Tuesday, 31 December 2019


Happy New Year 2020! “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything,” said Plato. For the past month and more, sangeetam did just that as it pervaded the Chennai metropolis.

Rasikas and artists must have had their fill of music over the past one month and more. Every day was hectic during the ‘season’ with artistic activity all day long. Morning: Some groups came forward to conduct the Margazhi bhajanai around the Mada streets of Mylapore. Devotional music and discourses were presented inside the sabhas early morning, followed by lecture demonstration sessions on music and dance ranging from the simple to the complex. We listened to kutcheris by veterans in some venues, and by youngsters in some others. Noon: There were music and dance kutcheris at noon and after—allocated to talented juniors and sub-senior artists of any age. Evening: Star artists were reserved for the evening ticketed slots which hopefully brought in considerable revenue for the sabha. There were some sold-out concerts too. Traffic jams, parking problems, commuting and change in eating habits, predominance of old people in the audience, have all advanced the finishing time of night concerts to a little over 9 pm. Rare now are the midnight concerts by Hindustani stalwarts, though all-night variety Carnatic programmes are organised by musicians to herald the New Year.

November-December saw two eminent personalities in the arts stepping into their 80th year—the Delhi-based veteran classical dancer Yamini Krishnamurti, and the popular arts patron and industrialist Nalli Kuppuswami Chetti. Sruti salutes these two achievers through interesting articles and some outstanding photographs. Our Roving Critic Sunil Kothari and senior Bharatanatyam dancer Rama Vaidyanathan recall their association with Yamini.

The 173rd annual Tyagaraja aradhana falls on 15 January this year. Tyagaraja attained mukti on Pushya Bahula Panchami in the Prabhava year on 6 January 1847. Though he lived only about 170 years ago, we do not have a very authentic account of the full details of his life though we have anecdotes and stories aplenty. Two of Tyagaraja’s disciples—Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavatar and Manambuchavadi Venkatasubba Iyer—have composed mangalams which provide many details about their guru. In this issue, musician and researcher T.R. Aravind attempts to analyse what these mangalams have to unfold about the bard.

One of the great music composers who belongs to the guru-sishya lineage of Tyagaraja was Ramanathapuram “Poochi” Srinivasa Iyengar. To commemorate his death centenary, we publish articles by Sriram V and vidushi R. Vedavalli about this lakshana vidwan.

In this age when students flit from teacher to teacher and learn from YouTube and the Internet, it is heartening to find artists who have remained with their guru for several decades. Ghatam S. Karthick is one such—he has been a dedicated student of the ghatam and his guru Vikku Vinayakram for forty years. Writer Sivapriya Krishnan provides interesting insights into the life and achievements of this multifaceted artist.

We have our usual coverage of organisations and events which also includes the silver jubilee celebrations of Mudhra in Chennai. The Music Academy Dance Festival begins in January with dance programmes scheduled from morning to night. Most sabhas have a long line-up of young and senior dancers who are featured from January to almost March. All of us at Sruti are busy attending lecdems and concerts at various venues and we hope to present our season roundup in the February issue.

Thursday, 26 December 2019

Natya Kala Conference 2019

By Buzybee

The 39th edition of the Natya Kala Conference (NKC) titled ‘Nirikshana’ (Bharatanatyam: Under the Magnifying Glass), presented by Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, is being convened by Delhi-based senior Bharatanatyam dancer and teacher Rama Vaidyanathan. “It seeks to examine, probe and assess Bharatanatyam as it is today,” says Rama. What transitions has it gone through over the years, and what can be done  better in the process of continuity. Through dialogue the conference aims to address some pressing issues of today. Through lecdems we propose to place several creative endeavours under the magnifying glass to get a closer in-depth perspective. Through full length performances we look forward to showcasing the best in tradition and its continuation, so that the ‘nireekshana’ of Bharatanatyam comes a full circle.”

“I wish  to project a wider vision through many eyes—rasikas, critics, scholars and organizers. I want everyone to take a look at Bharatanatyam through two different lenses: one, a concave lens through which we delve into the depths of an aspect of the dance form with a microscopic vision, and second with a convex lens where we expand our minds with a macroscopic vision. An amalgamation of both sides of the spectrum, could give us a holistic understanding. And last but not the least, this conference also endeavours to celebrate the ageless tradition as well as embrace the progression of Bharatanatyam”.

Friday, 20 December 2019

Kadamba flowers again

By Buzybee

Senior Bharatanatyam dancer and teacher Priya Murle curates ‘Kadamba’ (the flowering path) for the second year as part of the Natya Darshan conference hosted by Kartik Fine Arts at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mylapore from 20 to 22 December 2019. Priya says,  Kadamba started early this year in August with several  pre-events including a movie screening, academic and storytelling sessions, workshops and a lot more. This year the conference focuses on the physical, emotional and spiritual impact of natyam. As we explore the layers of poetry through sangeetam and natyam, the ability to comprehend the intellectual and metaphysical state of mind increases. All the sessions in Kadamba have been carefully crafted to deepen the consciousness and sensitivity towards the art form.”

