By B.M. Sundaram
Dr. Nataraj Ramakrishna was an outstanding Bharatanatyam exponent. Born in another country, he took interest in the art of dancing from his early years and became a talented dancer before his 17th year. At the age of 18, he was awarded the title, ‘Nataraj’ by the Gadhval Samsthanam.
He came to Tanjavur and stayed there for a little over a year to learn Bharatanatyam from Pandanainallur Meenakshisundaram Pillai. Tara Chaudhury was his co-student at the time. Pillai introduced me to Ramakrishna, who gave a memorable Bharatanatyam recital at the Kali Amman temple on South Main Street, close to the house of the Tanjavur Quartet. On that day the programme was conducted by Muthayya Pillai and Subbaraya Pillai with the mridanga accompaniment of Bhairavan Pillai. Later Ramakrishna moved to Kalahasti and then to Hyderabad, which was his home till the end.
He has written many books on the art and also on the Andhra devadasi-s, whom he respected. It was his conviction that the art of Bharatanatyam would not have survived but for the services of the devadasi-s. He travelled to many a village to locate devadasi-s and learnt many parijatam-s from them. The dance-dramas were performed in the temples, either on a single night or over consecutive nights. He traced the palace and the portrait of the renowned dancer, Taramati. He was a bachelor. He was deeply moved by the plight and uncared-for conditions of the devadasi-s of Andhra Pradesh and patronised some of them by providing them board and lodging at his own expense. Saride Manikyamma was one such beneficiary.
After a deep study in the Warangal temple, Ramakrishnagaru revived Perini Siva Tandavam and taught this art to a number of students, the famous one being his pet-student, Kala Krishna. It was Kala Krishna who took care of his guru for many years till his death. Ramakrishnagaru used to write letters to me and sometimes sent me photos of dancers and their biographies. When I wrote two books – one on the traditional Bharatacharya-s of Tamil Nadu and another on the eminent devadasi dancers, he expressed his happiness and thanked me for documenting such wonderful material.
Some months before his demise, he wrote that he wanted to meet me, “his long time Kala Sahodara”, so I went to his house in Hyderabad. As soon as he saw me, his eyes filled with tears and I was also moved that such a great artist wanted to take a photograph with me. Again, I went to meet him with my guruji vidwan Balamuralikrishna. His happiness knew no bounds.
When there arose a movement to rename the dance of the devadasi-s of Andhra Pradesh, as ‘Vilasini Natyam’, he, to the best of his ability, opposed it and continued to call it only as ‘Andhra Natyam’. He was a sincere and devout student of Bharatanatyam and an outstanding researcher endowed with the great quality of humility – he was unassuming. Such a noble soul has passed into eternity, creating a void in the art field.