Originally from Mangudi, a small village in Tanjore, the versatile exponent of the Melattur style of dance was a sanyasi who mastered the Srividya Upasana. As a music expert , he authored books on mridangam and classical Indian dance, and, as an guru of Bharatanatyam, he re-established the Suddha Nrittam (where footwork was followed different time measures in different tempos), Bhattasa Natyam and Perani Natyam (dance on the inverted clay pot). Photo courtesy of Revathy Ramachandran Guru Mangudi Dorairaja Iyer’s father was Ramanatha Bagavathar, a famous vocalist and a Hari katha exponent.
The talented boy learned music from his father and the mridangam from Sri Anganna Naickar and Tanjavore Vaidhyanatha Iyer. He soon became an accompanist to many well-known musicians. His Tamil drama “Mithra Pasam” in the early 1932 was later adapted to a stage production which he directed. In 1939 he and his friend Sri P.K. Moorthy co-authored a handbook on mridangam, “Mirdanga Swabodhini” Mangudi studied Bharatham and Nattuvangam with Melattur Natesa Iyer, a prominent figure among the Bagavatha Mela gurus of Melattur. Based on the traditional Indian dance drama tradition of Melattur, he developed a solo dance of this style, having learnt the theory.
His work in the music and dance section of Gemini studios provided him with the opportunities to futher develop his style. Mangudi’s attention now was attracted by the teachings of Sri Vidya Upasana and Bharatham. He established the “Chidanandha Natya Mandali”. His interest in Shuddha Nrittam was spurred by watching a devadasi of Cheyyur Sengalvarayar temple perform Shuddha Nrittam among the 72 items, such as Kavita, Nritta, Vadya, Sangeeta, etc. Prof. Sambamurthy, who presented some of the Suddha Nritta items at the Thiruchendur Murugan temple in 1969, supported Mangudi in his efforts. Guru Mangudi Dorairaja Iyer’s book “Swabodha Bharatha Navaneetham” (1957) was based on years of research into rare works like”Kohaliyam”, “Nagarjuneeyam”, “Bharatha sastra Mooiam”, “Abhinaya Darpanam”, and “Natanadhi Vadya Ranjanam”. The book explored all of Bharatanatyam, and is an invaluable source of knowledge for both learners and experts. Some of his students early were the famous Roshan Vajifdar, Pushpa Bhuyan and Yamini Krishnamurthy, Kanchana-Gowri, and later, Revathi Ramachandran, to whom Mangudi Dorairaja Iyer taught the Shuddha Nrittam in five gatis and gave his mridangam and cymbals just before he passed away in 1980.
Unlike other Bharatanatyam gurus, Mangudi discouraged his students from stamping the feet hard. The dancers had to learn how to mark the tala with the sound of the salangai. Another interesting aspect was the presence of pancha nadais and gati bhedas. There was, for example, gati bhedam in every jati in the varnam pattern. Believing that Bharatnatyam is meant to be a spiritual offering, Mangudi shunned the items that contained praises of the deceased kings or patrons (e.g., the items authored by the Tanjore Quartette). His style, exuberant and graceful, later evolved into what is known today as the Mangudi style,dominated by bhakti rasa.
It lays emphasis on crisp adavus, accurate jathis, gathis, fluid variations or patterned korvais and perfect geometric poses. It stresses the dramatic elements, i.e. characterisation, as the themes of the performances are based mostly on stories from epics and puranas. Mangudi paid special attention to the right application of the principles of “loka dharmi” and “natya dharmi” at appropriate situations. He introduced a special protective cotton belt that theBharathanatyam dancers are supposed to wear.