The conference has some unique sessions like ‘Viewpoint’  wherein  dancers young and old will speak briefly about why each of them is pursuing dance even though other career options are available. The session ‘Interactive Adavus’ could be interesting for onlookers where specific adavus of different banis will be  demonstrated and dancers in the audience can learn and try them too! The evening performances reflect the topic of the conference presented as solos, duets and groups.

Monday, 16 December 2019

Notations in Carnatic music -- Then and Now

By S Sivaramakrishnan

Recently, I came across a few senior artists reminiscing about their student days when their gurus would chide them for noting down the notation, not to say the sahitya! This set me thinking. 

The celebrated Brinda-Mukta school considered the tendency for classroom notation a serious handicap on the part of the disciple. Many gurus were even unpredictable for their flow of sangatis because subsequent sessions would render the available notation rather 'outdated'! Thus it was actually a way of noting down the 'varnamettu' after the classes were over without the knowledge of the teacher! This could be a reason why many kritis acquired multiple sangatis (or pathantara)  as teaching sessions progressed. 

At the same time, we had gurus who insisted on notations and meticulously checked and corrected the notes of their students. They constitute the 'lenient majority' of gurus. Nowadays, notation has become supplementary to classroom recordings in state-of-the-art gadgets--to the extent that some artists today keep notations in front of them even in concerts!

Music was part of our family routine; my mother would sing along with the veena in the evenings with my sisters joining in. (For this, she had to tune the veena to a high pitch of not less than 4.5 kattai that lent an oriental charm to the recitals). My brother used to accompany them on the mridangam. No notations were available, but the lyrics were noted down in a book. 'Kelvignanam' (learning by listening) was the only asset we had.

My mother also used to give some interesting tests by asking me to sit a distance away from her and to identify the notes or kriti passages which she would play on the veena with rather 'muted pluckings'!  I had to keenly watch the placements and movement of her left-hand fingers to ascertain the swarasthanas and give the answer! It was indeed challenging yet exciting! I feel notations are a must to preserve sangatis.

Saturday, 14 December 2019

Is there a bias against Instrumental music?

A series of Interviews by V. Karpagalakshmi

Akkarai Subbulakshmi and Akkarai Sornalatha 
Popular duo (violin and vocal) Akkarai Subbulakshmi and Sornalatha agree on most of the issues raised by Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi (see blog) such as the lack of response for instrumental music in Chennai.
Do you feel there is a good response for Instrumental music?  How do you approach a concert?
Instrumental music is treated equally with vocal in other states like Karnataka and Kerala and the response is overwhelming among the Western audience. While performing abroad, we have observed that when the audience comes for a concert they stay till the end; be it vocal or instrumental. Perhaps they are more attuned to instrumental music and enjoy it better.
The Chennai audience is not able to relate to the music if they can’t hear the words. When we perform a rare kriti, one of us usually sings it while the other plays it on the violin to familiarise the audience with the piece. We have heard that in those days people listened patiently even for over three hours to concerts by Lalgudi Jayaraman or Flute Mali.
Do you think there is parity when it comes to instrumental concerts?
Though our music is based mainly on vocal style, there could be some pieces to demonstrate the virtuosity of the instruments. If the tune is catchy and interesting it would be accepted but it depends upon how the musician presents it. For instance, a varnam can be played in five speeds on instruments; the same is not possible in vocal. But if an artist needs to get a command over the instrument he or she should to able to play in five speeds, but that would demand enormous amount of practice. Artists must select a raga which would be interesting to listen to even in five speeds, and must also plan the concert in a balanced manner without compromising the greatness of our music. The entire concert need not be planned with abstract tunes; that will not work under the kutcheri formula, we need to adhere to the paddhati. In the ragam-tanam-pallavi for instance, the tanam is very suitable to show the virtuosity of the instrument and it is also quite abstract.
What do you think can be done to kindle interest in people and change this mindset towards instrumental music?
Workshops and lec-dems could be organised to make the audience understand what goes into playing instruments. But one has to make sure that people attend such programmes.  Also, during the season there are not enough opportunities for instrumentalists. Any good artist should be given a chance; rotation should not be the norm. We have discussed this issue with a number of instrumentalists and they all feel rather dejected about the poor response in Chennai. Some seniors get to perform every year while the younger talented generation misses out due to the limited opportunity and rotation system, which leads to their frustration.  There are five slots in a day during the season and young talented musicians can be accommodated. At least 25% of the total concerts need to be set aside for instruments.

Thursday, 12 December 2019

Is there a bias against Instrumental music?

