Monday, 30 June 2014

Guru Govindraj Pillai Centenary at Shanmukhananda

By Gayathri Sundaresan

Sri Rajarajeswari Bharata Natya Kala Mandir and Sri Shanmukhananda Fine Arts and Sangeetha Sabha, both of Mumbai, joined hands to celebrate the birth centenary of Guru AT Govindraj Pillai, the doyen who made bold to leave the comfort of his home town of Ayyampettai in south India to Bombay, a ‘seemaipattanam’ unknown and far away, carrying with him his extensive knowledge of an ancient art and his passion to spread it far and wide.

The function exactly on the 100th birthday of the master- 22 June, 2014 - was very well planned and executed.

The institution’s natya students ranging from toddlers to teens lined the entrance lobby of Shanmukhananda Sabha, a smile on their cheerful faces and palms folded in a namaste. Mangala isai provided by nagaswara vidwan Saktivel and party wafted through the auditorium as the dignitaries and well-wishers took their seats.

The programme began on the dot of 10am with a prayer, followed by a twenty-minute short film on the Life and Achievements of Govindraj Pillai.

Govindraj Pillai was born into a family devoted to music and dance for generations. He learnt Carnatic music from vidwans Veerabhadra Pillai, Markanda Pillai and Venugopal. He gained invaluable knowledge in the technique of Bharata Natyam from the vast treasures of vidwan Kuppiah Pillai’s erudite scholarship. He married his master’s daughter Karunambal, who proved to be a great source of inspiration to him.

Moving to Bombay, he founded a model dance academy in early 1945 to propagate Bharata Natyam in its pristine purity, beauty and vigour. The birth of Sri Rajarajeswari Bharata Natya Kala Mandir fulfilled a long felt need of art lovers for a traditional dance academy in Bombay.

During his forty years of service, Pillai presented innumerable arangetrams and concerts throughout India and abroad. Notable amongst these were acclaimed performances in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Nepal and Australia at the Sydney Festival.

The Tamil Nadu Government conferred the title of Kalaimamani and the award of the Best Bharata Natya Vidwan of 1971.

Unassuming, amiable, gentle Govindraj Pillai was the embodiment of simplicity, devotion and sterling character. The ‘Guru with a Golden Heart’ was instrumental in his brothers in law Guru Mahalingam Pillai and Guru Kalyanasundaram Pillai moving to Mumbai. The institution took wings under Mahalingam Pillai and is now under the able directorship of Kalyanasundaram Pillai.

Govindraj Pillai was a consummate musician. He sang and did nattuvangam for many of his shows. The part in the film showing the three gurus on stage together, with young Kalyanasundaram playing the mridangam emphasized how the family unity has been a strong pillar in building this edifice.

Karunambal, who was present on the occasion, had been an equal partner with Govindraj Pillai through his early struggles to find a footing as a Natya Guru in an alien city. Language was a barrier in the early days, with many Gujarati and Hindi speaking students, and communication was through a few basic words and gestures.

Sons, daughters and grandchildren of all these masters have taken to the art form quite naturally and are making a name for themselves in the field, while participating actively in teaching as well.

Dr. R. Chidambaram, Principal Scientific Advisor to the Govt. of India, spoke of the exceptional organising skills Govindraj Pillai must have had in surmounting the hurdles during the early days. For our country to make a mark globally, he said, it is important to restore and preserve the greatness of our cultural and spiritual heritage. Dr. Chidambaram paid rich tributes to the institution and its gurus who were doing just that – promoting one of the most sophisticated art forms of the country, Bharata Natyam.

Pradipta Kumar Bisoi, Chief Post Master General, released a special cover with a special cancellation to commemorate the occasion. In his short speech he said he hoped this would be appreciated by artists as well as philatelists.

Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam spoke of her long and close association with the institution’s masters. She said that our prostration was due to these gurus who dared to move out of their homes, taking their art to new shores, and conquered the hearts of the people through their art.

Danseuse Chitra Visweswaran said she had learnt for ten years from TA Rajalakshmi and Marudappa Pillai – younger brother of Kalyanasundaram Pillai - who had made another bold move from Bombay to Calcutta when the Tagore family wanted dance gurus there. Rajalakshmi imparted what she herself had learnt—pure, undiluted and traditional dance—while also inculcating multi-layered discipline in her student. Whenever Chitra performed in Bombay, the family of her guru—Govindraj Pillai, Karunambal Amma and Mahalingam Pillai—were there to bless her before the programme, and to give her constructive corrections after, with the freedom that comes only from personal bonding. Such gurus who show the path become the students’ ‘living gods’, she said.

