Dr Ananda interviewed by Krishnaveni 2014
ON BEING A HUMAN et al!
An interview of Yogacharya Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani by Selvi I Krishnaveni,
transcribed by Smt. Meena Ramanathan.
Krishnaveni: Hi and Gud afternoon. Today we have with us Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani. I do not
know how to introduce him because he is a doctor, he is a dancer, he is a singer, he is a composer, he
is a song writer, he is a choreographer , a yogi and many more things. So let us ask him how he would
like to introduce himself.
Dr. Ananda: I think the most important way to be known is as a human being. We are not born
human by accident. But once we have this great opportunity to be born human, to manifest our
humanity, to become more of a humane being, thinking about others, and then finally manifesting
our divinity, as said by Swami Vivekananda. I think I would always like to be known as a person who
tries to be a human being.
Krishnaveni: You were born to very charismatic parents. Have you ever felt the burden in having to
live up to their names; was there any pressure from your parent’s side?
Pressure depends on the individual. If you understand something as a blessing, if you understand
something as an opportunity to grow, if you understand that they are giving a firm foundation on
which you can build, I think it’s no burden, but if you think , ‘oh, what am i going to do , how am i
going to do it’, then it becomes a burden. For me it has been very much a blessing. I feel blessed to
have this opportunity, to have the spiritual genetics, the physical genetics and the artistic genetics
from both the parents. So I have looked at it as a blessing, rather than as a burden.
Krishnaveni: You are a Carnatic singer, song writer, composer and a percussionist. So tell us about
your musical journey.
Starting off at a very young age, maybe 3 or 4, what I found was that, anything I got in my hand, I
used to be playing with it. You know just (playing with both the hands on the arms of the chair) like
this or pick up a drum that some musician left behind, in fact, when i was in Czechoslovakia in those
days, as a small kid, my parents were having dinner and I went off to one of the stages where there
was a band performing. They had taken a break; i took the drummer’s sticks and started banging on
the drums. When they came back, they actually started playing with me and it ended up as a nice
orchestra. The other thing was that, there used to be a lot of music, lot of dance going on around me
while I was growing up in the Ashram. Naturally I was sort of drawn to joining with the Bhajans, or
the students would be singing, and if they were singing the Bhajans, i would be dancing for it,
Nandalala or Radhekrishna or whatever was going on and at that certain point. Maybe when I was
about 6 or 7, when my parents thought that I should have official training that I started training with
one of our musicians, Kalaimamani Manikannan sir and he started giving me the background in
music starting with the Saralivarisai, the sa re ga ma pa da ni sa and developed in me a very
beautiful interest in the music, and around the age of 8, i joined Krishnamurthy sir for Mridangam
lessons. Before that I had actually joined K.M.Vaidyanathan sir. He was the first Mridangam master
for me. After 2 yrs he transferred me on to Krishnamurthy sir. And then i continued my musical
journey with Srirangam Ranganathan sir, who then brought into me an understanding of the depth
of the music. But till the age of say 17, I was in school studying in Kodaikanal, I used to come back to
Pondicherry for holidays, and have classes. I was doing a lot of music, singing on stage, performing,
playing on stage, dancing on stage. But I would say, I didn’t really realise what I was doing or the
intricacies. It is like I was trained to do it and I was doing it. At the age of 17, I started to have this
very beautiful inner experience, and I would very much credit K.J.Yesudas and his music for it,
because he managed to give me, what I was learning in a more digestible form, and then I started to
understand, “ oh, this is what the Raga Mohana is, this is what was happening in Misrachapa Thala”
and suddenly something opened up and I will say, ever since that point , when I was 17 or 18, it has
Dr Ananda interviewed by Krishnaveni 2014
grown deeper and deeper. My understanding with Lakshman sir for the dance, Shankaranarayanan
sir for the music, has even enhanced it further. Because with Shankaranarayanan sir, one of the
greatest Carnatic vocalists of India today, I have understood the importance of hitting that
connection with the audience. It is not just you performing, it is you and the audience connecting
and this connection I learnt very much through Shankaranarayanan sir and thanks to Ammaji and
Swamiji, those spiritual genetics and the Yoga, i have been blessed to see the spirituality of music
and that is what comes through my musical compositions. It is not just made to suit somebody’s ear,
or to make a name. It is an outpouring of my spiritual longing, my spiritual devotion and my
Krishnaveni: Tell us about Ananda Ashram and Yoganjali Natyalayam.
