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Vol. XXXIV No. 6, July 1-15, 2024

Prof. C.V. Chandrasekhar – an ­inspiration to all

-- by S. Janaki

He was an icon, a colossus, an inspiration in the field of Bharatanatyam. Prof. C.V. Chandrasekhar was a multifaceted personality – a dancer, choreographer, musician, composer, academician, mentor, and a guru immersed in Bharatanatyam. He performed and taught for almost eight decades in India and across the globe. He was affectionately called CVC Sir and CVC Anna, but to me he’s always “Chandru Mama”.

His parents and my maternal great grandparents were very close familyfriends in Delhi during British times. The bonding has continued down the next generations and Chandru Mama was my local guardian while I was in the hostel studying at Banaras Hindu University. I would occasionally sit and watch him taking dance classes at the Women’s college, but in a year’s time he left for Baroda to serve at the MS University. Our ties got further strengthened when he moved to Chennai in the early nineties and became quite an integral part of Natyarangam’s activities (the dance wing of the Narada Gana Sabha) of which I am a core committee member. He was the Convenor of Natya Sangraham (the three-day residential camp) at Thennangur for almost 20 years, sharing his vast knowledge with generosity and leading by example.

During the late night thinnai sessions there, Chandru Mama, while analysing the dance scene, would regale us with interesting anecdotes, sing songs, mimic and crack jokes, sending us into peals of laughter! His easy informality, approachability, and humility would make us forget that we were in the presence of a legend of Bharatanatyam.

He first performed in Natyarangam’s first thematic festival “Vande Mataram”, with wife Jaya in 1997. They included a lovely duet – a “pudu kavithai” by Vairamuthu which Chandru Mama set to music, not an easy proposition. Next he performed a profound solo on the universality of religions for our thematic festival titled “Bharatham Samanvayam” in 1999. His deep and insightful involvement with Varanasi where he lived, learnt and taught for several years, added lustre to the presentation on the holy city in “Kshetra Bharatham”. It was a grand collaboration between dancer Leela Samson, vocalist Bombay Jayashri and resource person CVC Sir in 2007. Prof. C.V. Chandrasekhar made a memorable presentation on the Guru-Sishya theme for Natyarangam’s “Bandhava Bharatham” in 2012. The final scene is still etched in my memory: As the disciple (played by Sibi Sudarshan) finally stepped out after his gurukulavasam with a lamp in hand, and tearfully looked back for a last glimpse of his Guru, there stood Prof. Chandrasekhar tall and stately in his signature style, his hand raised in blessing, with a profound look that told a thousand tales of profound wisdom. That frozen moment actually epitomised all that C.V. Chandrasekhar the person stood for in real life!

Born on 22 May 1935 in Shimla to Rao Sahib V.A.V. Iyer and Kamala, he was number seven among eight siblings. Chandru was among the first few disciples of Kalakshetra trained in Bharatanatyam by Rukmini Devi, Karaikkal Saradambal, K.N. Dandayudhapani Pillai, Peria Sarada, and Sarada Hoffman, and in music by eminent musicians like Mysore Vasudevachar, Budalur Krishnamurthy Sastrigal, Mudicondan Venkatarama Iyer and M.D. Ramanathan. Holder of a Masters degree in Botany from the Banaras Hindu University, he began giving dance performances from 1947. It was no cakewalk for him, as those days male dancers were frowned upon, teased and labelled as feminine! But he stood his ground and chose Bharatanatyam over Botany. In 1954, he got selected by Sir C.P. Ramaswami Iyer, to go to China as part of a cultural delegation. He continued to perform and teach Bharatanatyam in Banaras.

He moved to MS University, Baroda where he retired as the Dean, Professor and Head of the Department, Faculty of Performing Arts in 1992. He then settled in Chennai with wife Jaya and established the dance school ‘Nrithyasree’. Their daughters, Chitra and Manjari are also accomplished dancers. Well versed in both Carnatic and Hindustani musical genres, he composed the music for all his productions. He has composed jatisvarams, varnams and tillanas which are very popular. His varnam Yennai marandanalo, ninainthu ninainthu, written from the nayaka’s point of view, is very popular with the gen-next male dancers. He has also created new movements based totally on the basic Bharatanatyam technique. Famous for his perfect araimandi, angasuddham, stamina, subtle abhinaya and excellent choreography, he was an inspiration for every dancer, and a mentor for male dancers. His sartorial tastes were highly aesthetic and impeccable. His dance and life were marked by dignity, decorum, elegance, equanimity and righteousness. He made no compromises, nor did he seek favours.

Greatness sat lightly on him. As one of the leading performers and choreographers of Bharatanatyam, he won laurels nationally and internationally, also representing India in several international festivals. He served on several committees and government bodies dealing with fine arts. His workshops and lecdems revealed a wealth of knowledge. His major works of choreography include Ritu Samharam and Meghadutam of Kalidasa, Bhoomija (Ramayana), Aparajita (Devi Mahatmiyam), Pancha Maha Bhoota, Aarohanam, Bhramarageet, and Kreeda. He drew inspiration from nature and happenings around him.

Prof. C.V. Chandrasekhar receiving the Padma Bhushan award.

He was a recipient of several prestigious awards such as the Padma Bhushan, Sangita Kala Acharya (Music Academy), Central Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Puraskar, Natya Kalanidhi (Abhai), Nritya Ratnakara (Cleveland, USA), Nritya Choodamani (Sri Krishna Gana Sabha), Nadabrahmam (Narada Gana Sabha), Kalidas Samman from the Madhya Pradesh state government, as well as awards of the States of Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Kalaimamani from Tamil Nadu.

He was a stickler for perfection. He believed that the beauty and essence of Indian classical dance lies in its grammar, technique and tradition. He appreciated all genres of classical natyam and respected the special features in different banis of Bharatanatyam. He would say: “There is only good dancing and bad dancing, and I cannot put up with the latter.” He did not subscribe to sensationalism and change for the sake of change, but felt it should happen organically.

He was a gentleman and a compleat artiste. His depiction of sringara was always subtle and divine. I remember his performance with wife Jaya, of the Panchavati scene from the Ramayana way back in 1978 during the golden jubilee celebrations of the Indian School of Mines in Dhanbad, Bihar (now Jharkhand). It was such a beautiful, subtle and sensitive portrayal that the entire audience, including the villagers living around the campus, felt that the divine couple Rama and Sita had descended on earth.

When Chandru Mama danced Natanam Aadinaar, he filled the space with dynamic grace. His expansive movements, perfect lines, his core never shifting from the brahmasutra even as he performed the most complex adavus – he was like a Nataraja bronze come alive!

The passing away of veteran Bharatanatyam exponent and guru Prof. C.V. Chandrasekhar on June 19, 2024 is an irreparable loss – it is the end of an era. Dance being his very breath, he must now be dancing the sapta tandava along with Lord Nataraja Himself.

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