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)

Friday, 7 June 2019

Raam Manikandan gets Bal Shakti Puraskar

By Samudri

President Ram Nath Kovind presented the Bal Shakti Puraskar 2019 awards earlier this year in January. Twenty-six awardees were chosen from amongst 900 applications in the field of innovation, social service, scholastic, sports, art & culture and bravery.  Under the category of art & culture – classical music – was Chennai based Raam Manikandan. Twelve-year-old Raam, is studying in class 8 in Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan, Siruseri, Chennai. He learns Carnatic music from Prof. P.P. Ramakrishnan (Retd. Principal of the Chembai Memorial Music College, Palghat, Kerala), and mridangam from Mysore Sai Shiv of Guru Karaikudi Mani School. Raam has also completed the electronic keyboard final (8th) grade exam conducted by Trinity College, London and is one of the youngest in India to have secured it with distinction. Among his other accomplishments, Raam has also received the Kalai Ilamani Award (Young Artist award) from the Government of Tamil Nadu.

Trutpraj Atul Pandya from Maharashtra and Vinayaka M from Karnataka are the other two children who have been awarded the Bal Shakti Puraskar under this category.

Monday, 3 June 2019

The Shivaargya - Sivaratri festival

The Shivaargya - Sivaratri festival was organised at Ganesa Natyalaya, New Delhi on 3 March 2019 . It was a day-long celebration (10 am to 6 pm) comprising performances by young male classical dancers, and the honouring of male classical dance gurus and scholars of Delhi. Guru Saroja Vaidyanathan also received the Best of India Records Certificate from adjudicator Binu Joseph for organising classical dance performances continuously for eight hours.

Veena Seshanna Memorial National Award

Bengaluru-based Swaramurthy V.N. Rao Memorial Trust presented the Veena Seshanna Memorial National Award to musicians Anayampatti S. Ganesan (jalatarangam) and the Swaramurthy V.N. Rao Memorial National Award to R.A. Ramamani (vocal), on 23 February 2019 in Bengaluru. It was followed by Veeneya Bedagu—a four-day music festival organized in collaboration with the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts.

The Amaravathi Lifetime Achievement Award 2018

The Amaravathi Lifetime Achievement Award 2018 was presented to veteran Bharatanatyam exponent and guru Chitra Visweswaran during the Amaravathi Nrityotsav organized by Nataraj Music and Dance Academy, Visakhapatnam.

Saturday, 1 June 2019


Now that the general elections are over and the Bharatiya Janata Party led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has romped home with a thumping majority in Parliament, the new government should soon take up the threads of good governance. Apart from focussing on infrastructural development equal importance must be given to India’s culture and heritage which is our country’s USP. The Ministry of Culture, Government of India, is charged with preservation and promotion of art and culture. Headed by a Minister of State with Independent Charge, we hope it will pay greater attention to implementing different facets of the national cultural policy, increase funding for the traditional arts, release financial assistance to its nodal agencies, and support deserving artists with grants and welfare schemes.

There is greater awareness now among the arts fraternity too about the need for a representative body to put forth its aspirations and grievances. ABHAI—the Association of Bharatanatyam Artistes of India—is now an active player in the field of classical dance. A long-felt need for such an organisation in the field of Carnatic music has been addressed with the formation of the Global Carnatic Musicians Association (GCMA) in April this year, with star Carnatic vocalist Sudha Ragunathan as its President and a host of top musicians from the four southern states as office bearers and committee members. Many organisations have constituted their Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) to receive and redress complaints in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Hope it will encourage affected parties to fearlessly lodge complaints so that necessary action can be taken to cleanse the system.

Come June, several sabhanayakas will be putting their heads together to select artists for their coveted awards. There are several senior artists—highly deserving vocalists and instrumentalists—in and outside Tamil Nadu who could be considered for the top awards of the sabhas of Chennai. In this issue, we feature M.S. Sheela of Karnataka—a senior versatile vocalist, teacher and organiser with style, substance and impeccable musical pedigree. Many have suggested that she deserves the Padma Bhushan on the national level; yes but why not also the top awards closer home? Some food for thought!

