By V Ramnarayan
Attending the tenth annual art festival of the Rukminidevi Natyakshetra Foundation based in Anna Nagar West Extension was a memorable, hope-giving experience. Over three evenings, the art school showcased the offerings of its students—in the form of an art exhibition, song and dance. On the first day, it presented an instrumental ensemble followed by the dance drama Azhagar Kuravanji. Over the next two evenings, the audience was treated to music in the cutcheri format, choral singing by the younger children and margam exposition by students of varied ages. Some of the painting exhibits including realistic depictions of nature and still life would have done adult artists proud.
I was a guest on the last evening, and was hugely impressed by how faithfully young S Premnath, the founder of the foundation, has tried to recreate the ambience and good taste of Rukmini Devi’s Kalakshetra in this distant outpost of Chennai, so far removed from Mylapore and Adyar, the acknowledged centres of classical performing arts in this part of the country.
“I know for myself that the real Natya is Ananda, the Ananda of the higher self, not the lower self.” Quoting these words of Rukmini Devi, arts activist VR Devika has said about Premnath, “He is trying to impart the full import of the above statement in his Natyakshetra, which he established and conducts in a deeply reverential manner, to bring in a taste of the beauty of the art he learnt at Kalakshetra.”
As I watched the sincere and aesthetically pleasing efforts of the students of the school, the thought ran through my mind that if every Indian child were exposed to such learning, the country would be a vastly better place.
I found this very thought echoed by the principal SK Saraswathi in her note in the festival commemoration volume. She says: “At a time when terrorism, selfishness and greed are destroying man’s essential nature, I appeal to teachers, parents and students to join this selfless institution in its mission of moulding man through the arts.”
It was a truly inspiring experience to witness the change Premnath and his team have wrought in an urban milieu. They offer us hope in these turbulent times.