‘Sruti’ Editor-in-chief V Ramnarayan said that he was bowled over by the old world, charming courtesy that was shown by the Tanjavur parampara here in Mumbai. He recalled the article on Govindraj Pillai written by Dr. Sulochana Rajendran for Sruti thirty years ago. Govindraj Pillai brought his entire illustrious family to Mumbai; they, through their institution, had kept alive the Tanjavur music and dance tradition here. It was indeed commendable that they brought in ‘outsiders’—like NaliniJaywant, Damayanti Joshi, KaminiKaushal and Gopi Krishna—who helped spread the art. He could see no difference between the guru’s family and their students, that the students were in gurukulavasam. He commended the camaraderie among sabhas in Mumbai to sabhas in other cities.

Dr. V. Shankar, President of Shanmukhananda Fine Arts and Sangeetha Sabha, expressed his pleasure in associating with the Kala Mandir in hosting this joyful and nostalgic function. He said Govindraj Pillai’s genius blossomed and came to the fore after his marriage into the illustrious family of Guru Kuppiah Pillai. He was one of the first to institutionalize the teaching of dance. Apart from his excellence in teaching the art, he was also a generous master who took pride in his students going out into the world and opening their own dance schools.

Pillai had stretched himself to celebrate the art, and had been so successful that we remember him today, thirty years after his demise. He (and his family) inherited the art, and they freely gave away what they possessed without commercializing or trivializing the art.

Guru Kalyanasundaram Pillai, torch bearer of this great tradition offered the vote of thanks. His leadership in conducting this event was evident at every step. All the members of the family looked up to him as the patriarch who led the way in the warm reception extended to all guests, co-ordination and precision in organising, especially keeping to the specified time.

The nritya arpanam that followed showcased about a hundred students of the institution. It was a great occasion for the youngest students to appear on stage as part of the Sri Rajarajeswari family. A group presentation of Ganesa Stuti, alarippu and a Todi varnam were performed to an original audio recording of Govindraj Pillai.

A scene from the school’s production Vasantavalli was presented next by Vani and Meera Ganapati, senior students of TK Kalyanasundaram, with a live orchestra, the master himself conducting the item. Govindraj Pillai’s favourite Athana tillana was the concluding item.

Everyone was treated to a sumptuous lunch organised in such a way that people did not have to wait much for their turn. On the whole, a richly satisfying event that filled the heart with joy, and the taste buds with flavour.

G. Srikanth

Music for Classical Dance

By Anjana Anand

Gopalakrishnan Srikanth is a Carnatic music concert and dance musician,  one of the most sought after artistes in the dance field. Endowed with a bhava rich voice,  Srikanth has made a mark as a well rounded musician.  Srikanth shares some of his views with Sruti...

Who were your gurus in Carnatic music?

My mother Leelavathy Gopalakrishnan was my first guru. I can proudly say that I learnt almost 2000 kritis from her and my strong foundation in music was because of her wonderful training. In 1978, I came under the tutelage of Sangita Kalanidhi TM Tyagarajan, with whom I trained for seven years. After that, vidwan OS Thiagarajan trained me for many years. I have learnt compositions from many stalwarts as well. I completed a Masters degree in Indian Music from Madras University.

How did your involvement with Bharata natyam begin?

I was singing regularly and even through my engineering college years, I continued learning and performing. In 2000, I joined as the Head Master of Tamil Nadu Government Music School at Tuticorin. I started singing for the dance students programmes there. In 2005,I came back to Chennai and the first few dancers whom I sang for are Chitra Visweswaran, Vijay Mahadevan, Divyasena. Since then there was no looking back!

How do you feel about being tagged as a dance vocalist and not taken seriously as a concert musician?

I can only say that people who pass such judgements are ill informed about the system. There is no question of hierarchy as artistes because each path we choose brings out a different side of our musical abilities. For example, visualization and correct pronunciation are paramount when accompanying dance as we are supporting the visual a dancer creates. The strange thing is that I used to do this even before I entered the dance field. Even in kutcheris I visualized my music, the movement of the melody, and the lyrics. I always felt that I must be true to the composer and these ideas helped me to sing for dance. I think a strong foundation in music enables you to juggle the different requirements.

