Tuesday, 11 August 2020

Press Release on the December Season 2020

Federation Of City Sabha, Chennai 

Press Release

The Federation of City Sabhas, Chennai in its video conference meeting held on 9th Aug, 2020,  discussed the current scenario with regard to conduct of cultural programmes in Chennai. The festive spirit of Margazhi with Music , Dance, DramaNamasankeerthanam and spiritual discourses have been nurtured by the Sabhas /Cultural organisations for many decades now. The City was given the UNESCO recognition for its contribution to propagating our art and cultural traditions. Artistes and rasikas acknowledge the stellar role of Sabhas in fostering art and culture and their work to showcase our heritage. In this context, the Members discussed ways and means to hold the cultural events in the Season without disruption by adopting Technology. 

Considering the Covid 19 pandemic, which is showing no signs of abatement and coupled with the concerns of the all regarding safety, social distancing and avoiding congregation of any sort, as per the Government guidelines, it was felt that the Federation of Sabhas present the annual December seasons cultural events during the first half of Margazhi (i.e.,during 3rd and 4th weeks of  December 2020) using Digitalplatforms and thereby preserve the continuing tradition amidst this Pandemic. The Federation will chalk out the events for this Art Festival in due course of time. It was agreed that the Federation of Sabhas will work out the details and organise support for indigent artistes who are financially affected during this period.  All the member Sabhas have expressed their unanimous support to make the annual Festival a success in this new challenging environment and reaffirm the Sabhas commitment towards promoting arts and culture in a sustained way. The Federation solicits the support of artistes, patrons, rasikas and other cultural organisations making this years Festival a success.

The Federation of City Sabhas consists of Brahma Gana Sabha, Hamsadhwani, Karthik Fine Arts, Narada Gana Sabha, Rasika Ranjani Sabha, Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha and Sri Thyaga Brahma Gana Sabha.




Monday, 3 August 2020

Abhai’s ‘Artistes for Artistes Welfare Fund’ initiative

 S. Janaki

The year 2020 began as usual with festivities connected with the New Year. In Chennai, the cultural capital of India, the December- January Margazhi Mahotsavam was slowly coming to a close with most sabhas boasting of more than two months of non-stop programmes featuring thousands of artists from all over the world. February heralded the festival of Sivaratri when dancers congregated at the thousands of Siva temples to participate in dance festivals celebrating the Lord of Dance, Siva-Nataraja. March saw the commencement of the annual and board exams for students and a general lull in cultural activities. It was a bolt from the blue for the fraternity of artists world over when the deadly Corona virus struck and literally stunned people into a shocked silence and inactivity in the form of the “lockdown”. Realisation about the enormity of the situation dawned slowly with everyone trying to come to terms with the novel challenges in day to day life.

Members of the artistic fraternity were preparing themselves for the various tours abroad for performances, arangetrams, workshops and other assignments for extended periods of over five to six months. How would the lockdown affect their livelihood? The first reaction was one of shock, disbelief, and dejection, which got slowly transformed into acceptance of the current situation and drawing up of plans to deal with the crisis.

Steps were required to resurrect the largely unorganised sector of culture comprising mainly of professional and non-professional artists from various classical dance and music styles, as well as the thousands of folk artists and traditional arts & crafts persons who were rendered jobless.

The Association of Bharatanatyam Artistes of India (ABHAI) has, over the years, been playing a proactive role in artists’ welfare. This time too it soon swung into action. The organisation’s president, Roja Kannan, shares how ABHAI implemented its plans.

“We had to take some hardcore decisions on how to deal with the crisis that artists were facing because of the pandemic and how to find intermediary and immediate solutions to their day to day problems. An emergency committee meeting was convened online and thus was born the initiative called ‘Abhai—Artistes for Artistes Welfare Fund’.