We launch a new series on pioneers—dancers and musicians—in the Indian diaspora who were responsible for popularising and propagating Indian art and culture in the land where they accompanied the spouse to set up a home and family. Unconsciously, they set a trend and went on to become cultural ambassadors. The first artist to be featured in this series is senior Bharatanatyam dancer and teacher Viji Prakash settled in Los Angeles, U.S.A. We hope to write about such illustrious personalities from time to time.

Another interesting story is about the Musiri Chamber concerts held at Mylapore in Chennai. It has reached the milestone of 25 years and you can read about the “secrets of its success”. The family members of Musiri Subramania Iyer, who initiated this series, are self-effacing to the extent that they refused to give us their photograph. Undeterred we searched the net and managed to locate one on social media.

Rich tributes have been paid to Manakkal Rangarajan and D. Pasupathi who passed away recently, by famous personalities who were associated with them. Amshan Kumar, who directed a documentary on Manakkal, presents a crisp overview of his life and music. Dr. N. Ramanathan and natyacharya V.P. Dhananjayan paint a poignant picture of Pasupathi as a true torchbearer of Kalakshetra values.

We also have reports of several music and dance events from across the country and abroad.

Thursday, 30 May 2019

VR Chennai launches heritage walks


The newly opened Virtual Retail (VR) mall located in the up-market neighbourhood of Anna Nagar, stands different from most malls in Chennai. Its unique building design incorporates features of ancient south Indian architecture. Starting from its entrance, the walls, paintings and sculptures are aesthetically designed to present our rich art, culture and history with a view  to educate future generations.

On 5 May 2019, VR Chennai launched “Kathai-Kalai-Parampariyam walks”, tracing the rich heritage of south India by way of "stories, art and heritage". “We hope that the Kathai-Kalai-Parampariyam walks will engage and amaze city residents and tourists alike, and take them on a journey that connects them with the rich, albeit sometimes forgotten, heritage of this bustling, modern metropolis,” says Siddharth Yog, founder and chairman of VR. The objective is to make Chennaites and tourists aware of the art and culture of south India.

The kathai walk on day one was ably conducted by historian Sriram V who explained all the tales of the Dasavataram in a crisp manner within 45 minutes. The 10 manifestations of Lord Vishnu have been beautifully portrayed at 10 different places in the mall in various forms like   sculptures, paintings, carvings and lights. The participants of the walk were provided with a receiver and a guide. The walk started from the entrance of the mall where Sriram launched his narration with the help of a mike and receivers.

Matsya, the first avatar, was represented as a three-feet long catfish, laser-cut out of a metal sheet and located in The Tamarai Sadukkam — a small pond-like structure located at the entrance. After narrating the tale of this particular avatar and explaining other traditional designs in the mall such as the structure of the gopuram, the temple tank and the mahadeepam, the participants were escorted to the place where two huge beautiful paintings depicting the churning of the ocean of milk (paarkadal) were mounted on opposite walls. One depicted the devas or gods holding one side of Vasuki the snake while the opposite wall was full of the asuras or demons. The story of Kurma, the second avatar of Lord Vishnu, was narrated here. The lights on the ceiling near the paintings was of an aesthetic design with three colours — green, blue and gold to depict the poison, water and nectar. The Kurma avatar or tortoise, carved out of green stone, was placed along a water stream.

Varaha, the third incarnation, was in the form of a water fountain at the side of the mall, while Narasimha was depicted in a hand painted mural on the ceiling. Its location being “neither inside nor outside” in keeping with the reference to the tale, was captivating. The stunning mural depicts the scene of Narasimha pulling out the entrails of Hiranyakasipu. The Vamana avatar is represented in a 15-feet mural on the outside wall of the mall, capturing the moment when King Mahabali offers his head for the Lord to place His foot. A mural on another outer wall shows Parasurama, the next avatar, being blessed by Varuna, the god of water, as he sits in meditation in Gokarna.

The avatars of Lord Rama and Krishna are in the form of hand carved wall art, the design inspired by the Ramaswamy temple in Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu. The last two avatars of Buddha and Kalki are located in a separate building with a quiet and peaceful ambience.
There is a seated sculpture of the Buddha in his form of  'amoga siddhi'; and then, we come
across an interpretation of the Kalki avatar designed with brilliant lights. There was a 300 kg “uloga bell” with all the 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu carved on it, placed on the side entrance of the mall —  it was a delightful sight!

