Born on 12 January 1944 to Alamelu and K Viswanathan in Bangalore, Lakshmi Viswanathan belonged to a family well known for its association with the classical arts, and the Thanjavur tradition in particular.
She began her tutelage in dance under Guru Kausalya of the Vazhuvur Ramaiya Pillai school. Later she trained under Guru Kanchipuram Ellappa. She was also taught by Courtallam Ganesa Pillai and Sankari Krishnan of the Thanjavur Kittappa Pillai school.
Lakshmi Viswanathan trained in music under her mother and later was taught by Tediyur Narayanaswami, Thiruvaiyyaru Krishnamurthy, and Sangita Kala Acharya T Mukta. Her dance arangetram was in 1952 and presided over by E Krishna Iyer, founder secretary of the Music Academy, Madras.
Deep knowledge of music, dance
Lakshmi Viswanathan’s dance, known for its in-depth research and scholarly approach, won her accolades the world over, and she performed in numerous national and international venues.
Beginning with the traditional margam, she moved on to thematic solo performances, group shows, and dance theatre productions.
As she grew older, Lakshmi chose to focus on abhinaya, the mimetic aspect of dance. This made her art most sublime and it was a delight to watch her perform.
Lakshmi was a great presenter of lecture demonstrations, where her deep knowledge of music and dance, combined with her fluency in language and sense of humour made her a huge success.
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Lakshmi Viswanathan’s books
A graduate and gold medallist in English Literature from the Queen Mary’s College, Madras, Lakshmi was also a writer, with newspaper columns and books to her credit.
Having spent much of her childhood in Mylapore, the Kapaliswarar Temple there was very important to Lakshmi. She made it a point to attend as many of its festivals as possible.
This led to her writing a comprehensive account of the shrine and its year-long events. Kapaliswara temple, the sacred site of Mylapore was the book and it came out in 2006.
Lakshmi also penned a tribute to MS Subbulakshmi. Lavishly produced with many photographs, this was published by Roli Books and was titled Kunjamma, Ode to a Nightingale.
Being steeped in Bharatanatyam and a scholar in that art form apart from being one of its foremost practitioners, Lakshmi was a serious student of its Devadasi heritage. This led to a monumental work of hers: Women of Pride, published in 2008 by Roli.
Uncompromising ode to subtlety, beauty in classical art
Looked upon as a dancer’s dancer, Lakshmi Viswanathan was an iconic personality with the rare intellectual capacity to communicate the whole gamut of Bharatanatyam’s beauty, classicism and intensity to a global audience.
Her commitment to excellence over several decades made her dance an uncompromising ode to subtlety and beauty in classical art.
The Music Academy, Madras conferred on her the Nritya Kalanidhi in 2018. Lakshmi was also a member of the Music Academy, Madras since 1984 and also served as vice president on its executive committee from 1998 to 2011.
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(V Sriram is secretary, Music Academy. He is also a historian and author)
(A shorter version of this article was originally published on the Music Academy website)