Tuesday, 29 March 2016

A chronicler passes away

By S. Janaki

Film historian 'Film News' Anandan, passed away on 21 March 2016 in Chennai, after a brief illness. He was 89. A walking encyclopedia of Tamil cinema, he was a meticulous chronicler and had photographs of almost every film released and details of the credit lines.

Photography was Anandan's passion. He worked as a freelancer where his job was to collect details about the actors, producer, and director of every film. This probably laid the foundation for his vast collection which he meticulously filed in folders and drawers. There is an interesting story about the prefix to his name. The editor of Film News once asked Anandan to take some photographs for the magazine and decided to publish them with the credit line 'Film News Anandan', and the name stuck to him ever since. He also tried his hand at acting and played some minor roles in films. He was one of the most successful public relations personnel in cinema. He recently published Sathanai Padaitha Tamil Tiraipada Varalaru – an extensive work on film history comprising data that he had gleaned from over 16,000 feature films in different languages.

Anandan received a few awards including the Kalaimamani from the Tamil Nadu Eyal Isai Nataka Manram. The South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce honoured the veteran on the occasion of its golden jubilee. The South Indian Artists Association in Chennai conferred on him the title Kalai Selvam. It is heartening that this quiet chronicler, who stayed away from the limelight, received global recognition as Man of the Year from the American Biographical Institute of South Carolina, U.S.A. in 1998. He also received awards from Cinema Express, Filmfare and Dinakaran.

Anandan was a reliable resource for Sruti whenever we published a story on artists who had some connection with cinema. We would make a telephone call to Anandan to confirm facts or to get a photo or two, and he never disappointed us. From his collection he gave us rare images of the likes of Bhaskar Roy Choudhury, M.K. Saroja, M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavatar and K.B. Sundaramabal. I remember he gave us about half a dozen prints of T.K. Shanmugam which we returned after publishing in Sruti. He was very happy that we also gave him the digitised images in a CD for his collection. When I called him some time in 2015 for some clarifications, he did not sound his usual self. He told me he would need more time to give me the facts because age was catching up with him and he found it difficult to sift through his vast collection as his eyesight was failing him. Film News Anandan was a repository of stories and images unravelling the history of Tamil cinema. His vast collection should be well preserved for it was Anandan's dream to have a permanent exhibition on Tamil cinema, easily accessible to researchers and the public.

MDR Day comes again and again

By Vimaladevi

A rare commemoration event named M.D.R. Day is being organised every year since 2003 in Thrippoonithura, near Cochin to pay homage to the legendary musician M.D. Ramanathan, under the main initiative and efforts of Krishnamoorthy, an ardent fan of the great artist.

It was held for the first time on 27 April 2003, when M.D.R's disciple T.K. Sethuraman recalled the memories and experiences of the days he spent with his guru and Aswathi Thirunal Ramavarma performed a concert of M.D.R's krities. Next year another disciple of M.D.R, M.V. Narasimhachari, an eminent dancer,spoke about M.D.R and also held a concert of his krities. Since then the function is conducted annually almost in the same format but with different celebrities delivering the commemoration speech and performing the concert.
This unceasing tribute to M.D.R has thus successfully completed its 14th year in 2016. This year's event was held on 25-02-2016, and the programme commenced with a homage to M.V. Narasimhachari, a close associate of M.D.R who passed away recently. Krishnamoorthy narrated his personal experiences with Narasimhachari who shared with him a lot of wits and humorous,of M.D. R that were made use of by Moorthy in his biographical novel 'Kedaram' on M.D.R's life. M.A. Sundareswaran, Thiruvaroor Bhakthavalsalam and V. Suresh together inaugurated the commemoration event.

M.A. Sundareswan recollected the fond memories of the days he attended M.D.R's concerts at Music Academy and elsewhere ,as a child along with his father M.S. Anantharaman. He recalled that the audience used to stand up in ovation and big applause as Ramanathan begins his recital with the first charanam of mangalam. The joyous listeners usually took their seats only when it was followed by the second one . The long rounds of applause and ovation continued till the last charanam. He narrated in detail how M.D.R conquered the hearts and minds of the rasikas during those good old days.

P. Unnikrishnan recalled that he came to know M.D.R closely when he was practicing music under Professor S.R. Janakiraman. While teaching keerthanams, M.D. Ramanathan used to sing himself to S.R.J the 'sangathis' that he wanted to be accurate and perfect. According to him M.D.R was not concerned with any thing other than music and Tiger Varadacharya.

P. Unnikrishnan began his concert with Narayana Theertha’s Natta raga kriti Jaya Jaya Swamin (Aadi). The atmosphere itself transformed into a typically traditional one as he sang Varalandu in Gurjjari raga. His rendering appeared as a souvenir of his guru S. Ramanathan. When M.D.R's kriti 'Velevane unakku' in Sahana raga was sung, it could give to one and all the real feel of M.D.R. Day. Brindavanalola in Thodi raga was presented with the introduction that it is a Thayagaraja krithi he liked to sing quite often'. With ragam, niraval, and swaraprastharam in proper 'alavu' , he made each keerthana a fitting tribute to M.D.R as well as a mesmerising musical worship before the listeners. M.A. Sundareswaran joined with his accompaniment,violin. Marathakavallim in Kambhoji, a Dikshitar's work was the key selection. Thiruvaroor Bhakthavalsalam (mrudangam) and V. Suresh (ghatam) presented a melodious thaniavarthanam. In short, Unnikrishnan and his troupe made the crowded rasikas spell bound for three hours with the popular Sagarasayana vibho (Bhagesree) and Kavadichinthu.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Guru K.V. Narayanaswamy

