Tuesday, 20 July 2021

Efforts on to renovate Dikshitar's Mandapam in Tiruvarur

By Nandini Ramani

"Kamalalayil pirandaarkum Mukti” -- those born in Tiruvarur attain salvation”-- describes the greatness of the unique holy town of Tiruvarur, which is also known as Sripuram, Bhoopuram, Kamalalayam, Valmikapuram, Muchukundapuram and so on, glorifying its many-splendoured facets. 

The birth of the Carnatic music trinity in this auspicious place adds further dimensions to its greatness, with its presiding deity Sri Ajapaa Natana Tyagesa moorti and Devi Kamalamba, it’s pervading gnana  sakti. 

The initial establishment of a memorial for Muthuswami Dikshitar at his birth place in Tiruvarur happened in  1955, which involved the well-known local landlord, Bhikshandar Kovil G. Rajagopala Pillai and Tiruvarurite  Dr. V. Raghavan,  under the auspices of the Sangita Mummoortigal Sabha on  the instruction of the Paramacharya of the Kanchi Mutt, who visited the birthplace of Dikshitar and conducted pujas there for a period. 

As per available print sources, in  1976, V. Raghavan, T. Sadasivam and local landlord V.S. Tyagaraja Mudaliar, worked on  building a new mandapam at the same venue. As they were mobilising funds for this project, a munificent donation of 1,40,000 rupees came from a native of Tanjavur, Pillaali Govindasamy Pillai, who travelled to Singapore as a youth and became a leading textile businessman there. That generous offer helped to complete the mandapam which was inaugurated  on 3 March 1977, in the presence of Govindasamy Pillai who was then 90 years old.

It is a nostalgic experience for me to recall as I was present at the morning inauguration and sang two gems of compositions of  Dikshitar, that too in the presence of M.S. Subbulakshmi, who offered a scintillating musical homage that evening. 

After more than four decades, on the instruction of Sri Vijayendra Saraswati Swamigal of Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt, the renovation of  the mandapam  has been undertaken and the work has been assigned to a managing committee, under the chairmanship of Sri Karyam of the mutt and other eminent members of the city.   

This noble project to commemorate one of the Carnatic music trinity has been budgeted at rupees one crore and fifty lakhs. Lovers of Carnatic music, musicians and rasikas of Dikshitar kritis, are welcome to contribute generously towards this memorial for the versatile “vainika gayaka"  Muthuswami Dikshitar, and pay their homage to the musical genius on the banks of the Cauvery.

(More details can be obtained from R. Kalidas, Treasurer, Phone: 8754579280)

Tuesday, 13 July 2021

“Time has been a major influence”

 By Shrinkhla Sahai

Astad Deboo is a maverick dancer. His 67th birthday falls on 13 July 2014. Over the years he has dodged neat categories and continues to explore new frontiers with his individualistic style. Minimalism, restraint and innovation have emerged as signature features of his choreography. Having worked extensively with different groups of performers, he was in Delhi recently with Rhythm Divine a performance with Thang-ta performers from Manipur. In this freewheeling conversation he reflects on his journey through the various rhythms of life and performance.

 What was the inspiration for Rhythm Divine? How did the concept originate and how did you go about creating it?

I have been working with performers in Manipur for the past ten years. We started working with their living traditions and techniques and introducing layers of playfulness and interaction. I would respond to their rhythm, they would follow my movement, and so on. We keep changing the choreography, developing new works and revisiting earlier ones.

Astad Deboo
in conversation with
Shrinkhla Sahai

Are the volatile political conditions of Manipur expressed in the bodies and movements of the dancers? Was there any engagement with that during the creation of the piece?

Maybe not directly in terms of theme and content, but it is part of their experience. We worked a lot with rhythm – there are different levels of hostility, suspiciousness in their silences, their cries. They usually perform in a completely different context, mostly as ritual, in temple environs, but not on stage. So the work takes on a different meaning when it is taken into a new context.

