Song of Surrender

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Subbaraya Pillai

Birthdays & Anniversaries


My mother Savithri Sabanayagam took me as a four-year old to the illustrious Pandanallur guru Chockalingam Pillai and his son Subbaraya Pillai to learn Bharatanatyam. Their dance school was in a corporation school beneath the Egmore bridge. My first memory is that of holding my nose when I entered, as the school toilets were at the entrance, shutting my ears as the sound of the trains passing by created a racket, but my eyes were wide open as I watched many children dance. Like the lotus that blooms radiant in muddy waters, one of the purest and most beautiful styles of Bharatanatyam was being taught there by very simple, great masters belonging to the illustrious lineage of the Tanjore Quartet.

As soon as the corporation school closed for the day at 3.30 pm, the main classroom benches would be piled to the side, the masters would supervise the sweeping of the room and the class would start at 4 pm. Chockalingam Pillai was known as Peria Master and Subbaraya Pillai as Chinna Master. When we entered the school at 4 pm we had to first pass the Big Master who would be seated on a tinnai or pyol outside the classroom – with his walking stick and chewing betel leaves. He would greet every child – tick them off if they were late – enquire, if they had eaten idlis and drunk their milk. Small Master would be taking the adavu classes and Big Master would come in a little later and both would conduct classes which would go on until pm as the seniors came in. They taught with great dedication and commitment to the art – gave it with so much generosity laced with the choicest of abuses and witty remarks.

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