Krishnaveni Lakshmanan (1942 - 2004)
(Excerpted from the Sruti archives)
The following is by S. SARADA, more famous as Peria Sarada, of Kalakshetra.
Rukmini Devi and I noticed a girl watching, day after day, from the window, the dance classes we were teaching in the Mirror Cottage in the Theosophical Society where Kalakshetra was then situated. The child did this invariably on her way back home from The Besant Theosophical High School. Rukmini Devi— Athai— called the child inside and asked her: "Would you like to dance?" The child's joy knew no bounds and she readily tried to repeat the dance she had been viewing. Athai immediately arranged for her, Krishnaveni, to join Kalakshetra as a part-time student. She was the daughter of K. Ananthanarayanan, the History teacher in the Besant School. I may mention here that, though she learnt from N.S. Jayalakshmi and myself and other teachers at Kalakshetra, her class teacher throughout Krishnaveni's Diploma course was Chinna Sarada (Hoffman). Years earlier, Sarada had also become a student of Kalakshetra, watching from the window the classes Athai and I were taking in the same cottage! Sarada Hoffman contributed to Kalakshetra by evolving, under Athai's guidance, the style of Bharatanatyam of perfection and grace which became the hallmark of the institution.
Krishnaveni absorbed everything in the classes— practical dances: Bharatanatyam and Kathakali, dance theory, music and the languages, religion and philosophy at Kalakshetra— like a blotting paper absorbing ink. Innate in her was the craving and talent for fine arts, which made her flower forth as a beautiful artist. Athai wished her dance students to learn Kathakali compulsorily. Why Kathakali? In Kathakali, facial bhava-s or expressions have to be shown in an exaggerated manner for them to be visible through the elaborate make-up. When one mastered this after training or exercises of the facial muscles and eye movements, he or she could express with ease any bhava or emotion. Great masters like Ambu Panicker and Chandu Panicker adorned Kalakshetra as teachers and they were hard taskmasters.
On the completion of middle school studies, Krishnaveni became a full-time student of Kalakshetra and benefited from the all-round education there. The best talents of the students were brought out naturally by the teachers and nothing was imposed on or imparted to them.
I recollect the child Krishnaveni coming early on her way to school and sitting beside me observing the classes. She would practise the adavu-s with concentration in an adjacent place before entering the afternoon classes. Thus she could execute these adavu-s with ease in the classes. She had nimble feet in a pliable body and, above all, bright eyes and an attractive smile. She was able to express later on, as a full fledged dancer, all emotions with ease.
In 1957, Athai presented Usha Parinayam, the Bhagavata Mela dance-drama which she had beautified. Both Krishnaveni and Shanta learnt the main roles of Usha and her sakhi Chitra-lekha. It was only a few days before its premiere, at Sarada Hoffman's insistence, that Athai decided that Krishnaveni should be Usha and Shanta, Chitra-lekha. They won accolades for their portrayals, though they had not yet had their arangetram. Balu Bhagavatar of Melattur who had come to assist in this production was full of praise for them as the girls were able to present on the stage the various situations with embellishment.
Athai arranged for Krishna-veni's arangetram in 1960 only after awarding her the Kala-kshetra Diploma with distinction the previous year. She was a Government of India scholarship holder for three years from that year. She received the Institution's Post Graduate Diploma, also with distinction, in 1962.
S. Lakshmanan whom Krishnaveni married in 1965 was initially unable to perceive that she was a dancer with a good future in the field. However, on Athai's persuasion, he came and watched her as Seeta in Sabaii Moksham, which changed his attitude. It was his first experience of dance which was not earthy but divine! He not only encouraged Krishnaveni but became an ardent admirer and supporter of Athai and Kalakshetra!
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