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Dance is a movement and this movement is a significant part of life. ‘Kathak’ is a dance form that reflects significant changes in its form and presentation, both in expression, thought and movement, during the transition from the Hindu to the Mughal period in India’s history. It also underlines and depicts the religious and secular aspects that were developed in its evolution. It was when the dance reached the Mughal court after the 16th century that Kathak began to acquire its distinctive shape and features. Here it encountered other different forms of dance and music, most especially dancers from Persia. Dancers were enticed from the temples to the courts by gifts of gold, jewels and royal favour. Patronage soared as a social class of dancers and courtiers emerged in the royal palaces, where dance competitions were held frequently. The environment of the North Indian Mughal courts caused a shift in focus for Kathak, from a purely religious art form to court entertainment. Dancers imported from the Middle East spread their ideas to Kathak dancers, as they borrowed ideas from Kathak to implement in their own dance. Kathak absorbed the new input,adapting it until it became an integral part of its own vocabulary.
These salient features of Kathak appealed to Chitra Venugopal to take up learning Kathak after her father, late Hattangadi Sanjiva Rao encouraged her to pursue the art. Born on July,28,1936, Chitra Venugopal Basrur, is the youngest daughter of late Sanjiva Rao Hattangadi and late Subhadra Bai (also known as Lalita). Her parents, who were interested in music and fine arts, encouraged Chitra to take up dancing at the tender age of four years.
Chitra’s parents were active members of Canara Union, Malleswaram, Bangalore. Her mother, Subhadra Bai, was the President of Saraswati Mahila Samaj, Bangalore. As President of this social organisation, she was responsible for raising funds through carnivals and programs organized at the city Town Hall in Bangalore along with Dr.Shanta Savoor, an active co-worker and office- bearer. This was in the 1940’s.
Chitra had her schooling at Kamala Bai’s School at Malleswaram in Bangalore and later graduated from the Maharani’s College, Bangalore, with a B.A. Degree in Home Science in 1957, before moving over to Delhi for post graduate studies in Dance.
After completing her post graduation at Delhi, she married Basrur Venugopal on May 2, 1960 and settled down at Bangalore. She accompanied her husband to places like Coimbatore, Madras (presently Chennai), Calcutta, and later to Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire (in U.K.), Cairo in Egypt, where her husband was posted as Regional Marketing Manager, based in Cairo. For a period of 3 years he was in charge of the African markets located in British Colonial African countries. He was on a professional assignment with Lipton Export Ltd (Unilever TLC) a Multi-National Company for a major part of his working career.
They have two children - daughter Deviyani , who works as a Technical Training Executive in a software company at Bangalore,and,son Ganesh, Director of Energy Products in Nano materials research and development , living in Atlanta, USA, along with his wife Manju and two children Nitin and Natasha . Manju is also a Research Scientist in Bio Technology products .
Chitra started dancing at the tender age of four. Initially trained by Guru Sohanlal of Jaipur Gharana and later by her sister, Guru Dr.Maya Rao, at Natya Saraswati, a school of Music and Dance founded by Maya Rao and her late husband, musician M.S. Natarajan at Bangalore. Chitra was conspicuous in dance activity at Maharani’s College, where she completed her graduation in Home Science in 1957. During her college days, she taught dance at Baldwin Girls School in Bangalore, along with her elder sister, Uma Rao. Chitra featured in many programs in solo and group dances. The most successful program was staged in honour of the visiting dignitaries from the Soviet Union, Marshal Bulganin and Prime Minister Kuruschev of USSR, which was organized by the Karnataka Government, under the direction of Devika Rani Roerich in 1956. For Chitra, an art which was taken up as a hobby, turned out to be a specialized study. After completing her B.A., she was awarded the Government of India Scholarship for study in Kathak at Bharatiya Kala Kendra (now Kathak Kendra). Chitra was the second South Indian to receive this award. She had the opportunity of being trained by Gurus Shambu Maharaj, Birju Maharaj, Devendra Shanker and Maya Rao. She took part in lead roles and programs presented by Bharatiya Kala Kendra and Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography, Delhi. She has travelled all over India with both these institutions. At the Kendra, she had exposure to musical compositions for dance from Dagar Brothers, the famous exponents of Dhrupad style. On completion of her specialized