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The Pandanallur style of Bharata Natyam is mainly attributed to Minakshisundaram Pillai (1869–1954). He was a dance Guru who lived in the village of Pandanallur, which is in the Thanjavur district in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
Minakshisundaram Pillai was an ancestral nattuvanar who was descended from the Tanjore Quartet, which refers to four brothers: Chinnaiah, Ponniah, Sivanandam and Vadivel. The works of these four brothers, who were court composers in the early 1800s in Thanjavur, form the main classical masterpieces of Bharata Natyam.
Minakshisundaram Pillai was said to have been trained by his uncle Kumarasamy Nattuvanar. He trained several famous Bharata Natyam dancers including devadasis such as Pandanallur Jayalakshmi, Thangachi Ammal, Sabaranjitam, as well as people from other castes such as Mrinalini Sarabhai, Rukmini Devi, and others.
After Minakshisundaram Pillai, it was his son-in-law Chokkalingam Pillai (1893–1968) who became the doyen Guru of the Pandanallur style. His leading dancer-student was Mambalam Geetha. He also trained other leading dancers such as G. Kausalya, Sucharita, Indrani Rehman, and others. He moved to Madras and taught there.
Subbaraya Pillai (1914–2008), Chokkalingam Pillai's son, was the next leading Guru of the Pandanallur style. He grew up in the village of Pandanallur and was an apprentice under his grandfather and father. He trained leading dancers such as Alarmel Valli, Meenakshi Chitharanjan, and others.
The Pandanallur style has a reputation for its emphasis on linear geometry in adavu technique and for intensity and understatement in abhinaya.
The Pandanallur style is renowned for its masterpieces in choreography: some of the main gems in its repertoire are the Nine or Ten Tanjore Quartet pada-varnams (Sakiye, Sami Ninne, Mogamana, Danike, Adimogam, Yemanthayanara, Yemaguva, Sami Nee Ramanave, Sarasijanaba) for which Minakshisundaram Pillai composed the choreography: both dramatic choreography which he called simply "hands" as well as the adavu choreography for the swara passages.
Also part of their heritage are the valuable jatiswarams (in ragams Vasantha, Saveri, Chakravakam, Kalyani, Bairavi), which are miniature masterpieces of elegant abstract adavu choreography.
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