Ananda Ashram initially was founded by my father Swami Gitananda Giri, Swamiji and my mother
Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani, Ammaji who joined him as a student in 1967, and between 1967 and
1973,the Ashram was running in Lawspet of Pondicherry, and then around 73-75,we shifted to
Kambili Swami Madam in Thattanchavadi, where the interest of Swamiji and Amma to take Music
and Dance to every part of society, grew in the Sri Kambaliswamy youth, Yoga and the cultural arts
program, where thousands of kids would come on Sundays to the Ashram, they would come to
Pooja in the morning, they would have the Yoga class , the dance class and music class, go for
swimming in the swimming pool, all have a free lunch and enjoy life every Sunday. At the end of the
year, those who had good attendance were given free clothes, free books for schools, lot of
scholarships, text books for schools, it was like a community upliftment programme, both through
the food, and books, but more importantly, the spiritual and cultural development, which was
through the yoga, music and dance. This slowly grew into Yoganjali Natyalayam, which was founded
in 1993 and through that, I would say in the last 21 years, at least 17 or 18 thousand people have
benefitted from this yoga, dance and music programme, becoming human beings or rather better
human beings that they can be in this life time. They may not be the best dancers, they may not be
the best musicians, they may not be the best singers, but they are good human beings, they are
social beings. I don’t think any of them would go and throw a stone at a bus for example and burn a
bus. Now, that type of citizen, that type of human being what we are trying to create at Yoganjali
Natyalayam through the yoga and the cultural arts. The aim I would say is, giving them a spiritual
vitamin infusion to go with the modern education.
Krishnaveni: As You said , you started learning Mridangam at a very early age and then you realised
at 17, what the essence of it is. So there has been like 3 parts - a student, then a performer and now
you are a teacher. Which part of this do you love the most?
The teaching part. See, when you are a student, you are just gaining information, it’s getting
transformed into knowledge, slowly staring to touch wisdom. As a performer you start to
understand the connection with other people, the importance of timing and the importance of the
team work. But then I think all of them come together when you are a teacher because you are then
blessed with an opportunity by the divine, to pass it on to the next generation and help them maybe
short cut all the mistakes you have made as a teacher. I think, the most important thing I like to
share with my students is that – ok, this may be a mistake, so please make sure you don’t make the
same. I think this is the beautiful evolution that happens as a human being, in helping others, to
manifest that inherent potential within them. Amazing potential. And it is like the diamond jeweller;
you know that he has all these diamonds and he has to polish them, cut them, put them together
into this beautiful necklace that then is a beauty that hasn’t existed before. As the Buddha says, “Try
to create a beauty, that didn’t exist earlier.” I think as a teacher we have this opportunity to bring to
actuality, the potentiality of the student. So definitely any day, teaching is the one that satisfies me
Krishnaveni: Many of my friends think that Indian classical music and dance are terribly boring. Do
you think that the artists’ haven’t caught up with times or do you think the audience do not have the
intelligence to perceive these forms of art?
Dr Ananda interviewed by Krishnaveni 2014
That’s a very strong question, and in fact a question that I was talking to my Guru Adyar K. Lakshman
sir, sometime back about it. He was talking of the common refrain, amongst performing artists’ who
say, ”We need to bring the arts down to the public and he was saying what is this of bringing the arts
down, shouldn’t we be educating the public and bringing them up, so that their refinement is such
they can understand the arts and I think the Spic Macay programme, a very beautiful programme
that runs in many universities, colleges and schools in India. It is a private programme, thanks to
some of the corporates it is continuing. They bring the big artists, down to school to perform and
interact. And I remember in school, having Pt. Jasraj, Balamuralikrishna, Alarmel Valli , Dhanjayans
coming to perform and Mandolin Srinivasan performing, and it created a very beautiful
understanding amongst the young children about the greatness of the art. They also used to
explain. See, one part is to be blamed on the artist who do not take the effort to explain. If I’m
singing a song, on my tour, like down under in Australia or when I’m in Italy or the UK… if I’m singing
a song in Tamil , it is my duty, my dharma to explain the song , the concept of the song , what is
happening in the music before I perform and they can catch it. Now if an Italian, an American, an
Australian, an English man can understand it, I think our Indians can. But we are not doing it,
because we think they are Indians and they must understand it. It is their duty to understand too.
