Hyderabad-based Bharatanatyam dancer and founder of Shree Narayani Natyalaya, Santhosh Kumar Thamang, speaking to Natyahsini, shares that the mantra of achieving success lies in respecting Gurus and learning the Art to lead a happy life. “Learn the Art to know and love the Art. Shradhawan Labadhe Gyanam (He who has shradha will gain Knowledge), and Knowledge leads to bhakti and bhakti leads to mukti,” says Thamang.
Despite facing stiff resistance from parents and siblings, Santhosh Kumar Thamang stepped into learning Classical Dance at the age of 11 years from a school in the vicinity he stayed. “I have been interested in dance since my school days and always participated in the school annual day celebrations. After joining a dance school near my house, later I enrolled under Guru TK Narayan. At that time, dance was considered a female subject. I had to struggle for years,” recalls the dimpled dancer. Thamang relocated from Kolkata to Hyderabad to stay with his parents after his father retired from Transco. On his parents appreciating his dance now, Thamang says: “My father still feels that I have wasted my life learning dance like any other father. But my mother enjoys my dancing.”
Guru’s Advice: Reliving his dancing journey, Thamang states that he is imparting dance techniques taught by his Guru TK Narayan. “I learned under him for nearly two decades which includes three years of gurukula vasam. After my three-year graduation in Commerce from Osmania University, I devoted the next three years to learning dance,” he says. Thamang says that his Guru not only taught him dance but taught him the inner aspect of dance and how to lead a life with dance. “He taught me to love my art and be devoted to the art form,” he says with pride.
Santhosh Kumar says that his next Guru, Amma Jayalakshmi was a mother figure to him. “She taught me abhinaya and music, how to dance with music, which are the compositions suited to kids, men and women and girls. She taught me to be patient and be a student for life,” he says. Thamang adds that learning under Chandrashekar Sir was mostly in workshops conducted by him. “Later, I went to Chennai and learned under him for a short period. With Pasumarthy Ramalinga Sastry Sir, I had a different bond. He is a Guru of high calibre. Under his guidance, I learnt how to refine the compositions and how to compose dance and jathis. Also, how to compose dance for ballets and big dance productions. Lots of creative work was taught to me by Ramalinga Sastry. I was under him for two years when I was doing my MPA in Central University of Hyderabad,” says the Bharatanatyam devotee.
Quit Studies: On discontinuing general studies after graduating in Commerce, Thamang says that it was tough to cope with dance and school and then college. “I remember, I used to sleep only for four hours and the rest of the time was spent in education and travelling. In the early 90s, we shifted from Yousufguda to Serilingampally Doyens Township, while my Guru stayed in Alwal. So daily travelling and attending evening college was tough. After Graduation, I left studies and was 24X7 learning dance,” says the artist.
Santhosh Kumar says that both his Gurus, and his Guru’s Guru, Parama Guru Muthu Kumar Pillai of Kattumannar Koil left a lasting impression as a male dancer. “Parama Guru, Muthu Kumar Pillai was popularly known as tatha. My guru spoke about him every day, his struggle and his dance life. He also said that tatha was a perfectionist and very planned and very knowledgeable, but very simple. They lived the ripe old age with devotion to Art and that has changed my approach towards my own life,” confesses Thamang.
Expressing about the characters he depicts on stage, the Bharatanatyam dancer says that he chooses to be a devotee when he dances. “When I do vatsalya, I become a mother and when I do ashtapadi, I become Radha and Krishna, so when I do a bhajan, I become Meera Bai and Tulsi Das or Tyagaraja. Characters are just a thought to me. At the end of the day, it’s the approach that a dancer can convert into different characters,” he says with a twinkle in his eye.