Getting to know Smt.Lakshmi Ramaswamy

Here is the draft of my interview with Lakshmi Ramaswamy that was initially published at Carnatic Darbar

Smt Lakshmi Ramaswamy, disciple of Smt Chitra Visweswaran, has carved a niche for herself as a performer, teacher and choreographer. She is an ‘A’ grade artist of Doordarshan, empanelled artist of ICCR and South Zone Cultural Centre. Lakshmi also trains in ‘Karanas’ under Dr Padma Subrahmanyam, in ‘abinaya pieces’ under Smt Kalanidhi Narayanan and Tamil texts under Dr S Raghuraman.

Lakshmi has been a recipient of the Senior Scholarship of the Central Government and she was the only Dancer selected from India for the ‘Fulbright’ fellowship during 2000 and was attached with Golden Gate University, San Francisco (USA). She has been awarded the titles of ‘Yuva Kala Bharati’, ‘Abinaya Aadalarasi’,  ‘Natya Kala Ranjini’,  ‘Nritya Vidhya Ratna’ and ‘Natya kala Vipanchi’and has also won the coveted Balasaraswathi endowment prize of Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, amongst several others. She was specially invited to perform in the World Ethnic Dance Festival, San Francisco and representing South Zone Cultural Centre, she was sent along with her students to Sri Lanka during Navarathri in 2003, where the group performed included performing for the Parliament of Sri Lanka.

She has led workshops In India and abroad. Holder of Twin Master Degrees in Commerce and Bharatanatyam, she has served as resource person for refresher’s course in Annamalai University. She has been external examiner for Kalakshetra and presently serves as guest faculty at Madras University for MA Bharatanatyam course, where she has registered for her Ph.D. She also regularly contributes articles and reviews in journals.

She is Founder Director of Sri Mudhraalaya where she trains young aspirants in the art. Students are both performers of solos and participate with their teacher in group productions; won many competitions and government scholarship. Senior students who have accomplished teachers training have their own classes – Sri Gnana Mudra, Sri Surya Mudhra, Sri Purna Mudhra and Sri Dhyana Mudra.

I have had a difficult time shortening her bio infact. But when I ask her to introduce herself she says “Generally I would call myself as a person very passionate about dance, awestruck especially to the depth and width of it and would like to spend time with it as much as possible. Just as Anjaneya wanted to be in places wherever ‘rama nama’ was chanted.”

2.      Your Gurus and how different were their teaching styles?

My first teacher was Indira Krishnamurthy, who gave me the flavor of ‘classicism’ and took me to an arangetram. I lived down south in Tirunelveli, where we did not have a good teacher for dance at that time. When my parents heard that she had come down, we went and met her. She took me as her student in May 1985 and I had my arangetram in March 1986. She taught me both Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi. After finishing a margam in kuchipudi, I only concentrated in Bharatanatyam. She was a teacher who gave me full, whatever she had learnt from her teachers. Her teachers were Shoba naidu (Hyderabad) for kuchipudi and Tirukokarnam Rajalakshmi amma in Bharatanatyam. I had done around 100 performances, in and around Tirunelveli area, got my doordarshan grade in Tiruvananthapuram doordarshan, won youth festival gold medals consecutively for three years while in college, and a 1st prize in a state level Bharatyar competition with Nellai Sangeetha Sabha, by then.

Later (after my marriage – I lived in Erode for some time –  in 1989 and my son’s birth in 1990), my husband got a transfer to Chennai. I joined Chidambaram Academy of Performing Arts in March 1991, when my son was 10 months old. From there on I had been under her able guidance. It was tough to restart right from ‘tattadavu’. Since it was a change of style, Chitra akka advised me to restart so that I can learn the methodology properly and assured that I will not regret to do that. Sincerely, yes!!  I do not regret, that I started all the way from square one.

Classes with her were really an eye-opener. She encouraged the practice ‘to question’, to think and rethink. She wanted her students to be thinking dancers. She made me understand the psychology behind movements and the meaning for every move my body parts made. I started working as a part time staff and later was inducted as a full time staff. Apart from dancing, I was part of all her group productions and learnt while working – lighting, stage décor, costume designing, program co-ordination, office-file maintenance, stage management, institution management and was taking practical and theory classes. This exposure to the management side of the performance art helped me to think of arts management for which I applied later, the ‘fulbright’ program.