What made you break away from your initial training in Kathak and Kathakali, to explore something different?

I wanted to find my own expression, to explore and express my individuality. I think it is very important for dancers today as well to gain greater exposure and  pursue higher education in dance.

How has your style evolved over the years?

While I was in London, I discovered that my body is an ‘Indian body’. For instance, in Indian dance the body is mostly grounded — there are bends; it is never straight. The rasas are very important, the face and eyes are integral aspects. There are many such qualities and of course these are ingrained in my body. It comes through in my style. I assimilated into my body a variety of techniques and experiences which have influenced my dance. Over time I have realised that minimalism is beautiful. It is much more difficult. As you grow older, you discover something different, sometimes even in the same movement. At the same time your own approach becomes more and more internalised. Time has been a major influence.

Astad Deboo with the Thang-ta performers

What was your experience of working with Pina Bausch?

Pina Bausch mentored me. It was very intense. It was a wonderful experience to be in the company of so many different styles and to observe how she worked with them. While creating a work she would ask us questions, give us situations, we would think and express ourselves in different ways.

What was the search that drove you to explore a new dance vocabulary for yourself and to start Choreographing?

I wanted to create and show my own work. When I returned to India, I found there was no openness, hardly any receptivity. So I started working on my own. My earlier work was very fast-paced, sometimes very dark. A lot of it expressed the frustration I was facing in terms of finding adequate support and platforms for my work. In the earlier days there was also the pressure to prove myself, sometimes to justify the funding. I think it is also important to cultivate and educate audiences so that performers can have spaces for exploration and trying out new things. There weren’t many opportunities at the time I was starting out with my choreographies.

A scene from Rhythm Divine

What are the major challenges you face as a dancerchoreographer today?

Funding and support! Even today I have to create my own platforms and generate resources.

The kind of style you have developed over time is unique. In terms of pedagogy, how do you plan to pass it on to the next generation of dancers?

I don’t take classes. I work with groups of people and mentor them. In their work you may notice phrases and techniques they have picked up from me and integrated with their expression. But basically, mine is a very individualistic style which will probably die with me. And that’s all right. I don’t think there is any need to be possessive. If you want to branch out, it is important to share, it is nice to let people go.

What are your reflections on the ‘contemporary’ in the context of dance in India?

The word ‘contemporary’ is so blasphemously used. There is lack of process, hardly any institutions for this. Often the training provided arms the body but real meaningful work takes time to evolve. I notice there are performers trained in classical dance who are doing interesting work. What is required is more exposure and education.

What are your upcoming projects?

For the next few years I want to focus on my ongoing work of mentoring hearing impaired performers. I would also like to continue working in Manipur with a group of eight to 14 performers and create more works with them.

Saturday, 10 July 2021

Six Yards of Hope

By Tejeswini Chakraborty

2020 was the year the world turned upside down. The busiest roads were deserted, vibrant faces were masked and the joy of sharing became limited to sharing online. It made the world digital and suddenly meeting your loved ones face to face became a crime. All this had a huge impact on the community of artists. Even though we were quick enough to notice the empty movie theatres, isolated stages and the lack of concerts, few people like dancer Christopher Gurusamy and art administrator Shreya Nagarajan Singh could see beyond the obvious. They saw the pain and helplessness of the underprivileged folk artists of India. The pandemic hit them like a hurricane which caused them to lose their means of income. They lost their gigs, the events got cancelled and so did the temple festivals. Even now, it is a very grim time for them as most of them are daily wage workers. This duo came up with an idea which would not only provide folk artists with moral support but also help them financially. They organised an online fundraising auction called '6 Yards of Hope'. 

For this auction, 18 well-known and sought after musicians and dancers were approached with the idea to auction one of their sarees; they agreed readily and were more than happy to extend their support. The artists were requested to donate a Kanjivaram saree which would represent their aesthetic.  Artists who donated their sarees include Rama Vaidyanathan, Leela Samson, Priyadarsini Govind, Geetha Chandran, Malavika Sarrukai, Chitra Visweswaran and Bragha Bessel .