All the sculptures, paintings and carvings are by local artists. In order to encourage and nurture indigenous art and craft, VR is collaborating with local artists and guilds like Kalarings Art studio, Cholamandal Artists’ village, Klove studio, Satish Gupta and Sri Sankara Silpa Sala.

By including architectural references to temples in the form of questions and answers, talking about their history and quoting examples from literature such as Tiruvaimozhi, Nachiyar Tirumozhi, Silappadhikaram, and Geeta Govindam, Sriram kept the entire session alive and going.

Overall, the walk was both educative and entertaining. It concluded with a short music concert by students of Bombay Jayashri,  followed by refreshments. With the increasing influence of pop culture in India, especially in places like malls and movie theatres, such initiatives to remind us of our roots, must be appreciated.

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Nataka Choodamani award for P.C. Ramakrishna

By Buzybee

P.C. Ramakrishna, veteran dramatist, theatre director, actor  and renowned voice-over artist, received the 'Nataka Choodamani' award from  popular Tamil writer Sivasankari, as  K.V.S. Gopalakrishnan - Secretary, P.S.Educational Society; Nalli Kuppuswami Chetti  and Saashwathi Prabhu - CEO, YCPA-SKGS Trust look on. The K. Balachander Award of Excellence in Theatre (instituted by Kavithalaya T. Krishnan) was presented  to 'Appa' Ramesh.  The artists were honoured during the valedictory ceremony of the 27th YCPA Theatre Fest organised by Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, in May in Chennai. 

Friday, 3 May 2019

Sangeeta Vedanta Dhurina Award

The violin duo Ganesh- Kumaresh, was conferred the title Sangeeta Vedanta Dhurina, instituted by Sri Rama Lalitha Kala Mandira, from Yadugiri Yathiraja Narayana Ramanuja Jeeyar, at the Bangalore Gayana Samaja auditorium in Bengaluru. The award comprises one lakh rupees for each artist along with silver medals and citations.

Sreshta Sangita Seva Lahiri award

Jayalakshmi Balakrishnan, who runs Naada Inbam (Raga Sudha), received the Sreshta Sangita Seva Lahiri award instituted by Indira Ranganathan Trust from Spencer R. Venugopal in recognition of her yeoman service to promoting music, on the occasion of Women’s Day, 1 March 2019 in Chennai. It was followed by a concert of vidushi Suguna Varadachari.

Thursday, 2 May 2019


Kakarla Tyagabrahmam, popularly known as Tyagaraja, is said to have been born on 4 May 1767 according to the Gregorian calendar. We celebrate the birthday of this great vaggeyakara with a beautiful painting on the cover by the late classical painter-musician S. Rajam. Nestling in the heart of the city of Chennai, but away from its hustle and bustle, is situated a hoary sangeeta sthalam dedicated to Tyagaraja—Sri Thiagaraja Sangeetha Vidwath Samajam in Thiagarajapuram, Mylapore. Started by musicians in 1929, the Samajam is continuing its good work in a quiet way, keeping away from glamour and publicity. We trace its interesting story in this issue, and also present an analysis of a rare kriti—Sri Narasimha mam pahi—composed by the bard. It also falls in line with the celebration of Narasimha jayanti which occurs on 17 May this year, when Melattur comes alive to the sights and sounds of the Bhagavata Mela Mahotsava.

The staging of Prahallada Bhakti Bijaya in Odissi and the conference on Kathak and choreography in Bengaluru (in the News & Notes section) reflect the transition from legacy to re-alignment in the arts.

We have an elaborate profile of senior Bharatanrityam exponent Jayashree Rajagopalan, founder-director of Nrithyodaya-Mumbai who has been in the field for over 50 years. She is the recipient of the Nritya Perunjoti award from ABHAI—the Association of Bharatanatyam Artistes, this year.

Another interesting story is about the Hyderabad Sisters—Lalitha and Haripriya—who were very popular in Chennai in the 1990s but who became busy with their academic and concert assignments in Andhra Pradesh.

Not many would know about N.V. Murthy, a versatile percussionist, who accompanied both Carnatic and Hindustani musicians in the south. Sruti has always taken the initiative to write about less known artists who have dedicated their lives to the arts.

Musicologist Rama Kausalya pays an emotional tribute to her good friend, veteran Kamala Murthy who passed away recently.