He illumined our paths

By Hemmige S. Prashanth

It is not often that one comes across a classical musician who excels equally as a performer and as a teacher. Indeed, it is something of a rarity to find an individual adept at both, since these two roles demand different kinds of expertise, focus and involvement. As a performer, the musician aims to share his experience or vision of music with the rasikas; as a teacher, he takes full responsibility for the sishya, and is even authorised to ‘sculpt’ the pupil in his own mould. Especially in the gurukula system of learning, the sishya surrenders himself to the guru’s care, and hence can learn not only music but valuable life-lessons as well.  My guru, Palghat K.V. Narayanaswamy (KVN Mama to us), was one such rare musician who was not only a superlative performer worth emulating but also a deeply committed teacher we all looked up to.

I was fortunate to observe KVN Mama teach a wide spectrum of students, right from the sarali varisai to the most advanced level. The manner in which Mama taught them all, always ensuring that his teaching was pitched at just the right level, was an amazing lesson in itself.  Mama’s teaching was comprehensive and included all aspects that a student needed to learn, such as voice culture, singing technique and layam.

For voice culture, Mama devised a series of exercises that he expected students to practise early in the morning. This morning sadhakam involved singing in the lower octave, beginning at the mandra panchamam and descending as low as possible; then holding each note for at least a single avartana each from the mandra panchamam to the middle panchamam; then repeating the same in akara, eekara, ukara, ekara, okara and omkara in three speeds. This sadhakam not only had to be carried out in various patterns and speeds, but also in different ragas like Sankarabharanam, Mayamalavagaula and Todi. Mama had great faith in the efficacy of the morning sadhakam and often supervised it closely.

To improve our sense of layam, Mama developed simple exercises in various talams. He made us sing geetams like Kamalajadala in three speeds, first separately and then together, helping us see for ourselves the tricky spots in the process. He also had his own system of chittasvarams in Damodara tavaka and Dattatreya with many fine nuances. Although he largely advocated and practised sarvalaghu in swaram singing, he sometimes indulged the sishya with several permutations, combinations and patterns in order to underscore his lessons on layam.

Mama, whose technique is acknowledged to be one of the best in Carnatic music, always advocated a full-throated style of singing. He encouraged his students to open up their voices and sing with energy and gusto, rather than feebly or shrilly. The manner in which he demonstrated the niraval to senior students, for instance, was extraordinary. He would painstakingly point out how the niraval had to be split and spliced across the tala, how the raga bhava was not to be compromised, how the transitions in speed from the first to the madhyama kala to the third had to be effected— and yet these instructions never amounted to spoonfeeding. In fact, Mama’s teaching methods were designed to illumine the student’s own trajectory and made him or her understand the whys and wherefores of singing rather than make him or her reproduce music mechanically, even as he was quick to point out errors and corrective measures along the way. 

When Mama took up a raga like Sankarabharanam, Kharaharapriya or Nattaikurinji, he immersed himself in it for several hours. He would begin by slowly building up a raga, and then ask the half-a-dozen students around him to both repeat it and take it forward. The end result was an exhilarating shared experience for teacher and student alike, and an intense education in understanding and exploring the larger picture of the raga.

Likewise, Mama’s swaram teaching was a joyous, challenging experience. Mama would commence with a swaram, and the students were expected to continue one after the other. If it was a one-avartana swaram, you had to complete your turn within that cycle, else Mama would cut you short right there and move on to the next student! If it was Anandabhairavi, for example, we were supposed to end every swaram pattern with sgrgm. All this made for an unforgettable learning experience.

Mama was a perfectionist and did not let go until he was satisfied; if a student did not get a complex sangati right at first, he would readily split the sangati into smaller, simpler parts for the student to grasp better. These were rich learning curves not just for the student in question but the others present as well. And when the student finally sang it in the manner Mama had envisioned, a gentle smile on his face was the sole giveaway. I recall how when teaching us the Bhairavi kriti Balagopala, Mama made us sing the kriti for several hours, driving us to exhaustion. Mami had to intervene to ‘protect’ her children!

For all that, Mama was never rigid in his ways of teaching, and ever open to new ideas. If a student sang a new sangati or a phrase, he would first analyse it, and then, if convinced, wholeheartedly approve it too.

For sishyas like me, our association with Mama went beyond music. His conduct in personal and professional life, his utmost respect for and commitment to the Carnatic sampradaya, his guru bhakti, his simplicity, humility, vast knowledge, and unassuming nature — all blazed an exemplary path for us to follow.

Mama and Mami lavished tremendous affection on all their students, asking only that they sing well in return. Being a well-versed musician herself, Mami played an integral role in the gurukulavasam process, and often enriched our education with valuable observations of her own. She cared for each one of Mama’s students as if they were her own children, and often treated us to sumptuous meals through the day, encouraging us to eat well so that we sang well too. It was not uncommon to see at least four or five sishyas at mealtimes along with Mama. Truly a humbling and memorable experience for us indeed.

To have been associated with KVN Mama in any manner is to be fortunate; but to have been his sishya is to be truly blessed. Mama and his music will continue to be a beacon for us at all times, illumining our paths and helping us stay on track now and forever.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Remembering Rukmini Devi and her Kalakshetra

By V Ramnarayan

Nostalgia is wishful thinking in reverse gear. At least that could be the worst case scenario when old men settle down like Mr Mulliner at the Angler's Bar and begin to unleash tales of fancy from the past, always seen through rose-tinted spectacles.

