Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Udupi Laxminarayan passes away

By S. Janaki

Well known Bharatanatyam guru Udupi Laxminarayan passed away in the early hours of 17 March 2015 in Chennai. He was 88. He was well versed in Sanskrit, classical music, Bharatanatyam, and the theory of dance.

Always immaculately dressed in traditional panchakaccham, jibba and neatly folded angavastram, soft-spoken Guru Laxminarayan maintained a low profile. When Sruti started working on his cover story in 1998, we initially did not make much headway. We finally invited him to the editorial office where Ed-in-chief Pattabhi Raman and I got him talking and he soon opened up and gave us an elaborate interview. His views on various aspects of dance were interesting; as was his life story. 

Laxminarayan was born on 17 September 1926 into a family of Sanskrit scholars. He learnt Bharatanatyam from Guru Kanchipuram Ellappa Mudaliar and equipped himself further by passing the Government Higher Grade examination in Dance in 1963 with flying colours. 

He started performing in dancer-actor Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury’s group and soon became a dancer in Indian films. He went on to direct dance in more than 50 films. In 1962 he launched his own dance company called Bharateeya Natya Manjari which presented classical, Oriental and contemporary dances. His dance-dramas and thematic presentations like Rukmini Swavamvaram, Dharma Moorti, Silpiyin Kanavu, Mayura Vijayam, and Tala Tala Tarangam were very popular and displayed his penchant for novelty. He was also dance director for Purandaradasa – a film with an all-children cast, made under the guidance of Swami Haridhos Giri.

After quitting films he started a dance school in Chennai called Natya Manjari. Among his senior disciples are his daughter Madhumathy Prakash, Sujatha Srinivasan, Anandavalli Sivanathan, Jayanthi Ramanujam, Emi Mayuri, Divya Kasturi, and Swathi Kamakshi, to name a few. Prabhu Deva – the incredibly flexible dancer in Indian films – learnt Bharatanatyam from Guru Laxminarayan. A DVD on ‘Kanchipuram Style of Dance’ was released in August 2012 during the celebration of 50 years of Natya Manjari.

Udupi Laxminarayan’s guru bhakti was exemplary. Year after year, for several decades, he organised Guru Charana Smaranam to pay tribute to his Guru Ellappa. He was the recipient of several awards like the Natya Kalanidhi from ABHAI, Acharya Choodamani from Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, Kalaimamani from the Tamil Nadu Eyal Isai Nataka Manram, Karnataka Kalashree from the Karnataka State Government, Natya Kala Sarathy, and the Narthaka Award.

He published a book ‘Natanattil Pudiya Paathaigal’ which contains valuable information about dance. He has composed many items in Sanskrit for the Bharatanatyam repertoire, which his daughter Madhumathy has brought out as a book titled ‘Udupi Spoorti Ranjana’. Madhumathy and granddaughter Mamtha Rao are carrying on Guru Laxminarayan’s legacy.

(Sruti published a cover story on Udupi Laxminarayan in Sruti 167, August 1998.)

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