Musicians in classical dance
By Anjana Anand
K. P. Ramesh Babu is a sought after mridhangist in the Bharatanatyam field. His virtuosity in a variety of percussion instruments and musical sensitivity has made him an asset to the Bharatanatyam field. With over two decades of performing experience, Ramesh Babu in an artiste who straddles the kucheri and Natyam world with ease.
How did you start your career in the arts?
I grew up in Calicut and my guru was my father, K. PBhaskar Das. I continued my training with Puthukode S. Krishnan. From a young age, I was exposed to Bharatanatyam as my father used to play for Natyam. My mother is a Bharatanatyam and MohiniAttam artiste and she helped me understand the nuances of Natyam. Krishnan sir suggested that I come to Chennai to further my training with KaraikudiR. Mani.
Were you always interested in playing for Natyam?
As I was exposed to playing for Bharatanatyam from a young age, I did not feel that I had to make a choice between being a kucheri artiste or an accompanist for Natyam. It seemed natural to do both. I went to AdyarLakshman for a few months to further my understanding onplaying for BharataNatyam. Today I am mainly amridhangist for Bharatanatyam but I play for kucheris when the opportunity arises. I am presently an ‘A’ grade artiste with All India Radio.
Where did you start your career as amridhangam artiste?
My main exposure in this field was through BharataKalanjali. The Dhananjayans were a big support in my career. The Sathyalingams from Singapore were the first to invite me abroad for shows. Since then, I have been travelling abroad, mainly to the US every summer for arangetrams and nattuvangam workshops.
Have you trained in any other art form?
I trained in Carnatic music for a short time in Calicut. I was exposed to music from a young age so I used to sing without formaltraining. For a very short time, I went to O.S Arun after our tour to the US for a production called Abhyasa.
What is the specific training required for playing for Natyam?
It has more to do with understanding what is needed for rhythmic support for the dance form. The fingering is basically the same. However when playing for Bharatanatyam, we have to know what has been composed by the dancer and play within that framework. The manodharma is limited to working within the set choreography. In a kucheri, we plan what to present without any other boundaries. The extent of creativity is left to us.
As an accompanist for Bharatanatyam, we have to understand the adavu system fully. Only then can we enhance the footwork and rhythmic intricacies. For that we need to be prepared to work with the dancer.
Today mridhangists have taken over the traditional role of nattuvangists who composed jathis earlier. How has that changed the style of jathi composition?
The advantage that traditional nattuvangists had was that they had a sound background in music, tala and natyam. They composed jathi-s to suit the dance with chollu-s which were traditionally associated with natyam. This made the Bharatanatyam jathis distinct from other percussionchollu-s.
As mridhangists we have to play the same role. In my opinion we should ensure that we use traditional chollu-s while composing,with the dance in mind. It should be conducive for the dancer’s footwork. I find many jathi-s today do not fulfil these criteria. Not all mridhangamkanakku will suit the Bharatanatyam style of dance. If I compose a jathi which is non - traditional or intricate, I always advice the dancer on which adavu will be suitable for the composition. In short, I believe that even an accomplished mridhangist must have enough experience playing for natyam before attempting to compose jathi-s.
What are the kinds of compositions which you have composed for Bharatanatyam?
I composed a NandhiChollu for Dhananjayan sir’s student’s arangetram in MisraJhampatala. It is an opening item. I composed another one for Sheejith Krishna in Khandatriputatala. Besides this, I have composed Mallari-s. I composed one in Nagasvarali raga although Mallari-s are traditionally done in GambeeraNattai. I have also composed Pushpanjali-s andTillana-s.