S.Rajam’s (Music Appreciation notes)

Saturday, 29 June 2019


We know of several rulers who patronised the fine arts and classical music, but there are very few who were famous composers themselves. Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar, erstwhile Maharaja of Mysore, was a man of letters, a musician adept in music of the East and the West, a patron of the arts, and a well known composer whose kritis are rendered in Carnatic concerts across the globe. In this issue, Sruti gives pride of place to this versatile Maharaja whose centenary falls on 18 July 2019. We present recollections by eminent personalities like Dr. V. Raghavan and Sudharani Raghupathy who had personally interacted with Wodeyar, as also articles analysing the life, music and contributions of the composer-king.

You will find an interesting variety as you browse  through this July issue. We offer you a brief but interesting peek into the lessons learnt by mridangist Tanjavur Ramadas from his guru Palghat Mani Iyer, a perspective on mangalam as a musical composition, incisive comments on the dance scene by veteran critic V.A.K. Ranga Rao, and a tour through the Mahagami campus planned in an idyllic setting for art and artists to grow.

The 10th of June 2019 was a sad day for Indian theatre and cinema with the passing away of Girish Karnad and Crazy Mohan on the same day in Bengaluru and Chennai respectively. Both were versatile personalities who have left their mark in both fields.

Girish Karnad was a renowned playwright, actor, director, translator, and cultural interventionist. He was among India’s foremost dramatists, with several published plays including Yayati, Tughlaq, Hayavadana, Naga-Mandala and Taledanda. He explored a variety of themes, drawing from Indian mythology and history, to create a body of work with strong contemporary resonances. His work has been translated from Kannada into a number of Indian languages and have been presented on stage by eminent directors. He can be counted among the giants who created and popularised modern theatre in India. Simultaneously, Girish Karnad worked in Indian cinema, and won accolades as an actor, director and scriptwriter. He was at the helm of institutions in his chosen fields and was a much feted man. His passing away is a huge loss to the fields of theatre, cinema and literature.

Crazy Mohan was a popular Tamil actor, comedian, screenwriter and playwright. The first full-length play he wrote was Crazy Thieves in Paalavakkam, which was a run-away success and he became famous as “Crazy” Mohan. He launched his own drama troupe called Crazy Creations in 1979 which has created over 30 plays with original scripts and crossed over 6500 shows in India and abroad. He also wrote about 100 short stories. His passing away has robbed Tamil theatre and cinema of a fund of good humour.

This summer has seen the launch of a noteworthy initiative called ‘Navapallava’ in the field of dance. A brainchild of Ashok Jain (of SPIC MACAY fame), it is a movement against the exploitative “pay and perform” syndrome plaguing Indian classical dance. The aim is to provide a dignified platform for good classical dancers aged 25 to 40 years to showcase their talent, under the patronage of senior dancer-gurus in different cities. Many senior artists across India like Uma Dogra, Sharmila Biswas, Aruna Mohanty, Anita Sharma, Gayatri Subramaniam, Vaibhav Arekar and Sailaja have joined the initiative to host programmes by young talented dancers. We wish it luck and hope Navapallava will be able to sustain itself and become a strong movement against corrupt practices in the field of dance. Of course it goes without saying that dancers themselves must stop paying to perform.

Saturday, 15 June 2019



At a time when anything and everything can get commercialised, it is a pleasant surprise to find a ninth-generation artist who teaches classical arts on a fee-free basis to more than 200 children in Chennai. “Art is unbiased,” says Aniruddha Knight, the only grandson of T. Balasaraswati and the director of Balasaraswati Institute of Performing Arts.

Tanjore Balasaraswati, Padma Vibushan awardee, and celebrated Bharatanatyam exponent of  the 20th century, belongs to the grand musical lineage of Veena Dhanammal. She, along with nattuvanar Ganesa Pillai, trained students at the Balasaraswati School of Bharatanatyam  established by the Madras Music Academy in 1953, which ran successfully for many years. After Balasaraswati visited the U.S.A. in the 1960s the Balasaraswati School of Music and Dance was established in the U.S.A. and was run by Luise Scripps in the mid-1970s. Bala's tradition spread throughout much of North America by the 1980s with branches in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City. Today the school runs under the name of Balasaraswati Institute of Performing Arts in Kilpauk, Chennai, after being passed on to three generations.

“But times have changed and many people began to take this art for granted through elitism and affluence. This art began to move away from its traditional roots in classicism,” says Aniruddha, who learnt the art from his grandmother and his mother Lakshmi Knight. Aniruddha is the only male descendant of  a 200-year old family of dancers and musicians. He has been performing since he was seven years old. He began to teach in 2014 with the aim to preserve and pass on his worthy legacy, “Today the school runs on a fee-free structure where students only pay through long-term commitment and persistence in learning.”

