S.Rajam’s (Music Appreciation notes)

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.

Monday, 25 February 2019

Honour for Guru and associate artists

Parvathi Ravi Ghantasala, Artistic Director and Managing Trustee of Kala Pradarshini, celebrated 40 years in dance by honouring her Guru, Krishna Kumari Narendran on 20 January 2019 as part of the Kala Pradarshini Natya Festival. She also honoured all the artists who were associated with her in her 40-year dance journey. They belonged to allied fields like vocal, flute, mridangam, violin, keyboard, costume, make-up, lighting, compering, design and documentation. "lt is a privilege to laud their services on this auspicious day as they have been  part and parcel of my years as a performer and teacher. It is an opportunity to salute their hard work and sincerity," says Parvathi. The awards were conferred in the presence of veteran dancer-scholar Padma Subrahmanyam.  

Friday, 22 February 2019

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Prabasi Bharatiya Samman in dual domains

French national of Indian origin, Malini Ranganathan, an internationally acclaimed Kathak exponent was conferred the prestigious Prabasi Bharatiya Samman Award by the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind on 23 Jan 2019 in Varanasi, for her extraordinary contribution in academics and arts. 
From studying textile designing in Mumbai to donning the cap of a professor of humanities and educational science in France, Malini has kept her passion of dance and music steady and vibrant. Trained both in the Lucknow and Jaipur gharana in kathak from Damayanti Joshi and Roshan Kumari, she learnt Odissi from Mahadev Raut and imbibed the nuances of nattuvangam from her mother.
Fluent in English, Hindi, Urdu and Tamil, Malini has convened and curated events like the International Yoga Day Celebrations (2018) and Namaste France (2016) in Nantes, France. She has marked her name in prestigious festivals like, France in India (Mumbai), ‘L’année de l’Inde en France’ (Paris), ‘India Year’ (New York) to name a few. In 1996, she served as the artistic director of the festival d’été, for Nantes City Council. 
Malini continues to teach dance and often presents papers in international conferences on topics of her interest.
                                                                                                                            Jagyaseni Chatterjee

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Education through entertainment

Together we can do so much.When am ensemble of artists from different genres and geography - Victoria, the Northern Territory, Tamil Nadu, Assam and Meghalaya came together for the Australia India Festival 2019, they did not limit their purpose to a series of performances. They used their expertise to collaborate with Aanmajothi (Cultural wing of Saraswathi Vidyalaya) and present Churning Waters, a research based performance project as a lecture demonstration for students of Government High School in Kottur, Chennai (to start with) to expose them to a little bit of everything – history, geography, science, music and dance, the interactive way.

The project was supported by the Australian High Commission in India, the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria, and Indian partners Adishakti and DakshinaChitra. The team comprised Gina Maree Bundle, a multidisciplinary artist and a Yuin/Monero cultural leader (Melbourne), Green Kumar, a Kattaikkuttu artist (Kanchipuram), Loganathan percussion artist (Kanchipuram), Nadine Lee, artist and author of the resource Caring for Country, Caring for Each Other (2016) (Darwin), Priyadarsini Govind, Bharatanatyam dancer (Chennai), Dr. Priya Srinivasan, artistic director (Melbourne), Sonal Jain, co-founder of Desire Machine Collective (Assam/Meghalaya), and Sylvia Nulpinditj, artist who works for the Aboriginal Resource Development Service as a radio presenter (Arnhem Land/ Darwin), Thilagavathi,  co-founder, Sri Krishna Kattaikkuttu Company (Kanchipuram/Chennai) and Uthra Vijay, Artistic Director of Keerthana School of Music, (Melbourne).

