Guru Indra Rajan has left behind a legacy to cherish. Born in 1943, she was a multifaceted, illustrious exponent of Bharatnatyam, who hailed from a family of dancers and musicians and it was this tradition that she passed onto dancers like me, who trained under her.
I began learning from her in 1978, and lived in gurukula in Sharadapuram in Mylapore, Chennai. Initially, I found it difficult to stay away from the comforts of home, but my passion and Indra amma’s commitment to teaching made me continue with the training. Helping my guru with her daily chores made me realise how dance defined her existence. She would compose jathis even when running errands.
There were two contrasting sides to her personality. A tough taskmaster, she also had a good sense of humour and would often make witty remarks.
One of the experiences closest to my heart is my ‘salangai puja’. The previous evening, after finishing my long practice session, I went to bed early. But at around 12.30 a.m., Indramma woke me up and told me to practise. I danced till 3 a.m. and went back to sleep. However, she woke me at 5.30 a.m. by sprinkling water on my face and said that it was time to practise again. She would say, “Summa viru viru nu irukkanaum (one should always be active).” Her rendering of jathis with vigour, clarity and precision lent an edge to the dance.
Her expertise in laya brought her in touch with vidwan guru Kaaraikudi Mani. The most exciting moment of my life was when guru Mani conceived the idea of a programme that featured three generations — Indra amma, myself and my students.
It has also been a memorable experience for my dancer-daughter, Vyshnavie Sainath, who trained under this legendary guru.
For the past few years, she had been living in a senior citizens home in Coimbatore. Her students from across the globe ensured she led a comfortable life till her last breath. We are grateful to mridangist T. Viswanathan and his family for their support.
That she passed away on International Dance Day (April 29) shows her divine connect with the art.
The writer is a senior Bharatanatyam dancer.