U.S. Krishna Rao, from Bangalore, was one of the earliest dance gurus whose brilliant exposition on various platforms created an awareness and appreciation and unfolded the glory of classical Indian Dance in India and in many foreign lands too.
A graduate of the Mysore University, he secured a first class and first rank in M.Sc. (Chemistry) in 1934 and took to dance in 1939 – a scientist-turned dancer at a time when dance was looked down upon by society. For men, especially, it was the most contemptuous pursuit. As a university lecturer he would get anonymous letters asking him to stop dancing and stick to science.
The scientific world considered him as an artist and hence he lost the benefits of the career; on the other hand, in the art world, no one wanted an educated man at that time. But, young Krishna Rao braved the anger and ostracism of society and forged ahead with his zeal to learn, propagate and create dances in Bangalore and outside.
Chandrabhaga Devi, a student in his chemistry class, was attracted towards this handsome young man having interest in music, dance and sports as well. He was a very popular cricketer at that time, being a Captain of the Bangalore Unite Cricket Club and was a much sought-after umpire too. He played on the flute, tabla, harmonium and some other instruments.
Their association in the college and in other cultural activities ended in their holy wedlock in 1941. Chandrabhaga Devi coming from a cultured and educated family of South Kanara started her dance career in her early teens under the guidance of Dr. Shivaram Karanth (now Jnanpith Award Winner). It was a dangerous time to take up dancing even as a hobby; her parents themselves writers and artists, allowed her to dance although their well-wishers warned them saying, she would never get a suitable husband if she continued dancing which at that time was the forte of the Devadasis.
He learnt the Mysore style of Bharatanatyam from the late Kolar Puttappa in 1939-40. Inspired by Ram Gopal, Krishna Rao, with his wife and two-year-old son went to Tanjore to study Bharatanatyam from the great maestro Vidwan Natyakalanidhi Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai of Pandanallore. He learnt Kathakali from Shri Kumaran and later from Guru Kunju Kurup in 1941-42.
In their early married life, in the 1940s and 1950s, Krishna Rao, along with his wife, gave innumerable dance recitals in aid of good causes. He toured all over Mysore state to popularize dance in villages and small towns by his popular lecture-demonstrations.
Maha-Maya, Bangalore, one of the oldest dance institutions of its kind, at one time the premier Bharatanatyam school of Karnataka, was started in 1942, as a dream-child of Krishna Rao and Chandrabhaga Devi.
In collaboration with his wife and often with ‘Maha-Maya’ artists, Krishna Rao presented hundreds of dance recitals, lecture-demonstrations, radio talks and TV programmes, all over the world and also choreographed spectacular dance dramas. They also brought out a number of articles, books, travelogues, technical dictionary, etc. in Kannada and English.
In recognition of their outstanding services, honours and awards galore were showered on them.
Dedicating their entire life and career to the running of the ‘Maha-Maya’, the couple bestowed on it meticulous care and personal attention. Countless numbers of votaries, Indian as well as foreign, passed through the portals of this magnificent school over the past five decades. While many of them groomed themselves as teachers, some became professionals and blossomed into national and international celebrities in the dance firmament. To name a few – Indrani Rahman, Sonal Mansigh, Sudha Rani Raghupathi, Pratibha Prahlad, Revati and Asha.
U. S. Krishna Raos danced, composed, choreographed, taught, lectured and wrote about dance all his life – a unique contribution to dance art.