In the fifties and sixties the name of E.Krishna Iyer was a household name in erstwhile Madras, now called Chennai. He was seen in every Bharatanatyam and Sangeeta Kutcheries(concerts) by known and well known performers of those days. Not very many happening like these days, Arangetrams (debut) were very rare occurrences but E.Krishna Iyer with his hearing aid sitting in the front row and commenting in a loud voice was a common sight. His reviews in the Hindu front page was a great moment for all artists to cherish. He did not spare his pen to make bold criticism of young and old performers.
Everyone knew who he was and what his contributions were to the upliftment of fallen art forms and a steadfast Congressman taking part in freedom fight meetings and processions in his immaculate white khadar veshti & jubba. A strong pillar of the Madras Music academy drew instant respect from all quarters of that generation. He moved the resolution in the Academy to rechristaine ‘sadirattam’ to Bharatanatyam.
My memories of him as an adolescent boy is very vivid and many a times listened to his sermons and reprimands. He used to visit Kalakshetra very often and interact with Smt. Rukminidevi who were great friends of course. Both of them are responsible for the resurrection of a fallen profession back to the divinity and dignity of Bharatanatyam .
He never missed any of Kalakshetra productions and write about them in the Hindu news paper (those days The Hindu carried reviews on the front page and so much of importance was given for all art, artistes and art activities)
I don’t know whether he had a soft corner for me as an upcoming young Nartaka (male Bharatanaatyam dancer) and delivered encomiums of my performance as Sriraama in the Ramayana series of Kalakshetra. But what I cherish more, are two very great reviews of him on my performing as a ‘Poojaari(priest) Kannappar kuravanchi (a very insignificant role eulogised ) and the Brahmin who brings a love letter from Srikrishna to Rukmini (also an insignificant role) in the Bhagavatha mela “Rukmini swayamvaram” – he devoted one para of comments on these, not so important characters, living aside the main characters.
Once he called me to his office in Tamizhnaadu Eyal Isai Nataka Mandram (The State Academy) and talked generously about how difficult it would be for a man to make a career as Nartaka. Quoted the example of Ramgopal, Nalanajan and the like who had to leave the land for a greener pasture. He vehemently advised me to create a Bharatanaatyam repertoire that will project the manly emotions instead of handling feminine natured repertoire akin to women’s nature, that may look effeminate in a male body. Following his sincere advice, when I started performing Bharatanaatyam solos and duos with Shanta I restricted myself to male oriented songs of Bhakti, Veera and Sringaara.
E.Krishna Iyer’s name should be etched in gold letters in the history pages of Bharatanaatyam like Smt. Rukmini Devi