At its best, however, nostalgia can make you stop and ponder a while amidst the frenetic business of life. If you happen to be honest and objective, and not given to syrupy sentimentality, you can actually take stock of both the past and the present, try to see where we have evolved as humans and artists or sportspersons, and where we have allowed time and technology to force shortcuts on us, thus depriving us of something precious that may never come back.

Watching some Kalakshetra dancers and musicians past and present at the recent Bani Festival stitched together by the director of Kalakshetra, her staff and her students, I was curious to test my own nostalgia quotient against acceptable parameters of objectivity. The chronologically graded format of the programme the evening the Kalakshetra bani was presented enabled me to measure the young talent on view with the flashes of the consummate artistry of the seniors, almost all of them septuagenarians today.

The performances of the youngsters in groups of six gladdened the heart. The strong foundation laid by Rukmini Devi and strengthened by the early efforts of Sarada Hoffman and other good teachers has evidently resulted in a continuing vibrancy of tradition and excellent adherence to technique. The all round good taste of the institution still pervades every aspect of the programmes offered by Kalakshetra--from the beautiful stage decor, and lovely costumes (though these seem to have grown more ornate through the decades), to the well-mannered courtesy and quiet dignity of the staff senior and junior as well as the volunteers. I can hear murmurs that chaos occasionally tends to rule, but that is preferable to efficient rudeness. Vocalist Hariprasad was in sublime form, and his elaboration of the raga Sahana was among the best I have heard in many a summer. The Natabhairavi tillana in praise of Rukmini Devi by the youngsters reminded us of its brilliant rendition by the CV Chandrasekhar-Leela Samson duo during the founder's 80th birthday celebrations.

Among the veteran dancers, Shanta and VP Dhananjayan and A Janardhanan gave us glimpses of the technical skill and poignant interpretation of the lyric and theme that made them special in their heyday. Balagopalan stole the show with his extraordinary abhinaya in a cameo appearance. The precise, controlled nattuvangam by Savithri Jagannatha Rao would have won the approval of the giants of yesteryear.

The floor seats were, as always, occupied by studious youngsters and some superfit oldies, eagerly drinking in the action on stage. Here again I could not help remembering how 40 years and more ago, I sometimes joined my young family as a member of the 'tarai ticket' audience. It was from these vantage seats that we watched in awe as the likes of Janardhanan and Venkatachalapathy as Rama and Lakshmana, Krishnaveni as Sita and Balagopalan as Hanuman wove magic before our eyes. The grand music by Mysore Vasudevacharya rendered by Sitarama Sarma, Pasupathy and others often made you turn your eyes away from the stage towards the orchestra pit.

The recent occasion might have been made more complete by the presence of stalwarts like Sarada Hoffman and Leela Samson, and some of the artists of more recent vintage.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Bliss on the beach

By K Chitra

Over two evenings of unbelievable experiences,  with the waves and the breeze forming a magical backdrop, I was fortunate enough to enjoy the diverse culture of Chennai at the Urur Olcott Kuppam Vizha.

Day One started with parai attam. The vibrant sounds that emanated from the instruments helped me to realize the greatness of our Tamil music.  I also came to know that parai which we normally believe is used only at funerals (most of the audience answered said so when asked) was used by our ancestors for all good occasions like first birthdays, wedding celebrations, temple festivals, and by the kings to make proclamations to the general public. 

Next came the villupattu by the Kuppam children – their sharp point to point narration on mindless consumerism,  unlawful construction and the floods,  all explicitly and entertainingly narrated.

 I am sure that like us it must have been a different but pleasurable experience for Bharata Natyam artist Shreejith Krishna  and his team to dance on a jamakkalam on the beach sand. He and his team invoked the Sun God , immersed themselves in Janardhana and wrapped up with a tillana on the saptaswaram.

Contemporary Indian Folk presented by Raghu Dixit, Bhaskar and his group gave an entirely new dimension to folk music. They mesmerized the audience with their infectious singing, brisk violin notes and soul stirring lyrics.

In between all these musical treats, the conservancy workers who helped the city come back from the debris of the floods were honoured.

Day Two opened with the more traditional nagaswaram by Carnatic Music College students. The sounds of the nagaswaram and tavil resonated along with the rhythm of the waves. This was followed by Nalandaway Kids’ choir singing a few songs in unison.  Vijay Siva's short and sweet kutcheri was a sheer delight to the ears and the way he rewarded the slum kids by giving them chocolates for guessing the name of the gods and goddesses mentioned in his songs was indeed commendable.  

Bharatanatyam  by eight girls from the Urur kuppam was next. They danced to a Ganesa stuti by Satya Sai Baba, a Deepanjali and finally the film song Ayirpadi Maligaiyil by Kannadasan. Their interest in learning the art form was quite evident in their presentation.

Day two honoured the Chennai youth who helped during the floods.

A fitting finale to the two day event was the modern fusion music by  Sean Roldan and friends. Anthony Daasan enthralled the audience with his powerful voice, lilting music, gripping lyrics and humble nature. 

To take a liberty with William Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice

How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this seashore!
Here will we sit, and let the sounds of music 
Creep in our ears: soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony.

