Learning Under Hema Aunty Was A Most Cherished Experience: Sathvika

Sathvika Ranganathan, an alumnus of The Hyderabad Public School, Begumpet and St Francis College, began learning the Vazhuvoor baani of Bharatanatyam under the able guidance of Late Guru Hemamalini Arni in Hyderabad, since the age of six years. Sathvika returns to perform in the Nawabi city, on the first day of the three-day South Indian Cultural Association, (SICA)Hyderabad programme, beginning on Monday 29 August 2022, at Ravindra Bharathi. Speaking exclusively to Natyahasini, Sathvika Ranganathan, says that she is very excited because it is like dancing at home; the stage, the city and people are all very familiar to her. “I am grateful to SICA Hyderabad for this opportunity and for making it a physical event thereby bringing back audiences to the physical space,” she says. 

The Chennai-based dancer says that she is performing in Hyderabad after many years and going to miss two people who were the biggest influence in her dancing life – her mother Vathsala Ranganathan and Guru Hemamalini Arni, both of whom are not with her physically now, but whose blessings she will carry wherever she is. 

Sathvika her mother and Guru Hema

Sharing her dance journey, Sathvika says, she was initiated into Bharatanatyam at the age of six. According to her, at that age, children don’t have choices. “My mother, who was from the city of Chidambaram had always wanted me to learn dance and that is how it started,” she says. Sathvika says: “Learning under Hema Aunty (as we fondly called her) was one of the most cherished experiences of my dancing journey and a big part of my childhood. Through school and college, Bharatanatyam classes were part of my weekly routine. She was in her 60s when I met her but the age gap was something I never felt. She commanded a certain friendship and respect from each of her students and we all admired her way of life and thinking. Her classes were filled with warmth as she often narrated experiences from her learning in Madras under stalwarts Vazhuvoor Ramiah Pillai and T Balasaraswathi,” says the dancer. 

Personal Touch: Sathvika explains that Hema aunty would always teach abhinaya individually to each student, and also pick items suited for the dancer. “Before going up on stage for every performance, she would say, ‘Just enjoy yourself’ and those words were very important for me. I can hear her saying it even now,” she says. 

After Sathvika moved to Chennai, few years later, Hema aunty visited Chennai, and invited her for lunch and after the meal asked her to perform a piece. “I remember doing the alãrippu in her sister’s living room for her and we both got teary eyed.  It was indeed one of the most difficult and emotional moments for me, because leaving Hyderabad, meant leaving her dance classes. Watching her few years ago at The Madras Music Academy present a lecture on her journey with T Balasaraswati was wonderful,” recalls the dancer. 

At the age of 12 years, Sathvika performed her arangetram at Ravindra Bharathi, and recalling it fondly, she says: “Thyagaraja’s pancharatna krithi Saadinchene O Manasa was my main piece along with Jayadeva’s ashtapadi Ratisukha Saare amongst other items. Also, I cherish memories of its review, a rare phenomenon those days, which appeared in a prominent newspaper. 

Sathvika, who pursued her Masters at Sastra University under Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam’s guidance, says that it gave her an insight into the rich Indian history and heritage. “At the end of the course, I came out being prouder of being Indian, than before. Apart from an insight into her style and learning several items of composers across ages, we had the opportunity to learn about temple architecture, Indian Philosophy and History,” she says. 

The Chennai-based dancer further reveals that it was a lovely co-incidence that she re-learnt two pieces learnt from Hema aunty all over again through her choreography. “Since, my Masters was a distance education programme, it was definitely hectic to learn choreographies and theory over weekend classes. And having a job along with a toddler in tow, it was hectic but at the same time rewarding to reconnect with dance after a break,” she says, quickly adding that of course the nervousness of dancing practical exams in front of Padhu akka, gave her the goosebumps and even now when she recalls it. “I feel grateful to have been in her presence and for the opportunity to listen to her lectures,” she states.  

Vazhuvoor baani Perfection: Sathvika continues to practise the Vazhuvoor baani under Uma Sathyanrayanan, who is a student of Padma Shri Chitra Visweswaran who also hails from the Vazhuvoor Parampara. She says: “It is a wonderful experience learning with such an experienced performer who belongs to a wonderful legacy of the Vazhuvoor style. Uma ma’am is also a well-versed singer herself and pays a lot of attention to the musicality of the pieces. And being an active performer herself, my learning comes from watching her in performance. She teaches us choreographies of her Guru, with insights into her guru’s vast body of work and style.  I feel fortunate to be guided by her guru Padma Shri Chitra Visweswaran for this performance. Dancing in front of Chitra akka has been a blessing and I am grateful to my teacher for this opportunity.” 

The Bharatanatyam dancer admits that her father is a big support and has been a part of her artistic journey and continues to support her. “During the years, I wasn’t dancing or learning, I had the rich experience of working in Aalaap, an arts management company in Chennai. Working closely with Indian classical artistes and organisations across India gave me a lot of exposure to the field of arts. It kept me ever so close to music and dance. I got to meet and work with some of the most accomplished artistes in dance and music,” she says. 

Still undecided about pursuing a Ph.D, Sathvika says her future plans include continuous learning and practising the art form. 

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