Interview by V. Karpagalakshmi

Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi,
daughter and disciple of Lalgudi Jayaraman
Do you feel there is a good response for Instrumental music?  How do you approach a concert?
I feel there is more appreciation for instrumental music in other states compared to our own Tamil Nadu. Audience response is as good as for vocal music in Kerala and particularly in Karnataka.  I wish the Chennai audience would learn to appreciate instrumental music better. It is also a vicious circle-- organisers arrange only a few instrumental concerts citing lack of crowd and because of less number of instrumental concerts the audience attendance is poor; even in a series, maximum concerts are vocal. 
When we (my brother GJR Krishnan and I) approach music, we are very conscious that we are expressing music through an instrument and that it should reach the audience and make them enjoy it without the lyrics. We are mindful when we select the compositions we choose to play. The nuances such as anuswaras and intonations can be heard more clearly and sharply in an instrument than in vocal music.
As far as creating pure music without lyrics, I feel it would certainly have 100% response. People do enjoy a tillana which has minimal lyrics and is mainly only a tune; there can be pure music compositions as part of a programme but the quality of music should not be diluted.
Do you think there is parity when it comes to instrumental concerts?
In vocal music even when it is an unknown song in an unfamiliar language, the audience  seems to enjoy it, but when it comes to instruments it has to be a well-known kriti. The mindset appears to be anchored on the lyrics to be able to appreciate the music!
If we play a rare kriti repeatedly whenever there is an opportunity, am sure it would become familiar to the listeners. In fact, there are compositions which are heard more often and also more suitable to instruments than vocal. The audience too should make an effort to listen to instruments more; they don’t realise that they are missing out on a lot of great music. If they listen to instrumental music, then they will understand that there are as many nuances as  in vocal music. It is enough to keep your ears and mind open and listen to realise there is more pure music beyond lyrics.
What do you think can be done to kindle interest in people and change this mindset towards instrumental music?
I think we should educate the listeners on how to enjoy instruments through workshops and lecture demonstrations which could improve attendance at concerts.
There are a lot of talented young instrumental musicians. Special festivals are being organised for instruments. That alone may not be enough to popularise instruments. During the season at least 25% of concerts should be allotted to instruments.
Violinists get opportunities as accompanists; but many of them, in spite of being good artists, do not get centrestage. For instance, in the US and particularly in Europe, they appreciate instruments much more than vocal. They enjoy the tone and timbre of the instruments be it a violin, veena or percussion instruments. That, in my opinion, is the highest form of recognition and appreciation.
What is your opinion on webcasting or live streaming of concerts?
Live streaming of music is useful for elderly people who can listen from the comfort of their homes. Otherwise an attitude of ‘we can watch any time we like’ comes in.  But some organisations webstream in such a way that only people living outside the country of the concert venue can view it.

Saturday, 30 November 2019


The grand carnival of the classical arts is on in Chennai. You can listen to Carnatic music to the point of saturation and some Hindustani music too. In dance you get to see a variety of classical forms—a lot of Bharatanatyam, and some programmes of Kuchipudi, Odissi, Kathak, Kathakali, Mohini Attam and Sattriya. The audience for music and dance is quite different. If you want to know what the season was like 75 years ago, we have an interesting description of the 1944 December season written by popular raconteur Sriram V.

There are many kinds of rasikas ranging from the single-minded one-sabha rasika to constant sabha hoppers. You can easily listen to over 60 different musicians during the season or simply follow your favourite musician to all the 20-plus concerts! In the audience you will find talkers and sing-along types, some young and many middle-aged folks busy clicking and posting on Instagram and Facebook—we sincerely hope you are not one of them! There will be others googling or frantically turning the pages of the raga-ready reckoner to identify the raga, song and composer being rendered by the artist on stage.

The number of vocal recitals far outnumbers instrumental concerts. Although both vocal and instrumental music have coexisted for long, the latter has not received due patronage from organisers and rasikas. It is a vicious circle—organisers arrange only a few instrumental concerts citing lack of audience interest, while the audience attendance is poor because the number of instrumental concerts is less! Could the high importance accorded to kritis and their lyrics in Carnatic music be a cause for this? What could be the reasons for the greater popularity of vocal over instrumental music? What is it that the audience is looking for? It has nothing to do with quality alone as there are several excellent instrumentalists in the field. In this issue, one of our senior writers, vainika T.T. Narendran, raises questions and offers insights into the status of instrumental music today.

Our Chennai correspondent V. Karpagalakshmi interviewed a few instrumentalists (posted on the Sruti blog), most of whom remarked that instrumental music was better appreciated outside Chennai! They also expressed their disappointment with the rotation system of allocating limited performing slots for a wide range of instruments. Instrumentalists have appealed for at least 25% representation during the season.