'Citi - NCPA Scholarship for Indian Music’ 2016 - 2017

Monday, 21 March 2016

MS and evensong

By Sreemathy Mohan

Malai Pozhudinile, an interesting programme at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mylapore, conceived, scirpted, directed and narrated by Gowri Ramnarayan, gave insights into MS Subbulakshmi's association with Bharatanatyam..

Less known facts about the legend from MSS's grandniece Gowri Ramnarayan, songs by Nisha Rajagoplan, the tall and slim Priyadarshini Govind's expressive dance completely in line with the theme, and music left the audience in the jam packed auditorium wanting more. That was  the MS effect!

Some highlights:
1.  A song which lightened the mood of a morose Mahatma Gandhi and made him smile and clap Ghanshyam ayari composed by Dinesh Nandini for the film, Meera. MS sang it extempore when her family visited Gandhi.

2. MS used to sing for the young Bharatanatyam duo of daughter Radha and Kalki's daughter Anandhi . She taught them the sancharis for the songs as well. The whole family would have a great time singing with the girls dancing during their vacation at Kutralam.

3. When the girls's arangetram was scheduled, MS gave strict instructions to the in-house tailor at Kalki Gardens to make the costumes just like Rukmini Devi's and not like a flashy cinema costume. ( finally she brought out a beautiful blue and gold sari that she had worn in Meera and gave it to the tailor. The tailor was so reluctant to cut that resplendent tissue sari).

4. She and young Balasaraswati were childhood friends and used to sing and dance together. MS advised Anandhi and Radha to follow the expressions of Bala's in the padam Theruvil Vaarano.

5. An interesting story of how she learnt the Tulsidas bhajan, Kahan ke patak from Devadas Gandhi, who was actually teaching Anandhi. MS eagerly came along and learnt the song along with the kids, and finally chiselled it to perfection,

6. Kalki composed Malai pozhudinile as a special song for Radha and Anandhi's Bharatanatyam - in response to MS's request for a song just .  to compose one just like Poonkuil solaiyil, the song he wrote for DK Pattammal. We all left the hall humming Malaipozhidinele.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

The Arsha Kala Bhushanam Awards

By BuzyBee

Eminent artists were honoured with the Arsha Kala Bhushanam awards recently (L to R) Neyveli Santhanagopalan (C-vocal)  -- award received by his wife Meera, T. Rukmini (C-violin), Chitraveena N. Ravikiran, R. Vedavalli (C-vocal), Swami Omkarananda - Chidbhavananda Ashram, Theni, Swami Sadatmananda,  Anaikatti Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, Shanta &  V.P. Dhananjayan (Bharatanatyam), Karaikudi R. Mani (C-mridangam) -- award received by C.S. Subramanian.

The Dhananjayans receiving the Arsha Kala Bhushanam award at Coimbatore on 28 February 2016.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

A delightful dialogue in music

By Shrinkhla Sahai

You could have mistaken it for an evening of good friends pulling each other’s leg over their favourite football teams. But this was far from that. It was a jugalbandi in Hindustani classical music. Salil Bhatt (satvikveena), Matthias Müller (guitar) and Pranshu Chaturlal (tabla) infused the concert with refreshingly easy-going camaraderie as they exchanged appreciative glances over smooth arrival at the sama, threw a challenge at one another in an intense sawal-jawab, or rounded-off a complicated gat pattern with a laugh. 

Organised by Pracheen Kala Kendra, Chandigarh, and Lok Kala Manch, New Delhi, the collaboration between the satvikveena and the guitar presented an enjoyable musical dialogue. The conversation between the two instrumentalists, Salil Bhatt and Matthias Müller, started almost a decade ago when they attended each other’s concerts in Switzerland. While Salil Bhatt is an accomplished performer with many energetic feats on his creation -- the satvikveena, Müller is trained in classical and jazz guitar, and later studied Carnatic music.

The duo began with the raga Basant Mukhari. The delineation of a luxurious alap brought out the acoustic character of both the string instruments. While the satvikveena had a strong presence and a higher-pitched tone, the guitar presented an inward-looking and deeply poised musical texture. Bhatt’s dexterity was matched by Müller’s lyrical quality. As they meandered into the jod and jhala segments, it was striking that both the musicians picked up their cues keenly and enjoyed each other’s music. They were joined by the smiling and cherubic young tabla player, Pranshu Chaturlal, who rose to the occasion to claim his moment of rhythmic virtuosity. The second composition was based on raga Keervani, titled Hichki. Bhatt’s interpretation was tinged with pathos while Müller followed it up with a lilting melody.  The composition in raga Jog was balanced with elements of jazz and precise pauses. A brief and delightful Bhairavi with hues of folk melody was the final composition for the evening.

Presented as a unique Indo-German collaboration, the jugalbandi had an engaging appeal, and was musically exciting, along with a dash of mirth that is rather rare to find in classical concerts.

Friday, 11 March 2016

Sri Muthukrishna Swami Mission Trust

By K. Chitra

On February 24th, 2016 Lalitha Kala Mandhir, the fine arts wing of the Sri Muthukrishna Swami Mission Trust conducted its Founder’s day Programme at Bharathiya Vidya Bhavan, Mylapore.