To Raghuraman sir, I got introduced through Vanathy who sang for one of my performances. I was given the theme ‘arpudam’ by Narada Gana Sabha in its annual festival of innovative performances, the natyarangam festival. I was into research and looking for material to put together. He came forward unassumingly and started taking class with references from Tholkappiam. From then on, my urge to know the concepts in the theoretical side got nurtured and this journey is still on.

The M A Bharatanatyam course of Madras University gave me opportunity to interact with teachers like C V Chandrasekar and Kalanidhi Mami. I fell for Mami’s teaching and continued learning padams and javalis even after finishing the course. Dr Padma Subramaniam took me as her student under Nrithyodaya, to learn the karanas.

Indira aunty introduced me to classicism, Chitra akka made me read in between lines, Raguraman sir made me look at its depth, Paddu akka freed me out of inhibitions and Kalanidhi mami took me to a range of abinaya.

I am what I am, because of all my teachers. And cherish the learning opportunities with each one of them and I bow down with due respect and reverence for their teaching.

3.      Lakshmi you have received the Senior Scholarship and fellowship for Bharathanatyam, from the Department of Culture, Central Government of India. How did you prepare for this?

It was not difficult to apply or appear for a Senior scholarship examination with a teacher like Smt Chitra Visweswaran. I knew about it through the news papers and duly applied.

I prepared meticulously the items of margam I had learnt already, thoroughly. I learnt the slokas of Abinaya darpana on the theoretical part. I also worked on the mathematical calculations of each korvai and jati, in my repertoire and practiced reciting the jatis with tala and nattuvangam.

4.      Tell us about being chosen for the Fulbright Scholarship at US…(Please include details from the Submitted paper, “Learning Arts and Learning through Arts’ at Golden Gate University, San Francisco )

Fulbright is a program of the U S government in which scholars from that country can go to other countries and other country scholars to the U S. There are more than 42 branches of study for which a Fulbright could be applied. []

As told already, the administrative part of a performing arts organization, gave me exposure in a new area that I did not know before. I was interested in that. I took ‘arts and culture management’ studies through ‘fulbright’. I was affiliated to Golden gate University in Sanfrancisco.

(I believe that art is not only entertainment (especially Indian arts) and it is a wholesome exercise to both body and soul of any individual and it enhances individual capacities. I came across researches done by associations such as AAAE which proved that people who are ‘art exposed’ out-do those who are ‘not exposed to art’. So, it is not only that one learns the art but also develops many more qualities while learning an art. That made me work on the topic. I shall attach an extract separately)

5.      You have dealt with a lot of Tamil literary work in your choreographies… for instance the Thiruvaranga Kalambagam, and now I believe you are working on a project on sangam literature too.. tell us about your interest in tamil Literature.

I never had any interest in Tamil during my younger days!! In fact it would be a ‘just pass’ subject!! With introduction to Raghuraman Sir, I understood how vast and deep my mother tongue was. And that love is multiplying day by day, and Ph d is now in ‘koothanool’

Most of my productions have been in Tamil.

·         My first work was ‘silambu vidu thoodu’. This was first conceived for the natyanjali at Chidambaram.  I wanted to send him a message through dance!  I spoke to Raghuraman sir about the idea and overnight he had penned the lyrics for me! It grammatically follows all the requisites of a thoodu literature.

·         Next was a solo theatre, ‘Aalaavathu eppadiyo’. This was on the lives of four saiva saints, triggered by a four line poetry of pattinaththaar, who says, ‘I do not know the amount of devotion through which senaapatiyaar killed his own son; the devotion through which neelakanda naayanaar restrain youth; the devotion through which kannappar pulled out his own eye, if so, when would I be qualified to your blessing, o lord’

“vaallaal magavarindu ootta vallen allen

Maadu sonna soollaal ilamai turakka vallen allen

Naallaaril kann idanthu appa vallen allen

Naan ini chendru aalaavathu eppadiyo tirukkaalaththi appare!”

With that, the stories of the four saints were expanded.

·         Next was ‘sangamum sangamamum’. The Tamilnadu Iyal Isai Nataka Mandram announced a production grant in 2004, for sangam literature works. It was the time when I came across some of the sangam poetry while learning Tholkappiam under Raguraman Sir. Sangam literature ‘nattrinai’ was chosen and poems culled out. Nattrinai is a collection of 400 poems of various poets of the sangam period, dealing with ‘aham’, the love life. 