Can anything be done to help the cause of instrumentalists? The musicians themselves have been experimenting and collaborating in different ways to try and popularise instrumental music. Last season, Abhishek Raghuram presented a vocal concert with young flautist J.B. Sruthi Sagar as accompanist at the Narada Gana Sabha. This year, Ramakrishnan Murthy and young Ramana Balachandran are presenting a vocal-veena duet at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha. Most of the musicians interviewed have suggested that lecdems and workshops should be organised to explain the intricacies and the effort that goes into playing any instrument. With this in view, Sruti and Music Forum present Vadya Sammelan on 7 and 8 December—a series comprising lecdems by top artists, which promises to provide insights into the origin, history, styles and intricacies of the tavil, nagaswaram, mridangam, violin, veena, ghatam, khanjira and morsing. The entire Lec Dem Mela, including an interesting panel discussion on the ‘State of Instrumental music’ will hopefully give a boost to Carnatic instrumental music in Chennai.

You will be happy to note that Sruti recently launched its YouTube channel. Stay in tune with us for news and views updates in the world of performing arts.

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Ramakant Gundecha passes away

Ramakant Gundecha (57), younger  of the renowned Gundecha Brothers, passed away on Friday 8 November 2019 in Bhopal.  The brothers had performed the day before at the Vishwa Rang - Tagore International Literature and Arts Festival in the city. Ramakanth suffered a heart attack at Habibganj Railway Station while waiting for a train to Pune.

The brothers founded the Gurukul Dhrupad Sansthan in Bhopal for the propagation of dhrupad and have collaborated with veteran dancers like Astad Deboo and the late Chandralekha. Recipient of several awards, Ramakanth, along with brother Umakanth, was honoured with  the Padma Shri in 2012 and the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 2017.

Ramakanth’s sudden demise comes as a shock to the music fraternity.

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Thanthei Nada Sangamam

By Varalakshmi Anandkumar

Jugalbandis have become a common feature in today's concert scenario where variety is indeed the spice of life. But this was a concert with a difference. The concert featured an interesting jugalbandi of violin and nagaswaram. The rasikas at the Arkay Convention Centre, Mylapore, Chennai, were treated to a unique coming together of two versatile artists Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi, representing the Lalgudi bani and young Mylai Karthikeyan, an up-and-coming nagaswaram artist.

The percussion wing too featured a delightful blend of a budding artist—Sarangan Ravichandhira from Australia on the mridangam, along with seasoned khanjira artist Aniruddh Athreya.

To those who imagined that the nagaswaram would drown the dulcet tones of the violin, this concert proved them wrong. Combined with the well-equipped acoustics of the hall, the violin and nagaswaram combo seemed made for each other, blending perfectly to give an amalgamation of melody, to the rich tones of the percussion.

The concert began with the Viriboni varnam and was followed by obeisance to Lord Ganesa with Sri Ganapatini in Saurashtram. Arunachalanatham in Saranga was rendered line by line exquisitely between the violin and nagaswaram. Hindolam is a raga which never fails to please and in the hands of the two artists, it was sheer delight. Viji went into the root of the raga, to extract its full bhava. Young Karthikeyan was equally skilful with his briga, sangatis and his long, sruti-perfect karvai; he never failed to create an impact on the delighted audience. Following the alapana was the evergreen Samagana lolane of Papanasam Sivan.

Blending with raga, the bhava of the rendition by the duo suffused the air with bhakti, not to mention the response of the percussionists who knew exactly what to play at each sangati. The swara sequences and 'poruttams' were a sheer delight and it was a moment of regret when the song ended! Yet, there was much more in store. The poignant Ganamoortey was followed by the main piece.

Lalgudi Viji's long bowing strokes contrasting with the fast phrases found an echo in Karthikeyan who was evidently inspired by her expertise and quiet guidance. The effect created in Kharaharapriya and the kriti Pakkala nilabadi only served to accentuate the listening pleasure.

Artists from abroad coming to perform in India has become a common occurrence, but the effort of young Sai-Sarangan Ravichandhira was notable. It was evident that the youngster had put in hours of toil to play on a kappi mridangam effectively for concerts of this calibre. Sarangan's korvais shone bright and announced his bani with clarity and appropriate modulations.

Aniruddh Athreya is always brilliant and went into his element during the Tisra nadai kuraippu segment where the exchange of phrases between Saranagan and Anirudh was a treat. The combined effort by these two supporting artists was a significant contributory factor to the success of the concert.

Coincidentally, the concert was held on guru Surajananda's samadhi day and Lalgudi Viji paid tribute to the composer by playing the piece Muruganin marupeyar tuned by T.M. Thiagarajan  in Behag. Three other compositions—Tamarai poota tadagamadi, Chinnanchiru kiliye and a tillana in Sivaranjani—were rendered skillfully and all four musicians complemented one another.

