This article was written a few years ago as a cover story for Eves Touch!! Her disciples are celebrating her 75th birthday.
Celebrations of Rhadha
A dancer who is finally getting due recognition
The clear and melodious voice of Rhadha flows through the auditorium enunciating the
“Ta Ka Di Mi Ta” with the sharp beat of the nattuvangam. A lady in the next seat of the
darkened hall whispers, “The girl who is having an arangetram today is a disciple of
Rhadha. I never miss any performance of Rhadha’s disciples. Alas, she does not dance
much any more. She and her sister Kamala used to dance to full houses so many years
ago”. The three sisters- Kamala, Rhadha and Vasanthi learnt dancing from the great
Natyacharya Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai. Today Rhada has created a strong identity of her
own and has established herself as a dancer, teacher and choreographer. Rhadha takes
great pride in being the only disciple of the great Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai who still
performs and teaches exactly as he taught her how to dance. Rhadha’s career spans more
than four decades. She has also learnt Kuchupudi from another eminent Guru, Shri
Vempatti Chinna Satyam.
Kamala Lakshman, as she was popularly known won a lot of fame because of her
dancing talent and the glamorous exposure that she got through films. Rhada
acknowledges with pride the role of her elder sister in her career. “My sister Kamala was
all the while dancing at home. Soon I started dancing as well. Dancing with my sisters
was real fun and it was more a family activity. So I never worked towards having an
identity of my own at that time”. The sisters have performed in front of many great
people like Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr. Radhakrishnan, Dwight Eisenhower, Queen
Elizabeth II and Chou-en- lei.
“I was always been under the shadow of my sister Kamala. She went away to the US in
79-80. I then opened my school ‘Pushpanjali’ and began to establish myself as a teacher.
The public, until then, was unaware that I was still around. Then I did a program for the
Sabha called Shankarabharanam, run by the art lover Shri Venkatakrishnan. and soon
parents began to bring their daughters to me for training. Then my solo performance for
Shri Yagnaraman of Krishna Gana Sabha in the December season brought me into the
limelight” says Rhadha. She also ascribes some of this success to her changing her
spelling according to numerology.
Rhadha says, “Teaching is totally different from dancing and performing. Patience is the
most important quality that you need as a teacher. I have pupils from the age of 6 to 20
and I give individual attention to each of them in one hour classes. The best stage to start
learning is at the age of 6 to 7, but you have to be careful as they get bored if you
continuously correct them. Good features are definitely an advantage for a dancer.
Finally, it all depends on the talent, stamina and the interest of the student. I think it is
important that the traditional dance form should be preserved. Any addition or change in
the name of modernisation will only harm the dance form”.
The Vazhuvoor style has been presented by many great dancers like Padma
Subrahmanyam, Chitra Visweswaran, Kamala and Rhadha. “The synchronization of the
abhinaya, the neck and the eye movement, the fluidity of the dance and the softness of the
movements characterize this school of dance. Even the sternest adavus have to look
graceful without the rigidity”. Rhada enjoys an excellent relationship with all these great
dancer/gurus as well.
Very often there are complaints that dancers who have finished arangetrams have to start
from scratch when they go to a new teacher. “I have taken students after they have had
stage debuts. They had to start from the beginning because each school of dance has its
stamp of individuality. Items can be learnt but a purity of style is important. I am
particular about adhering to the traditional style and I insist on perfection. Dancing with a
smiling face brings grace to the performance. Without that pleasant look, it would look
like a workout.’
Pushpanjali, Rhada’s school for Bharathanatyam was started by her in 1982. It has
produced scores of dancers, several of whom have won laurels for the institution and the
Guru. It has also won a reputation of being one of the friendliest dance classes in Madras.
“The relationship between a teacher and a student has to be based on friendliness”, says
Rhadha. “There can be bhakthi for the Guru, but there should be no fear. Children have
individual talents that should not be curbed. Every student is different and needs
personalized attention”. There was a time when the student came to the teacher to learn.