And the other thing is, it is very easy to go to a market and find people buying potato chips. A huge
market for potato chips. How much is the market for diamonds? Very less. So the problem is that
you have to cultivate a taste , which will come as you listen and this is what I went through because I
had all this great treasures, training , experience of performing on the stage and not knowing what
was going on and that’s why I told u, KJ Yesudas enabled me to make that jump, and suddenly I
realised what it is. This is Shankarabaranam, this is Mohanam , this is what we are doing. And I think
if someone like me, with such a background had to go through that, imagine the young people who
don’t get that chance? We are fed with the most unique lyrics. The rhythms that are there are the
most basal animal rhythms and unless we give people an opportunity to understand the greater
importance of this music and dance , I feel, I don’t think it will die out . It will survive. Indian culture
will survive even though they are desperately trying to destroy it. It will survive as it Is Sanathana, it
is eternal. But as a teacher, as a performer, wherever I go, I try to explain what we are doing. When I
talk of Shiva, it is not just lord Shiva sitting in Kailash with Parvathy having a good time. It is Shiva,
the consciousness, the goodness, the auspiciousness, the evolutionary transformation. So when I say
Ohm Namah Shivaya, it is not just I’m worshipping Lord Shiva. That’s only one aspect, that is the
little finger. The whole picture is the evolutionary, the transformatory energy that we are invoking.
The moment you give that, our people are intelligent. Our young people are greatly intelligent. They
have an amazing ability to comprehend but we are not doing it. But I feel that if it is done in the
proper way, I have seen in Yoganjali, such amazing change. The children grow up understanding the
culture. I also enjoy the western music, I also enjoy the modern cinematic music to some extent. But
then, I remember K.J Yesudas’s statement. He said ,”film music is for my stomach; the classical is for
my heart. “, and I think I would say the same thing.
Krishnaveni: You told us about your musical journey. We would also like to know about your dance.
I think I have been a very reluctant dancer. In fact it’s because of my mother’s insistence I went to
classes and most of the time , the only reason I performed was my mother’s insistence and the fact
that my father had great love for the culture and that when I danced he was able to perceive
something wonderful . So I became a vehicle for it and that sort of empowered me and I said , ok
fine, if I can bring that out in someone who’s such an amazing human being , you must be doing
something correct. But my training under my mother, it is always difficult to train under your own
mother because the mother-son relationship, the Guru-Sishya relationship are two different things. I
always say that even to this day. As a mother, well she and I may have lot of differences of opinion.
But as a teacher and student, never a single difference of opinion. She is always right. So training
under her, exploring the nuances of the dance, learning about it , and I think going to Lakshman sir,
and with Lakshman sir- to stay with them on many occasion , staying in his house from morning
6o’clock to night 8o’clock, there will be classes- I will be running into class, running out of class,
climb the trees, changing the light bulb, running to shop to buy milk packet, all of these experiences,
Dr Ananda interviewed by Krishnaveni 2014
they brought out a beautiful side which I feel is the emotional side and I will say it helped me
develop empathy for other human beings- as a dancer. But the biggest joy has been going in to
choreography because as Lakshman sir said- having the music , having the Mridangam and the
dance, has enabled me to give , in the compositions, something which is sort of a unified feeling. I
will say that many people have good rhythmic compositions, or emotive compositions, or there
would be very good lyrics or very good music. But then, to be able to try and bring all of the aspects
together is difficult. When you meet a human being, you want a person not just to have beautiful
eyes, not just a person with beautiful toes or beautiful nose. You want a person who is beautiful in
every sense of the word and I think that is what the composing has given me, specially because it is
my own lyrics, it’s my own music, it’s my own choreography with of course Devasena’s input
tremendously , again a blessing to have someone in a life who shares the same path. Dharmapatni is
the word we use- very beautiful word, basically sharing the dharma-but this combination has I would
say has given me the greatest sense of fulfilment. As Abraham Maslow says, “What a man should be,
he must be, “and I think this is the biggest thing. A singer has to be a singer, a poet has to be a poet,
and an artist has to be an artist. That is the way they fulfil themselves. They self-actualise themselves
and I feel that this type of choreography, this type of composition, it has enabled the self-
actualisation process a lot. And the other thing which I have found, which psychology talks about is
something called flow- and flow depends on having great ability and a great challenge. It is only
when the ability is great; the challenge is great, the flow occurs. The moment when you lose
yourself. That I found through my music, I found it through my yoga, I found it thru the
choreography. I may not have found it as a performer. I think I was always quite self-conscious as a
performer. But as a choreographer, as teacher, I do think I tap into that self-actualisation and that
flow. And it’s a very beautiful experience.
