Kalakshetra – a sacred place, a divine space, place of worship for all the Indian classical dancers!! Kalakshetra has always been reputed as one of the oldest institutions dedicated to educating, nurturing and promoting Indian dance culture. Founded in 1936 by the great visionary, Rukmini Devi Arundale; Kalakshetra Foundation has never failed to fulfil her vision-
“Kalakshetra is an institution not merely for the development of art. It exists in order that youth may be educated, not to become artists alone, but to have the right attitude to life, the right attitude to art, in order that they may be of great service to our country.” –Smt. Rukmini Devi , Founder – Kalakshetra Foundation
Spread over 100 acres in Chennai, Kalskhetra has been recognized as an institution of National importance and it is an autonomous body under Ministry of Culture, Government of India.
To continue its long heritage of culture, education and promotion of Indian art and culture, to sustain and flourish the vision and work of Rukmini Devi; a very talented Bharatnatyam dancer, choreographer and a guru Revathi Ramachandran has recently taken over as the Director of Kalakshetra.
Despite her busy schedule, Revathi Ramachandran managed to converse with Classical Claps for its readers. So, here we bring to you our conversation with her!
CC- How does it feel to be in the position to lead this sacred cultural heritage and the most reputed institution in India, Kalakshtra?
Revathi – I feel that I have been bestowed with great responsibility. Being appointed as the director of a historic Institution which is the vision of the legendary Smt. Rukmini Devi- a great thinker, social reformer, artist par excellence truly humbles me.
CC – Absolutely! It must a thrilling experience to be in the position of the head of Kalakshtra! But we believe that with a higher role, comes bigger responsibilities too… We would be happy if you could to tell us more about your roles and responsibilities for this position?
Revathi – My main focus would be in preserving the ethos of our founder Smt. Rukmini Devi; whose avant-garde classical artistry was the progenitor to the current Bharathanatyam paradigm. The Kalakshetra foundation comprises the Rukmini Devi College of Fine arts which offers courses in Bharatanatyam, Carnatic music and Visual arts, Besant Theosophical Higher Secondary School, Besant Arundale Senior Secondary School and Crafts Education and Research Centre. All of these being the exposition of our founder Rukmini Devi’s passion for art revival and compassion for humanity. Every unit imparts true value and spirit of art to the present generation. Since the education imparted is an art form, the facets that go to make this learning process have to be administered from the standpoint of view of the artist. Any decision taken has to account for the aesthetic values, the cultural ethos and the vision of our founder. It will be difficult to shear one from the other in this role, artistic and administrative departments may function independently, however; my role as director would be to integrate these two facets for achieving the stated objectives.
CC – This sounds very promising, Revathi ji! For any Bharatnatyam student, even learning at Kalakshetra would be a big dream. In your case, from a student of Bharatnatyam to the Head of Kalakshetra looks like a dream come true.. This is a great journey indeed! We would love to know about your own journey of dance as well.
Revathi – I started training in dance when I was 8 years old under Mangudi Dorairaja Iyer, who was a very good friend of my maternal grandfather. I had my formal debut (Arangetram) in 1972 and started performing at various Sabhas (traditional concerts) and organisations in Chennai and all over India. My mother was a great lover of music and dance and she was the one who truly sowed the seed of art into me and set me on this journey into the realm of Bharathanatyam. I was guided by many Gurus including Dr.Padma Subrahmanyam for theory, Guru Bhagavatulu Sitarama Sharma for Nattuvangam, Vidhushi Kalpagam Swaminathan for Veena, Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam for Kuchipudi and Guru Lakshmi Viswanathan for Abhinaya. I have choreographed thematic presentations- Ambalathil Aadum Jyothi, Aayar Kula Tilakam, Jaya Jaya Bharatham, Om Saravana Bhava, Daayinee- the Eternal Giver, Laya Nirupanam, Brahma Atma Chakram, and Jagat Paavani Ganga. More than 45 years have gone into performing, teaching and choreographing dance.
CC – We are truly awed by your dedication, perseverance, hard work and devotion to the art form for more than four decades!! People often co-relate you with Suddha Nrittam. What do you feel about this relationship and how would you use your passion and expertise at Shuddha Nrittam at Kalakshetra?
