Symbolizing the peak of purity and performance, Sudha Chandra Sekhar has been classed with the all-time greats of classical Bharata Natyam and Kuchipudi schools. Meticulous in each portrayal and adhering to the purity of style, Sudha has become one of those artists who combines versatility and artistry. As a dedicated dancer and a rare genius, Sudha understands the art, is very much alive in the field and has shifted her activities from India to the U.S. and Canada. Sudha has given around 7,000 performances throughout India and abroad. She conducts classes for young aspirants, imparts theory classes for more advanced students, professionals and others interested in her art, and has presented more than 115 students in their classical dance performance debuts, known as Arangetram. During summer recesses, Sudha has conducted advanced dance camps and workshops both in U.S. and Canada, where students have intensive training and research opportunities. She has also taught seasonal course sessions and independent study courses through University of Windsor, Wayne State University, Albion College and University of Michigan. Sudha’s dance organization, Nritya Sudha’s Hindu Temple Rhythms, celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2018.
Though a long-time professional, Sudha has always helped various charitable institutions and temples to raise funds for worthy causes and has been a commissioner for the city of Oak Park Arts and Cultural Diversity Commission since 2007. She also was the charter president and a continuing member of the Oak Park/Royal Oak Township Optimist Club, also since 2007.
Sudha’s extensive experience dates back to 1943, when she first began her classical dance training in Manipuri and Kathak at the Rupatayan Institute in Bombay, India. She began studying Bharata Natyam in 1945 under the guidance of such greats as Sri Thiruvadamaradur Kuppiah Pillai, Guru A.T. Govindraj Pillai, Srimati Karunambal, Guru T.K. Mahalingam Pillai and Guru K. Kalyanasundaram, the renowned masters of the Sri Rajarajeshwari Bharata Natya Kalamandir. They trained her intensively in the Tanjore style, as passed down from the great Panchapakesha Nattuvanaar, Guru Kuppiah Pillai’s own great-grandfather and the author of the Abhinaya Navaneetham, a treatise on Bharata Natyam in the language Tamil.
Sudha has been featured in publications including “The Dance In India” by Enakshi Bhavnani; “Hands Across Michigan” by Alan Kamuda; “Bharata Natyam” by Sunil Kothari, 1997; “Bharatiya Nari” by Moolji Bhai Shah, 1968; and “Marg” Publications.
Sudha’s Early Years In Dance
In her teenage years, Sudha received the Government of India Scholarship for Advanced Training in Bharata Natyam, on the insistence of the late, great pioneers of Bharata Natyam Srimati Rukmini Arundale (founder of Kalakshetra) and E. Krishna Iyer. In the 1960s, Sudha and her dear Guru Kuppiah Pillai researched and revived the rare and ancient Navasandhi Kavuthvams, for which they were bestowed with great praise. A lovely interview about Sudha’s lifelong relationship with the dance art can be viewed here: Dance is her Pathway to Heaven
Quoting the late Professor Dr. T.K. Venkateswaran, Professor Emeritus, Department of World Religions and History at the University of Detroit, “In 2000, Natya Veda Bharati Sudha Chandrasekhar’s 60th Birthday, ‘Shastiyabdhapoorthy,’ was celebrated. With the twist of words, we can call it ‘Natya Shastryabdhapoorthy,’ as Sudha has been dancing since the very childhood years – 60 years of dancing. Some years ago, the community recognized her for her great art and admirable talent as ‘Natya Veda Bharati.’ She has also been an outstanding and exemplary teacher of the Bharata Natya Sastra all these years to hundreds of students and they have performed their unique and glorious Arangetrams. Today, we want to recognize and applaud her as ‘Bharata Shastra Samkranthi Chudamani’ the crest jewel among the great teachers and transmitters of the Bharata Natya Shastra unsurpassed in the Samkranthi, the transmission of the great art. The talent and complete and successful transmission of the great art is the mark of a great artist, according to Poet Kalidasa.”
Sudha’s Dance Gurus
It was the year 1945. When the alien British rule was in its dying embers, India was at the threshold of independence. Bombay was the dynamic center of Indian resurgence, pulsating with pride in everything that was nationalistic, be it social, political, economic or cultural. In such an atmosphere was founded the Sri Rajarajeswari Bharatha Natya Kala Mandir in Bombay by Guru Sri A.T. Govindraj Pillai, assisted and enthused by his wife Smt. Karunambal. The success of this venture led to the migration of his father-in-law, the patriarch maestro Bharatha Vidwan Sri T.P. Kuppiah Pillai. He came with his family from Thanjavur, that repository of our ancient art and culture, to Bombay, the city of dynamic growth. Starting with just four students, the Kala Mandir, in course of time, grew into a large tree, with sons Guru Sri T.K. Mahalingam Pillai and Guru Sri K. Kalyanasundaram adding their unique expertise.
The Rajarajeswari Gurus have an illustrious lineage of ancestors dating back more than two centuries. Sri Venkatakrishna Nattuvanar was patronised by the Maratha King Serfoji II of Thanjavur. The second generation of Sri Veeraswamy Nattuvanar and his sister Chinnaappa Ammal were followed by the renowned Sri Panchapakesa Nattuvanar, who was the Samasthana Vidwan of Thanjavur and Ramanathapuram courts. He was also honored by the royal houses of Baroda and Mysore. Adept in Abhinaya, he is credited with compiling the “Abhinaya Navaneetham,” a monumental treatise in the language Tamil, and practical guide to Abhinaya with a special focus on Hastabhinaya.
