Guru Kandappa Pillai

From Thanjavur came the great Kandappa Pillai in the late 20th Century, with a lineage to boast of.

Guru Kandappa Pillai was himself the inheritor of a great tradition. For over six generations, the family were nattuvanars and dance teachers. Kandappa’s great great great Grandfather Gangamuthu must have been a contemporary of Papamamal. Two generations later come the celebrated Tanjore Quartet- Chinnaiyya, Ponnaiyya, Vadivelu and Sivanandam- all of them teachers and composers of the highest standards. Kandappan was the great grandson of Chinnaiyya, the eldest of the Quartet. Kandappan’s father, Nellayappan (1854-1906) was perhaps the finest teacher of his time. Kandappan, born in 1899, died prematurely in 1941 at the age of 42. The tragedy of his early death is alleviated only by the fact that he trained with a devotion rare, even in those days of dedicated teachers.

He produced many students, the most famous one being Bala Saraswati, whose Arangetram he conducted when she was just seven years old. Kandappa’s son, Ganeshan Pillai , was trained in music and dance in Jayammal’s house. He became Balasaraswati’s Nattuvanaar at an early age as he was left with Bala at a very young age by Kandappa.

In the Kandappa technique, all the technical sections, from the basic steps to the items of the repertoire were always taught by Ganeshan, exactly how Kandappa used to teach. The teaching had a smooth methodology where one had to understand the details in a gradual process and progress accordingly. Once the student had perfected the nritta co-ordination, for mastering the entire technical repertoire, he would first begin with the sabdam and proceed slowly to the other items—the lyrical part of the varnam, the padams and javali. The tempo of the song had to be followed firmly by just walking along with the song. Then later the hand movements were set for each padam. Nritta was very rigorous in the real sense of the term. The training of basic steps with only the footwork went on for at least two years. After the footwork, hand gestures and movements (mudras and hastas) were added gradually. By the time the student was ready for the alarippu, at least three-four years of basic training would have been completed. The margam, as it is now termed was of prime importance in this tradition. A very important aspect of this technique was its equal emphasis on both nritta (pure dance) and abhinaya (interpretative dance).

Kandappa also briefly worked in Almora with Uday Shankar and helped create modern Indian fusion Dance along with many other illustrious Gurus of different classical styles. He also taught Bharatnatyam to Amala Shankar.

He had a short life , but, in that time span, he greatly contributed to the field of Bharatnatyam.