The evening started with a Puja and singing of bhajans after which Mr. Ramakrishnan and Ms. Chitra Visweswaran took the stage and shared their experiences individually. Mr. Ramakrishnan elaborated about Sri Muthukrishna swamy and the founder Sri Manickavasagam Pillai. Sri Manickavasagam Pillai was  a pious soul and a benevolent person who lived around the Pothai hill near Tirunelveli. He started doing a lot of charitable activities and was blessed with Navaratnas – Nine gems in the form of nine daughters. One of them is  Pujyashree Mathaji Vithama . She runs the Sri Muthukrishna Swami Mission Trust in Pothai which offers free food (Annadaanam) every day and runs a school which imparts quality education to children (especially girls) in and around Pothai. The Lalitha Kala Mandhir offers free classes in Dance, Music, Mridangam and more than 100 students are benefited by this school. On Full Moon day more than 400 people go around the Pothai hill which has been developed into a walkable area. Forestation which is the current buzz word on everybody’s lips has been in force in Pothai for a long time now.

Ms. Chitra Visweswaran talked about her association with the trust. She  came to the trust as a performer but due to the blessings of Pujya Mataji she is now part of the trust helping deserving children learn dance. She also went on to say that the children who learn dance at Pothai are economically deprived children who lack even the basic facilities. She learnt this truth the hard way by narrating an incident. After a class, she told the students to go home and practice by looking at the full length mirror at home so that they can correct their posture.  At the end of the day, Pujyashree Mathaji Vithamma gifted everybody with a small face mirror. This made her realize that the children do not have a full length mirror at home to practice. Such is the economical situation of the children who study in that school. She also expressed that if the sincerity of the teachers are to be applauded, the sincerity of the children in learning the art is phenomenal.  All thanks to Pujyashree Mathaji that such economically deprived children are given an opportunity to learn such fine arts.

In appreciation of their contribution to arts, Pujyashree Mathaji Vithamma conferred the title of Lalithakala Vithagar upon Kalaimamani T.R. Kamala Murthy, Kalaimamani Dr. Navaneethakrishnan, and Kalaimamani Dr. Vijayalakshmi Navaneethakrishnan. Ms.Kamala Murthy is a Harikatha exponent who has been doing Harikatha from the age of 9. She is fluent in Marathi, Kannada, Sanskrit and Tamil.

Mr. & Mrs. Navneethakrishnan are well known for popularizing folk songs among today’s youth and   had come to the function in the traditional folk dress to receive the award. All the artistes were garlanded and presented with a shawl, medal and a gift.

Dance performance was given by the students of Lalitha Kala Mandir from Pothai and Chennai. The performance started with a Pushpanjali followed by a Kavuthuvam on Lord Ganesha and then a Thirupuggazh.  Papanasam Sivam’s composition on Mahalakshmi was rendered and the finale was the Thillana – Madurashtakam which delineated the friendship between Sudama and Lord Krishna. It was an enriching sight to see children from a village take centre stage and perform.

It was an evening of piety, performance and appreciation.


Wednesday, 9 March 2016


By Impana Kulkarni

The year 2016 marks a milestone in Kalakshetra’s performance history. The Margazhi festival having mellowed down, the annual festival bagged a few extra performances, making it eleven days long. And the best part:  all six parts of the Ramayana series choreographed by the founder Rukmini Devi Arundale since 1965 were once again shown in their entirety. 

Young love

The festival commenced with Usha Parinayam – the story of young Usha’s marriage. Choreographed by Rukmini Devi in the Bhagavata Mela style in 1959,  and interspersed with dialogues in Telugu, it narrates the story of how Banasura’s arrogance was subdued by the combined efforts of Lord Siva and Krishna; while his daughter, enraptured by Krishna’s grandson Aniruddha, takes the help of her sakhi Chitralekha to unite with him.

Rama’s story

The famed six-part Ramayana series ran on  from 22 to 24 and from 27 to 29 February. The use of rare ragas and complex teermanams bore the stamp of the music greats Mysore Vasudevacharya and his grandson S. Rajaram. Vasudevacharya even composed a new raga Chittabhramari to emote Dasaratha’s grief in Vanagamanam. The sollukattu for Soorpanakha’s scene in Sabari Moksham was set by Rukmini Devi herself. There was awe at Ravana’s scene in Seeta Swayamvaram, terror in Hanuman’s Lanka dahanam in Choodamani Pradanam, and marvel at the vanarasena’s bridge building scene in Maha Pattabhishekam. The staff and students of Kalakshetra who made up the cast performed gracefully. Senior alumni like Pushpa, Balagopalan, Ambika Buch, Prof.  Janardhanan, and many others, who were part of the audience, must have relived their Ramayana days, when they directly learnt from Athai and brought the characters alive on stage. 

Dance with a difference

Day five of the festival was lit by Sonal Mansingh, who chose to narrate and sing out verses before she danced in her Natyakatha on Krishna. Her booming voice and magnetic abhinaya were accompanied by a projection of Krishna paintings. Following this was a Bharatanatyam presentation called Soukhyam by the Dhananjayans and their students of Bharatakalanjali. Their performance of the invocatory alarippu was refreshing, with just the tambura playing in the background of the sollukattus. 

Day six broke away from convention  –  Astad Deboo arrived on the scene with his band of Manipuri drummers from Sri Sri Govindji Nat Sankeertan,  titled Rhythm Divine II – River runs deep. He combined their classical Pung cholom technique sans the drums with his contemporary moves, and layered it atop jazz music, in an attempt to portray the social unrest in Manipur. Beginning with the monotonous ring of church bells, his signature deep back bends and countless chakkars marked the end of the fascinating choreography. 

