Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Uniting communities through music and dance

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Lec-dems galore at R.R. Sabha

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

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

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

Kalaimamani award announced after eight years

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

Friday, 1 March 2019


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

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

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

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

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

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