“Many people told me that this would not work—that people would not value something without a monetary transaction,” Aniruddha says. “It had to be proved that an art such as this could be taught and learnt without any pressure of money for the teacher and entitlement of the parents because they have paid for something.” This also ensures that people from different walks of life such as cooks, farmers, labourers have access to the arts. Traditionally, such people have not had an opportunity to be exposed to the arts.

Aniruddha is ably assisted by six of his teaching-assistants, the students are divided into several batches and are provided intense training.

Today, over 200 students learn music, dance, flute and mridangam on a regular basis with many of them travelling long distances from outside of Chennai to Kilpauk. Fourteen-year-old Swetha Nellaiappan says, “We get up at three in the morning to arrive for a 7.30 am class. We come from a village called Kalakattur 10 kms from Kancheepuram. To get to class we take a bus to Kancheepuram, a train to Chennai, and another city bus. This difficult journey is well-worth my time and I love dancing.” Over 20 students come from this village.

From each area where these students come from, chaperones ensure the children’s safety and discipline. In this way, it involves many people from the community who want a better life for the children for whom this is an unique opportunity. The students are also given milk and breakfast after every class. “It is so beautiful to see Balamma’s legacy being carried on to the next generation and I am happy to be a part of it,” says Munnuswamy, a chaperon from Perambur.

The Institute organises the Balasaraswati Award function on 13 May every year to mark Balasaraswati’s birthday. The Balasarawati-Scripps Award for Artistic Excellence is conferred on stalwarts in the field of classical dance—veteran dancer-gurus Adyar Lakshman, Birju Maharaj and Sonal Mansingh are the recipients of the award till date. Students of the Balasaraswati Institute of Performing Arts are provided an opportunity to perform on the occasion, which offers them the rare experience of dancing in the presence of such great artists, other exponents and critics.

“The fee-free model has been a success far beyond our expectations,” says Aniruddha, “The camaraderie and sincerity is unique and I feel it can only be so strong without the expectation of money. It compels the teacher-student and the community to value their own culture and understand  the  hundreds of years of cultural evolution found nowhere else in the world.”

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Global Achievement Award for Radhika Shurajit

By Buzybee

Radhika Shurajit, well known senior Bharatanatyam dancer, teacher and director of classical dance programmes on television, was honoured with the Global Achievement Award for her contribution to Indian classical dance. The award was presented by Bob Blackman, Member of Parliament, on 4 June 2019, at the UK Parliament House, London. 

Monday, 10 June 2019

The passing of a theatre giant

S. Janaki

"I write because I want to be remembered," said Girish Karnad. One of the best known playwrights in contemporary India, actor, director, critic, translator, and cultural interventionist, Girish  Karnad was a versatile theatre personality. He can be counted among the giants who created and popularised modern theatre in India.

Born on 19 May 1938 in Matheran, Maharashtra, Girish Karnad was educated at Karnataka University, Dharwad, and at Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes scholar. He began his career with the Oxford University Press in Madras, and while there worked with the Madras Players as actor and director.

He was among India’s foremost dramatists, with eight published plays including Yayati (1961), Tughlaq (1964), Hayavadana (1971), Naga-Mandala (1988) and Taledanda (1990). He explored a variety of themes, drawing from Indian mythology and history to create a body of work with strong contemporary resonances. Karnad’s work has been translated from Kannada into a number of Indian languages and have been presented on stage by eminent directors like E. Alkazi, B.V. Karanth, and Vijaya Mehta.

Simultaneously, Girish Karnad worked in Indian cinema, and won accolades as an actor, director and scriptwriter. His important films include Samskara (1970) in which he played the lead role, Vamsha Vriksha (1972), Kaadu (1974), Ondanondu Kaladalli (1978), and the non-feature Kanaka Purandara (1989). Apart from acting in mainstream cinema, Karnad also played many significant roles in parallel cinema, notably with Shyam Benegal. He is also remembered for his role in the televised version of R.K. Narayan’s Swami and Friends.

Karnad served as Director, Film and Television Institute of India (1974-75), Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence at University of Chicago (1987-88), Chairman of the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi (1988-93), and Director, Nehru Centre in London (2000-03).

Honours came early to him—the Homi Bhabha Fellowship as well as several prestigious awards like the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, Padma Shri, Jnanpeeth awards, the Kalidas Samman, Padma Bhushan, the Akademi Ratna or Fellow of the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi. he was also the recipient of many awards in Indian cinema. 

The passing away of the multifaceted Girish Karnad at the age of 81, on 10 June 2019 in Bengaluru, is a huge loss to the fields of theatre, cinema and literature.

(An interview with Girish Karnad was published in Sruti 356, May 2014)