The chosen poems were strung in such a way that it included all technical requirements of the aham poetry – with all the five landscapes their associated emotions and moving on a story line. It took almost a year for me to put together the group production.

·         Then was the ‘Jagam nee, Aham nee”, the story of Mahisasura mardhini, done for the South zone cultural centre’s tour to Sri Lanka during Navarathri, 2004. It was a marathon production where we had only 10 days time to create a production! Lyrics were written in two days, music in two days, choreographed in the next two days, rehearsed for two days, studio recorded, costumes designed and stitched and left for sri lanka in the next two days!! It was staged 12 times in the 9 days including one performance in the parliament of Sri lanka.

·         Next was Tirumalai Aandaver Kuravanji, on Lord Muruga of Paimpozhil.

·         Tiruvaranga kalambakam is a 12th century work of Pillai Perumal Iyengar on the lord of Sri Rangam. This was again funded by the Tamilnadu Eyal Isai Nataka Mandram. Since I had done a production each on siva, devi and muruga I took Vishnu through this work. Kalambakam is a huge work with 18 units. We chose 9 reflecting the navarasas for the production.

Sangam literature work gets its second stage opportunity only now, after four years of its first staging and all of us as so eager to perform. It is on 25th December, 2pm at Narada Gana Sabha, main hall.

Apart from productions, I have included such small poetry in my repertoire; choreographed alarippu in viloma kanda and tisra druva. My short productions include: Sculptors dream(done for IDA festival, with only instrumental music), Panca tantra, Hunter and the deer (done for younger students), Oozhikoothu (Bharatiyaar), Aindum Ayyanum (comparison of number five with Shiva), Asta nayika, Dasaavataara Varnam.. etc.

6.      You have your Masters in Bharathanatyam from the University of Madras. Tell us about this academic approach to dance education.

I was having my ideas of Ph D even before that, but when I approached various universities, I was denied because my basic Masters degree was in commerce!

Even before the Madras University opened it Masters Course, I had met Ramanathan sir to request him to start one such course for the benefit of dancers. The music department is celebrating its 75th year this year, but Madras known for its classical dance did not find a beginning.

So, when I heard about the course (credit goes to Dr Premeela Gurumurty, present H O D, department of Indian Music, University of Madras for starting this course), I joined without a second thought. Today I work as a guest faculty for the course and on my Ph D.

7.      Your experiences while doing the Ashta Nayika…

(I guess you mean mami’s production…)

Classes with Kalanidhi mami were so interesting. I learnt developing abinaya with subtlety. I was chosen by her to represent ‘kalahantarita’, a self cursing heroine.

Poetry was from Sangam literature and so it was double joy for me. It was happy in the beginning to accept but then understood how difficult to place myself with many of mami’s senior students. Each of them were well known in their individual names, which gave me both a fear and challenge.

There were not many interactions, since each nayika was a separate episode. But I took care to continue from the previous nayika and give a lead to the next one. It was critically acclaimed and earned good name for me.

8.      How is the dance scene for upcoming artists in India.. Any suggestions?

It is encouraging that unlike yester years, today’s youngsters get more opportunities; on the other hand, it has become a commercial exercise for performers.

Anybody with political or money power is able to make an appearance in many a leading venues. Organizations that give opportunity for talent without money-criteria could be finger-counted.

It is also the performers who have made it monotony, in a period of various visual media influences.

My suggestion to upcoming artists is to work well both on the performance side as well as make a strong base with the academics behind arts; So that, they are able to come up with performances that keep out monotony.

To organisors: May be they commercialise since the audience turn out is reducing day by day, but if they put up 8 artists on commercial basis, at least could encourage 2 for their talent.

9.      Do you teach?

I love teaching. I am not a teacher who came to teaching out of frustration. I do it for the love of sharing to those who are eager to take up this art, in this time where life is getting mechanical and bothered with visual media which has less to do with morals or values of life.

Sri Mudhraalaya was formed to teach this art to youngsters. Apart from learners and performers, today it has satellite institutions (classes run by my students) in various parts of chennai: ‘Gnana mudra’ at chrompet, ‘Dhyana mudra’ at Purasawalkam, ‘Surya mudra’ at Virugambaakkam, ‘Chandra mudra’ at Ashok  Nagar, ‘Purna Mudra’ at Tiruvottiyur.