The concert was attended by many vidwans including,  guru Kaaraikkudi Mani, G.J.R. Krishnan, Bhushany Kalyanaraman and Sarangan's father Ravi Ravichandhira. All in all, the three-hour concert was a Sunday treat for the rasikas and one hopes that there will be many such combinations that bring in novelty without compromising on tradition.

Thursday, 31 October 2019


Deepavali, the festival of lights, must have lit up hearts and minds in different parts of the world, spreading the message of joy, love and peace. It brings to mind the oft-quoted lines Asato ma sadgamaya, tamaso ma jyotirgamaya .... (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad). A prayer to lead us from the ignorant state of darkness towards the light of knowledge; to lead us away from fraud and deception to truthfulness; to help us all to practise and propagate the arts with honesty and integrity.

The Vigilance Awareness Week this year—observed from 28 October to 2 November—coincided with Deepavali, focusing on the theme “Integrity — a way of life”. The Central Vigilance Commission believes that this theme will help to draw the attention of all sections of society, especially the youth, to the significance of ethical conduct in the building of an honest, non discriminatory and corruption free society. The objective is to promote integrity and probity in public life through citizen participation. Combating corruption is not just a matter of making laws and creating institutions, but is deeply rooted in human values and morals of individuals. It calls for the numerous players in the arts scenario— including artists, organisers, writers, teachers and administrators—to come forward to weed out corrupt practices in the system. Giving a bribe is as bad as asking for one; so shouldn’t musicians and dancers refuse to “pay to perform” rather than simply bemoan the malpractice? Do not pay in cash or kind to secure a performance slot. But pay to attend good programmes, lecdems and conferences for they can be a learning experience.

Wonder why there is this mad rush to get up on stage and perform even if one is half-baked! Watch out we could come across a lot of mediocrity during the extended season. Students are told to learn art for art’s sake but what is happening is to the contrary—art has become competitive like sports. Competitions are being conducted by all and sundry while parents seem to be ever ready to pay a considerable fee to enable their “budding talent” to compete and get a printed certificate! Does it serve any purpose? Most often it is not a record for excellence!

Coming to Sruti magazine, our readers can be proud that Sruti stands for objectivity and integrity. Sruti has never made any compromises along the way nor has it succumbed to pressures, power or money in publishing articles—we turn such offers down with a firm “No”. On completing 36 years we have received innumerable congratulatory messages. Till a few years ago, we used to receive letters by post and email which we would publish in Sruti Box. Times have changed and letter writing is on the wane. This time we have received hundreds of congratulatory messages and comments on Facebook. In step with the times, we hope you will “like” to read some of them in the Sruti Box section. This month we have interesting stories for you about south Indian classical dancers—Raja Radha Reddy and Jayalakshmi Eshwar—who have made the Capital their home; and about two Carnatic percussionists—T.A.S. Mani and Manoj Siva—with different approaches to their art. I remember watching the Kuchipudi duo of Raja and Radha Reddy in the late 1970s and 1980s. They made a very attractive pair on stage—he tall and dark with striking looks and she petite and lovely like a “paavai vilakku” idol come alive. Their speed and timing, brilliant coordination in nritta, eloquent abhinaya, their bold sringara poses and dynamic presentations have won them fans worldwide. The Reddys have successfully established a home for Kuchipudi in Delhi.

With rising costs of publication, we are going in for a small hike in our subscription rates. Henceforth one issue of Sruti will cost 85 rupees only. Am sure you will continue to support your favourite magazine as it still costs less than a plate of dosa with beverages during the season! And mark your dates on 7 and 8 December 2019 for the Lec Dem Mela organised by Sruti and The Music Forum at Arkay Convention Centre, Chennai. The theme is Vadya Sammelan—on the origin, history, styles and intricacies of musical instruments.


A modern-day gurukulam in Minneapolis

By Nirupama Vaidhyanathan 

I dozed in the backseat as the car whizzed on the highway, plying me to the Koinonia Retreat Center situated outside Minneapolis. When I got out, the smell of tree bark and fresh earth filled the air. As I stood in the driveway taking in my unfamiliar surroundings, I could hear the all-too-familiar stamping of the tattukazhi with sollukattu rolling out effortlessly from Indian-American youngsters. In the first week of July, the best of Chennai descended upon a retreat centre located at a two-hour drive outside Minneapolis.

Navadarshana, a residential dance camp for Indian-American dancers was in full swing. The brainchild of Bharatanatyam dancer Priyadarsini Govind, the participants were immersed in an environment that promoted intense learning and absorption. Participants had been divided into three groups according to their skill level and received instruction in nritta and abhinaya.

“Navadarshana”, was a camp that revealed an approach to learning Bharatanatyam; Senior gurus shared their expertise in all areas of learning each song. Dancers Aler Krishnan from San Diego and Chitra Ramaswamy from New Jersey dealt with the operational logistics for the programme and everything on the schedule hummed along perfectly.