An appeal for funds was framed by means of a video which was produced by Abhai, wherein all the committee members performed, and I appealed for funds at the end. The songs were carefully chosen, keeping in mind the gravity of the situation, and the need to gain strength from one another in a spirit of mutual give and take. We put together lyrics of poet Sahir Ludhianvi which speaks of equality and equanimity, verses from Ramalinga Adigalar’s Jeeva Karunyam which talks of compassion towards everything on Earth—the flora, fauna, the hungry, the poor and the sick, and finally verses from Maitreem bhajata which talks of universal peace and harmony. Each committee member recorded his/her portion from home and with some in-house editing skills we launched the appeal-video on Tamil New Year’s Day on 14 April. The video was shared through all our social media platforms, as well as the Abhai WhatsApp groups comprising nearly 3000 members, in the spirit of self reliance or ‘atmanirbhar’.

The response was immediate and heartwarming. What started as a slow trickle has now transformed into a steady flow with the donations received so far amounting to over thirteen lakhs rupees. We are humbled and happy to state that all these donations have been from fellow artists, students, rasikas and the general public who have supported our initiative. The stony silence from a section of artists and the hate and sarcastic emails that were circulated did not deter us even a tiny bit from our mission to revive the spirit of the artistic fraternity and help them gain a foothold till things settled down. The lack of government support also did not matter to us.

Our disbursements till end of May have been to the tune of over 12 lakhs rupees. The total number of artists helped is around 162, which includes dancers, teachers, members of the orchestra (vocalists, violinists, flutists, mridangists, tambura artists, special effects artists, tabla artists), make-up artists, costumers, tailors, stage decorators, lighting technicians, instrument makers and repairers, folk artists, puppeteers, members of the Irula and soothsayer communities. The list is long.

This is an ongoing process of ABHAI—for the artists, by the artists, to the artists—a mission that we as an organisation of artists, hav  committed ourselves to engage in apart from our regular schemes like monthly medical assistance to old and indigent artists as well as outreach programmes in Corporation and Government aided schools to take the arts to the grassroots level.


Vidyasundari Bengaluru Nagarathnamma

Tribhuvanae ae ae ae, as you listen to the Mukunda Mala stotra sung by Bengaluru Nagarathnamma, you observe an older way of singing. It is at a higher octave, the lines are sharply cut, there is less gamaka and the singing is stronger. Composer Pusthakam Ramaa begins the play, Vidyasundari Bengaluru Nagarathnamma, on the same note, but with softer continuity of lines, adding more body with gamakas reflecting contemporary Carnatic music. The play on Bengaluru Nagarathnamma was premiered on 27 December 2019, at Chowdiah Memorial Hall in Bengaluru.

The opening scene depicts the samadhi of Tyagaraja, with the two groups of Peria Katchi and Chinna Katchi squabbling over the conduct of the saint’s aradhana. Bengaluru Nagarathnamma enters with several devadasis and decides to conduct the aradhana on her own. Young Bannibai (who went on to become a Harikatha legend), adopted by Nagarathnamma, is introduced and the crowd flocks to listen to her at the aradhana. However, the event is cut short by a fire started by a jealous miscreant.

Vidyasundari Bengaluru Nagarathnamma, a musical play produced by the Sangeeta Sambhrama Trust in Kannada with Tamil and Telugu (also English) dialogues, was directed by the award-winning theatre and movie director Nagabharana; with music composition by Pusthakam Ramaa. The play draws inspiration from Sriram V’s book The Devadasi and the Saint: The Life and Times of Bengaluru Nagarathnamma, and the Kannada novel Vidyasundari by Maleyuru Guruswamy. The text for the play has been adapted by Prathibha Nandakumar and Hooli Sekhar.

It was a fast-moving play showcasing several events: The life of young Nagarathna in Nanjanagudu near Mysore, her education, training in music, her mother Puttalakshamma falling into penury, their move to Bengaluru, the death of Nagarathna’s mother, and her musical prowess were well enacted. Nagarathna meets judge Narahari Rao who becomes pivotal role in her rise. The role of the Dewan was played by Pulikeshi Kasturi who was also the choreographer of the play. Interesting were the scenes unfolding the building of a house for Nagarathna on a small hillock that Narahari named Mount Joy, which came to be known as Narahari Raya’s gudda, the breakup of the couple, and their reunion heightened by Nagarathna singing the javali Matada barade (won’t you talk to me?) addressed to him. The roles of young Nagarathna and Narahari were played by Ananya Bhat and Nitin with sweetness and gusto.