Revathi – Suddha Nrittam is an ancient temple dance form, performed during the annual Brahmotsavam in temples and is one among the 72 presentations offered in Gita, Vadya, Nritya and Kavita. It was resurrected by my Guru Mangudi Dorairaja Iyer under the guidance of musicologist Prof.Sambamoorthy and presented in 1969. My guru taught this to me and it is part of my Bharthanatyam repertoire. This being a part of my learning and performing experience, it stands very much apart from my current assignment as the Director of Kalakshetra. Our Shastras speak about an appropriate desire and a balanced desire; we generally have the desire for acquisition but this should be balanced with the desire for giving, sharing or contributing. Having satisfied the desire of acquiring as a performer, it is now my desire to contribute. We can contribute by giving time, energy, efforts, knowledge, etc. and my fulfilment lies in contributing by administering this historical institution.
As a dancer, choreographer and teacher, I have gained insights into the various aspects of this art form and I am confident that this knowledge and experience would serve to reinvent myself in and through the various facets of Kalakshetra.
CC – We are sure that your knowledge and great experience as a dancer, teacher and choreographer will definitely contribute to your vision as the head of Kalakshetra! Time is changing and with the time, a lot of new experiments are being done in the field of classical dance. What is your vision for Kalakshtra in contemporary times and today’s fast pacing world of classical dance?
Revathi – Kalakshetra style is a frame worked by Smt. Rukmini Devi through her intuitive vision. It has, in fact, laid the ground for the presentation of ‘Classical art’. Not only is it the essence of tradition but it is also aesthetically appealing and devoid of garish representations. The quiet beauty and tranquillity of traditional arts and crafts are highlighted. We can call Smt. Rukmini Devi, an innovator and a conservator put together. The work is monumental and hence it is live and relevant through time. It adapts to any changing needs of society while preserving its traditional form. The training process in Kalakshetra goes beyond the physicality of movement and is deep-rooted in spirituality, culture and sound knowledge of the theory of the art form and allied systems. The facility and flexibility for the style to spread and adapt to the changing environment and reinvent to suit the prevailing cultural ethos are well provided. It stands out as an art which deeply draws from the essence of culture and adds appropriate modernity, giving it an aesthetic beauty at any given point of time.
CC – We agree with your views about the Kalakshetra style of educating and experiencing the dance form and its nuances. What are your goals and aspirations as the director? Do you plan to bring any new courses, faculties, facilities, performance opportunities at Kalakshetra and how would you plan to go about them in your tenure as a head?
Revathi – Every organization has a culture which has been sustained over the decades. This culture is derived from the philosophy of the founder and it is this aspect that will carry the organization for posterity. Hence I aspire to absorb and become part of this rich culture and tradition of Kalakshetra in the shortest span of time possible. I would like to herald a movement that conserves what this institution stands for and propagate its essence which has its roots in spiritual teachings and philosophy. In the words of our dear founder Smt.Rukmini Devi, “it is necessary to educate young people. Not only to train them as great artists but also as cultured people to appreciate art, to be sensitive to beauty and ultimately sensitive to humanity”.
I aim at identifying areas to expand the implementation of this vision through appropriate strategies and structures. Preservation and Propagation for Posterity will be the principle with which I plan to work.
CC – We really appreciate your vision and motto as the head of Kalakshetra! On a global picture, where do you think Kalakshtra stands as an institute dedicated to classical dance and how would you like to reach out to more people, places in the world from the platform of Kalakshetra?
Revathi – Smt. Rukmini Devi’s predilection for bringing about cultural renaissance and her vision for an independent India, deep cultural moorings are vital to stabilising society. Her vision had found its upshot in the institution of Kalakshetra. Our founder strongly emphasised that an effort should be made not only to enable artists to find creative fulfilment on stage but also be able to find individual fulfilment in life. They could achieve this by only having the right physical, cultural and spiritual environment. Talented artistes were drawn to the institution right from its inception. Kalakshetra will always stand not merely as an institution but also as an inspiration. The philosophy of Kalakshetra should become a movement- a wave that has to sweep the entire nation and act as a catalyst to bring about change in the attitudes of people towards art, art education and culture.
My goal would not be only to nurture an outer form of the art; but also the inner spirit of the students and society as a whole.