Thursday, 31 December 2020

FROM THE EDITOR

 


Sruti wishes all its readers a Happy New Year 2021. We sincerely hope it will usher in good times—of hope, prosperity, peace and well being. With the pandemic raging across regions and continents, the year 2020 was a trying one for everyone, including members of the arts fraternity. Covid 19 impacted society in various ways—physical, financial, emotional and psychological. Several people lost their lives and livelihood, leading to fear, and depression. For the first time ‘positive’ took on negative overtones!

In the arts world we have been hit by a barrage of deaths of several prominent personalities in the past few months. We have been writing about them and their contributions in the pages of Sruti. This month, we pay tribute to several famous artists who have passed into Eternity—veteran dancer-artist Amala Shankar, Carnatic stalwarts P.S. Narayanaswamy and T.N. Krishnan, Bhagavata Mela artist S. Natarajan, and Kuchipudi exponent Sobha Naidu. Some of the tributes penned by youngsters highlight the impact these artists have had on the next generation. We offer our heartfelt condolences to the family members of the departed artists. As the magazine goes to print we are shocked to hear the news of the demise of our Roving Critic Sunil Kothari, a good friend and long-time associate of Sruti. He was a jolly, happy-go-lucky person who got invited to seminars and events on dance across the globe. A jet-setting critic and prolific writer of books on dance, and a life-long learner, his enthusiasm and curiosity to know things is worth emulating. He is among the few whose knowledge was not solely bookish but also based on firsthand research into various genres.

We are indeed privileged to have a stalwart like Prof. Trichy Sankaran write about P.S. Narayanaswamy, and also his association with the Lalgudi family. This issue also includes the concluding part of Sivapriya Krishnan’s candid interview with Lalgudi G.J.R. Krishnan and Vijayalakshmi on matters musical.

It is a matter to be proud of that the arts fraternity has not been cowed down by the Covid pandemic. This year the December Arts Season too has got into a rhythm of its own. The early morning Margazhi bhajanai is happening with gusto in Mylapore. The social media is humming with activity. Kutcheris are being aired online everyday. It is heartening to watch artists give of their best in the programmes uploaded virtually. Their voices seem to be in fine fettle, as they must have spent the lockdown time practising, ruminating and revitalizing themselves and the art. Contrary to apprehensions, rasikas, especially senior citizens, are actually enjoying the concert experience in the safety of their homes. It has also opened up the concerts to a larger and wider audienc  across the world. Although the halls may not be reverberating withmelody, rhythm and ankle bells, the sound of music has entered the heart and home of rasikas.

The Federation of City Sabhas had a well coordinated hiprofile start to its ‘Yours Truly Margazhi festival’, with the Vice President of India, M. Venkaiah Naidu, virtually inaugurating the event from Hyderabad. He lauded the organisers for the virtual initiative and called upon artists to leverage technology and reach out to art lovers in a creative way. He rightly pointed out that in future, the real and virtual medium would likely co-exist. Describing our rich cultural treasure as India’s greatest gift to the world, he said it is a potent source of soft power to expand our global outreach.

The Madras Music Academy’s virtual season too began with a crisp and sober inauguration.

While inaugurating the annual arts festival of the Kalakshetra Foundation, Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit called upon gurus to bring art closer to the common man. He said apart from enriching life, art should also contribute to spreading social\ messages about contemporary issues. He exhorted the rich and the corporate world to contribute to the cause of art to supplement the efforts of the government. Hope many are listening!

S. JANAKI

Wednesday, 30 December 2020

RITACHHANDA FESTIVAL BY SNB FOUNDATION KOLKATA

Ritachhanda, a unit of the SNB Foundation Kolkata, transmits the cultural and spiritual heritage of India to the younger generation inspired by the messages of Brahmachari Satyadev, of Dev Sangha, Deoghar, his disciple Narendranath and by the spiritual successor Sauyendranath Brahmachary, a brilliant erstwhile technocrat.

A traditional transfer of learning through the gurukul system is facilitated by renowned dancers, distinguished  musicians, and their annual festival is the proof of their immense success and selfless service.


Luckily, this year’s two-day festival at Uttam Manch, grazed past the beginning of the first Covid 19 lockdown. After the inauguration and an enlightening speech by Swami Suparnananda Maharaj, Secretary, Ramakrishna Institute of Culture, Kolkata, the evening devoted to dance opened with an Odissi dance performance by Sujata Mohapatra, a complete disciple of the legendary guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. She presented the finest elements of style and idiom in the timeless compositions of her guru. Sujata began with the invocation Shantakaram, a Vishnu vandana in raga Gurjari Todi set to tala Joti, followed by the Hamsadhwani pallavi composed in 1973, where the mellifluous phrases of the lilting raga were steeped with flourishes of intoxicating movements, swirls, intricate nritta and smiles of her charming presence. The singing and accompanying music was deftly strategised through her abhinaya for the historic choreographic composition of  Ahe nilo sailo,  loaded with the soul-stirring lyrics of poet Shalabeg, portraying Lord Krishna’s compassion. Ardhanareeswar, was her concluding masterstroke that can be seen repeatedly for its nritta. The violin support by Suramani Ramesh Das, mardal by Ekalabya Mudali and vocals by Rajesh Kumar Lenka strongly added to the enigma.

