E Krishna Iyer’s contribution to Bharatha Natyam
Sathir dance was the basic origin of Bharatha Natyam. When the Tamil
temple dance Sathir reached a stage of almost closure, quite number of
reformers came forward with firm determination to rescue the art form,
and tried to revive the art. By reforming art in a disciplinary manner
by removing the entire social stigma attached to the art. Among them the
most outstanding personality who contributed considerably to reform the
art was E Krishna Iyer.
Krishna Iyer was born on August 9, 1897, in the Thirunelveli district
of Tamil Nadu. He gained fame getting involved in the Indian freedom
He mobilized the public by singing Indian patriotic songs, enacted by
Subramaniya Bharathi. In 1926 he toured the whole South India. His
powerful voice impressed the public. To pass his message he dressed
himself as a female and danced on the stages to create vigilance among
the public, understand the worth and value of the national art form and
patriotic culture of the land, during the alien rule.
Female dancers adds galmour to
He had his education at the St Xavier College, and passed out as a
lawyer from Madras Law College in the Year 1922. Yet E. Krishna Iyer was
an advocate by profession. He learnt the traditional art forms under
various outstanding experts. He learned the classical music under
Papankulam Neelakanda Iyer and Srinivasa Iyer.
To revive the traditional dance, he learnt Sathir, from Jagathambal a
celebrated Sathir dancer. And further he learned some more dance lessons
under the Bhgavatha Mela exponent Mellatur Nadesa Iyer. He was an
excellent and exceptional writer. Through his exceptional writing skills
also he induced the public to understand aesthetic value of the divine
dance. Being an exceptional writer and good educationist he delivered a
series of public lectures including lecture demonstrations to make the
general public to understand the essence of dance.
His simple living and he always preferred to dress himself in a
typical Indian manner with Khadi dress. His simple living as a socialist
further attracted the general public in the national movement of India.
During the first quarter of twentieth century, Sathir was, with certain
modification, renamed as Bharatha Natyam. In Kalidasa’s epic
‘Malavikagnimithra’, he acted himself as Malavika and revealed the art
world that he was a matchless actor and excellent dancer. Many times, he
dressed himself as a female and danced.
He organized an All India Music Conference in 1926. He was also one
of the founder members of Madras Music Academy, which was founded in
1928. He wanted to have a dance program of Tiruvalliputtur Kalyani's two
daughters. It became a major issue during those days between the two
factions: anti Nautch movement and the supporters of pro Nautch
He arranged a dance program for those two sisters in 1933, and the
program was well received by the public. As a result, the music academy
started approving the spiritual value of dance and gave a respectable
status to the art.
E. Krishna Iyer was not only a social and cultural reformist but also
a nationalist. Those who opposed his earlier efforts started
appreciating his efforts in cultural reforms. The foremost among them
was Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy who criticized Krishna Iyer for his efforts
in reforming the dance; latter eventually she started appreciating his
efforts and paid great tribute to his efforts and became a fan of
He wrote two major works on dance and music. One was on dance
‘Bharatha Natyam and Other Dancers of India'. The other book that he
wrote on music is ‘Personalities in Present Day music'. Besides, to
honour his lasting contribution to Classical Bharatha Natyam, Suruti
Foundation awarded Krishna Iyer Medal. He passed away on January 3,
1968. He died before he received the Padmasri award, maybe it was too
late to consider his outstanding contribution for this prestigious
Indian National award.