What is your opinion on the use of voice modulation in music?

Music and voice modulation go together. Sometimes certain sangatis require a certain kind of modulation and at other times the mood of the song determines the use of the voice. The latter is definitely more in a dance performance where sahityabhava takes precedence. Having said that, I do not believe that emotion should only be brought out using the voice. A judicious choice of sangatis and ragas brings musical depth to a performance.

Having been in the field for more than a decade now, do you notice any trend in musical choice for Bharatanatyam performances?

There is a trend towards using less known or ‘lighter’ ragas as main pieces. There are of course brilliant compositions like Lalgudi Sir’s Revati tillana, so I think the depth of the ragas used depends on the composers! Technicalities in rhythm patterns are more complicated. Like in music concerts, traditional items are performed less and popular songs are being sung repeatedly. One happy trend is the revival of padam and javali singing which has a niche rasika following.

Have you composed music for Bharatanatyam performances?

Yes, I set the music for Tirukkural for Sheila Unnikrishnan. It was in a margam format. I composed tunes for about 300 Devarnamas of various Haridasas and released a CD and a double album.

What are the problems you face juggling careers as a kutcheri artiste and dance vocalist?

The musical repertoire in dance is completely different.  Learning new items, notation, noting down clues to move from one line to the other are some of the challenges. A lot of time goes in that. Sometimes I learn an entire new list of compositions which I may sing only once for one performance. I have to deal with voice strain as in a kutcheri, I have to sing open throated and any strain becomes visible.

Sometimes I have to sing a composition in a different way from which I learnt so my pathantaram has to be temporarily set aside! I try to learn traditional compositions from authentic sources. Most important, in a dance performance, I am conscious of keeping the dancer’s interest in mind.

What do you do to preserve your voice?

Kashayams and warm water.

Awards and recognition...?

I am an ‘A’ grade artiste at Doordarshan and ‘B high’ grade in Devotional music/Devarnamas at All India Radio. I received the Youth Excellence Award given by The Rotary Club of Chennai West in 2004, ‘Gana Kala Bhaskara’ from Sri Kodandaramaseva Mandali, Kolar, Karnataka, in 2008, ‘Sangita Kala Saarathy’ by VVS Foundation, Chennai, in 2011 and ‘Gandharava Gana Kala Sundaram’ from Bharathanjali Trust, Chennai, in 2011.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Remembering good friend Prapancham Sitaram

By Sandhya Vinjamuri

I could not believe the news of Prapancham Sitaram’s demise on 1 June in the U.S.A. He was a good family friend.

Sitaram was a regular visitor to our house during my college years. He used to work in AIR-Madras as a PEX (Programme executive). He lived in Triplicane and our house was just walking distance from All India Radio. He would come to see my father Vinjamuri Varadaraja Iyengar to discuss matters of music and learn some songs. After that I did not have any contact with him until one day I saw an email he had sent to the Sangeethapriya group. I then sent him a message and thus began our friendship through email. He wrote that he considered my father his ‘Guruthulyar’ because my father had taught him some rare kritis whenever he visited Prapancham in Triplicane. My brother Bhavana Chari, a mridangist, also had practice sessions there. Prapancham even offered to share with me the paper in which my father had written the Dikshitar kriti Pavanatmaja gaccha in Nata raga in his own hand.

In March 2012 Prapancham came to the US and telephoned to me. I was then passing through a traumatic phase – I had lost two elder brothers within a span of seven weeks, both intimately connected to music. I was yet to recover from the blow. Prapancham wished to pay his tribute to my father by playing for his Smrityanjali that I conducted every year during the April-July period. I told him I would not be able to organise it this time because of the physical and mental state I was in. However, I helped to arrange concerts for him at the South Indian Music Academy (SIMA), Los Angeles, and other venues. Prapancham tried his best to persuade me to organise the annual musical tribute, and I finally gave in to my conscience that had started pricking me for refusing the honest request of a good friend and reputed vidwan. It occurred to me that I would soon be leaving Los Angeles permanently to move back to India by the end of the year and this could well be my last Smrityanjali in the U.S.A. I also wanted to do something in memory of my brothers.

I therefore contacted the Hare Krishna Temple – the venue for the concert – and they were more than happy to have a flute concert in front of Lord Krishna. I made arrangements for them to prepare a feast for a minimum of 150 people so that I could do annadanam in honour of my brothers. Prapancham was thrilled. As the decision was made in the last minute, I had no choice but to call two students of music to accompany him on the mridangam and the violin. Prapancham was most gracious and played with the amateurs without a complaint. He also spoke about my father and paid his tribute to him before the concert. I remember his words came from his heart.

