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Dr. Arunthathy Sri Renganthan (Pic by Mushtaq Thasleem)

Arunthathy is a mother figure in the music and dance fields. She has put Sri Lanka on the international map through her choreography in Bharatham and Kandyan dancing shows by travelling around the globe. Put her exploits in the international scene aside, she has served the community at home as a teacher. In 2004 she formed the Aru Sri Art Theatre which offers artistes from different communities an opportunity to perform under one umbrella

Kalasuri Desha Nethru Dr. Arunthathy Sri Renganthan considers herself a person from the old school. Arunthathy has aged now, but fans, friends and the music authorities in the country still want her.

At present she lectures at the University of Visual and Performing Arts and serves as a member of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) director board.  She gets calls from her sons living overseas to retire and be with them. But by God’s grace, as told by her to this writer, all her music and dance activities keep her going.

If Arunthathy takes a look at the dotted path she had travelled in the entertainment scene, she can see that effort, the dedicated study of music and dance coupled with commitment being vital ingredients in her success story. She doesn’t fancy how some among the present generation of artistes are demanding money for their productions.

“They have not mastered the subject and even don’t maintain quality. But they want big money right away,” said Arunthathy in an interview done with the Nation at her residence in Wellawatte.
Arunthathy is a mother figure in the music and dance fields. She has put Sri Lanka on the international map through her choreography in Bharatham and Kandyan dancing shows by travelling around the globe. Put her exploits in the international scene aside, she has served the community at home as a teacher.
Cultures in fusion (6)
In 2004 she formed the Aru Sri Art Theatre which offers artistes from different communities an opportunity to perform under one umbrella. She was one among many Tamils who rejoiced when the war ended in 2009.

“This was a time that there was a great need to have unity among communities. The Norwegian embassy wanted to do a street show with Sri Lankan artistes, but when it came to signing a contract, there arose the need to have an organization. That’s how Aru Sri Art Theatre was formed,” beamed Arunthathy.
She is a firm believer in music uniting a community. “We performed our street show under the title ‘Harmony’. There were as many as 60 artistes representing different cultures and races. But after performing together we all became one family,” said Arunthathy who added that the troupe had travelled to many cities and villages in the country during these street shows.

She had her education in Colombo and went to Jaffna to finish her studies. Years later when the war unfolded she was in Colombo and worked for SLBC. It was through her involvement in music that she got to visit her ancestral home in Jaffna and another home belonging to the family in Vavuniya, once again. It was with a heavy heart that she said that these homes were now occupied by ‘outsiders’.

As she continued to speak it was evident she has grown old gracefully. But the real beauty in her has been exhibited by the large heart she has shown to serve the community. In her interview there were many occasions where she underscored the fact that artistes from all communities are part of this cultural show which represents the big picture of singing and dancing in Sri Lanka.

Twenty-three of her Sinhalese students recently got their MAs in music from India. “A lot of people have the wrong perception that studying Karnataka music is tough because the medium used to study it is Tamil. This music is learnt in Thelagu and it’s about getting the pronunciation right,” she said.

Excelling as an academic and in the field of music during the best years of her life is not a miracle, but something that will instead create astonishment in the minds of people.

Being a Tamil, naturally, her dad wanted her to be a qualified professional. So she studied economics and obtained her degree from the University of Peradeniya. But music and dance being interwoven with the Tamil culture had a great influence on her. She pursued her music career and did an in-depth study of the subject under the tutelage of teachers from South India.

Armed with a degree in economics she worked at the Central Bank for some years. But after taking up a job with SLBC, she once bumped into her economics lecturer who inquired whether she was still at the Central Bank. Upon being told that she was now working for SLBC the professor had responded, “If you worked at the Central Bank just a handful would have known you. Being in the SLBC thousands will know you now”.

She has enjoyed the role she has played as a cultural ambassador. Once when she was invited to bring a dance troupe to Malaysia, she made it known to the organizers there that her troop will not only have traditional Kandyan dancers, but Tamil dancers too.

As a teacher of music, she has made a concentrated effort to give artistes from all communities a fair chance to showcase their dancing traditions and cultures. A pamphlet printed to announce the show ‘Narthana Bandham’ which was held last year, has a line which sums up her role in music and art beautifully. She has made an everlasting contribution to the country’s efforts towards national reconciliation through the refreshing medium of performing arts.

She counts many decades as a teacher of Karnataka music and has produced so many students. She has composed music for countless dance dramas. She is a singer and a Veena player too.  She was conferred recently with a doctorate by the University of Visual and Performing Arts and has been bestowed with so many honorary titles. How would she want people to call her? “I like everyone to call me Arunthathy. I am very comfortable with that,” she smiled as we took our leave of her.

Sinhala and Tamil artistes perform at the ‘Narthana Bandham’ which was held at the Bishop’s Auditorium last year
Sinhala and Tamil artistes perform at the ‘Narthana Bandham’ which was held at the Bishop’s Auditorium last year

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