Some historical snippets of BN – Part 15 – T. Balasaraswati’s speech in 1973

For the current generation, 1973 sounds waaay long back in time. But, in reality it is not so long back. It was in 1973 that a dancer, T. Balasaraswati, was invited to deliver the presidential address. This was 47 years since the inception of the Music Academy at Madras. This presidential address was published in 1974 issue of The Journal of Music Academy, Madras.

The text is given both in Tamil and English, and it is not mentioned whether she spoke in Tamil or in English. But, I am willing to assume that for the journal report it was translated and published, later. You will see why this could be the case.

The 1974 JMA issue mentions the process of electing the T. Balasaraswati as the president of the 47th conference, held in 1973. Emphasis added.

Sangita Kalanidhi Sri Mudikondan Venkatarama Iyer then proposed Smt T. Balasaraswati to be the President of the 47th Conference; he paid a tribute to her as a dancer and musician. Citing the definition of the term Sangita that it comprised the three departments of vocal music, instrumental music and dance, he said it was most appropriate to elect her as the President. The proposal was seconded by Vidyala Narashimhalu Naidu and Vazhuvur Ramaiah Pillai.

Sangita Kalanidhi Smt. M. S. Subbulakshmi then garlanded Smt. T. Balasaraswati. Rising amidst cheers Smt. T. Balasaraswati then delivered her Presidential Address.

I am quoting some of the interesting parts below. To be fair I am quoting the same in English and in Tamil, so that the message is not lost in translation!

On her being elected as President for the Music Conference.

I have been asked to preside over a Conference, which has, in the past, been presided over largely by musicians, and I feel that by doing so, the paramount importance of music in South Indian dance has been rightly emphasized.

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On objection towards songs not suited for dance, choreographed for dance

I do not have the boldness to take away the time-honored creations of the the great honored masters of Bharatam from the dance performances. Songs suited to concert-singing afford no scope for the full creative unfolding of Abhinaya. This is my full experience.

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For some unknown reason, the following sentences has not been translated in its full form. It is more clear when reading the passage in Tamil, and that is why I am leaning on my assumption that Balasaraswati would have given the speech in Tamil and then it was published with a translation in English.

It basically says the difficulty of choreographing tana varnams for dance. Giving the example of the Bhairavi tana varnam “siru novvu”, the passage describing “smile” is elaborated in music, if performed on stage the dancer would be laughing stock. Similarly, with the tempo of the music abhinaya cannot be performed.

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Her inspiration

My interpretation of the padas then depends on Dhanammal’s interpretation of all her music, and not just the padas. She set an ideal of richness and subtlety of emotional expression that shines like a lamp before those who have heard and appreciated her music.

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Opposition within and support from outside

It was my mother Jayammal who had me trained as a dancer, in spite of strong family opposition…It was in fact, a great musician from outside the family, Ariyakudi Ramanuja Ayyangar, who firmly supported Jayammal in her decision.


This is the same quote mentioned on Page 31 in her biography “Balasaraswati: Her Art and Life” by Douglas M. Knight. However, the source is from a book titled “Bala on Bharatanatyam” by Guhan. Here is the link to the particular page.

Further, on Page32 of the same book it describes how Dhanammal, who has opposed initially, agreed by testing her abilities to become a dancer. When Jayammal approached Veena Dhanammal with their suggestion, she replied “No!” with “flat-footed resistance”. On another day Dhanammal asked Jayammal

“Is your daughter squint-eyed?”


“Does she have good, orderly rows of teeth?”


“Is she good-looking?”

“She is not a beauty but good-looking all right.”

“Does she sing well?”

For this, Balasaraswati “had to sing to prove it”.

The test was over. Grandmother finally gave permission for me  to study dancing.

Quoting her mother Jayammal and her training

Jayammal taught the close relationship of abhinaya to raga- contour, and would say: “Your head, your whole body must move with the sangati, with the gamaka and not just with the tala”

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Her abhinaya training from within her family circle

One of them taught me to do an entire song with just my face; first with the music, and then in silence. I would have to go through the entire emotional range of the sahitya, using only facial expression without the aid of hands or arms.


On the trend of dance and dance teaching in 1973

To have shortened courses and produce many musicians and dancers quickly is against the way of my teachers and my grandmother Veenai Dhanammal; it is harmful to the art. The great objective is quality not quantity. The attention that is bestowed on dress and decor may be spent on the actual training in the art.

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At the end of the speech are some hidden gems. During the conference, some books were released, along with the Souvenir. The following, I think are most interesting:

  • “From Kamatchi to Bala” by Dhanikan
  • “Padams and Balasarasvati” by Dr. Jon. B. Higgins
  • “My Art Experience” by the late Mylapore Gowri Ammal

Now, I am off to find these books! 🙂

Read the full presidential address in English and Tamil here.

Disclaimer: I have attached the link to the pdf as part of this post. I am not really quite sure of the copyright, although the website had no mention of it anywhere. So, I will remove the document if anyone points to any copyright infringement.


  1. Page 31 of Balasaraswati: Her Art and Life, Douglas M Knight 2010.

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