In the passing away of S. Muthiah, veteran journalist, historian and conservationist, Sruti has lost a good friend. I got a chance to meet the soft spoken ever smiling Muthiah in the 1990s. He was a well-wisher of the magazine and a good friend of the founder-editor N. Pattabhi Raman. He would occasionally visit the editorial office at Alapana and comment on the magazine’s layout, contents and have a good word for everybody. Deeply passionate about Chennai’s heritage, he enjoyed the articles, cartoons and statistics about Chennai’s music and dance season. In fact S. Muthiah was involved in printing Sruti in the initial years. He told us that he was there when the very first copy of the first issue came out of the trimming machine, and he flipped through it to make sure that they had made no errors while printing at TT Maps where he worked. Muthiah would often reproduce articles from Sruti in his fortnightly called Madras Musings. Meticulous and principled that he was, he never failed to give credit and would send us a cheque for the same though we never asked him to do so. We, at Sruti, cherish our long standing interaction with S. Muthiah — the ‘Man from Madras Musings’.

Kalakshetra Foundation

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Presenting tradition in innovative ways

The Academy is bustling. A short walk away, Narada Gana Sabha is greeted with its signature throngs, and the traffic jam on T.T.K. Road is indicative of another season in full flow. The din is overwhelming, and a few regulars find their escapes: for some, it is a quaint house in Royapettah where, lit only by lamps, the concert’s melody remains pure. For others, it is a single screen in Sathyam Theatre, this time, with the tambura’s drone echoing off its walls. The ARTery and Madrasana offer innovative presentations, a stone’s throw away from Margazhi’s humble, century-old roots. The spaces are far from conventional but tend to bring back a style of music that we, as an audience, have probably forgotten.

“Over time there has been a drastic change in the way artists present their art. The current prosceniumlike auditorium setting is not how a concert used to be presented. Instead, it used to be a chamber performance—a temple, may be, with no amplification,” the founder of the ARTery, Ramanathan Iyer, explains.

The entrance of the auditorium, a product of Westernisation, he says, has stripped the art form of ambience, acoustics, and aesthetics. So when Ramanathan Iyer returned from the West, a career in engineering leaving his creative passions unsatisfied, he swore to restore all three. Taking ownership in 2012 of a dilapidated house coowned by vocalist S. Sowmya’s family, he refurbished the property with a solitary vision—”to present performance arts as they were meant to be presented”. “Our mission is simple: curate creativity. This could be with music, with dance, with theatre, with comedy. And boundless creativity, free of the shackles of age, seniority, and overt and opulent presentation,” he says.

The space, he says, has perfectly dovetailed into that initial mission and as more city dwellers began to crave for what he calls the unadulterated arts, a corporate, blue collar man decided that he, too, was in search of a greater artistic experience.

“Artists have given their heart and soul for their art form. As an organiser, I felt the need to elevate the stage to respect both the artist and the audience. It is an intimate experience—thirsting for a pristine quality that honours the art at hand,” says Madrasana founder Mahesh Venkateswaran.

Monday, 1 April 2019

Mridanga vidwan A. Kannan passes away

By Samudri

Veteran mridanga vidwan Madras A. Kannan died of cardiac arrest on 1 April 2019 in Chennai. He was 99. He was a mridangist much in demand in the 1950s and the 1960s. A contemporary of  Palghat Mani Iyer and Palani Subramania Pillai, Kannan provided mridangam accompaniment for almost all  leading Carnatic musicians of that period like Ariyakudi, Semmangudi, GNB, Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer, Mali  and Dandapani Desigar. He was the recipient of many awards including the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, Asian Music Rostrum Award, Mridanga Samrat, Laya Ratnakara, the Kalaimamani award and Sruti's Vellore Gopalachariar Memorial Award. 

Sruti offers its condolences to the family of Madras A. Kannan.

(See Sruti 220 and 323)


Dreams we dare to dream do come true if we have the courage to pursue them. Having a dream is important for it helps us to set our goals and achieve something big in life. With hope and endeavour, we can make our dreams come true. This issue of Sruti has a few stories about the achievements of those who dared to dream.

