossom into a perfect danseuse and impart the knowledge to the younger generation. Accordingly, she started imparting training to a few inquisitive children in the vicinity. As the training progressed, more and more children got enrolled and the group of students started growing in larger proportions.
This development in the tutelage opened new vistas and impelled her to expand her domain in a lager dimension. As a result, her dream child, an own art institute viz, ‘BHARATA NATYA KALALAYA’came into existencein way back in 1982! Thus, her long cherished dream became an awesome, unbelievable reality!That’swhy it is believed in modern times that one should dream first and then start working to make the contemplation a self-contenting reality!Even Gandhiji, father of our nation had a long dream of ‘FREE INDIA’ which materialized one day with his mettle, endurance, tenacityand relentless perseverance.
In order to give a further boost to her profession or augment her knowledge in all dimensions as well as to learn the intricate theories of this ancient classical artform, she herselfwanted to undergo some further training under a highly learned Guru by name Guru Pandit Venugopal Pillai of the TANJAVUR NATYA SHALA. This training enabled her to expand her knowledge.
‘BHARATA NATYA KALALAYA’, under the able leadership of Smt. Prema Nagasundaram and with the support of the dedicated disciples at Chembur,Mumbai, has made many strides and achieved many milestones in its relentless onward progressive journey. Smt. Prema has brilliantly showcased many epic characters, like Ganga, Budha as well as Navarasas etc.so admirably through her dance ballets and won praises for her unique choreography. It deserves special emphasis that Smt.Prema Nagasundaram’s daughter Ms. Dhanya Nagasundaram who is a well-trained, dancer and a perfect vocalist and her husband Shri R. Nagasundaram, are not only a big support in her profession, but also a stroke of fortune or boon for the disciples as well as the viewers or Rasikas at large,by playing the role of cheer leaders also, to evoke enthusiasm among the viewers.
She could garner the support of her childhood friend Guru Smt. Padmini Radhakrishnan of GarodiaNagar, Mumbai, a well-known Bharata Natyam expert, who has trained many students and presented number of stage-shows all over India. This writer had the privilege to feature her in the same Global Medias recently. Other team members who extend timely support for the NATWANGAM are, S/Shri Mumbai Shankaranarayanan(Mridangam), B. Anantharaman(Violin) and Sriram Subbaraman (Mridangam) who formed the pillars in all the stage shows. It is apt to mention here that Mumbai Shankaranarayanan is another genius whose feature article alsothis writer had the privilege to present to the aesthetic people all over the world.
She feels proud that she has managed to train hundreds of students single-handedly vis a vis managing the household chores also. In pure terms, she is all the time a passionate, dedicated lover of dance and enjoys the ecstasy deriving out of it. Passion is a ‘sine qua non’ for the success of any work. Her passion for the art is so great that she has trained even those children who belong to families, which are not financially sound. She haseven goneout of her way to arrange for the ARANGETTAM(DEBUT) of the daughter of a maid servant sans resources, to fulfil such an unimaginable dream!
TITILES AND RECOGNITIONS:
Many of her students have participated in a number of competitions and won prizes and titles on many occasions and brought pride and praises for BHARATA NATYA KALALAYA and made it a more dignified centre for learning this performing art.A significant thing that deserves special mention in this context is that she has been awarded the title of ‘SHIVALI NRITYA SHIROMANI’ by the SHIVALI CULTURAL SOCIETY OF INDIA in recognition of her outstanding contributions to this ancient culture of India, no doubt, a feather in her cap, which has gained universalappreciation,admiration acknowledgement and popularity!
OTHER WORTHY ACHIEVEMENTS:
Many times, for a striving institute like BHARATA NATYA KALALAYA, achievements in a row are the fruits of their hard work and determination. Many of her disciples have made marvellous performances in their ARANGETTAM and added to the glory of this temple of arts.
Besides, many of her well-trained disciples have marvelled with their outstanding performances not only in India, but abroad too. Another important development is that the well-trained disciples of Guru Premaji have taken it to the next level by teaching the younger generation and propagating this ancient artform. The disciples have also choreographed many uniquedance ballets and proudly presented during prestigious festivals and competitions, which have always been the highlights of their performances. The disciples have participated in the 1000TH year celebration of TANJAVUR FESTIVAL and thus have also been part of the world record. They have taken part in many historic events, such as the Shivali Festival, organized by the Shivali Cultural Society, KalavardiniFestival organized by the Fine Arts Cultural society, the Natyanjali Festival, the Chidambaram Mahashivaratri Festival etc.
An institute started in 1982, has now grown into a Colossus within a span of almost four decades, certainly by dint of sheer hard work, coupled with the abundant blessings of God! Another decisive factor is the munificent blessings of parents and Guru!‘Gurutwam’ is another important factor in the success of our efforts!Matha, Pitha, Guru, Daivam!
Guru Prema Nagasundaram, can certainly look back with complacence that her hard work and the disciples’ sincere involvement over the years as well as the unstinted support of her cherished family members and above all, the blessings of GOD,have shown thepositive synergetic impact on the result!It is really praiseworthy that Guru Premaji has managed to draw a sound equation between dance and the household chores, which has yielded the sweetest fruit of SUCCESS, which in turn is the amalgam of hard work and God’s blessings!
An artiste never gets old in his or her field, no matter it is, actor, singer or a dancer but remains evergreen always!A Bharata Natyam artiste also, therefore, remains young in her field like an ever-agile damsel! Then only they can regale any audience with their youthful presentation! Hence the artiste a cherubic damsel in her profession. Well-known actors and dancers like Late Vijayanthimala, Padmini and the contemporary legend Hemamalini who still keeps the audience spell-bound, are all classic examples!The mind factor-plays an important role!
Hence the powerful,proverbial nomenclature,‘DAMSEL’!
I am thankful to Guru Premaji for furnishing me all the requisite details for this article as and when required and extending full cooperation to design this article.I am also thankful to GODDESS MOOKAMBIKA whose blessings are always behind all my literary endeavours!
Let us pray GOD ALMIGHTY for Guru Premaji’s and her family’s good health, happiness, peaceful long life and all prosperity!
In a broader sense, we are all acting and singing in our daily life in the realistic way and dancing to HIS tunes like mere dolls and nothing else. He is the Supreme Guru for all of us!
MayGURU PREMAJI and her devout team continue to regale the audience with their stellar performances and win more and moretitles and laurels,upholding the motto:
DANCE! DANCE!DANCELIKE A DAMSEL!
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