His only son Bharatha Vidwan Kuppiah Pillai was the prime architect of Sri Rajarajeswari Bharatha Natya Kala Mandir, regarded today as an institution par excellence for Bharatha Natyam. His “Kamala Chakram,” a lotus-wheeled compendium depicting the matra-based complex 108 talas, besides the popular 35 ones, is invaluable to all students of music and dance. He was the first Natyacharya to be honored with the Fellowship of the Central Sangeet Natak Academy in 1979. Guru Kuppiah Pillai’s son-in-law, Guru Govindraj Pillai, received the “Kalaimamani” title as the best dance teacher in the country in 1974. Guru Kuppiah Pillai’s son, Guru Mahalingam Pillai, received the Kalaimamani title as well as the Sangeet Natak Academy Award in 1984, along with the Maharashtra Gaurav Puraskar awarded by the state government in 1990. Guru Kuppiah Pillai’s other son, Guru Kalyanasundaram, is the present director of Rajarajeshwari and has received many of India’s top national honors. Along with these gurus, Guru Kuppiah Pillai’s daughter Smt. Karunambal and daughter-in-law Smt. Mythili Kalyanasundaram helped the institution blossom into what it is today a legend of unalloyed, pristine Bharatha Natyam.
Sudha’s Career Highlights
- Her 3-hour long Bharata Natya Arangetram at Mumbai’s Mahalakshmi temple, 1956
- Performance in Rashtrapathi Bhavan, New Delhi, for India Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and New Zealand Prime Minister Walter Nash, 1958
- First Prize at Youth Festival in New Delhi, 1958
- Government of India Scholarship for Advanced Training in Bharata Natyam, 1958-1960
- “Best Dancer of the Year” Award at St. Xavier College, 1958
- Special performance at the coronation of Bhavnagar Maharaja, 1961
- Charity performance “Deenaa Seva Sangh” presided by India President V.V. Giri in Bangalore, 1963
- First International Charity Performance at the University of Windsor, 1967
- National tour of USA and Canada with Kathak Nritya Samrat Gopi Krishna and troupe, 1968
- Performance Tour of the Maritimes with Vidya and a live orchestra, 1975
- Vidya’s Arangetram for an audience of 5,000 in Chennai in the presence of H.H. Sri Haridhos Giri, 1980
- Vidya’s Shanmukhananda Hall performance draws raves from the press and public, 1981
- Presentation of a record of eight Arangetrams, Summer 1988
- Presentation of Vidya in her 48-Hour dance marathon benefitting the American Cancer Society, 1989
- Dedication of 108 Hanuman Chalisas through dance at Hanuman Mandir, Jackson, N.Y., 1992
- Presentation of daughter Anjali’s Arangetram in Rochester Hills, MI., 1993
- Presentation of daughter Anandini’s Arangetram at The Bharatiya Temple in Troy, MI., 1994
- Presentation of Vidya in “72 Hours for the Heart,” in aid of the American Heart Association, 1996
- “Janmotsavam,” a dance performance of specially-choreographed items celebrating Sudha’s 60th birthday, 2000
- Choreographer/principal dancer of guest performers in the Michigan Opera Theater’s “Lakme,” 2002
- Presentation of Krithika Rajkumar as the 50th Arangetram student, 2004
- Visit to Athens, Greece, for the 20th Annual International Dance Congress, October 2006.
- Presentation of Pallavi and Pavitra Abraham as the 60th Arangetram, 2007
- Presentation of Kandha Leela, choreographed by Guru Kalyanasundaram and performed by HTR students, 2007
- Charter Member and Inaugural President of the Oak Park/Royal Oak Township Optimists Club, 2008
- Visit to Montevideo, Uruguay in South America to explore business opportunities for HTR, 2008
- Presentation of 7 students in their Bharata Natyam Arangetram performances in a 3-month span, 2009
- Presentation of Haritha Vadari in HTR’s 70th Arangetram, 2009
- Presentation of Nikila Lakshmanan in Chennai, India, with the participation of Guru Kalyanasundaram
- Performance for Lord Nataraja in Chidambaram, while also visiting other major temples in India, 2009
- Featured in the Cambridge’s Who’s Who Registry, demonstrating leadership and industry achievement, 2009
- Presentation of Vaishali Nambiar in HTR’s 100th Arangetram, 2015
Awards and Honors
- “Natyakala Shikharojwala”, 2021, Rangaramanuja Veekayes Productivity & Cultural Council
- “Natya Kala Sarovar,” 2019, Great Lakes Aradhana Committee of Michigan
- “Lifetime Achievement Award,” 2019, Guru Vandana Academy at the GeeVA Heritage Foundation festival, USA
- “Guru T.K. Mahalingam Pillai Lifetime Achievement Award,” 2018, Aatmalaya Academy of Art and Culture Trust, India
- “Dancing Gem of Michigan,” 2018, Miindia.com, USA
- “Lifetime Achievement Award,” 2017, American Natya Festival, USA
- Miindia Women’s Hall of Fame award, 2015, Miindia.com, USA
- “Bharata Kala Shreshta,” 2011, Shri Chakra Maha Meru Peetam, India
- “Nritya Seva Mani,” 2010, Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhana Festival, USA
- “Lifetime Achievement Award,” 2004, Michigan Dance Council and National Dance Educators Association, USA
- “Jewel of Bharata Natyam,” 2004, Paschima Kasi Sri Viswanatha Temple, USA
- “Nritya Swarna Bhushanam,” 2004, USA
- “Natya Mayuri,” 2004, USA
- “Bharata Shastra Samkranthi Chudamani,” 2000, USA
- “Michigan Dance Teacher of the Year,” 1989, Michigan Dance Council, USA
- “Natya Veda Bharati,” 1988, USA
- “Dharma Ratna,” 1984, Voice of the Vedas Cultural Sabha, Canada
- “Natana Mani,” 1964, India
- “Natya Sirobhushanam,” 1965, India
- “Natya Kalai Arasi,” 1963, India