Padma Subrahmanyam, dancer-scholar who pioneered Bharatanrityam and is known for her pathbreaking research on the karanas, dared to dream a mammoth one. She wanted to construct a unique memorial for Bharata, author of the Natya Sastra. It took her about 25 years, but a winner is a dreamer who never gives up. By relentlessly pursuing her passion and by involving the dance fraternity and philanthropists, she realised her dream in the successful establishment of the Bharata Ilango Foundation for Asian Culture near Chennai.
Dr. V. Raghavan, whose 40th death anniversary falls in April, was a visionary. His steadfast dedication to a variety of causes—be it literature, heritage or the performing arts—saw him emerge as a pioneer in Indology. Raghavan’s love for the Sanskrit language and devotion to Sanskrit drama led him to launch the Samskrita Ranga 60 years ago. In this issue, his son and daughter share with us the story of his deep involvement in all he did. In spite of facing difficult circumstances, Samskrita Ranga is continuing the good work.

K. Omanakutty who received the Sangita Kala Acharya award from the Music Academy this year, is an admirable amalgam of concert musician, guru, academician and administrator. A busy artist for over 60 years, she has, by dint of hard work and by pursuing her passion to explore, learn and analyse, become a role model for students of Carnatic music in Kerala. We present an interesting article on her by one of our diligent contributors, C. Ramakrishnan, who has been writing a series on musicians of Kerala.

Another personality who had the courage to think differently and was willing to travel the unexplored path was Rukmini Devi Arundale. The establishment of Kalakshetra—a haven for the arts set in sylvan surroundings—was her dream come true. Inspired by the koothambalam of Kerala, Rukmini Devi conceptualised a beautiful auditorium for the performing arts which would at once reflect the Indian ethos and intelligently combine state-of-the-art technology in its design. Her vision and leadership came to mind on my recent visit to Kalakshetra. 28 February 2019 was a red letter day for the institution when the refurbished and renovated Bharata Kalakshetra auditorium was finally inaugurated after a hiatus of six years. The jewel of an auditorium has been restored to its glory. The function was short and sweet, with brief speeches by the chairman and the director of the Kalakshetra Foundation. After inaugurating the hall, the chairman N. Gopalaswami congratulated Revathi Ramachandran and her predecessor Priyadarsini Govind on taking up this project in right earnest, and dedicated the event to Rukmini Devi’s ideals. He expressed the hope that the institution would travel on the path visualised by the founder. Mentioning that procedural lapses had resulted in time overrun and cost overrun in the project, he said there was an object lesson to learn: “For those who deal with public money, implicit adherence to procedures is a must.”

In this issue too, we have tributes to S. Rajam on the occasion of his centenary. There are also interesting impressions of the dance season, with questions raised about selection of artists.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Uniting communities through music and dance

FIMDV—The Federation of Indian Music and Dance, Victoria, is a coalition of Indian music and dance schools led by eminent artists and teachers of Indian fine arts in Melbourne, Australia. The FIMDV provides a unified platform in Melbourne, for the promotion of Indian music and dance of various forms to create cultural awareness among the greater community of multicultural Victoria. With a large annual performance coinciding with the Indian independence day celebrations in August, and smaller performances in different parts of the year, the organisation aims to spread Indian classical arts in meaningful ways to younger generations of Indian migrants, their children, and the wider Australian community in which they live. The current president Shobha Sekhar is helped in her endeavours by a team of artists who form a committee to help maintain the organisation and carry out its many functions. Previous presidents include Rama Rao and Murali Kumar.

When Vasan Srinivasan (a member of the Australian Multicultural Council) invited artists in Melbourne to come together under one banner it was a difficult task initially. With the help of Tara Rajkumar (OAM) and her pioneering work in the promotion of Indian arts in Australia in the 1980s and 1990s, several artists agreed to unite in 2010. All of them are well trained solo artists and directors of their own schools of music or dance. For example, the first president Murali Kumar runs a large school of music teaching violin to young students. He trained in India with M.S. Gopalakrishnan and other gurus in Carnatic and Hindustani music. His main goal when he began as president was to unite Hindustani and Carnatic schools of music and north and south Indian forms of dance including Odissi, Kathak, Bharatanatyam and Mohini Attam. He says, “Initially we had limited success with outreach to outside communities. Coming together as an Indian community itself has been a challenge, so the successful bringing together of people is an achievement and what we had to do first when we began. During her tenure, Rama Rao—with her long standing in the Indian community and old school of music in Melbourne— wanted to expand the reach of the organisation to include more students and to bring popular elements into the annual performance. She also worked on funding together with Uthra Vijayagrahavan (the secretary) by obtaining sponsors and confirming the participation of over 22 schools of music and dance. Saxophone, guitar players and keyboardists were also brought in to expand the connections.