At the crack of dawn, the participants attended body conditioning classes conducted by Odissi artist Bijoyini Satpathy and Kalari classes by Muralikrishan. After breakfast, they attended classes in nritta and abhinaya. Nritta classes were conducted by dancers Anjana Anand and Priyadarsini Govind; Priya Govind handled the teaching of abhinaya for all the groups. Nithyakalyani Vaidyanathan taught nattuvangam for the songs that they learnt, while Venkat Venkatakrishnan from Dallas, Texas, taught the participants how to sing those songs, enunciating each phrase clearly. To explain the lyrics of the songs that they were learning, scholars S. Raghuraman and V.A.K. Ranga Rao participated via Skype sessions. Violinist and senior musician R.K. Shriramkumar led the senior participants in a Skype session and taught them how to sing the Desh tillana, a composition of Lalgudi G. Jayaraman. Carnatic musician  Subhashini Parthasarathy explained the nuances of raga Sankarabharanam as she brought out the beauty of the padam Intha mohamemira. In the post-lunch sessions, there were lectures by North American artists. Ramya Harishankar spoke on abhinaya, while I dealt with storytelling narratives and authenticity, urging each of them to search for authenticity in portrayal. After dinner, the participants heard from Gandhian scholar and arts writerV.R. Devika, about various personalities and forces that have helped create the practice of modern-day Bharatanatyam.

Each session created impact within the hearts and minds of the dancers. No mean feat—I thought to myself as I sat at the back of the room observing sessions in progress. Thaka dheem tadhim natru dheem the strains of the Desh tillana were played over and over as the senior dancers lined up to stamp the korvais in unison, yearning to best the previous iteration. Priya Govind spoke earnestly as she walked around the room, “the hand has to be extended to its fullest, the knees have to be turned out, and of course, the back has to be straight. There can be no shortcuts, right?” As she spoke, one could see the tiredness in the limbs as
they stood—but, as she said - 1,2,3,4 - suddenly the back was straighter and the hand swept downwards in the kitatakatarikitathom with fluidity and speed, reaching the endpoint with precision. I then entered Nithyakalyani’s nattuvangam class in progress and found students in the intermediate level enunciating clearly the sollukattu for the kavuttuvam that they were learning. Hands resting on the tattukazhi, looking eagerly at her for the next request, their American accents had disappeared!

The most heartwarming presentation of the retreat came on the final day, where the
youngest set of dancers stole the show. They sang the mallari that they had learnt from Venkat Venkatakrishnan flawlessly and then demonstrated the rhythm without missing a single beat. They took turns making an announcement about the song that they had learnt from Priya Govind based on a Panchatantra fable and in an instant, they transformed into silly crows and wily foxes! When they did their final namaskaram, their eyes were shining, the back was straight and they deserved every applause in full measure.

To acquaint young Indian-American dancers
to a holistic approach to dance while exposing them to the best that Carnatic music, Bharatanatyam and dance scholarship has to offer is a laudable initiative. All over America, there are teachers dedicated to the preservation and practice of the art form, and their students are drawn from various backgrounds. The overall message of the Navadarshana dance camp to the youngsters was to do it right, as that is the only way to approach the learning of this art form.

The teachers worked and the students worked cohesively helping each other;  there
was palpable excitement to learn and absorb new material in class. “We all love the pursuit of natyam,” seemed to be the message that bound teacher and student together.

The camp taught Indian-American dancers the experience of living in what comes close to a gurukulam in the 21st century.  And, for conceiving and implementing this feat, kudos to Priya Govind, Vidya Prasad, Aler Krishnan and Chitra Ramaswamy.

(Nirupama Vaidhyanathan is the Artistic Director of the Sankalpa School of Dance in Fremont, California and the Managing Director of India Currents magazine. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Communication from the University of Pennsylvania.)

Birthdays & Anniversaries

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Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Aruna Sairam

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Aruna Sairam, the Sangita Kalanidhi designate, opens the door and ushers me in with a warm welcome on a languid Sunday morning to her house, named Mantralayam, a neat compact structure nestled inside a street in Abhiramapuram, Chennai. The large picture of Aruna’s favourite Krishna stands tall overlooking the entrance and welcoming the guests. Her love for Krishna began even as a child because of her mother Rajalakshmi Sethuraman who used to organise congregations in their simple flat in Mumbai.

The city was a melting pot of cultures, languages and ethnicities. The migrant population was seeking self expression and preservation of the roots they belonged to. Aruna is a recipient of this rich heritage and culture which her parents zealously guarded and instilled in her brother S.K. Raja and herself, creating an ambience whereby she could learn from numerous masters and shape herself as an artist. According to Raja, Aruna’s strengths are her innate curiosity, her grit and her ability to communicate.

