With her dedication to classical Bharatnatyam and her desire to explore beyond the known turf, Manjula Ramaswamy is the ideal guru one can ask for. And indeed she is, as students of her Sri Rama Nataka Niketan in Secunderabad will tell you. The guru, however, prefers to give credit to the students who earned a place in the Limca Book of World Records for their hour-long dance performance—Deepa Tarangini—on clay pot, in December 2009. The 48 students performed on brass plate and inverted mud pots, with three small brass pots on their head and lit candles in their hands. They bettered it in 2011 by presenting 50 students for the Indian World Records.
“The institute has been presenting Deepa Tarangini since 1980. The lit candles are based on the concept of dispelling the darkness of ignorance,” says guru Manjula who is the daughter of eminent natyacharya, guru VS Ramamoorthy.
Known for its mythological ballets, the Sri Rama Nataka Niketan has helped young dancers to perfect their creative expressions. Since its launch in 1970, the institute has been nurturing talents through disciplined training structure; they are taught every aspect of the classical Bharatnatyam. But guru Manjula has been pushing the frontiers too. She recently attracted attention with her fusion of classical Bharatnatyam and bhajan. The result was a Bhajan Ballet that 50 dancers from the Niketan performed to the tunes of Art of Living bhajans. “The Bhajan Ballet highlighted the integration of high art in the form of Bharatnatyam with bhajans, the common man’s expression of devotion,” explains Manjula.
For the 54-year-old guru, dance has become her “soulmate.” Recalling how it all began she says, “My father used to casually ask me to demonstrate the adavus while teaching the same to his students. It was then that he realised that I have a natural flair for dance, and decided that I start learning.” So, starting at the age of eight, Manjula first performed on the stage in 1970 in Chennai (then Madras). She received her initial training in Bharatnatyam from the late Padma Shri KN Dandayudhapani Pillai, and then under her father, guru Ramamoorthy.
We ask her about the secrets for her engrossing dance style. “The secret of striking a perfect balance in both nritya and abhinaya lies in sheer practice and dedication towards the art which involves a lot of time, effort, energy and passion. Once this balance is attained, the dance reveals itself as pure ecstasy, equating with an innate spirituality that brings a perfect synchronisation between the mind and the body,” explains Manjula who is known for her mastery over bhavas and abhinayas.
And that is something she has passed on to her daughter Ramya Sudarsan, and her five-year-old granddaughter, Varsha, who has begun to get the hang of it.