||Natyacharya Muralidhara Rao (1924), an eminent
exponent of the Pandanallur school of Bharata Natya, has given it a new
dimension through his research and experiments. In his continuous pursuit
of beauty, he draws inspiration from classics, other forms of arts and
finally from life itself. Publicity shy, wedded to art only ("I was too
busy to think of marriage at any time!"), a loner, and an eternal wanderer
having no home anywhere he has grown into a phenomenon.
Karnataka Sangeeta Nritya Academy with the Hindustani vocal maestro Gangubai Hanagal as President decided to celebrate the Purandara Aradhanotsava at Mysore on a grand scale and in a novel way (1984). Is there anyone to enact the Saint's life and message through the dance medium choreographing Purandara-kritis only? Rao accepted the challenge with humility; worked with assiduous tenacity and forged a new technique for the show in the simultaneous three tier presentation, Purandara would stand witness to the unfolding drama, the meaning of the text would be enacted in the second tier, and the spiritual overtones dovetailed to it in the third tier. Gangubai remarked "Only a visionary backed by pragmatism and life's experience could produce such a miracle. In those four-odd hours the Saint and his message elevated us to transcendental heights."
Katia Legeret, a French girl, saw in Paris the Bharata Natya performance of Amaladevi, also French, a disciple and accompanying dancer of Ramgopal. Hypnotized, she wanted to get to the core of this ancient Indian art. Katia, 26, came to India in search of a Guru who would quench her intellectual thirst. Mere reference to standard texts or traditional books would not satiate her curiosity. With an assumed Indian name Manochchaya she roamed in the South Indian states and finally landed at Mysore (1985). As luck would have it she stumbled on. Muralidhara Rao whose Midas touch turned this base metal into a golden ornament. "The mechanical perfection one can achieve in the Western classical dance leaves one spiritually blank. Not so in Bharata Natya : it is the dance of the soul, the external manifestation of the internal joy" she says.
It was a conventional Bharata Natya recital at the Ravindra Kalakshetra (1990). The teenager Nandini (now Nandini Rangan in the US) displayed there such refreshing originality, that it made the master of the Pandanallur school, U.K.Chandrabhaga Devi, to rush to the Nattuvanar Guru Muralidhara Rao and exclaim "The announcement says the girl is groomed in the Pandanallur style. But here I have witnessed a new and welcome offshoot of it. Sure, it needs to be named after you."
That is precisely the way Rao trains his pupils : creative and inspiring, introducing the soul of Bharata Natya into new themes and situation, drawing out the best in the disciples, and strictly traditional yet inspiringly innovative.
When commercialization, vulgarization and selling Bharata Natya though
cosmetic dressings have gripped this ancient art and are eroding its vitals,
he stands aloof as a referee, and arbiter and an authority who can give
it proper motivation, meaning and direction. His solid contribution Nrityaloka
serves as a watershed for the Bharata Natya stream