Exercises for body flexibility, Theory, Prayer slokams, dancing, choreography and nattuvangam are taught. Students have put up their own group productions, get together for group productions and perform nattuvangam for me as well as to each other. They have won competitions such as ‘taka dimi ta’, ‘Tamilnadu Eyal Isai natakam’ and senior scholarship of the Central government.

10. How do you manage the time between home, academics, dancing and teaching.. Must be pretty tough!

Sometimes, yes! But I have learnt to do it through experience. It is also the challenge of today. Anyone for that matter, has to be a mother, sister, wife, daughter apart from working in an office! It’s a little pre-planning that helps to balance altogether. I tell my students, ‘anticipate and be prepared for the worst, so anything which comes will be better than that!!’

11. Your upcoming programs/projects..

Immediate one is the lecture demonstration on 23rd Nov for Narada gana Sabha, where Raguraman sir is giving a lecture on ‘aham and puram of sangam literature’ for which I am going to do the demonstration part of it.

Eagerly awaited is ‘sangamum sangamamum’!!

Lakshmi Ramaswamy and her students are due to perform solo and group Bharathanatyam recitals andlec-dems at various venues in Chennai during the Madras Music Season details of which have been added to this blog’s database of schedule programs.

Please look out for an abstract of Lakshmi’s project on Art Education and Management, that will  soon be posted in this blog




15 responses to “Getting to know Smt.Lakshmi Ramaswamy

  1. Lakshmi is an intelligent woman, with a professional approach (Chitra’s influence), with quite a decent reputation (not many Bharatanatyam gurus in Chennai are half as honest, fair, supportive, and generous as she is) that has attracted some of the best students in Chennai. If they won a couple of competitions, that’s not much so far. Maybe Lakshmi’s training is not competition-oriented.

    I wonder what she is going to do with koothanool and its 120 (not 108!) Karanas since it appears that Kan Nool is a bit too hard to find! 😦

    Yes, I was pleasantly surprised that Lakshmi, is learning karanas…….

    But then…. why does M A Bharatanatyam course of Madras University NOT offer the karanas course, unlike, for example, the MA course at MGR college???? Is it because the Madras University does NOT have a DANCE department? 🙂

    (Comment Moderated)

  2. All these years of dedication n hard work of hers is really inspiring to the younger generation to pursue with dedication such art forms which have enormous information and background history that goes to prove its value to the human kind.
    thanks for her efforts.

    –lavanya vikram.

  3. Thanks for those credits that have come. Thanks to those who have taken some time to leave their comments. The lec-dem of Raghuraman sir on 23rd November stands postponed to February 22nd 2009.

  4. Very inspiring!

    the amount of passion and hard work required to pursue a career of ones dream is brought out…

    as her student i am very lucky because she has shaped me in to good individual with rich values…
    “management of time” AND “positive attitude”– the best quality she has instilled in me

    she believes in continuous learning and passing it,on to the next generation .. this kind of attitude very few people have

    she has proved that a dancer should know every aspect i.e lighting, music, stage decor and so on.

    internalization ! that is her dance
    an amazing teacher!

    Nice of you to have shared it with us Roshini. Having a Guru who loves to teach and whose training caters to wholesome personality development is indeed a blessing!
    Best wishes,

  5. Roshini is lucky that Lakshmi teaches them even the exercises for body flexibility and so on. Hopefully, these exercises will help Roshini and the other students to be not just flexible, but to maintain a good figure and preserve good stamina even when they are Alarmel Valli’s age.

  6. I read with interest the interview at carnatic darbar titled ” Getting to know Smt.Lakshmi Ramaswamy . I am very happy to note Smt. Lakshmi Ramaswamy has inborn taste and talent in the art of Bhararthnatyam. As if the Almighty ordained she has tutelage from renowned bharathnatyam gurus.

    At one point of time the dancer has confessed that her interest slowly drifted to choreography and themes of sangam literature. I also understand some of sangam literature theme based stage productions have received with acclaim amongst dance rasikas. to mention a few ‘NATTRINAI’ ” Jagam ne Agam ne” and “chilambu vidu thoothu”. Of late we read in dailies that there is a dearth of competent teaching faculties in IT and Management sectors. same holds good in the field of Bharathanatyam. Majority of Artists have set themselves to methodologies in capturing stages of reputed sabhas be in the lime light for some time and then slowly vanish.

