The Lawyer who Danced
Quite a rare mix of traits, isn't it? But that's what made him stand out. An exceptional lawyer who was fond of art and culture while also excelling as a Bharatnatyam dancer. Imagine how exciting the life of E. Krishna Iyer would be. Let's have a look, shall we?
Caught in the play of Hastha Mudras; Source: The Hindu

Born on 9th August 1897

Trust the fact that Iyer was a multifaceted creative person because of what you are about to know. The term Bharatnatyam was coined by this man himself when he was in the progress of reviving the dance form and giving it the respective identity it has today. FYI: he was also a writer, activist, and scholar. Of course, his story sounds to be one of those tremendously inspiring ones, but every big personality starts small and so did Iyer.

Iyer's journey of life began very humbly since he was sent off for adoption as the 8th out of the 14 children and 4th of the 5 that remained alive. The world gave Iyer a chance and he took it like that to make an opportunity out of it. This amazing man was born on 9th August 1879 in the Tirunelvelli district of the then Madras state. After completing his schooling at Ambasamudram High School he went to pursue his degree at Madras Christian College.

He went ahead to pursue law after graduation from the Madras Law College by beginning bar-at-law in 1922. A year later, he had become a full-time lawyer at the Madras high court.

Before all he could achieve, Iyer had already tied the knot when he was at the mere age of fourteen. Married to Parvathi Amma, he now had a family of his own to call home. Iyer picked up his taste for art after completing his graduation when he joined a dramatic troupe where he did a lot of female roles. With the passing of time, one could also see him transitioning through many skills.

Although his childhood was exposed to dance and music, Iyer got immensely involved with dancing after joining the theatrical group called Suguna Vilasa Sabha. He learned sadir which was a sensuous form of Bharatnatyam performed by the devadasis and was thus looked down upon by the society. Iyer felt lamented about how people viewed such a highly aesthetic form of art and linked it to baseless stereotypes by disrespecting it. This was one of the reasons why he fought for the revival of Bharatnatyam.

Iyer had established the Madras Music Academy along with Rukmani Devi Arundale to preserve the dance form from dying. He would thus perform alongside the devadasis despite all the outlash he would face from Brahmanical domination.

His relentless activism is hence one thing to be majorly appreciated. If it wouldn't be for him, Bharatnatyam wouldn't have many such beautiful and alluring forms existing right now. Talking about activism, Iyer's voice during the Salt Satyagraha was among the ones who gave might to the opinions of the leaders in making. He was also seen strongly resisting the Simon Commission in 1930. He never let others shun his opinions and stood strongly for what was right. He thus remained as an active secretary for the Academy till 1939.

In 1932, Muthulakshmi Reddy who was the first woman elective of Madras Legislative Council ordered to banish the artform altogether due to its explicit nature. Ardently protesting against her order, Iyer came up with a proposal of renaming the dance as "Bharatnatyam" which literally meant Indian dance, and the rest as you know, is what it is.

To back this dance form he also wrote a lot about it. These were means to make people understand and appreciate Bharatnatyam as the artistic dance piece it was and not throw blatant accusations at it. Iyer wrote a book called Personalities in Present Day Music and multiple articles in English and Tamil. He also became an editor of New Age and the Indian Republic. He also continued as a lawyer till 1943. Given his efforts in reviving and preserving a whole form of performing arts, he was awarded the Padma Shri in 1966.

His strong will to fight and remain a vocal activist makes him an unforgettable chapter in the lives of many who are pursuing Bharatnatyam today. From encouraging many and performing himself, he was our friendly and amusing as ever Indian lawyer who had a knack for dancing. Such passion and desire for anything can make a human become an inspiration, and that's what he is and will remain to be.

Archisa Mohanty Author
To make art, read and explore the world of art and artists is one of my biggest passions. I'm a literature fan and I think life's stupidly great.

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