Rajee Narayan is perhaps the only guru who's equally at ease with both music and dance. She's been teaching both at her Nritya Geethanjali Academy in Bombay for the past 25 years. Kinnari profiles this unique combination of talents.

Nritya Geethanjali, a music and dance academy in this metropolis, turns 25 on 29 August. A colourful feast for the eyes awaits the Bombay rasikas.

Rajee Narayan's story might seem like a fairy tale but it is very much a saga of sweat and tears. It is the story of one born and cradled amidst a musical environment and exposed to art even as a child to emerge an outstanding artiste-teacher-choreographer-conductor and composer, all rolled into one, keeping with the times and trends and yet not compromising on the traditional values of art.

Nritya Geethajali, for a Bombayite presents the rare academy of music and dance under one roof and one teacher. It has to its credit a Nattuvangam training course and a publication of dance margams, Nritya Geetha Mala, that has proved to be more than a handbook and guide in the practical enunciations, choreography, etc. to students and teachers of this art form. Besides quite some numbers of commemorative dance presentations dedicated to doyen-composers plus dance-dramas such as Uthukkadu Ganamritham, Bharati Paamaalai, Gejje Uilivu, Shiva Leela and Krishna Leela choreographed to Marathi lyrics come to one's mind, not to speak of the mini classical-folk blend ballets like Parijatham and Kolattam Jotrai.

Born the last of eleven children to Narayan Iyer and Gangammal, Rajee was brought up on fine arts even before she could learn the alphabets. Her home could be called a living art emporium - sisters Neela, specialising in Bharatanatyam and Sulochana, in music, brothers in dramatics and dance, father a lyricist-poet producing his own drama with an all family cast and mother, though an orthodox housewife was a musician in her own right, singing for Harikatha of Cuddapah Lakshmi Ammal, a well-known figure in the cultural renaissance.

Skipping the basic lessons little Rajee straightway started with keertaas from her mother and the dance numbers from sister. Those were the days when "dancers were few and opportunities many" to quote her. "Children from respectable families were actually drawn into the art form and invited to perform at weddings and social functions, the sabhas being very few then", she says.

With all the training at home and encouragement from without, she cut her first disc at four singing Muthiah Bhagavathar's "Ikanataala jaalanuraa" (Hari-kambhoji) and "Neraminchi" (Shankarabharanam), a Garbhapuri composition. She also had opportunities to dance, especially for War fund campaigns. Her intensive coaching in music took off in her teens, from her sister Sulochana Mahadevan and later Turaiyur Rajagopala Sarma and in dance from sister Neela Balasubramaniam and Smt. Lalitha of Saraswati Gana Nilayam. Rajee had a stint of learning the piano as well for a couple of years and Western dance while a student of Church Park Convent, Madras.

Though her stay in Madurai in the Fifties was short due to the untimely death of her husband, Rajee received, many laurels on the concert platform. Her association then with the erudite composer Ambujam Krishna stimulated the composer in her and probably sowed the seeds of her Nritya Geeta mala.

In between attending to an ailing husband, she also managed her music concerts both classical and light classical. Playback singing and AIR broadcasts were also included. But after her husband's death music became her very life. Only the priorities shifted from concerts to classes, to which she added the teaching of dance as well.

There is no specific bani (school) one can attribute Rajee's dance to. "I follow mostly Tanjavur style that Lalitha taught me though I cannot do away with Pandanallur stances which had got into my blood stream having learnt my early lessons from my sister Neela", says Rajee. "And I am not averse to other styles as I was exposed to Oriental dances which were the rage when I came on the scene. I do occasionally borrow stances from them for my costume plays and make slight concessions in choreographing bhajans in classical format."

What brought her to distant Bombay?? "Certainly not any fascinations as such, but for my son's future and for having an institution of my own, my dream for long," says Rajee. Though offers came her way in Madras, too, especially from the industrial house of TVS, she did not want to set up an additional institution parallel to that of her sister's or her guru's. The need for a school of dance and music under one roof and the necessity for a livelihood for her made Bombay her new home. "But earning a livelihood", she hastens to add, "has not deviated me from my convictions and principles." On no account was she prepared to compromise on her art. An instance is the Nattuvangam course; true she teaches the students the basics right from the alphabets and trains them to wield the cymbals but not before an exacting test and a hundred per cent perfect score in that. For, in rhythm there can be no relative grading, either it is right on the dot or it is not.

The release of Nritya Geetha Mala in 1985 has sure been a milestone in the career of Rajee Narayan, for there is no composite song book that is almost a 'dance in print'. What inspired her into this venture? "Two factors impelled me into the venture." Rajee observes. "First, my own thirst for choreographing new songs, ones which had not been handled earlier. My attempts were well received and my efforts appreciated by gurus and critics and I took courage to widen my horizon composing songs varnams in rare talas, based on traditional themes but with my ideas. Second, the need of the day, especially for the new entrants who had got into the teaching line without being fully equipped for it and who sought my advice for songs, books and guidance. It was not for me to decide whether they were fit to be teachers or not. I felt like helping them." And thus was born Nritya Geetha Mala with 25 songs in Tamil, English and Devanagari scripts with meaning, notation, tala counts, Jati variations, solkattu korvais, etc.

Hailed both by dancers and dance teachers, the book fulfills the musical requirements and applies to visualising technique, too. "The music and lyrics had the approbation of Sangita Kalanidhi K. S. Narayanaswamy who had advised me to use certain ragas and Kalaimamani T. K. Mahalingam Pillai spontaneously did abhinaya when I sang a few pieces for him and this is more than a blessing to me." says Guru Rajee Narayan who has just entered her sixtieth year.

The real blessing is a guru like Rajee Narayan, an anachronism in this age.

28th August, 1990. Indian Express