Churning Waters conceptualised as a unique intercultural and interdisciplinary collaboration between Indigenous Australian, Indian Australian and Indian artists from rural and urban backgrounds brought out stories, songs and movements of water as imagined in the past, present and future in a lucid and fun way to the children. Children were drawn at the very first scene of Thilagavathi’s humorous interaction of meeting natives who belonged to the same land - Australia but looked completely different physically. A group dance number was performed to establish the connection between the island continent and India not as a recent phenomenon of post 1973 migration but thousands of years. Next followed the enactment of the matsya avatara of Vishnu through Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam gestures. But what stole the show was the students singing Vande meenakshi, a Nottuswara composition of Muthuswami Dikshitar taught to them in less than 10 minutes by Uthra Vijay and the artists dancing to it. The presentation concluded wwith a fabulous demonstration of the Pancatantra story -- Crow and the fox by Priyadarshini Govind that encapsulated the kids completely. 
Not just the students, but chief guest E. Govindasamy, Education Officer, Education Department – Greater Chennai Corporation and guest of honour, R. M. Narayanan, President – Rotary Club of Madras East clapped hands to join the students as they cheered. 
Children were engaged the entire 90 minute presentation through dialogue and interaction. This enabled them to voice out and participate. What came across was firstly, many children learn and showcase a keen aptitude towards music and dance. Perhaps an encouragement can work wonders. Secondly, the impact of live interactive theatre, music and dance is deep and significant to reach out to the next generation. 

International relations does not mean economic and political concerns alone, art can serve as a strong unifying factor. Such was the goal, much fulfilled.    
Jagyaseni Chatterjee

Friday, 8 February 2019

Search, research and beyond

Senior Bharatanatyam artist, choreographer and teacher, Chitra Visweswaran gave a presentation on ‘Search Research and Beyond’ at the Lec-Dem series of Thyaga Brahma Gana Sabha, Chennai during Margazhi 2018-19.  Interestingly her first lecture demonstration in the city after she shifted base from Calcutta was on the same day 23 December, 1973 in the same venue!

She began with a riveting statement - “Art is complicated and concurrently very democratic. It is nurtured when there is a desire for search and the quest to re-search and when this cycle of search and research becomes incessant.” She touched upon a significant question on experiencing the beyond or the known. Surpassing the virtuosity through crisp adavus, there is the self-content, self-connect or the oneness through dance that every dancer must endeavour to explore. “That there is so much joy in interpretations, so much,” she exclaimed and continued, “But the truth is even for that, we need a trigger”.

Beginning with the concept of auchityam or what is appropriate, the lecture was aimed to give young dancers some food for thought and awaken them to find the layers that can be seen and also those that cannot be seen. The riveting lecture included compositions tuned in unique ragas, mentioned names of yester year festivals and interactions of artists over a cup of ‘chai’ or a train journey.
Talking of experimentation in beats, she took the power of shakthi in Shankari Shankuru Chandramukhi and demonstrated usage of cross beats to bring out the dynamism of the feminine. Interesting demonstrations of Tu gire rangana in Mohana, ideally a slow paced song turned into a rhythmic tempo of five or khandam displayed her years of experience of experimentation and innovation. “It is in the laya of the song, tuned in an appropriate raga that the mood can be created,” pointed the veteran.

Touching briefly on music, Chitra demonstrated Ardhanareeshwari, a piece first performed for Trinity Festival in the 90’s in the lesser known Kumudakriya raga. “You can shut your eyes but you can’t shut your ears,” she exclaimed and emphasised, “hence music plays the most important role to take off a piece.” The entry of Manmatha in karnaranjini was exciting. Set to Abheri raga, Ide Samaya Rangabarelo gave a glimpse of how rasa can only be relished when it lies concrete in the soul of the dancer. Moving was the song - Sri Sathyanarayana in her husband and composer Late R. Visweswaran’s’ voice that led the audience into silence and served as a tranquil ending to the lecture.
Accompanying her, was Sukanya Ravindhar (nattuangam), the melodious Uma Sathyanarayanan (vocal) and Thiagarajan Ramani, a top ranking flautist of the country. 