Prapancham played my father’s varnam in the raga Swararanjani and explained the difficulty in handling such a rare raga. The programme was a success. I played host to Prapancham and his son’s family, and we all spent a good two days together. I am forever grateful to him for being the catalyst to conduct that year’s programme in honour of my father. Looking back I know I would have felt awful had I not organised the memorial function.

Prapancham played the same varnam in one of his AIR concerts and informed me in time for me to be able to get a recording of it. He would often invite me to lunch or dinner with the family. It is a pity that I could not fulfill his wish.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Art festivals at the Kapali Temple

Music and dance festivals have become a regular feature at the Kapaleeswarar Temple in Mylapore. Soon after the  Arupathumoovar festival, the temple authorities organised the Panguni Kalai Vizha which featured famous classical musicians and dancers. Encouraged by the  public response, the temple authorities, spearheaded by the Thakkar P. Vijaykumar Reddy, have decided to conduct art festivals regularly at the ornate Navaratri Mandapam in the precincts of the temple. The Chithirai Kalai Vizha (18-25 April) opened with the dance-drama Venkatadri Vaibhavam choreographed by natyacharya Krishnakumari Narendran, and showcased  “gen-next” musicians every evening. The Aani Isai Vizha is now on at the temple from 15 to 21 June, and features established young musicians. 

Bharatanatyam exponent and yoga teacher Jyotsna Narayanan shares her experience of attending concerts at the temple during the Panguni arts festival.

It is a fine line between atavism and recreating the magic of a time gone by. The organisers of the festival of dance and music at the Kapali temple in Mylapore, Vijaykumar Reddy and Preetha Reddy have walked this line with aesthetic care. Attending some of the concerts and taking in the ambience, I got the feeling it was the right thing happening in the right place – a feeling of good vaastu! It evoked within me the simple grace of an unpretentious culture – where temples are organic centres of art, where art is inspired by divine quest, where the artist is a seeker, the common man a rasika, and the patron is a true connoisseur.

Every evening, as I removed my footwear outside the entrance to the temple, bought some jasmine for my hair (the fragrance of jasmine is somehow more irresistible outside a temple!) and walked onto the smooth, cool, stone courtyard, I could feel the classical strains of music fill the night, fill the large courtyard, fill my ears. And as I walked around the sanctum in the traditional clockwise direction (there was no rush to grab a vacant seat, we were, after all, in a temple!) the music filled my heart. It wasn’t so much who was singing but what was being sung.

And day after day there were so many people, a packed audience. There were people sitting everywhere – on the floor in small groups, leaning against the beautifully engraved pillars, on the many steps that line the various precincts of the temple, on the odd bench. Younger people (those with less grey hair) gave up their sitting place to the elderly who moved closer together on their step to fit in another. Mothers brought their toddlers who happily played under the night sky and a father brought his disabled son everyday in a wheelchair. There were friends and neighbours in simple cotton sarees and veshtis with perhaps the odd salwar kameez and pant. Everyday people in everyday clothes. It wasn’t the Kancheepuram silk parade of the sabhas!

Everyone was soaking it in. Devotees perambulating the sanctum muttering some mantras under their breath were unconsciously keeping talam with their fingers. The priests who were done with their duties of the day stood by, leisurely taking in the graceful dancing; even the rickshaw puller on the road tells you as you enter the temple: “Today Bombay Jayashri is singing …. Full crowd.” On another day, my flower seller told me “You can pay me later. They are playing the tani avartanam already, you are late. Go in soon.” Even the sudden clanging of the temple bells to mark the evening rituals did not seem to disturb the rhythm. The musicians (sometimes at the high point of his or her niraval)  often paused gracefully (even as many in the audience subconsciously joined their palms in namaskaram) only to begin exactly where they had left off as soon as the bells ceased.

In this temple festival the music, the musician, the audience and the ritual were all linked, it seems, by religiosity rather than religion. There was space (literally and otherwise) for old acquaintances to catch up quietly, there was space to enter in the middle of the main piece, listen for a while and leave in the middle of the tani. There was space for the connoisseur to sit in a far corner and feel like a common man. But more importantly, there was the space for the common man to feel like a connoisseur. Isn’t that then the spirit of all art?