Krishnaveni: I know you said you like teaching the most, but you are also a practitioner of medicine.
If you were to choose between a teacher and a doctor, both are noble professions, which one would
I believe you can have the cake and eat it too. I don’t believe you have to make a choice. People
think if you are a doctor, you cannot be a teacher, if you are a teacher, you cannot be a doctor. It is
like saying; either you can have a heart working or your head working. I believe that you can have
the head and the heart working together and I definitely will not choose either one because for me
being a doctor is like being a teacher. You are sharing, you are giving you are giving a helping hand
and a compassionate ear to people. You are having empathy. Intelligence, empathy in helping
another person to come from where they are, and achieve the potential as a healthy human being –
that is a doctor’s role. As a teacher, again, a compassionate ear, helping hands, to help the student
attain their potentiality. For me I don’t see a divergence there, for me I don’t see them as being
different. For me, the role as a Doctor, as a teacher, even as a parent, I believe it’s all the same role,
in helping the person manifest their totality of their potentiality.
Krishnaveni: Do your kids find a difference in you as a teacher and you as a parent?
Absolutely. See, as a parent, the chellam (pampering), the affection and the love is expressed in a
different way. Giving them gifts, giving them a kiss, holding them, cuddling them, lifting them up,
getting them sit on my back, going for a ride on the bike, taking them to school and having a chat.
But then as a teacher I believe that, there has to be a certain distance maintained. It is that distance
that enables me to be objective rather than subjective. Because if I am subjective and see they are
my kids, either I am going to be too hard on them or I’m going to be too soft on them. And I believe
that objectivity needs that gap and so definitely I would say that there’s a difference and I think they
also realise it that the liberty they take with me at home or for the rest of the time, and when it
comes to Yoganjali and the class there, I think they realise there has to be a gap. Because I grew up
with my parents being my teachers, my gurus and that gap enabled me to get many beautiful
experiences in my life and I see many people making that mistake of putting their children above
other talented students. And I see it destroys the talented students and it destroys your children too.
Because they’ll realise what you were doing. They will lose their trust in you, in your judgement, in
Dr Ananda interviewed by Krishnaveni 2014
your ability. At the same time one has to be careful that one is not too tough on them, and I hope
that time will judge me favourably when it comes to the way my kids grow up and how they grow up
will reflect on me , will reflect on my parents, and the entire tradition.
Krishnaveni: I’m sure we will have a lot more questions to ask and a lot more avenues to explore, but
may be on some other occasion. It was indeed a pleasure to have this with him and thank you very
much for your time . We would like to end this interview with a song of yours.
Well-this is a song on Lord Shiva and in this song we are asking Lord Shiva, who is the cosmic dancer
as Nataraja- Have you got tired of dancing? I cannot find you any place. Where have u gone? Are u
so tired that you have disappeared? Nandi the bull, has to play the drum, the Ganas- all these
ethereal forces that are found with Shiva, they need to dance. Narada and Tumburu make music.
Mother Parvathy, doesn’t she have to enjoy your dance? Why don’t you come and dance your dance
of bliss with us???
Aadi aadi neere kalaiththeero… Aadi aadi neere kalaiththeero… Ambalavaanare..
Aananda tandavam engum, Aadi aadi neere kalaiththeero…(2)
Porpadam thunai endru nambi vandene(2)…
parpughalum unthanai kanavillai engume (Aadi aadi neere kalaiththeero…)
Nandi maththalam kottave, Bootha ganangal aada vendama… (2)
Naarathar paadida, Tumburu isaiththida, Annaiyum magizha vendaama.(2)
Ainthozhil puriyum aiyyane, maaya viththai seiyyum meiyyane, (2)
Thunbaththai thudaikkum thooyane, aanandhamai nee aadida vaa vaa(2)
aanandhamai nee aadida vaa vaa.. aanandhamai nee aadida vaa vaa ..
aanandhamai nee aadida vaa vaa……