Hyderabad-based Bharatanatyam Mentor Manjula Ramaswamy Receives Prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi Award

In a nation where classical dance is as evocative and pervasive as its rich cultural heritage, exceptional contributors to the traditional arts frequently bear the torch of ancestral legacy and creative evolution. Among such luminaries, veteran Bharatanatyam guru Manjula Ramaswamy stands distinguished as the recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi award for 2022-23. This accolade celebrates her substantial contribution to the classical dance form of Bharatanatyam.

The prestigious ceremony held on March 6, 2024, at Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi, was presided over by none other than President Droupadi Murmu, who personally honoured the 66-year-old director of Hyderabad-based dance institute Sri Rama Nataka Niketan. As she spoke with the media after returning to Hyderabad, Manjula expressed her heartfelt elation. “I derive immense satisfaction from witnessing my students’ triumphs,” she said. “Such success is a gratifying reward. However, the honor bestowed upon me by the president serves as additional encouragement to persistently shape and guide my disciples.”

The Bharatanatyam maven’s decision to attire herself in a nine-yard Kanjeevaram sari—adhering to the traditional Tanjore Iyer style—and to approach the stage barefoot deeply resonated with the crowd, earning their admiration. Manjula’s choices were not merely aesthetic; they were steeped in a philosophy of reverence. “The stage is sacred for me, and this sacredness requires reverence, which is why I chose to be barefoot,” she explained, shedding light on her profound respect for the performance space.

Manjula Ramaswamy began her journey as a guru exceptionally early, at the tender age of 10. Although she did not foresee this path, fate carved this role for her as she began learning and assisting her father, the late V.S. Ramamoorthy—a renowned teacher who instructed numerous disciples. Under his tutelage, Manjula’s repute burgeoned, particularly noted for her innovative choreographies. Numerous students under her mentorship have achieved laurels in competitions and captivated audiences on TV reality shows, championing the authentic form of Bharatanatyam.

The loss of her centenarian father marked the beginning of a new era for Manjula, as she found herself faced with the gigantic task of filling his shoes. The journey was demanding, yet she accepted the challenge with open arms, motivated by her drive to propagate his illustrious legacy. “Each new batch of students brought unique challenges,” Manjula recalls, “but shaping young talent and leading them through our art form’s subtleties has always been both a privilege and a duty.” As the years passed, the labours of her dedication bore fruit, with her students bringing accolades to the institute, thereby honouring the pedagogues, their families, and the cultural vibrancy of the state of Telangana.

The Sangeet Natak Akademi award stands not just as an emblem of her individual prowess but as a testament to the enduring spirit of classical Indian dance arts. It illuminates the dedicated mentorship of gurus like Manjula Ramaswamy, who not only preserve the dance form’s sanctity and discipline but also embolden it to flower in contemporary soil. Her narrative is one of unyielding passion, an inspiration for the many dancing feet that follow in rhythm behind her—a story woven into the sophisticated and captivating tapestry that is Bharatanatyam.

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