Friday, 13 June 2014

K.P. Kunhiraman passes away

By Samudri

K.P. Kunhiraman, veteran Kathakali artist and teacher, and probably the only famous male Kathakali artist in America, died of a blood infection in Chennai, on 12 June at the age 83.  The news comes as a shock because Kunhiraman  and wife Katherine were scheduled to receive the Malonga Casquelourd Lifetime Achievement Award at the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival on 14 June. It was to be quite a night for Kunhiraman, who performed at the first Ethnic Dance Festival 36 years ago and was making this year’s event his final U.S. appearance.

Kunhiraman hailed from Cheruvathoor in the Kasaragod district of Kerala, and was the son of Kathakali legend  K. Ambu Panikkar. After his father’s demise, Kunhiraman came to Kalakshetra on Rukmini Devi’s invitation to study and teach.  He stayed at Kalakshetra for the next thirty years becoming one of its most celebrated and revered dancers, with unforgettable performances in the Ramayana series and other dance drama programmes. He also helped his guru train some of the greatest names among male dancers to perform at Kalakshetra and elsewhere in the decades to come.

In the 1970s Katherine and Kunhiraman moved to Berkeley, California, where for over four decades they played a significant role in disseminating south Indian arts traditions, especially Kathakali and Bharatanatyam, in the U.S.A.

Due to advancing age and related reasons, Kunhiraman returned to Chennai this past year. Katherine, who was in the US, taking care of their dance institution called Kalanjali, flew to Chennai immediately upon word of Kunhiraman’s illness, and was at her husband’s side for his final hours as he took his last breath.

Kunhiraman was perhaps the greatest exponent of the art form in a long line of distinguished performers that Kalakshetra spawned.

(For detailed story on the Kunhiramans, see Sruti issues 316 and 201.)

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Film on Natyanjalis wins a Gold Remi in USA

By BuzyBee

Cosmic Connection, a documentary directed by Chennai based filmmaker Seetha Ratnakar, won  a Gold Remi award in the ethnic-cultural category at the 47th WorldFest-Houston international film festival. Seetha received the award at a glittering ceremony held on 12 April in Houston, Texas. 

Seetha says, “It was a momentous occasion to receive this prestigious award and international recognition along with winners from 33 countries. Cosmic Connection  is my dream project which I started in 2006 but could complete only in early 2014. It connects the Cosmos to the cosmic dance of Nataraja, and explores the link between dance and temples.”

Seetha learnt Kuchipudi from Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam and Bharatanatyam from Guru K.J. Sarasa. But rather than take up an active performing career on stage, Seetha preferred to showcase dance on television. She joined Doordarshan and served the organisation for several decades before retiring recently as Assistant Station Director, Doordarshan Kendra, Chennai.

Apart from producing several programmes on classical dance for television, she has done extensive coverage of the Natyanjali dance festivals held in Chidambaram for 25 years, as well as of dance festivals organised in Kumbakonam, Thirunallar, Nagapattinam and Thanjavur during Sivaratri. 

In Cosmic Connection there are several excerpts of the different classical dance styles performed at the Natyanjali festivals and bytes of famous exponents like Sonal Mansingh, C.V. Chandrasekhar, Padma Subrahmanyam, and Rathna Papa Kumar, to name a few. Seetha has also  included crisp descriptions about the temples, as well as comments by A. Sambandam of Chidambaram Natyanjali, S. Janaki of Sruti and others. 

Monday, 9 June 2014

M.N. Subramanian Memorial Award

By Samudri

The M.N. Subramanian Memorial Award is presented every year by the Music Academy. The endowment was instituted in 2012 by Krithika Subramanian, Bharatanatyam dancer and well known architect in Chennai in memory of her father. M.N. Subramanian, the founder of Sumanth & Co.,  was a vocalist and a connoisseur of Carnatic music.

The endowment has been created to recognise stalwarts upholding the guru-sishya parampara in classical dance. It is described as “an award of merit to be given annually in perpetuity to a candidate selected by the Music Academy awards committee in consensus with the Subramanian family. The awardee must have a meritorious career in performing and teaching.”

