Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, the legendary Bharatnatyam dancer is a rare combination of a dancer, research scholar, choreographer, music composer & musician, teacher, author and indologist. She is now the director of ‘Nrithyodaya’- the dance school founded in 1942 by her father, in Chennai.
Padma grew up in an environment where both her parents were artistically inclined. Her father K. Subrahmanyam was an internationally reputed film director, freedom fighter and a parental personality in the cultural field while her mother Meenakshi was a dancer, choreographer, instrumentalist and a lyricist in Sanskrit and Tamil.
Padma Subrahmanyam started learning dance under Kausalya, a young teacher at Nrityodaya. Later, she came under the wings of guru Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai. She had her ‘arangetram’ (first performance) in 1956, since then she has given innumerable performances in concerts conducted by her guru, her school in India and toured abroad extensively during the past three decades. Meanwhile she continued her formal college education. She has had a number of gurus especially during her research- Guru Dandayuthapani Pillai and the various Devadasis from whom she learned ’ adavus’, Gowri Ammal from whom she learnt ‘abhinaya’ being some of them. Padma has also trained in music under B.V. Lakshman and Salil Chaudhry.
Padma has a Bachelor’s degree in Music, Master’s in Ethno Musicology and Ph.D in dance from Annamalai University. As a research scholar she did her thesis on ‘Karanas in Indian dance and sculpture’ and highlighted the fact that the 108 Karanas (which is the basic units of dance) are actually movements and not just static poses. She has also designed the sculptures of the 108 Karanas of Lord Siva and Goddess Parvati in black granite for the Nataraja temple at Satara in Maharashtra. She has given several solo and group presentations such as ’ Meenakshi Kalyanam’, ’ Viralimalai Kuravanji’, ‘Silappadikaram’, ’ Vande Mataram’ etc. and composed music for most of her compositions and sung for a couple of albums. She was the first dancer to introduce ‘Pushpanjali’ as a dance piece and to use a ‘meera bhajan’ to be scored to suit the grammar of ‘Pada Varnam’ and has revived the mono acting technique in her dance dramas. She has also composed the first Bengali Varnam, set to the lyrics by Salil Chaudhry. She has numerous articles, research papers and travelogues to her credit like ‘Bharata’s Art – then and now’, ‘Bharatakkalai Kotpadu’ (in Tamil), ‘Natya Sastra and National Unity’ and ‘Kanchi Mahaswami’s Vision of Asian Culture’. She has written ‘Legacy of a Legend’ which is a collection of articles by her.
Padma Subramanyam has many awards and honours to her credit including ‘Padma Bhushan’, ‘Padmashri’, ‘Sangeet Natak Akademi Award’, ‘Kalaimamani Award’ from Govt. of Tamilnadu, ‘Kalidas Samman’ from Govt. of Madhya Pradesh, ‘Nada Brahmam’ from Narada Gana Sabha in Chennai, ‘Bharata Sastra Rakshamani’ and so on. She has also received the prestigious ‘Fukuoka Asian Cultural Prize’ from Japan for her contribution to development and harmony in Asia. She has served as a non-official member of the Indo-Sub-commission for education and culture.
This multi faceted and multi talented artist enchants viewers with her perfect gestures, timing, expressions and original ideas. Famous in India as well as abroad, several films and documentaries have been made in her honour by countries like Japan, Australia and Russia. She imparts her immense knowledge to others by teaching dance, conducting workshops, giving lectures, doing research and writing articles.