She ended the lecture with a thought provoking statement, “We are doing nothing new. Everything has been done by our forefathers. We are playing a small part in preserving and passing to the future generations.” And this served as a perfect ending to inspire young dancers present in the audience to think of their own contributions, their way. Interspersed with interesting anecdotes from her personal journey, the lecture targeted to creating thinking dancers and a thinking audience, unfortunately was sparsely attended. But those who made it found the lec-dem impactful in not one but many ways.
         Jagyaseni Chatterjee

Friday, 1 February 2019


The centenary of two stalwarts in the field of arts is being celebrated in February 2019. The 100th birth anniversary of the multifaceted musician, scholar, teacher and classical painter S. Rajam falls on 10 February this year. He was an integral part of Sruti and an invaluable asset to the magazine for over 26 years. TheSunada Trust—headed by his daughter-in-law Dr. Premeela Gurumurthy—is joining hands with the Narada Gana Sabha to celebrate the milestone on 9 February on the inaugural day of the sabha’s week-long diamond jubilee programme. A day before that, on 8 February, the S. Rajam Centenary Celebration Committee spearheaded by his disciples Vijayalakshmy Subramaniam, T.V. Ramprasadh and ardent fan Lalitha Ram, has drawn up an elaborate programme comprising speeches, the screening of a film, a dance interpretation of his paintings and a Carnatic music concert to pay tribute to the centenarian at the Music Academy.

During the same week, the curtains come down on the centenary celebrations of the Bharatanatyam legend T. Balasaraswati organised by Dr. V. Raghavan Centre for Performing Arts, in Chennai.

In January, the annual Tyagaraja aradhana at Tiruvaiyaru drew musicians and music lovers to the bard’s sannidhi. Watching the live telecast of the Pancharatna kritis, we felt there was better synchronisation and less glamour this year. A welcome change! Soon after, I went to Thiagarajapuram in Mylapore and was lucky to be part of the unchavritti procession in which veterans and several young musicians participated with gusto. The rendering of the five gems at Tyagaraja’s sannidhi at the Sri Thiagaraja Sangeetha Vidwath Samajam is an experience non pareil. Sruti reigns supreme at this sangeeta sthalam as the mike is placed before the tambura, with no mikes for individual musicians. There is no one-upmanship and everything goes on at a leisurely pace. The rituals and the musical homage sans glamour make it a divine experience.

Close on the heels of the Tyagaraja aradhana, came the announcement of the prestigious Padma Awards on the occasion of Republic Day. In a country that boasts of so many classical dance forms, only two have come into its ambit this year! Bharatanatyam dancer Narthaki Nataraj and Paris-based Kathakali exponent Milena Salvini have been selected to receive the Padma Shri award. Hindustani music has fared better with veteran sitar maestro Budhaditya Mukherjee being conferred the Padma Bhushan, and three others the Padma Shri. Quite a few tribal, folk and theatre artists have made it to the Padma awards list. It is heartening to note that the dynamic Pandwani folk artist Teejan Bai is being conferred the Padma Vibhushan and Waman Kendre—leader of the Dalit theatre movement—the Padma Shri. It is quite shocking to find that no Carnatic musician figures in the list of 112 awardees. Have there been no recommendations from the south? And why?

There is no dearth of excellence in Carnatic music; you only have to look at the concert list featured during the music season. For almost two months Chennai was submerged in the sounds of music and dance. In this issue we bring to you reviews of several music concerts and a few lecdems as well, and an interview with mridanga vidwan Thiruvaarur Bakthavathsalam, recipient of the Tamil Isai Vendhar award from Kartik Fine Arts.

In a lighter vein, although the canteens were always buzzing with activity during the season, you could have a light snack with a hot beverage for nothing less than 80 rupees, while a copy of Sruti costs only 70 rupees!

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Charukesi passes away

Charukesi Viswanathan (81), veteran journalist, prolific writer in Tamil and English (he occasionally wrote for Sruti), translator, committee member of  Natyarangam and Narada Gana Sabha, a promoter of Tamil literature  and connoisseur of the arts, passed away on the morning of 30 January 2019 at his residence in Chennai.