Now Rhadha goes to the US to live with her student’s family for a couple of months and
imparts rigorous training before the arangetram. “In the West, students are more
systematic and work very hard. They make an extra effort and pay a lot of attention to the
Radha’s dance school, Pushpanjali celebrated its silver jubilee in August this year. “All
my students, from different parts of the world, flew down to be part of the two day silver
jubilee celebrations’, she says with joy and pride. A book, ‘Nadanam Aadinaar: 25 years”
was released to celebrate the silver jubilee and the first copy was received by Leela
She cherishes the time when she received the Sangeeta Nataka Academy award from Dr
Abdul Kalam and the Kalaimamani award from the State government in 2005. The
Nungambakkam Cultural Academy has awarded her with the title ‘Nritya Kala
Shironmani’ for her outstanding contribution over the last many decades for the cause of
dance. The Cleveland Bhairavi Society has given her the award ‘ Nritya Ratnakara’ for
outstanding services to Dance. The Bharathiya Vidya Bhavan, Coimbatore honoured with
the title, [‘Natya Ratna’]. She is to be felicitated again this December with the Acharya
Choodamani award from Sri Krishna Gana Sabha followed by a solo performance.
Rhadha has produced several dance dramas and thematic presentations with the help of
Sujatha Vijayaraghavan, who provides the research, script and music. These programs
have won accolades in India and abroad. ‘Nauka Charitram’ was produced by the Central
Production Centre of Doordarshan and was telecast over the National Network.
She also choreographed the dance drama ‘Sri Lakshmi Prabhavam’ composed by ‘Chitra Veena’ Shri Ravikiran. Both were premiered at the
Aradhana Festival in Cleveland, USA and had successful tours of US and Canada.
She has presented the compositions by Vaggeyakaras like Swathi Thirunal, Ambujam
Krishna and Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavathar and the trinity of Carnatic music.
Rhadha choreographed the dance drama ‘Jaya Jaya Devi’, composed by the violin
Maestro, Lalgudi G. Jayaraman that premiered in the USA. She presented a part of this
dance-drama recently when eminent dance gurus came together at the end of October to
perform ‘Lalgudi Mārgam’ at The Music Academy. This program featured only the
compositions of Lalgudi Jayaraman from Pushpanjali to Thillana. The participants were
Narasimhacharis, Sudha Rani Raghupathi’s ‘Bharathalaya’, Chitra Visweswaran’s
‘Chidambaram’, Rhadha’s ‘Pushpanjali’, Dhananjayans and Kalakshetra.
Rhadha and Sujatha have presented several lecture demonstrations and have regularly
presented a different topic every year on 25th December at Nungambakkam Cultural
Academy from 1987. The lecture demonstrations on Lalgudi Jayaraman’s compositions
and on the Vazhuvoor tradition of Bharatha Natyam have been recorded by Sruti
Foundation for its archives; ‘Navarasa in Thyagaraja’ and ‘Environment in
Bharatanatyam’ have been recorded by the UGC for national telecast.
Her school Pushpanjali, meaning "offering of flowers", has given to the world of dance
beautiful blooms like the sisters Sumitra-Sunanda, Sangita Shyamsundar, Samyuktha
Girish, Vidya Vishnu, Lavanya Venkat, Lavanya Prabu, Sujatha Ramanadhan, Sujatha
Sundararajan, Radha Venkatesan, Gayatri Srikant, Aparna Kasbekar, Shalini, Priya
Umesh, Yogita Venkataraman, Shobana Ram (USA), Satya Pradeep (USA), Ramya
(USA), Roopa Chari (Zambia), Krithika, Deepika Rajam, Sukanya, Padmaja, Sucharita
and Sowmya Narayanan . Several of these trained dancers have started dance schools in
India and abroad.
“I practice everyday. Dance is a stress reliever, and brings happiness. The body and mind,
both are relaxed when this art form is practised. My guru’s way of saying the jathis was
unique; it was very melodious. When I dance, I specially teach this method to one of the
talented youngsters who are doing nattuvangam for dancers.” Rhada still retains her
youthfulness in spite of being a grandmother. Her eyes and face express myriad emotions
with the Vazhuvoor stamp of speed and sparkle.
Radha makes it a point to visit her son, Kannan Ramanathan and his wife Kalpana and
her grandchildren Nikhil 11 and Arjun 9 in California. This is her special time to bond
with them and to unwind and relax. In her late sixties her warmth and hospitality are
touching. She bubbles with enthusiasm and enjoys every moment, every opportunity and
every experience that life has to offer. Her girlish speaking voice changes its timbre and
reveals strength and power when she sits behind her nattuvangam plank and stick. The
guru concludes with contentment, “I am happy that I am a teacher and I would love to
remain as one in the world of dance. I find immense pleasure in polishing up the skills of
an average dancer who comes to me to learn dance. I can mould her and with
concentrated personal attention, bring up her skills and standards”. With all the
recognition, awards and opportunities, Rhadha is finally getting her due as a
dancer/teacher par excellence.