The first recipient of the award is Guru C.V. Chandrasekhar who was honoured by N. Murali, President of the Music Academy, Madras in 2013. The second awardee is Bangalore-based Bhanumathy, who runs Nrityakalamandiram in Bangalore. She received the award in 2014 from the hands of the first awardee Prof. C.V. Chandrasekhar. She was selected for her exemplary record in choreography, teaching and performance over several decades

The M.N. Subramanian Award comprises a citation, a purse of one lakh rupees for the and additional concert fees for presenting a programme of the awardee’s disciples after the award ceremony. The concert and documentation material about the artist and his or her choreographic works will be archived in the Music Academy.

The Subramanian family – promoters of Sreshta, Sumanth and Co, leading premium property developers – has instituted this  award among many such initiatives launched for the promotion of classical arts.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

An evening filled with warmth

By Nandini Ramani

It was a memorable evening when Sangita Kalanidhi T.K. Murthy was  honoured with the Laya Madhura Lifetime award some months ago. As the veteran mridanga vidwan delivered his speech, we were astonished at his impeccable memory – the way he recalled and narrated episodes from his childhood and gurukulavasam with Tanjavur Vaidyanatha  Iyer. What made a deep impact was the way he expressed his gratitude and respect towards his teacher and several others who had helped him grow in an artistic career spanning almost nine decades. It is worth emulating for the present generation. He did not falter or forget any name or place in the course of his speech. Equally interesting was the speech by Narasimhan of Asthika Samajam, Tiruvanmiyur who quoted several anecdotes from the golden past and spoke about the unique technique of T.K. Murthy. 

Mridanga vidwan Tiruvarur Bakthavatsalam is the founder-director of the Laya Madhura School of music. As it was the 13th anniversary of Laya Madhura, Bhaktavatsalam’s disciples honoured him with a 13-feet long rose garland. It was heartwarming to listen to his senior disciples Sumesh Narayan and Delhi Sairam express their gratitude to their guru. Unlike many programmes where the listener is subjected to long winding, boring speeches, the entire evening was a treat for the audience -- many of whom were moved to tears.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Musical homage to Lalgudi in Houston

By Thara Narasimhan 

Lalgudi Samarpanam was organised by Houston Youth Music Association (HYMA)  at the Anjali Center of Performing Arts on 4 May to pay homage to the violin maestro and composer Lalgudi G. Jayaraman who passed away last summer in Chennai. The endeavour was supported by Krishna Gana Sudha Music Academy (KGSMA) and Samskriti.

The first offering was a performance by 40 students of Krishna Gana Sudha Academy trained by Rajarajeswary Bhat. This was followed by an ensemble of vocalists and violinists – direct disciples of Lalgudi Jayaraman – which presented marvelous music. Eminent artists like Vittal Ramamurthy (violin), Rajarajeshwary Bhat (vocal), Poovalur Sriji (mridangam), and Rathna Papa Kumar (Bharatanatyam) participated in the musical homage. They presented Lalgudi’s varnams, kritis and tillanas in quick succession.
Jayaraman’s compositions are a rage with Bharatanatyam exponents. Years ago, Rathna Kumar’s guru K.J. Sarasa, after listening to Lalgudi’s pada varnam, wanted to present it in dance in the presence of the composer. She choreographed and taught it to her young disciple Rathna Papa who performed it in the presence of Lalgudi Jayaraman. Rathna Kumar recalled this and presented the varnam with musical rendition by Kruthi Bhat. The dance was interspersed with video excerpts of Lalgudi Jayaraman explaining the meaning and beauty of the composition. The navaragamalika varnam Angayarkanni on the nine forms of Devi, is Lalgudi’s magnum opus, rich in meaning and melody.

Senior disciple Vittal Ramamurthy read a message sent by Lalgudi G.J.R. Krishnan and Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi. He then shared his own experiences with his guru “Lalgudi Sir” from the time he started learning from him. He fondly recalled his guru’s sterling qualities – his wit, intelligence, helping nature, and simplicity.

Gowri Ramnarayan visiting from India, spoke about some remarkable features in Lalgudi’s compositions. Amrita Murali, also from India, joined the violin group as a guest artist. The emcee Uma Ranganathan presented the programme exceedingly well.

The group singing by B.N. Chinmayee, Thanmayee Krishnamurthy, Keerthana Bhat, Kruthi Bhat and Rajarajeshwary Bhat was enjoyable. The violinists Sujatha Kidambi, Subha Comandur, Vikram Murali, Neha Krishnamachary, Sharada Krishnan, Pavani Anupindi and Vittal Ramamurthy captivated the audience with their musical tribute. Lalgudi Jayaraman touched many lives with his music, wisdom, care and compassion. He lives on through his music and compositions.