The dance–theatre Shikhandini, choreographed by the renowned Kathak dancer Asimbandhu Bhattacharya also paved an entirely exciting form of aesthetically rich, deftly strategised exposition of vengeance of the compelling episodic character from the Mahabharata. In the structural strategies of the script by Amit Dasgupta, the well-known forceful story of Amba, the princess of Kashi, who claims the male gender from Yaksha, reborn as Shikhandini to avenge the ignominy she suffered in the hands of Bhisma, had been given a generous touch of vivacity, gorgeousness and rigour of Kathak elements by choreographer Asimbandhu Bhattachary. A delight of expertise and imagination was observed in the amazing marching in dhamar taal while raging war against Vishma, where a unique ‘Sawari’ has been incorporated in eleven matra! The narrative smeared with unclouded intellect and power, stylish  pastel shaded costumes, incorporation of masks, expert dancing in sync with the music. Throbbing light effects by Dinesh Poddar, vocals of Debashish Ghosh, bol paranth, Tanum tanana derena or for that matter gatbhav and taatkar or a sparkling physicality of Kajal Hazra’s  Kalaripeyettu as Yaksha, and the long open tresses of Asimbandhu as Shikhandini. His astutely significant intense gender-balanced portrayal sharply maintained the opulence and proceeded like a series of brush-strokes maintaining the ambivalence of both dance and theatre. Tanni Chowdhury portrayed Amba, Mayukh Dutta as Bhisma, supported by Avik Chaki. The voice-over for the characters were by Saswati Sen, Bimbabati Devi and Biplab Ganguli. 

Venkatesh  Kumar known for his rendition of Haridas Pada, had all aspects of musical excellence of the sastras. He took the audience on a spiritual journey with his recital in a devotional vein with high erudition, supported by Samar Saha on the tabla. Rabindra Kakoti needs special mention for his marvelous harmonium accompaniment. Kushal Das’ sitar recital had a strong base of that of Nikhil Banerjee and delighted with the compelling table support of Subhashish Bhattacharya.

NITA VIDYARTHI

Photo Courtesy  Asimbandhu Bhattacharya and Ritachhanda.

SRJAN PRESENTSED THE 26TH OMC GURU KELUCHARAN MOHAPATRA AWARD FESTIVAL, 2020

In keeping with his professional excellency, classicism, traditional wisdom and hard-core ability to move with the times, Ratikant Mohapatra’s creativity and managerial skills as the director of Srjan successfully handled the pandemic scenario to catch up effortlessly with the practice of web- streaming of programmes in presenting the 26th OMC Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Award  Festival on the virtual screen but with all live performances and a live musical accompaniment in a proper stage or studio. This gave a feeling of watching the programme in an auditorium even if the performance space was not as large and more than compensated for any shortcomings.

The Governor of Odisha Professor Ganeshi Lal presented the awards with strict adherence to all the government mandated COVID-19 safety guidelines,

This year’s sole recipient of the Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Award was veteran cinematographer Raj Gopal Misra for his invaluable contribution in Odia Films. The Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Yuva Pratibha Samman went to Prabhat Kumar Swain for Odissi dance and  Himansu Shekhar Swain for Odissi music.

Inaugurated by Hema Malini the Rajya Sabha member and the erstwhile dream-girl of the Indian Screen, on the digital platform from Chennai, Srjan dedicated the festival rightfully to the Doyen Pandit Jasraj and to Jaidev Das, the multifaceted drama personality, light-designer and a long time associate of Srjan.

The format remaining the same as in the previous years, the festival this year saw the introduction of “Vilasini Natyam”,the temple dance from Andhra Pradesh for the first time and  quite a few of the talented present generation artists.

DANCE

Award festivals with a mixed fare generally draws more rasikas interested in  dance.

The festival opened with  Madhusmita Mohanty’s Odissi recital. The ritualistic mangalacharan, a Pushpanjali, a richly choreographed and flawlessly presented Kirwani Pallavi  and the concluding  Ashtapadi “Madhave Ma Kuru Manini Manamaye” proved that she was no ordinary dancer.