Her early love for music started with the bhajan sessions and musical soirees conducted at home. Her parents, a young couple in the early 1950s, started building bridges with musicians, litterateurs, theatre artists, dancers and the like who came to Bombay to perform. They also housed many of these visiting artists from all over the country and this opened for Aruna, a vast vista into the world of music, literature and dance.

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Guru Purnima Utsav in Mumbai


Guru-sishya parampara—the traditional way of transmission of our classical arts—has played a significant role in preserving and perpetuating the rich heritage of classical music through centuries. As prescribed in our scriptures, there is no better way to redeem the ‘guru rina’ (debt of the guru) than to produce your own disciples, carry forward the tradition and offer their swaranjali (musical offering) to your departed guru.

One of the principal inheritors of the Vilayatkhani baaj, veteran Arvind Parikh is perhaps the true extant guru of this tradition who has painstakingly carried forward the legacy of this gharana, both in terms of expression and content. His relentless zeal as a dedicated guru and his meticulous teaching has passed on the essence of this gharana to numerous disciples at home and abroad.  Arvind Parikh is a staunch believer in the guru-sishya parampara and believes that this old style of teaching has meaning and purpose. ‘Palta’ for example, he explained, is practised not just to master the technique; after long hours of regular riyaz or practice, there comes a time when your mind can wander and the subconscious starts working. This bifurcation of mind enables the conscious mind to create music and the subconscious to execute it,” he said.

The two-day Guru Purnima utsav, he organised at the Rangaswar Sabhagar, Y.B. Chavan Pratishthan in Mumbai, featured nearly 30 of his disciples in vocal, surbahar, rudra veena, shehnai and sitar and was dedicated to his guru  Ustad Vilayat Khan. 

In her introduction, Suvarnalata Rao, a senior disciple of Arvind Parikh and the music programme executive at the National Centre of Performing Arts (NCPA) Mumbai, acknowledged her 91-year old esteemed guru as a ‘maharishi’, teaching for the past 65 years without charging a penny from any of his students. He has prepared an enormous amount of material for his disciples including 400 gat compositions in more than 100 ragas and many video recordings. 

A special feature of the utsav was also the open-minded approach of Arvind Parikh going beyond the confines of gharanas. He had invited vidushi Manju Mehta, a senior disciple of sitar maestro Ravi Shankar last year and Purbayan Chatterjee, the young sitarist of Senia Maihar gharana as the guest artist this year.

The doyenne of the Patiala gharana, Begum Parveen Sultana, chief guest of the day, expressed her appreciation for Arvind Parikh as a guru and also admired his warmth towards artists of other gharanas. Remembering her own gurus, Parveen mentioned that she had personally witnessed the ultimate guru bhakti in two sishyas. One of them was Dilshad Khan (her guru and husband) who would carry his ailing guru Faiyaz Ahmed Khan, and climb three floors to reach the hospital;  and the other is Arvind Parikh who served his guru Vilayat Khan with utmost respect and affection. 

In 2017, Arvind Parikh instituted the 'Unsung Heroes of Indian Music' award to felicitate quiet contributors like instrument makers, sound engineers, and writers. This year, four journalists dedicated to music—Amarendra Dhaneshwar (Mumbai),  Deepa Ganesh (Bengaluru), Meena Banerjee (Kolkata) and this writer, were felicitated by Parveen Sultana.

Several senior disciples of Arvind Parikh offered their musical tributes on Guru Purnima. Sharada Mushti played a serene alap of raga Malkauns on the rudra veena, and Ashwin Dalvi etched out the contours of Suddha Sarang on the deep and resonant surbahar. Rajiv Janardan underlined the vakra chalan (gait) of Gaud Sarang supported by the vocal rendition of raga Bairagi by Purvi Parikh. Sitar player Ramprapanna Bhattacharya rendered electrifying taans in Jonpuri, Amrita More presented a melodious Jhinjhoti, and Amrita Kulkarni portrayed Jaijaivanti. A mesmerising Yaman by Gopal Shah and the gripping Gorakh Kalyan on shehnai by Hassan Haidar were some of the noteworthy performances. No wonder the concluding guest artist Purbayan Chatterjee was inspired to give his best!

Purbayan played a melodious alap and a couple of compositions in raga Nand, set to the seven beats cycle and in drut Ektal. He  remembered his guru and father Partho Chatterjee, Ali Akbar Khan and Ajoy Chakrabarty, who had groomed him and thanked Arvind Parikh for keeping up this healthy interchange between gharanas that challenges and encourages artists to come out of their comfort zone and try something new.

(music scholar and critic)

Lit Fest on Music


The town of Patna was the venue of an unusual festival—a literature festival devoted to books on music and musicians, and books written by musicians. Carefully curated by Ajit Pradhan, and his organisation Navras School of Performing Arts, the festival was spread over two days and included six sessions on music, and three concerts. Inevitably, with artists talking about their art, the sessions also ended with impromptu demonstrations, which were a true delight.