The current president Shobha Sekhar—a disciple of D.K. Pattammal and a graded artist of All India Radio—runs her school Kalakruthi (accredited by the Music Academy) which has existed in Melbourne for over 20 years and has produced a series of robust next generation singers and veena players. Shobha also teaches Carnatic music at the Polytechnic Institute in Melbourne and other universities, taking Carnatic music to Australian musicians with whom she performs regularly. Her goal as president of FIMDV is to continue the annual performance and keep advancing the intracultural engagement between north Indian and south Indian music that Murali Kumar implemented and enable the popular elements that emerged under Rama Rao. She also hopes to expand the intercultural engagement as Vasan Srinivasan and Tara Rajkumar had originally hoped for. By including both Western instruments in the performance as well as Western musicians, and also engaging with indigenous dancers, Shobha hopes to expand the reach of FIMDV as an Indian organization that can engage with a range of communities. During her presidency she has produced and curated thematic productions which have drawn an overwhelming response from appreciative audiences. In 2017 it was Srushti highlighting women’s empowerment. In 2018 the theme Bandhan explored bonding. It had a children’s choir (around 100) singing songs in several languages conveying multicultural bonding and social behaviours woven around the theme. In 2019 plans are underway to present Dasa Avatar—to celebrate 10 years of excellence in promoting the classical arts in Australia.

The Federation of Indian Music and Dance offers us an insight into how adaptable Indian classical arts can be and why they have continued to exist for centuries. Not because they hold fast to strict definitions of what the arts should be but because they have remained improvisational and situational in structure and open to change. We no longer need to ask questions about “authenticity” in the NRI’s traditions when change seems to be the only constant wherever we see Indian arts thrive and flourish. As the group continues to grow and continue its outreach to other communities of Melbourne, we hope to see the continuity of traditions through innovation and adaptation.

(The author is a writer, Bharatanatyam dancer and choreographer based in the Netherlands)

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Lec-dems galore at R.R. Sabha

K.R. Seethalakshmi, retired professor of Queen Mary’s College presented ‘Music in Tirupugazh’. Through her presentation, she explored the vast musical content embedded in the Tirupugazh composed by the saint poet Arunagirinathar. Select Tirupugazh songs were rendered explaining the meaning of the verses, message conveyed along with their musical importance. She explained how the Thirupugazh is known for the laya complexities that are set in chanda talams employing various nadai’s even though many of them are being sung in the sapta talams today. She spoke of swaraksharam, a notable feature; presence of varisai, dattu swara, alankaram in some of the Tirupugazh songs and emphasized on the fact that that they are comparable to the compositions of the Trinity in terms of their content, structure and approach. She opined that although they are generally sung as a concluding piece in a concert, they are perfectly suitable to be placed during the middle of a concert with raga alapanas and kalpana swarams.

Dr.T. Aravindan, a disciple of R. Vedavalli and a dentist by profession presented ‘Influence
of Trinity on their disciples’. Compositions of Walajapet Venkatramana Bhagavatar, Veena Kuppier and Manambuchavadi Venkatrama Iyer, prime disciples of Tyagaraja; Tanjore Quartet, disciple of Dikshitar and Subbaraya Sastry and Annaswami Sastry, disciple of Syama Sastry were discussed with respect to their content, form and improvisations. For example, he pointed out the unique feature of the swara sahithyam in the compositions of Syama Sastry that is reflected in the compositions of his disciples.