P.Praveen Kumar ‘s feel and commitment to Bharatanatyam  was fortified from the very  beginning with “Aditya Hridayam” set to the scared verses in the worship of the Sun God. With excellent physicality and technical expertise, the Jatiswaram in raga Abhogi, Aditala choreographed by his Guru Narmada was a gratifying experience and so was the impassionate rendition of the two episodes of  Purandara Dasa  composed Devaranama in his own choreography eulogizing Lord Krishna in two episodes, “The Vishwaroop Darshan” and Lord Vishnu asking King Bali for three feet of land, saw him at his best.

Kathak dancer Gauri Diwakar’s Shringar rasa based “Dheera” presented in four parts explored the mystique  of the Nayika  with  an array of themes including love, life, self-exploration, and fulfilment . “While Chhabili Naar” saw her technical prowess in footwork her, abhinaya skills in the cult numbers, the Bindanin Thumri Sabb bann than aai shyam pyari re followed by Naino Ke Dore Laal Gulal Bhare choreographed by Aditi Mangaldas to Samiullah Khan’s music based on Suryakant Tripathi,Nirala’s poetry and the concluding Meerabai composition”Sanware ki drishti mano prem ki katari” did not rise above mediocrity due to static facial expressions. It was a pity that the names of the legendary composers of the third and last numbers were announced in the reverse order.

Consummate dancer Purvadhanasree’s Vilasini Natyam offered a spewctacular performance.  She justified her training and art in Choornika  ,was exemplary in Jatiswaram, Sadashiva Brahmendra’s Kriti, Kreedati Vanamali, eulogising the various names of Lord Krishna concluding with a brilliant abhinaya of the  Ashtapadis, Radhika Tava Virahe  and Pravesha Radhe.

The home production Anweshanaa had a bouquet of Ratikant’s already popular and  memorable neo-classical choreographies like the invocation Antara Rama visualizing the deep devotion of Hanuman, the spectacular Tarana with the throbbing music of Vyzarsu Balasubrahmanyam, Rase Harim Eha set to the music composition of the late Pandit Jasraj, concluding with Tulsidas’ Shri Ramachandra Krupalu Bhajamana. A live performance, the dancers were as always exhibited immense skill and expertise and  with the same appeal.

 

MUSIC

The festival gravitated towards a variety of instrumental recitals starting from  Vishwamohan Bhatts six short pieces of mellifluous ragas on his Mohan Veena on the first day with only a self -adjustable metronome to Dhaneswar Swain’s thundering Mardala recital in Aditala with Muralidhar Swain on the harmonium, mesmerizing the audience with quality music and rhythm, confirming once more the Mardala’s reputation and vital position in solo concerts.

Tarun Bhattacharya, the Santoor maestro, known for revolutionizing the Santoor, explored the strains of the Raga Bageshri with Hindol Majumdar on the Tabla to offer an engaging recital. And there were canned clappings too!

The only vocalist of the festival Abhishek Raghuram’s soulful renditions of compositions by Saint Tyagaraja were clear, emotion-filled and shining, bringing forth the spirituality, musical harmony, and emotions with effortless brilliance and proved that language was no bar. He began with Nenarunchara composed in the rare Raga Simhavaahini, Adi talam followed by Durmaargacharaa in Raga Ranjani and Rupaka Talam (3 beats), symbolic of the anguish that Tyagaraja faced, and  Neevaadane Gaana, in Raga Saranga, concluding with a song on Lord Nataraja at Chidambaram, composed in Ragam Behag ,Adi Talam by Shri Gopalakrishna Bharathi. Ably accompanied by Mysore V Srikanth on the violin and Anantha R Krishnan on the Mridangam,

NITA VIDYARTHI

Photographs courtesy Srjan

DIAP 2020 Roundup – 4th to 13th September 2020

 

The Dance India Asia Pacific 2020 (DIAP) was a hybrid ten-day seminar (4-13 September 2020), which brought together over fourteen master classes, twelve webinar sessions, and six choreographies. The conference also showcased residency programs, panel discussions, and a special dance workshop for children amongst several other special events. Besides the annual master classes conducted by DIAP faculty over two weekends covering Bharatanatyam, Kathak, and Odissi, this year, Carnatic music and mridangam master classes were also included, and all these were presented digitally to Singapore-based dancers.  The DIAP faculty for 2020 included regulars such as Priyadarsini Govind, Bragha Bassell, Rama Vaidyanathan and Mohanapriyan Thavarajah. Joining them were Aditi Mangaldas, Illeana Citaristi, S Sowmya, Patri Satish Kumar amongst other eminent artists.

The highlight of this year’s edition was the uniquely curated nightly double-bill webinars which covered a vast variety of topics and featured interesting personalities that made for an enriching experience. Topics included The Dancing Body by Priyadarsini Govind, which took a deeper look on the skeleton framework of the anatomy with live demonstrations with her students and a holistic discussion on the physical training required for dance.  This was followed by evening webinars starting with two topics for the solo repertoire. The first, Evolution of the margam, was presented by dancer Swarnamalaya Ganesh. This was a popular topic that reviewed Sadir – the earlier form of Bharatanatyam through historical pictures, and the construction of the margam at different phases in history including rarely performed elements. This was followed by dancer Malavika Sarukkai’s lecture on Reimagining the solo performance, where her personal journey on how she has uniquely constructed her own version of significant pieces within her solo repertoire over her career, shown through videos of her iconic works and dance films.