Alapadma – The Lotus Unfolds, a performance by Satyalingam’s Apsaras Arts Company from Singapore was next. Centred on the lotus, they showed its various representations across countries and in gesture through the stories of creation, the seven steps taken by Budhha, its occurrence in Hindu mythology and its philosophical significance in contemporary poetry. Finally with an effulgent tillana they demonstrated its spiritual significance. Beautiful dancers, creative costumes and good music made it a pleasure to watch.


The morning of 22nd the campus was filled with melodious music – a wonderful blend of Sufi, Hindustani, and Gospel music; and Sonam Kalra’s bold voice explaining the purpose of her ‘Sufi Gospel Project’. A band with artists of different faiths, they preach one language, that of truth and faith. A medley of religious prayers, Hallelujah, and Man manam a poem by Hazrat Shah Nyaz were part of their repertoire. Accompanied by a sarangi, piano and tabla, and led by the flute, she finished spiritedly with the audience joining in on Bulleh Shah’s poem Alfat unbin inbin, the teachings of my guru. 

The Malladi Brothers’ concert welcomed the new month of March. They presented the rare raga Balahamsa, and a striking Idadu padam in Khamas. Soothing music, impressive raga alapana, and an enrapturing rendering of  a ragam, tanam and Ananda natana prakasam, the brothers lived up to their reputation. 

Birthday of the founder

Each day of the festival began with a student reading out excerpts from Rukmini Devi’s writings on art, animals, and theosophy. On her birthday, 29 February, the morning college prayer saw the attendance of Kalakshetra’s oldest students to its youngest. Athai’s seat under the Banyan tree was beautifully decorated with her favourite parrot motifs by Ekambaram, an employee since her time. The evening of her birthday had a panel discussion on the textiles woven at Kalakshetra CERC titled Korvai, between Gowri Ramnarayan, Jyotsna Narayanan, Prof. A.  Janardhanan, Simrat Chadda and Baradwaj Rangan. It closed with her grand production of Rama and Seeta’s Maha Pattabhishekam, the last of the Ramayana series.

The festival ends

The last day of the festival, 2 March,  was graced by the talk on A century plus of Indian dance: 1888-2010, by dance critic and historian, Aashish Mohan Khokar. His presentation highlighted the ways in which, over the past hundred years, his father and he documented Indian dance. He paid tribute to Rukmini Devi, by screening rare videos of her dancing, talking to the students and teaching dance, all retrieved from the Mohan Khokar Dance Archives of India. His crisp speech and inspiring video pleased everyone. The festival closed with a violin recital by M. Narmadha, daughter of violin maestro M.S. Gopalakrishnan. Trained in both Carnatic and Hindustani music systems she interspersed her recital with explanations about the raga or song, making it an enjoyable experience. 

Across the span of eleven days, this festival celebrated the vivacious, loving and creative spirit that was Athai. Be it her idea of combining Bharatanatyam with the Bhagavata Mela tradition and using Kathakali veshams or her gentle and respectful way of interacting with her co-artists. Rukmini Devi’s creations are a direct reminder of her personality, they hold her aspirations and memories. Their beauty is such that no matter how old they are you want to watch yet again. This festival has tried to keep that spirit alive, that vision that created an art centre that is Kalakshetra.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Notion of Time

The Indo-French Reflection Group organised on the 31st January 2016 in Buc (France) a Conference-cum-Demonstration on the theme of “Notion of Time in Indian Classical Music” in the presence of the Chargé d’Affaires, Embassy of India, Mr. Manish Prabhat.

The Association has been dealing with this theme in History, Art, Literature, Science, Finance, etc. The event on music was well-attended and appreciated by the multi-national audience.

The afternoon started off with Lalitha Badrinath, President of the Association, providing some explanations for a better understanding of Indian classical music:
  • How, in Indian cosmology, everything in the Universe is determined by coordinated and interdependent cycles;
  • How each age corresponds to activities, desires, passion, doubts, hopes, sorrows;
  • How we discover a mirror image in daily life: morning joyfulness, noon warmth, twilight melancholy, silence & peace of night;
  • Scales created belonging to a particular feeling, state of mind, raga suited for the time of the day;
  • The modes: morning mode for ardour & fragility of youth, noon mode for strength & passion, evening mode for wisdom & tenderness, night mode for peace & regret
  • How ragas are sounds embellished by notes and phonemes pleasing human spirit
  • How the concept of a raga is more than a simple structure of melody or modal scale, also a living entity whose emotional climate colours the mind of the listener;
  • How each raga has a name and is defined by an ascending and a descending scale;
  • The seasonal modes: springtime, autumn, rainy season.

The Carnatic programme began chronologically in the pre-Trinity period.The demonstration included examples from Divyaprabhandam, Tiruppavai, Ugabhoga Vachana, Tevaram, Tirupugazah.

The programme continued with the demonstration of the Notion of Time through Talas and their particularities in the kritis from the composers of the Trinity.

The Hindustani programme was based on demonstrations with different rags according to the time of the day and seasons & festivals.

The examples chosen were the rags Bhairav, Madhuvanti, Bagheshri, Sivaranjini. For the seasons, the rags chosen were MisraPahadi, Megh, Miyankimalhar. The festival depicted was Lohri.

The Carnatic team included Bhavana Pradyumna, Jeayaram Subramanian and Hudson Mariyanayagam (mridangam).

The Hindustani group comprised of: Madhubanti Sarkar, Aparna Sreedhar, VedavatiParnajape, Bittu Banger, Matthias Labbe (table) and Christophe Lartillot (flute).