Nagarathnamma’s move to Madras and her friendship with Veena Dhanammal (Nagini Bharana), becoming wealthy and building a bungalow, inviting her guru Bidaram Krishnappa to sing Kannada songs in Madras, her sweetness and coyness giving way to confidence and strength (acted with authority by Deepthi Srinath) were all portrayed with conviction. The receipt of a letter from Bidaram Krishnappa (Vageesh Krishna), Nagarathnamma’s first visit to Tyagaraja’s samadhi in Tiruvaiyuru which she cleans up on finding it in a state of disarray, how she sells her jewellery and her house to build Tyagaraja’s samadhi (she exchanges fertile land for the barren to construct it) and Nagarathnamma’s final resting place in front of the samadhi—the scenes narrated in Harikatha style with a chorus connecting them, with great music, were gripping. P. Ramaa played a dignified senior Nagarathnamma.

Some artistic license seems to have been taken in the depiction of the friendship between Nagarathnamma and Veena Dhanammal. Was Dhanammal present when  Nagarathnamma went to Tyagaraja’s samadhi for the first time? Did she dance? The well known humorous side of Nagarathnamma could also have been highlighted. There were some glitches in the malfunctioning of the sets, which can easily be corrected in future presentations.

The play combined drama, dance and music with interesting production values that enhanced the narrative. One hopes it will have a long run, with many presentations, as it tells the story of a woman extraordinare.


(Gandhian scholar, cultural activist, critic, and managing trustee, Aseema Trust)


Harnessing technology to tradition 

Rama Kousalya

My father used to tell us “Never hate anything. If you do, you may have to live with it forever”. That said, I had to make peace with my contempt for social media and accept it with all the positives it has to offer, especially when it has the world tied up together during these testing times.

Every year, the janma nakshatras of Syama Sastry (1762-1827) and Tyagaraja (1767-1847) are important events at Marabu Foundation, Tillaisthanam. Since its inception, we at Marabu, have had the blessing of paying musical homage to the great saints in their houses. In the month of Chaitra, on the day of Kritika nakshatra (the birth star of Syama Sastry), Marabu Foundation has been presenting a special musical offering at his house in the morning, followed by a concert in the evening at the Tanjavur Bangaru Kamakshi Amman Temple. The celebration has always been preceded by a workshop to teach some of his priceless compositions in the usual gurukula pattern at the Marabu house, Tillasithanam, where the candidates are handpicked and taught free of cost by senior music teachers.

This year too I had elaborate plans in mind to celebrate Syama Sastry’s jayanti. I had planned a musical homage covering all the important sthalas pertinent to him like Kanchipuram, Tiruvarur, Tanjavur and Tiruvaiyaru, while depicting how Bangaru Kamakshi had travelled with the family for more than two centuries until the Maratha ruler brought them all to Tanjavur.

It is said that Syama Sastry’s ancestors were anointed to be the official pujakas of Bangaru Kamakshi Amman (then in Kanchipuram) by Adi Sankara, and fearing the invaders, they fled with the deity from Kanchipuram to several places. It was King Tulaja (1763- 1787), the Maratha ruler of Tanjavur, who brought the family and the deity to Tanjavur, by building the temple and presenting the family with a house and lands for comfortable living.

With regard to Tyagaraja, Marabu had conducted workshops on his kshetra kritis (Lalgudi, Tiruvottriyur, Srirangam and Kovur) four years ago which was facilitated by gurus Leelavathi Gopalakrishnan, Shyamala Venkateswaran, Prema Rangarajan and Bhushany Kalyanaraman. While his ghana raga pancharatnas are popular and widely sung, his kshetra pancharatnas are not sung as groups, although kritis like O Rangasayee, Dharini telusukonti, Ee vasudha and Sambho Mahadeva are very popular. It was my keen desire to have these 20 kritis sung by the workshop participants on Tyagaraja’s janma nakshatra (Chaitra masa – Pushya nakshatra, which fell on 30 April 2020), in front of the Rama idol worshipped by Tyagaraja at Varagappaiyyar lane in Tanjavur.

I was hoping to bring out all this glory, but as they say, God finds the right time to execute our plans. Well, He also gave me a solution on how to go about it!