Blending tradition and technology
A scene from Antariksha Sanchar
Antariksha Sanchar—a transmedia dance opera, staged recently in Delhi and Mumbai, brought together Bharatanatyam and an upcoming adventure video game named Antariksha Sanchar: Transmissions in Space. A collaboration between artist Avinash Kumar (Thiruda) and Bharatanatyam dancer Jayalakshmi Eshwar, Antariksha Sanchar was based on a fictitious story about Srinivasa Ramanujan’s dream that leads him to build a vimana (interplanetary vehicle) to travel to the cosmos.
Presented by Red Bull Music, the project with hyperglobal progressive ideas, had its inception in an hour-long performance of Jayalakshmi on Indian mythology—depicting  birds, flights and vimanas way back in 2010 and a videogame inspired by the cultural richness of south India that Thiruda has been working on for six years now. An eclectic fusion of Carnatic music, Indian classical dance and video games, the protagonist of the story is Srinivasa Ramanujan, who expounded some of the world’s most important mathematical ideas. Jayalakshmi Eshwar played Sita, Ramanujan’s mother and S. Sushmita played Ramanujan. 
The music was set by Hyderabad-based Murthovic, a DJ and electronic music producer from Red Bull Music with two decades of experience in the field. The rest of the music ensemble consisted of Raghuram Hari (mridangam), Shri (vocals), Abhijit Gurjale (violin), Hitesh Kumar (drums) and Yanni (piano).
Divided into five segments, act one began with an elegant salute to Lord Ganesa who resides in the wish-fulfilling Kalpavriksha; this was accompanied by animated visuals and psychedelic tunes denoting Ramanujan’s mind.
A man from the future enters an old palace where he finds an ancient book. The scene shifts to 1913 to the beautiful temple town of Madurai where people are celebrating the annual Navagraha festival hailing the nine planets of the solar system. A troupe of five dancers perform  in apt synchronisation against the backdrop of digitised images of Madurai’s landscape—its trees, water bodies, fields, city landmarks and temples highlighting the city’s colours, carvings and paintings. The images are interspersed with dialogue, dance, visuals, music and expressions that carry the story forward. A saint appears in Ramanujan’s dream and tells him that he is to embark on a cosmic voyage in a vimana. His mission would be to align the nine cosmic planets.
In The Myth (act two) Sita tells her son stories of space travel mentioned in ancient Indian texts like  the Vaimanika Sastra, a Sanskrit text on aerospace technology that describes vimanas as  advanced aerodynamic flying vehicles. She also narrates Lord Hanuman’s supernatural flying abilities.
Act three provides the audience a visual treat of the flight dance. Sita tells her son about a mystical place called the Vimana temple which abounds in sculptures. The dancers depict the sculptures through movements and poses, such as the fluttering of feathers and the peacock vimana.
In act four, The Contraption—Ramanujan’s magical vehicle is created with the help of the two engines of fire and water—philosophically the two elements that help to balance body, mind and soul. The dancers perform the Suryanamaskara—to depict fire as a source of energy  to initialise the vimana. Water, which equates calmness and reflection, is used as a metaphor for peaceful meditative cooling through unwavering focus and centering. The harmony of fire and water leads to the creation of the vimana. A trance-like dance sequence for an EDM in fast tempo is accompanied by kaleidoscopic images in the background. The use of the corresponding red and blue lights accompanied by rhythmic dance movements and foot-tapping musical beats in this sequence is spectacular.
The final act, called The Pilgrimage, shows the vehicle taking off into outer space—through the sky embellished with millions of stars and fabled creatures, such as dinosaurs, aliens, gods and goddesses—and finally landing back on earth. The enthusiastic dance ensemble comprising the entire troupe and the use of vibrant colours had the audience applauding Ramanujan’s victory.
Antariksha Sanchar, which plans to tour south India this year, is a family entertainer—an amalgam of history, science, mythology, fantasy, dance, music, art and theatre. An original idea, it has made a unique attempt to communicate stories of the past to the next generation through technology. It is also a tribute to the city of Madurai—its history and heritage; legends and landscape. It endeavours to convey the message that each individual has to discover his or her own ‘vimana’ to find satisfaction and a sense of fulfilment in life.

(The author is a freelance writer)

Saturday, 19 January 2019

Valayapatti Subramaniam

                                                               Birthdays & Anniversaries
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