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B. Bhanumathi — An endearing guru

B. Bhanumathi’s democratic approach to learning helped her students gain insight and confidence

It was a warm summer morning in Bengaluru. I took the metro from Malleshwaram to Jayanagar and arrived at Nrityakalamandiram, the dance school established by the renowned B. Bhanumathi. I straightened the pleats of my practice sari and held my breath as I slowly opened the squeaky wooden door.

Guru B. Bhanumathi

I saw a group of children learning dance steps in a far corner of the spacious room. Some girls in salwar-kameez were laughing and helping each other with stretches. Another cohort was busy memorising sollukattus sitting on the the red mosaic floor. If I had to describe the mood in that room, it would be one of joy of learning and the warmth of the guru. The veteran dancer-guru passed away on May 24.

Beginning her journey in dance at the age of 10, she trained under legendary gurus K.N. Dandayuthapani Pillai, Kalanidhi Narayanan and Venkatalakshamma. A shot put player in school, she was inspired by the inimitable Kamala Lakshman to puruse Bharatanatyam. Well defined movements and subtle and effective abhinaya defined Bhanumathi’s dance.

Undeterred zeal

A stickler for tradition, her commitment to maintaining the authenticity of K.N. Dandayuthapani Pillai’s compositions was well-known. Unlike some of his other students who established careers in cinema, Bhanumathi, who came from a humble background, remained focussed on dance. Her journey wasn’t without challenges. In several interviews and during conversations, she indicated the struggles she faced in vadyar’s class, but she did not give up.

Bhanumathi’s greatest contribution, however, was her ability to nurture students and pass on her craft with patience, love, precision and humility. “When she would tell us to perform at an event, we wouldn’t even ask where the performance is or who the organiser is,” says Rashmitha Nair, one of her senior students. “That was the trust we had in her. We would just show up.”

Preethi Bharadwaj recalls how the guru never stopped her from performing with other dance troupes. “She would always encourage me. She was generous and wanted her students to gain as much knowledge as they could.”

Her students also point out her endearing and fun-loving side. They remember how she once drove a car wearing a helmet since she had forgotten to remove it after a two-wheeler drive. Or how she would sometimes forget the venue of the performance.

She was part of the textbook committee on dance in Karnataka, besides contributing to help document Dandayuthapani Pillai’s legacy. One of her productions, ‘Bharatanjali’, likely her most successful group choreography, was presented across the world. She won many awards, including the Rajyotsava, Karnataka Kalashree, and Shantala Natya Sri.

As guru Bhanumathi walked into the room, there was a definite shift in energy. We students stood in parallel lines and her thattukazhi guided our invocatory item. When I went to take her blessings on my first day in class, she whispered in Tamil in my ears: “Be gentle with yourself. The strength and endurance will come.”

The author is a performer

and researcher.

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