I have never understood what social media is all about. While apps like WhatsApp have become an important means of communication, I have always looked at Facebook as a means to fritter away time. YouTube still has some useful content to refer, while sucking up energy and time. I didn’t know Instagram existed until my niece Madhuvanthi Badri (also one of the trustees), threw some light on it, when I happened to discuss my plans with her.

The possibility of a musical offering performed live through a social networking site excited me. It was startling to know that people from different geographical locations could go live over a social platform for this purpose!

It was decided that the four girls—Madhuvanthi Badri (Chennai), Krithika Vika  (Tanjavur), Swetha Ramarathnam and Archanashree P. (Coimbatore) would sing one kshetra pancharatnam each through Marabu Foundation’s Facebook page on 30 April 2020. Due to certain technical shortcomings we decided on this format.

In the meanwhile, I had discussions with S. Vijeyajeya, who heads the Department of Music at PSG College of Arts in Coimbatore. One of the senior disciples of Chandrasekhara Bhagavatar of Pandanallur was to perform on 25 April 2020 for Syama Sastry day at the Bangaru Kamakshi Amman Temple. With the lockdown situation at hand, we pitched the idea of her performing online. She in turn suggested we do a similar homage like the one planned for Tyagaraja and roped in the four girls to join her in singing the gems of Syama Sastry. In no time, a video conference call had us deciding the kritis to be sung.

Vijeyajeya chose to render Devi Brova  (Chintamani) and Palimsu Kamakshi (Madhyamavati), Madhuvanthi selected Karunajoodavamma (Varali) and Meenalochana brova (Dhanyasi), Krithika - Durusuga (Saveri) and Kanakasaila (Punnagavarali), Archana - Sarojadala netri (Sankarabharanam) and Ninnuvina (Reetigaula) and Swetha - Enneramum (Poorvikalyani) and Mahilo Amba (Anandabhairavi).

I took rapid lessons from the girls on how to download and install the apps; that seemed more nerve wracking than the process of planning the event itself! On hearing these developments, Kunjithapatham Iyer, the Mudraadhikari of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham for Tanjavur, who helps in arranging Syama Sastry’s janma nakshatra programme year after year choked, “This year, I thought we had to be satisfied with the offering of a few flowers and neivedyam to Syama Sastry’s portrait at the temple, but it was Her will which made the programme possible in this unimaginable period.” Vishaka Hari, who supports our Syama Sastry programme, was overjoyed with the developments. Auditor Sundar of Chennai, instrumental in executing this programme, was equally elated.

The days that followed comprised constant rehearsals, creating the invitation, and giving me tutorials on how Facebook live sessions work, over video conferencing. Vijeyajeya was as anxious as I was—like new recruits learning the ins and the outs! The fascinating idea of connecting to the world from the comfort of our homes was finally coming together.

On 25 and 30 April, it was extremely gratifying to witness them all singing so soulfully for the two saints. I had requested them to feel the aura of Bangaru Kamakshi Amman in the ambience of the temple, which they brought out with their bhava-laden singing. The kshetra pancharatnas were all rendered with equal devotion. As much as I did miss the satisfaction of all this happening in Tanjavur, I couldn’t have asked for something better with thousands of people getting together to pay their respects to the great saints.

It is heartening to see so many artists perform every other day in the online sphere and even more heartening to see unprecedented viewership for the same. It does look like the way forward until things return to normalcy. Also, it has got many like me to embrace the social networking world with open arms— with a cheer!

(The author is a veteran musicologist and academician)

Awards galore for the Dhananjayans

The Dhananjayans were honoured with the title, Bharatmuni Samman by Kalingayana Touryatrikam at Rabindra Mandap, Bhubaneswar on 16 December 2019.

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, eminent Bharatanatyam exponent and guru Shanta Dhananjayan was conferred the Sthree Ratna award by The Fine Arts Society, Chembur, Mumbai on 14 March 2020.

Rasikapriya Fine Arts Academy, as a part of their three-day arts festival, honoured the Dhananjayans with the title, Rasikapriya Kala Ratna on 16 February 2020. Rasikapriya Fine Arts was started five years ago by a group of music lovers with an aim to bring classical music, dance and drama to the residents of OMR, Chennai.