The event ended with a Jugalbhandi (Vathapi Ganapathim / Lagi Lagan) sung by Aparna and Jeayaram accompanied by Hudson, Matthias and Christophe.

In October, the Indo-French Reflection Group will be presenting a programme based on “A Musical Journey through India” in the scope of “Namasthe France 2016” organised by the Embassy of India.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Kuchipudi natya utsav in Bengaluru

By Naveena

The Kuchipudi Parampara Foundation, a non-profit initiative founded by Bengaluru-based entrepreneur-dancer, Deepa Sashindran, celebrated the second edition of Kuchipudi Parampara Natya Utsav recently at Seva Sadan, Bengaluru.

The well attended event was a good conglomeration of exponents of Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam, giving an opportunity for budding practitioners of the art-forms to meet established luminaries.

Interestingly, the Utsav  honoured two exponents from diverse backgrounds—Vedantam Radhesyam, veteran exponent from the Kuchipudi tradition and Praveen Kumar, a Bharatanatyam dancer making his mark  and currently training under Prof. C.V. Chandrasekhar.

The chief guests for the occasion were Lakshmi Mani, noted Kuchipudi exponent from Chennai, and Lalitha Srinivasan, eminent Bharatanatyam guru of Bengaluru.

The event featured three brief Kuchipudi recitals by blossoming artists—Himansee (Warangal), Vempati Priyanka (Chennai) and the duo of Deepa Sashindran and Rekha Satish. Praveen Kumar performed  Bharatanatyam. All the concerts succeeded to a large extent, in highlighting the salient features of the different art forms and banis. 

Himansee (disciple of Sudheer Rao) has an alluring stage-presence and is well-trained. However, she must avoid falling into the trap of performing in an over-dramatic manner. 

Priyanka, disciple and wife of Vempati Ravishankar, performed a kriti of Swati Tirunal and two compositions of Annamacharya. Although she adhered to the Vempati bani, a few unusual movements  seemed to detract from the spontaneous beauty of this bani. The highlight of Praveen Kumar’s recital was the humorous padam Tarumaruladey, which was greatly relished by the audience. In an earlier item, the dancer portrayed the pranks of Krishna. The duet by Deepa and Rekha included the tarangam which is a Kuchipudi hallmark. But the twin load of organising and performing was probably a tad too much for the pair. 

H.N. Suresh of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bengaluru, and scholar  ‘Satavadhani’ Dr. Ganesh were among those who graced the occasion. Young dancers Sujay Shanbag and Srividya Angara were the emcees for the programme.

The Kuchipudi Parampara Natya Utsav is a welcome addition to Bengaluru's  cultural calendar. With some ironing of organisational hiccups, the festival will find a place in the hearts of art-lovers.

(The author is an arts writer, translator, singer, quizzer and compere)

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Parlandu award for Veena Raju

By V Ramnarayan

A remarkable event of the season was the Parlandu Award function held at Raga Sudha Hall on 29 November by Parivadini for the  second year in succession to honour an instrument maker. This year’s winner was Veena Raju, a celebrated veena-maker from Bengaluru, who received his award at the hands of veena vidushi  Padmavathi Ananthagopalan, the Music Academy’s Sangita Kala Acharya and Sruti’s Vellore Gopalachariar awardee  a few years ago. An accomplished performer and much loved teacher Padmavathi, who recently lost her husband, made a rare public appearance, because she had been so impressed by Raju’s work through the decades and felt she must be there to give him the award. She was full of praise for Parivadini and its founder Lalitharam Ramachandran for their exceptional initiative in spotting outstanding contributions among instrument makers.

The award function was preceded by a weeklong series of instrumental concerts and lecdems. The lecdems were by Ghatam S. Karthick (Appreciating the role of the Ghatam, Khanjira, Morsing in a Concert), Sriram Parasuram (Gayaka and Vadya aspects of Classical Violin Playing, Gayatri Girish (Pre-Trinity Carnatic Music), B.M. Sundaram (Tavil Legend Yazhpanam Dakshinamurthy) and T.N. Seshagopalan (Meenakshi Navaratnamalika of Syama Sastry).

This attempt to focus on instrumental music, the recipient of indifferent treatment over the years, is a commendable effort by Parivadini and Lalitharam.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Preethy Mahesh

By Anjana Anand

Known for her pitch-perfect and soulful voice, Preethy Mahesh is an asset to a Bharatanatyam dancer. She has trained with legends in the field and her training can be seen in the quality of her performance. An “A” grade vocalist at All India Radio and recipient of the best vocal accompanist award from Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, Preethy Mahesh is at the peak of her career. Recently she made the bold decision to step back and take a critical look at her music and progress – a much needed decision for any artiste in her artistic journey. Preethy speaks candidly about her experiences and need for introspection at this stage of her career.

Tell us about your early years of learning.

I come from a traditional family where Carnatic music is part of our life. I have a good voice, and my parents felt that I should not waste a God given gift. Initially, I learnt music with a teacher living nearby. My serious foray into Carnatic music came when I started learning music from D. K. Jayaraman at the age of 12. Unfortunately, when I was 19 and had just started performing, Sir passed away. I was so fixated on the Pattammal bani that I just could not learn music with just anyone. I was very confused about my future in music after his demise.

Was it an early decision to become a musician?