Christopher Gurusamy and Shreya Nagarajan Singh collaborated with Panjavarnam Silks and the auction was held on their Instagram page @panjavarnamsilks and the bidding was done in the comments section. Shreya says that Christopher Gurusamy's involvement and support for this initiative was extremely crucial. His keen eye for details, love for the saree and dance, strategic mindset and a deep desire to raise funds for disadvantaged artists truly inspired them to work hard on every aspect.

The plan was a success when it became clear that all the beautiful sarees were very much in demand,  and the highest bid of Rs. 25,500 was for a saree owned by Bombay Jayashri. The buyers were from all over the world -- Australia, countries in Europe, America, and of course India. A total amount of Rs. 2,54,000 lakhs was raised. Part of it would be given to the Funds for Folk initiative which is the brainchild of Shreya Nagarajan Singh, Tenma and Gana Muthu, where funds are raised for the folk artists of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka. Such initiatives in times of difficulty are a proof of unity; and for folk artists, '6 Yards of Hope' is not only a great initiative but a form of blessing in disguise.

Wednesday, 30 June 2021



“There is a time and place for everything, you just have to wait for the right moment. Once it comes it will be the most beautiful and perfect thing possible!” said Gloria Tesch. For several years we have been wanting to put together a feature on Madurai Somu. Every time we tried, there would be a   roadblock on the way! We launched our efforts in right earnest again during the vidwan’s centenary year in 2019, but what with the Covid scare and lockdown restrictions, it has  taken us a little more time to pay homage to the heavy-weight singer and composer, who cast a spell on the masses with his  emotion laced music.  Our diligent correspondent C. Ramakrishnan has come forward to put together an interesting account of the musician and his music for Sruti readers.

The National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) is an iconic cultural symbol in the financial capital of India. By spearheading well conceived and executed projects and programmes with a futuristic vision,  its leadership  has brought name and fame to the institution on the national and international level. Mumbai-based senior freelance writer Bhanu Kumar has written a comprehensive article about NCPA, but it is sad that she passed away before she could submit an update on NCPA’s digital activities during the pandemic. We offer this feature as a tribute to her memory.

Carnatic musician and teacher, Padma Narayanaswamy turned 80 this April, and we are happy to publish a small feature on her by a disciple. We wish her good health to carry on the good work. Another article with the personal touch is a recall by natyacharya V.P. Dhananjayan, telling us how he came to compose the Ganesa sabdam.

Have you ever wondered about the science of Siva’s dance? Well, we bring to you a profound article penned by none other than Sudha Seshayyan who effortlessly bridges arts and science. It’s got lot’s for the mind and grey matter to ponder!

The Covid 19 pandemic continues to claim lives, and the arts field is no exception. This summer, during the second wave, not a day passed without messages informing us about the death of some performing artist, organiser, writer or patron succumbing to the  cruel illness. It was shocking to hear that veteran sitar  maestro Debu Chaudhuri and his son Prateek had both fought a losing battle with Covid in Delhi. So too the news about vainika P. Vasanth Kumar in Chennai. Sruti pays tribute to them and offers condolences to the family members. Vasanth Kumar was a good friend and ardent fan of Sruti magazine, right from its inception. His mother, Sulochana Pattabhiraman was associated with the magazine in various capacities. Vasanth, discerning and very knowledgeable, would be among the first to read the magazine and quick to point out any errors. He could not tolerate mannerisms and casual behaviour on stage on the part of artists and organisers. He used to write reviews for the Record Rack section from time to time. We will miss his insightful comments.

In the News & Notes section, there is an interesting variety of music and dance events. The first year of the pandemic saw artists indiscriminately posting their activities online in search of visibility in the absence of live programmes. Having come to terms with the situation, many renowned artists are now curating and presenting interesting and aesthetically produced programmes online. It is indeed a welcome change!