training in Kathak, Chitra propagated Kathak in places where Kathak was not popular. She taught students at the Kendriya Vidyalaya in Coimbatore till 1975 and later at Adarsh Vidyalaya, Chennai. She was perhaps one of the first to present ‘Abhigyana Shakuntala’ and choreographed the entire ballet with a cast of over a hundred participants. This mega event was presented under the aegis of the Punjab Association at Madras (now Chennai) and was staged at the University Centenary Auditorium. The choreography was adapted for the first time to Kathak, Kandyan and Bharatanatyam styles. In 1979, during the International Year of the Child, the ballet was telecast by Madras Doordarshan in two parts. Chitra has presented several other programs on stage and her ballet ‘Vision of Surdas’ presented by AIR at the Music Academy in Madras was well received. Chitra continued her work abroad from 1979 to 1988 in the United Kingdom and Egypt, where her husband was on an assignment with a multinational company. In UK, she conducted a workshop in Kathak at the Commonwealth Institute and gave programs at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and several other British associations. Chitra moved to Egypt in 1981 and was actively involved in training students and presenting programs in close association with the Indian Embassy in Cairo and the Egypt India Friendship Association. Kathak programs were presented at the American University and the Ain Shams University. Her students participated every year at the International Children’s Festival sponsored by the Egyptian Government and many of her programs were telecast on Egyptian TV. On the eve of her departure from Cairo, the Egypt-India Friendship Association presented a lecture demonstration on Kathak at the Italian Cultural Institute followed by dances. On returning to India in 1988, Chitra settled down in her hometown, Bangalore, and was actively involved in coaching of students at Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography in Kathak classes. She was a lecturer on the faculty at the Institute fully involved in the task of imparting traditional training to scores of students as a day to day activity. Chitra holds a diploma in Choreography from NIKC. Some of her foremost students are Madhu Nataraj, Nirupama and Rajendra, Syed Sallaudin Pasha, Nandini Mehta, Suma Vijay, Prakash, Mysore Nagaraj, Sathyanarayana Raju, Bharati, Chitra and Sankhya who are all well known artistes of Karnataka, who have distinguished themselves with credit on the national and international scene. Chitra was appointed as Chairman of the Text Book Committee for the first text book released for Junior exams for Kathak in 1994. She was also appointed as a member of the Audition Committee for Dance by Prasar Bharati, New Delhi, for Doordarshan Kendra, Bangalore, in 1999 for two years. Chitra has to her credit many ballets choreographed by her, and, to name a few -Abhigyana Shankuntala, Chandalika, Rani Jhansi, Govardhan Leela (all Madras Doordarshan presentations ) in Kathak style, Raja Nartaki by Ana Kru, Flight of the Paradise Fly Catcher (a children’s ballet) and Cauvery, all in Bangalore. In recognition of her contribution to dance, Chitra had the honour of receiving the Kala Shri award for 1996-1997 bestowed upon her by the Karnataka Sangeetha Nritya Akademi at a ceremony held on 29 January 1997. She was also a recipient of the Senior Fellowship Award for research in ‘Abhinaya in Kathak’ bestowed by the Ministry of HRD, Central Government for the years 2000-2002.
Chitra joined Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in the year 2000 as a Head of the Kathak training section in the Visual and Performing Arts of Kala Bharati, a cultural wing of the Bhava'n that imparts training in various fine arts. She is one of the senior- most Gurus in the Bhavan and has been training over 40 dance students imparting rigorous and disciplined training in theory and practice of Kathak . Under her guidance some of the students were prepared for the 5 year Diploma examination in Kathak and the first batch of the Senior Diploma passed out in the year 2006. Her students have performed in various programs held at the Bhavan and outside in dances and ballets directed by her.
After over ten years of association with Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and a career
spanning over 60 years , at the age of 75 , Chitra decided to hand over the baton to theyounger generation to pursue the activity she had initiated at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan . The Management, Staff and Students of Kala Bharati accorded her a fitting 'farewell in August 2011 before she embarked on a long holiday to USA . Nevertheless, Chitra’s passion for dance and teaching will continue during her leisure time, in the serene atmosphere of her home, on a selective basis.
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( Inputs sourced from Basrur Venugopal, Bangalore )