I had no ambitions at all. I learnt music because it seemed the natural thing to do hailing from a family that loved music. My grandmother had dreams of me becoming a famous vocalist. She insisted that I do early morning sadhakam but I did not go through gruelling practice sessions. It happened very naturally and at my own pace.  After DKJ passed away, I wanted to pursue my studies but my parents felt that my future was in music. I had the usual dreams of doing my MBA and going abroad to study, but that path received no encouragement at home. I was like most girls at that age with no mind of my own. I did a
B.Com at Meenakshi College and kept my music up with Smt D. K. Pattammal and
Sri PS Narayanaswamy. Somehow, nothing seemed to inspire me. When I was with DKJ Sir, I had a lovely group of peers and I missed that interaction. Then to my joy, I met Tanjore Sri S. Kalyanaraman and began to learn from him. Once again my involvement in music was sparked. His style was very different but I found his teaching very challenging. He taught me different techniques and I felt I was at a peak in my ability to absorb and learn. It was short- lived, for Kalyanaraman Sir also passed away a year later. After that, my music took a backseat and I moved on to other things.

What made you come back into music?

I got busy with family life and my only connection to music was teaching informally at home. When my older daughter was 6, I enrolled her in Bharatanatyam classes at Bharatakalanjali (run by the Dhananjayans). One day when I was talking to Smt Shanta Dhananjayan about my music, she asked me to sing. Immediately she said, “We have an arangetram coming up. I would like you to sing for it”. I was taken aback! I had no experience singing for Bharatanatyam and I had no idea that I would ever sing professionally again. My exposure to Bharatanataym even as a rasika was poor. It was this performance which brought me back into music in 2002.

Actually when I was 15 or 16, I had sung for a Bharatanatyam performance, when Srekala Bharath took me to K.J. Sarasa’s house to sing ‘Kapali’ in Mohana raga for her to choreograph. I also sang for Srekala once again a few years later.

Do you enjoy singing for dance?

Absolutely! I get so much joy from that. In fact, at one point when I got back into music, I started receiving vocal concert offers, but I did not take them up. I was a full fledged vocal accompanist by then and I knew that music concerts were a completely different ball game. The kind of practice and guidance I needed would have been different. Also since I did not have a guru by then, I had no motivation to become a mainstream Carnatic vocalist.

My exposure to dance came only after I started singing for dancers. I realized how much I enjoyed dance, and every rehearsal was so enriching. Before I knew it, 14 years had passed !

What were the initial difficulties?

The challenge was understanding Bharatanatyam  and  getting used to the presence of a nattuvanar next to me! Initially, I did not even understand when a jati was going to start or how it was structured. It took me some time to understand the teamwork involved in an orchestra and of course, the technicalities of Bharatanatyam.  The nattuvanar had to signal that he was going to start reciting the jati and that I should stop singing! Slowly, I began to understand the whole system.  I became a true rasika of Bharatanatyam because of this experience.

You sang many years for Priyadarsini Govind. 

Priyadarsini heard about me through some common friends and asked me to sing for her performance in Nepal. This happened in 2003. After that,  there was no looking back. We have a tremendous rapport and I enjoy singing for her. I have travelled all over the world with her.  Audiences loved our dance-music combination. 

You had a very smooth and successful journey in music all these years. Yet,  you suddenly decided to take a sabbatical from the Bharatanatyam field. 

I have been singing for Bharatanatyam without a break for more than a decade now and I am extremely happy with this field. However over the last couple of years, I started feeling that I was lacking somewhere in my music. Some dissatisfaction crept into me . I have been thinking a lot about it and I realize that I need to focus on my own practice and get back to the music I used to sing in my early years. I sense a certain lack of depth in my music now and my voice is not cooperating as it did before.  I cannot ignore the warning signs.

Do you intend to return to the field as a concert artiste?

Not at all. As I mentioned earlier, being in the Bharatanatyam field has brought me immense satisfaction. I am only taking a break to work on my own music and voice. It is time to break out of the comfort zone I had slipped into over the years.

It takes a lot of honesty and clarity for a popular vocalist to listen to her inner voice.

Well, I am very clear that I want to continue as a Bharatanataym vocalist. The difference is that when I get back to the field, I want to sing with renewed enthusiasm and depth in my music. For that, I need time to sing for myself. I want to practise all my old pathantaram and work on my voice. It is something I had taken for granted. Unless we constantly keep upgrading ourselves, we cannot give our best . I want to come back to this field with the strength of a  Carnatic vocalist not just as a Bharatanatyam accompanist.

The irony is that as vocal accompanists we have no dearth of performances and are singing a variety of compositions through the year. I now realize that it not quantity but quality which is the problem.  As accompanists we are singing all types of compositions, some of which may not be best musically. Over time, there is a danger of losing our individuality and not challenging ourselves in terms of musical depth. This can affect the elasticity of voice and quality of music. I think it is vital for a musician to continue her own practice and upgrade herself musically.

Have you composed music for productions?

No. I enjoy singing old compositions. The musicality of traditional compositions inspires me. I derive much satisfaction from singing the compositions of the Tanjai Nalvar or Dandayudapani Pillai. These great masters knew how to compose for Bharatanatyam. They were able to combine the classicism of Carnatic music with the beauty of movement in Bharatanatyam. I do not think that as a musician I am equipped with that skill so I choose to sing those gems rather than make a feeble attempt at composing.  A good composer needs a different skill set. 

Any fond memories of performances?

All of them actually! I have always travelled with a great team all these years. I enjoyed our performance in Jerusalem in the early years of my career. I was inspired to be in the place where Jesus Christ was born. Performances in Paris with Priyadarsini Govind and Alarmel Valli were also high points in my career. We had such an appreciative audience.