Hari Padman, Bharatanatyam dancer, teacher, Kalakshetra’s ‘Hanuman’, now arrested for sexual harassment


APRIL 4, 2023

It was Kollam-based Padmanabha Pillai and his wife Vasanta’s dream for their son to be a prominent Bharatanatyam dancer that brought a 15-year-old Hari Padman to the Kalakshetra Foundation in 1993. A prestigious and sprawling 100-acre cultural institution in south Chennai’s Thiruvanmiyur overlooking the majestic Bay of Bengal, Kalakshetra had, by the 1990s, become an autonomous body under the Ministry of Culture.

Padman, a Kalakshetra alumnus and a teacher at the institute since 2008, was arrested on Monday morning on charges of sexual harassment and criminal intimidation following a complaint by one of his former students. Padman went on the run after the All Women Police Station in Adyar booked a case against him on March 31. He was finally arrested from a friend’s house in Madhavaram, north Chennai, on Monday and sent to judicial custody till April 13.

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Padman grew up in Kollam’s Chathannoor, where his parents were dancers and also ran a theatre company. Under the tutelage of his parents, Padman began dancing as a young boy. He also trained under his aunt Kalamandalam Kamala Bai and uncle Mayyanad Sasikumar. When Padman decided to take up dancing seriously, he felt there weren’t many institutions in Kerala that focused on male-oriented education in classical dance.

“Male classical dancers did not have the same acceptance as female dancers at that time. A youth who wanted to dance as a full-time profession was not looked upon with respect,” Padman said in an interview to The Hindu last year.

So his father filled out the Kalakshetra form. After a strict entry procedure following tests and interviews, Padman entered a world away from the hustle and bustle of Chennai, and where some of the loftiest standards of teaching and learning Bharatanatyam and Carnatic music have been imbibed.

The brainchild of Bharatanatyam exponent Rukmini Devi Arundale, Kalakshetra was founded in 1936, a place where the sanitised idea of Bharatanatyam was put in place, one where purity and a philosophical ideology of the form was focused upon, in an attempt to keep it away from the tradition of devadasis who were the pioneers of the art form.

At Kalakshetra, Bharatanatyam, Carnatic music and fine arts are taught amid ancient groves and in open spaces, with birds as audience. It is a space where artistes from Shanthiniketan had designed the props, where noted social reformer Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay once helped with revival of crafts and where Maria Montessori gave her education training courses.

All of 15, Padman joined the school under the aegis of P T Narendran, the tall and affable alumnus who became well known as Lord Ram in Kalakshetra’s famed dance dramas for many years. After Narendran left the institute, Padman studied under Nirmala Nagaraj, known for her production ‘Asthanayakan’, which focused on male dancers. Padman was also taught by veteran Bharatanatyam guru C K Balagopalan, who immortalised the role of Hanuman in many of Kalakshetra’s famed productions that were judged strictly by sophisticated rasikas (connoisseurs of Carnatic music) during the institute’s landmark festival held annually in late December.

Padman went on to do a postgraduate diploma at the institute. In 2000, he went to a teachers’ training college in Sri Lanka for two years. He also did a number of seminars besides teaching. Since Kalakshetra rules permit only its alumni to join as faculty, in 2002 Padman interviewed for a faculty job and joined the Rukmini Devi College of Fine Arts, under the Kalakshetra Foundation, as a member of the dance faculty. He continued to dance in a number of Kalakshetra productions, such as ‘Saraswati Antarvahini’, ‘Valmiki Ramayana’, and ‘Choodmani Pradhanam’, among others. A significant principal dancer, he also began performing as Hanuman. His role as Hanuman earned him high accolades.

“These dance dramas are highly influential. It’s every student’s dream to be cast in them,” said a Kalakshetra faculty member.

One of Padman’s students who now teaches at Kalakshetra said, “He’s a good dancer, a good teacher and a hard worker, but the path he chose was very wrong. Many teachers left because of him.”

Courtesy/Source: The Indian Express