The festival was dedicated to the late “Ganasaraswati” Kishori Amonkar, as it was she who awakened in the organiser Ajit Pradhan the desire to delve into the written word of musicians. It was fitting that her disciple, the venerable Padma Talwalkar was honoured on the inaugural day with a lifetime achievement award.

The first session was a discussion by authors Yatindra Mishra, Vikram Sampath and Namita Devidayal on the subjects of their books, entitled Music and the Maestros. Yatindra Mishra, the only non-musician author on the panel, has written books on Bismillah Khan, Lata Mangeshkar, and Girija Devi amongst others. Vikram Sampath has written on the veena maestro S. Balachander, and thumri queen Gauhar Jan. Namita Devidayal, a disciple in the Jaipur Attrauli tradition, has written on her gharana and its exponents, and more recently a book on Ustad Vilayat Khan. The informal interactive free-flowing discussion, moderated sensitively by Shinjini Kumar, touched on the problems faced by the authors—how not knowing the subject personally impacted their writing, how music being an aural experience could never adequately be examined in text, the importance of steering away from controversies and scandals that were not necessary to portray the subject. The evening ended with a vocal recital by Gwalior gharana sixth-generation exponent Meeta Pandit, whose book Pandits of Gwalior is a milestone work on the history of her illustrious family. Incidentally, it has also boldly explored the shortcomings in the outlining of the ‘thaat” system of north Indian ragas established by Bhatkhande.

The next morning started with a dhrupad concert by the 13th generation representatives,Prashant and Nishant Mallick from the princely state of Darbhanga, the biggest patron of music in the region. The pakhawaj accompaniment by Kaushik Mallick enhanced the brief concert immensely; interestingly the brothers chose to sing raga Parameswari created by sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, and thus was not part of their taleem, showing how their singing tradition remains innovative and creative even today.

Next was a session entitled ‘Nazakat, Riwayat, Ada’ dealing with the tawaif tradition. Sadly, author of Tawaifnama, Saba Dewan could not attend this session as planned; the panellists were vocalist Vidya Shah (author of Women on Record), music lover and Patna based journalist Arun Singh and Akhilesh Jha who has written a book on Mehdi Hasan. The session was moderated by Shankar Jha, an organiser of music festivals and a music connoisseur. The session touched upon the low status of tawaifs in society despite their vital role in keeping alive cultural traditions over generations. A touching story was recounted about Patna’s Zohra bai, who had lived in the court of Maharaj Rameswar Singh of Darbhanga as a young girl. After his death, his son Kameshwar Singh located her and invited her to perform at his coronation ceremony; and tried to pay her with gifts and cash. Deeply wounded, Zohra bai gently refused saying she was like a daughter of the house of Darbhanga and could not accept payment for its festivities. Such was the relationship between the tawaif and the patron. Vidya Shah broke into a lovely song, twice, to make her point musically.

The next session focused on the devadasi tradition of the south, wherein Swarnamalya Ganesh traced the history of the tradition to current times, following it with a demonstration of abhinaya. The other panellist author Pavan Varma was not able to make his point lucidly.

A discussion on gharanas followed—Jaipur Atrauli represented by Padma Talwalkar, and Gwalior by Meeta Pandit. Archivist Irfan Zuberi from the Dagar tradition and Ajit Pradhan were the other co-panellists. Padma Talwalkar who has learnt from three gharanas made the valid point that the disciplined confines of a gharana was necessary initially; then later on, as a musician one could rise above the confines. Her impromptu rendition of raga Tilak Kamod was interesting, as was Meeta Pandit’s demonstration of a “tap-tarana” (a tarana sung in the staccato tappa style; a speciality of the Gwalior tradition).

The next session focused on the problems of writing on musicians. The panellists were tabla exponent and author Aneesh Pradhan, Namita Devidayal and Akhilesh Jha. Sadly the session of Bombay Jayashri in conversation with disciple-author Vikram Sampath was cancelled; the last session of the festival was entitled “Riwayati Purab ang Gayaki” and featured Banaras based Saira Begum from the tawaif tradition, and author and thumri singer Vidya Rao, whose book about her guru  Heart to Heart – Remembering Naina ji, gives invaluable insight into the world of thumri of the 1950s to the 1970s. The session was conducted by Irfan Zuberi, who gently delved and brought out beautiful memories of both singers.

The conclusion of the festival was with a thundering concert, by tabla maestro Suresh Talwalkar and his team, in which uniquely he was accompanied by a vocalist rather than the other way around.

One hopes this innovative initiative of  Lit Fest is taken forward to other cities too, as a non-intimidating dialogue with musicians and about books on musicians paves the way for a general listening audience to engage more with the arts, and listen more to hardcore classical music. 
(writes on music, musicians and matters of music)