The music and dance homage paid to Lalgudi Jayaraman by the Greater Houston community was a befitting tribute by musicians, dancers, connoisseurs and lovers of Lalgudi in Houston, and other parts of the U.S.A.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

The unique Thennangur experience

By Charukesi

For the fifteenth year in succession, Natyarangam – the dance wing of the Narada Gana Sabha – offered an opportunity to dancers and young dance teachers of Bharatanatyam to update their knowledge and skills at a three-day residential dance workshop called Natya Sangraham organised at Thennangur, 110 kilometres from Chennai.

Besides the convenor Prof. C.V. Chandrasekhar, the faculty this year included, well known art administrator and dancer Leela Samson, violin vidwans Lalgudi G.J.R. Krishnan and his sister Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi, Dr. Sudha Seshayyan for poetry appreciation, and mridangam maestro Prof. Trichy Sankaran from Canada. Bharatanatyam dancer and yoga teacher Jyotsna Narayanan gave insights into yoga for dancers in the early morning yoga sessions. Vani Ganapathy from Bangalore gave the students many practical tips about costumes and make-up, including a practical session on aharya. It was a congregation of senior artists who generously shared their experience with the participants who had enrolled from different parts of the globe.  The number of applications this year was very high indicating the popularity of this unique exercise conducted away from the din and bustle of the city – in a more congenial atmosphere at the little temple hamlet of Thennangur, best suited for serious discussions, deliberations and demonstrations.

In the sessions on abhinaya, C.V. Chandrasekhar dwelt on its subtle and satvika aspects and the musicality of expression which should take off from the meaning embedded in the sahitya. He demonstrated the difference between sheer miming and emoting after understanding the song – very essential for a dancer. 

Music plays an important role as it inspires the performer to improvise every time it is presented. Lalgudi Krishnan and Vijayalakshmi made a brilliant analysis of their father-guru Lalgudi Jayaraman’s compositions, and explained how every little nuance was composed with a purpose. They played various ragas and compositions and analysed the emotions created by them, the inherent scope for improvisation, the need to observe and assimilate life’s experiences which can embellish the music. They demonstrated how different moods can be brought out through appropriate sangatis. A session was also devoted to understanding kanakku.

Leela Samson said it was very important for dancers to think and constantly work on improving their dance.  “Do you dance the same way you danced some years ago? As you mature in your thoughts and ideas it should be reflected in your performance,” was her advice. In the warming up session, Leela demonstrated  exercises that help to energise the movements in dance. “Proportion is important and excess of anything is not to the taste. Connect with your musician before preparing the programme,” she advised the participants.
In his session on aspects of  layam, Prof. Trichy Sankaran said that laya is the bedrock of the concept of time. Over the years percussionists have contributed to layam. He dwelt on the pause and interval between beats, gradations of speed,  the variety of talas and ‘Brahma Layam’ exclusive to Bharatanatyam. He elaborated on the aspects of mohra, korvai, teermanam and arudi. He pointed out that rhythm should be musical, though many people forget the melodic side of rhythm.

Talking about poetry appreciation, Dr. Sudha Seshayyan said when you read or listen to a poem, you must search for the kernel of the poetic sense within. You must not only appreciate the words, but the emotion embedded in the words.  “Ingest, digest, assimilate and then make your presentation. Find the space, experience it and dance for it,” she said.

The temple rituals in the evenings gave the dancers an opportunity to experience dance as an offering and not as a show of virtuosity. At the dolotsavam they danced impromptu before the deity with gay abandon as the Lalgudi siblings (violin) and Trichy Sankaran (mridangam) offered a feast of music. For the first time, the swarna rathotsavam was held at Thennangur as the temple has acquired a golden chariot. The procession with special nagaswaram and tavil drew a sizeable crowd from the surrounding villages who witnessed the fireworks and the dancers perform near the four gopurams inside the temple complex. It was heartwarming to see the local children dancing hand in hand with the participants. It was a unique experience  to watch the special band of ritual and folk instrumentalists playing segments before the nagaswaram-tavil ensemble, and the amazing skill of the kolattam group comprising energetic young men from rural areas.

As the concluding day of the camp coincided with the Republic Day, the flag hoisting ceremony reflected the patriotic fervour with speeches and music.

That the camp served as a refreshing training ground was echoed in the valedictory session wherein the faculty and the participants were unanimous in stating that they had benefited a great deal from the unique experience.