Equally welcome is the selection of versatile Bharatanatyam dancer and teacher Tirunangai Narthaki Nataraj to be a part of the State Development and Policy Council (SDPC) constituted by the Tamil Nadu state government. We congratulate  Narthaki
and  hope she will be able to make a difference in the field of health and welfare of artists wherein she is presently involved.



Thursday, 3 June 2021


The June issue of Sruti is a bouquet of profiles big and small, of personalities who have left their imprints on the artistic canvas. On the occasion of the late violin maestro M.S. Goplakrishnan’s birthday on 10 June, an old friend and rasika recalls the man and his extraordinary music in our Readers Write section.

The cover story focuses on the famous duo in Hindustani music—Rajan and Sajan Misra, who have been among the most popular singers in the past two decades. Representatives of the Banaras gharana and champions of khayal gayaki, they have earned a name for themselves for their  mature music embellished by bhava,  special thought  applied to lyrics and enunciation, their vast repertoire, as also for their religious music. I heard them often on the radio and television in the 1970s – 80s, but got an opportunity to listen to them live in 1980-81 at the RIMPA festival organised by sitar maestro Ravi Shankar in Varanasi. The brothers seemed to have an uncanny understanding of each other’s thought process and the way the cascading  alternate rounds of taans came in quick succession—Rajan’s sargam taan followed by Sajan’s akaar taan—was especially amazing. As a part-time music student of the Banaras Hindu University,
I even managed to get an autograph from Rajan Misra. Its now become a cherished memory with his succumbing to Covid in Delhi on 25 April 2021.  Writer Shailaja Khanna and eminent musicians have paid tribute to this versatile duo in this issue
of Sruti.

In continuation of our special feature on Lord Siva-Nataraja, veteran Bharatanatyam exponent and guru  Sudharani Raghupathy shares with us  her ‘vision of Nataraja’ gained over a lifetime dedicated to the arts. Scholar Sudha Seshayyan’s article on the ‘Sapta tandava’ provides rare insights into minute details.

We are delighted to bring to you small profiles of artists who have helped to popularise Indian culture abroad. Chatur Lal was a progressive tabla player who toured with sitar maestro Ravi Shankar in the mid 1950s and 60s and was among the first to participate in talavadya ensembles and successful percussion fusion experiments. Myrta Barvie was a ballet dancer who studied in Kalakshetra and returned to her homeland to become a pioneer in performing and propagating  Indian classical dances in South America. Famous natyacharya V.P. Dhananjayan has paid an endearing tribute to a collaborator Jacques D’ Amboise – a ballet dancer and master choreographer who, through his mammoth collaborations, taught and shared the joy of dancing with children belonging to underprivileged communities across the world.

The list of those snatched by the cruel hands of Fate grows longer by the day. Veteran sitar maestro and academician Debu Chaudhuri (85) and his son Prateek Chaudhuri (49) succumbed to the deadly Covid  within a week of each other. The demise of octogenarian writer Laxminarayan Garg, Editor of the long-running Hindi monthly Sangeet, on 30 April is a loss to arts journalism in Hindi. The passing away of the much respected veteran composer and musician Tanjavur Sankara Iyer has left a void in Carnatic music. The field of Bharatanatyam has lost a fine exponent, teacher and choreographer in the death of  B. Bhanumathi in Bengaluru on 24 May. She was a disciple of greats like natyacharya K.N. Dandayudhapani Pillai, Kadur Venkatalakshamma and Kalanidhi Narayanan. Sruti
fondly recalls her participation as a representative of the ‘Dandayudhapani school’  in the National Seminar on Bharatanatyam Traditions held in Chennai in December 1989.

To end on a positive note, the pandemic has seen several musicians and dancers rising  to the occasion and coming forward in traditional and innovative ways to contribute towards the welfare of artists and society. May the spirit of
caring and giving grow.