    But in the case of Smt.Lakshmi Ramaswamy it is very gratifying to note that in addition to performing as an artist with lot of rewards and recognitions she is moulding herself to excellence in teaching faculty. With her M.A. in bharathanatyam from Madras University and her passion to get PhD. from the same alma matter will no doubt cherish her ambition to be a much sought after Academist in the Months to come.

    I am failing in my duty if I miss to mention thru. Raguraman and thirumathi.Vanathy Raguraman who have taken lot of pains to assist Lakshmi in bringing about Sangam Literature productions successfully to the stages of renowned sabhas in Chennai
    —Jay Kay.

    Thanks for sharing this with us Jay Kay!

  7. The first time i approached Lakshmi akka to ask for classes,i saw a petite and pretty woman with an exceptionally long hair and a very kind voice..Over these years i’ve come to know only a part of the amazing strength,will power and knowledge that she possesses..she always used to talk about her experiences and never called them achievements..Each class we used to learn something different! The best part of it is that she teaches by giving a lot of humourous and practical examples so that we never forget what we learnt.The fact that she teaches according to the pscychology of each student is what makes us eagerly wait for our next class.This article has made me realise how lucky Iam to have her as my teacher. Thank you akka

  8. Hello,
    Very nice..very talented dancer.
    I am happy to introduce a site ‘Dynamycdesi’.The site encourages people to upload their talents in any form and gives an award to the ‘Best Talent’.

  9. Lakshmi akka is one of the wonderful human beings i have met..the compassion and kindness of hers can never be felt unless you are a disciple of hers..VERY dedicated to dance…i am not even completely worth to explain about her!!! i am immensely proud to have known her…though i am presently not akka’s student,i WILL join her classes as soon as possible..really miss her dance classes..miss you akka….i am saying from my bottom of my heart that “LAKSHMI AKKA is the best teacher any person can get”…the way akka handels each students is awesum…very approchable and down to earth person..akka is one of the people who can juggle many jobs ,being the BEST in each…this article really made me proud to have you akka in my life..thank you akka..

  10. I liked the interview. I am Aparna K sharma, a Bharatanatyam dancer and Choreographer. I have done my Dissertation on Dance Music pertaining to Bharatanatyam. I am interested to carry out the work by doing a Ph.D in the lines of John Higgins. Can anybody help me securing a Ph.D seat and doing my Ph.D? i want people to guide me.

    Hi Aparna,
    Great to hear that! Would love to learn more about your thesis.
    As for your Phd. the University of Madras and Hyderabad have candidates registered for PhD in dance. You should try contacting them.

  11. Can you help me with the full lyrucs of ‘Vattamitta Pattazhagan”. It is a Pada Varnam by Chidambaram Nataraja Sundaram Pillai and I noted from web that you have done that number in Feb 2009.

    Dear Vijayalakshmi,
    I will write to Smt. Lakshmi R


  12. i am blessed to have my guru smt.lakshmi mam.she has the ability to ease anyone’s mind who is depressed..the way she illustrates things is one can deny her proposals.we can neglect many things to attend her lectures,it is so innovative and capable of boosting our minds:)the things that is baffling us could be revealed if we acquaint it to her.i admire her.she inspires me to the core..there is just nothing more blissful than fraternizing with her..:)apart from accepting hae as a guru,we can state her as a mentor too:)

  13. really fortunate to be one of her sishyas !! have always been admiring her diverse knowledge about dance & tamil & indian culture & heritage & on & on & creates an urge to know our rich heritage, on a sad note not many youngsters at present are aware of indian culture & heritage !! she is one of those who can make anybody fall in love with tamil & indian heritage !! proud to be her sishya !!

  14. hi, this is sree priya, i think i am very late to see this page , i am proud to say that i am one of her first students. don’t have words to express about her… because Lakshmi akka … is the best teacher , she understand each and every student’s ability and try to bring out the same… i am 33 years old now, i started learning from her when I was in 8th standard. For the past 10 years… i am only cherishing those golden memories, unfortunately, i am not in a position to continue with this divine art…. i wish my akka all the very best in her future performances… love u so much akka…

  15. I have got the tickets for 3 of us to watch her programme on 28.06.15 at The Bhavan in London.Few requests from me will hope fully reach her through the organisers and we are hoping to see them performed on the stage.

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