Nagaswaram and thavil held an important place when temples were the centre of community life. To highlight and discuss their significance, Lalitharam and Idumbaanam Prakash IIayaraja presented ‘Nagaswaram in temple arts’. The lecture brought forth important information to the audience. For example, similarities and differences between saivite and vaishnavite nagaswaram traditions. He touched upon mallari, an important musical form, generally played in Gambhira nata during temple rituals – like teertha mallari, taligai mallari, chinna mallari and periya mallari. There are also other forms of music like rakthi and pallavi which are played during festive occasions. In Chidambaram temple, kritis or Padams on Siva are played only on the day of Arudra Darisanam. The audience enjoyed the musical pieces played by Ilayaraja with great religious fervour.                                        

Kalaimamani award announced after eight years

The Kalaiamamani award for the years 2011-2018, announced for 201 writers and artistes from the field of Tamil literature, music, bharatanatyam, drama, film, folk arts, painting, sculptures and comedy after eight years is the talk of the town for artistes and art lovers. Since its inception in the year 1954, the number of awardees has grown over time. Its criteria include, ’Artistes should be popular and famous for having professionally rendered yeoman services for enrichment of the traditional arts.” This abstract nature has not however diminished its demand. The flood of awardees this year includes some of the most popular names to lesser known ones. It is indeed a positive note and one can expect the government to be more active on state of the art.

Friday, 1 March 2019


Awards and accolades alone cannot be the yardstick to measure the greatness and goodness of people. S. Rajam and Charukesi S. Viswanathan were two such persons who did not receive the recognition they deserved. For them work was indeed worship, and they believed in selfless service. We are proud of the fact that the two gentlemen had a long lasting association with Sruti till their last breath.

S. Rajam respected tradition and believed in fostering it. He was a creative artist who encouraged innovation within the traditional framework. He was a rasika of excellence in any form. As these are the very values Sruti stands for, it is no wonder that Rajam and Sruti got on so well. He would spend hours with us discussing and explaining matters of music and art. He was indeed our most dependable resource person as he was a musician, music teacher, scholar and artist—all rolled into one. Rajam was a great friend of the magazine and was a grandfather figure for all of us at Sruti for almost 25 years, especially after the untimely demise of founder-editor N. Pattabhi Raman. In fact, it was he who suggested we should have someone as knowledgeable and eminent as K.V. Ramanathan to steer us through the difficult period. Rajam’s illustrations on musical themes and personalities adorned the pages of Sruti for more than two decades—sometimes on the front cover, sometimes inside. Rajam reviewed audio recordings for Sruti under the penname ‘Sundaram Bharadwaj’. He was very happy when we started serialising his 72-melakarta calendar and paintings. The subject was something very close to his heart. His Music Appreciation Notes covering the 72 melakartas, janya ragas, and notes on more than 70 ragas, was very popular among Sruti readers. We have catalogued all his notes on ragas and brought out a special E-book to commemorate S. Rajam’s centenary.

In 1991, I had the wonderful opportunity of being his painting assistant while he was working on a series of paintings portraying the 67 Sankaracharyas. The experience gave me a close insight into the way he researched every subject, his unique painting technique, and his untiring dedication to his work. He gave generously of his knowledge—be it music, painting or good advice. Working with him was not only a learning experience, it was great fun. He was probably the only person to combine both music and painting so beautifully and seamlessly—one enriching the other. His original paintings of the saptaswara devatas on treated plywood adorn the walls of the Sruti office at Cathedral Road. The Sruti-Rajam collaboration was mutually rewarding. It is quite impossible to describe the scholarship, vidwat and versatility of such a treasure trove of knowledge, but the centenary has given us an opportunity to relive our association with S. Rajam. In this issue, veteran musicologist Dr. N. Ramanathan recalls the man and his music for Sruti readers.

Charukesi, the prolific bilingual writer and organiser, was a simple, self-effacing man who could never say ‘No’. He was ever ready to help others and believed in encouraging talent. His writing was marked by his subtle sense of humour. We pay our tribute to this principled, dependable writer who never missed a deadline.

We have articles on two dance conclaves held during the season which offer “food for thought”. We also have reports on the DKP 100 celebrations and the Parikrama festival curated by disciples, and the feature on Nalanda Dance Research Centre in Mumbai—which highlight the prevalent guru-sishya and family relationships in private music-dance schools and recognised institutions.

Our performing arts have flourished and have been successfully transmitted via the guru-sishya mode for centuries. However, recent happenings have shown that everything is not hunky-dory with the system and blind faith has heightened the dark areas of partiality and predatory behaviour. It would be wise to take a relook at the close knit guru-sishya system and make it more open and transparent.