The first Carnatic webinar took place with vidushi S Sowmya’s lecture on Veena Dhanamma’s school of padams, where she shared her firsthand experience of learning from the eminent T Mukta, and the true essence and nuances found within this bani. She demonstrated and explained both the performing style and the teaching philosophy which was beneficial to both dance and music students. This was followed by a unique lecture-demonstration by dancer Rama Vaidyanathan on Exploring thumri in Bharatanatyam.  In this session, using live Hindustani musicians, two thumris were shown and the audience saw how Bharatanatyam can embrace and communicate emotions in good measure albeit with a different system of music. 

A first for DIAP took place the following day with a presentation by the Chitrasena Dance Company of Sri Lanka with a showcase on Kandyan dance. Presented by Heshma Wignaraja and Taji Dias, the history and evolution of this unique dance was explained and they demonstrated some of the key movements that emphasise agility and flexibility with live drumming.  This was followed by a session on the age old Silapathikaram and how it has endured as a dancers’ delight through the ages, was presented by dancers Sreelatha Vinod and Anjana Anand. Both the dancers, through live video demonstrations, showcased selected verses from this story amplifying the varied themes within this epic.

By mid-week, Odissi and Kathak webinars were a welcome change. Veteran Odissi dancer Ileana Citaristi demonstrated sancharis within the Odissi format and dancer Aditi Mangaldas spoke on Reimagining dance during lockdown. She shared the thematic mini-dance films her repertoire company dancers created, and spoke candidly about her journey this isolating crisis created.

The webinars also covered other important aspects related to dance - light design was presented by Gyandev Singh, where he explored the technical approach for lighting ensembles, solos, the use of digital mapping through images and video. This was followed by scholar and writer Sujatha Vijayaragavan’s lecture on the Appreciation of music and poetry in Bharatanatyam. Here, she detailed the necessity to pay attention to phrase emphasis and how dance communicates best when musical elements especially in song are well articulated through gestures and rhythm coming together.

The final two sessions culminated with Lalgudi tillanas, presented by the Lalgudi siblings GJR Krishnan and Vijayalakshmi. The duo presented some of Lalgudi’s famous tillanas, and the stories behind them including their relationship with him as their teacher and father. The webinar series culminated with a lecture by Gandhian scholar and arts writer , V R Devika, on Nataraja and the Cosmos, which delved into the deeper meaning and cultural significance of the symbolism of this iconic image and its connections to scientific theory and philosophy; a fitting conclusion to the ten-day long series. 

DIAP 2020 also presented two interesting sessions with famed performers, Alarmel Valli and actress-dancer Shobana, in conversation with Aravinth Kumarasamy and Priyadarshini Govind respectively. The artists shared their life journey, the people who inspired their dance and the choices they made in their career, and how dance shaped who they have since become. For many fans, this was a treat and offered much inspiration and food for thought.

This year’s DIAP 2020 also featured the launch of several digital performances including Kaana Vaa, which featured three solo dances in Bharatanatyam, Kathak and Odissi, presented as group choreography, in collaboration with Raga Labs, Singapore. In less than two weeks, this performance crossed over 100,000 views on social media. Another digital presentation, an annual collaboration with Esplanade, Theatres on the Bay, featured Natya Lahari, an hour-long program of curated presentations.

Overall, DIAP 2020 offered a valuable range of knowledge for both connoisseurs and practitioners of dance and music. The Apsaras Arts team enjoyed putting this together despite the challenges of safe-distancing and brought the community together and kept the art alive and growing despite the pandemic crisis.

The DIAP digital performances can be watched on:  

https://www.apsarasarts.com/digital-performances/

Merging parallels

 


Every country, and sometimes every region of a country, has its own style of music. Thus, the exposure to such a varied genre of music during her Masters and Post Masters Fellowship studies at Berklee College of Music, led Apoorva Krishna’s fascination to concept of chords and the realm of harmonies in Western music to grow. Though her basic interest is Indian classical music, this exposure to world music genres led her to want to create fusions of Indian classical and contemporary Western music. Apoorva is already an accomplished violinist belonging to the Lalgudi school. Her recent composition Merging Parallels has been garnering international attention. Several eminent artists like John McLaughlin,  Aruna Sairam, Bombay Jayashri and Ranjani-Gayatri, Abhishek Raghuram, her gurus Anuradha Sridhar, Srimathi Brahmanandam, among others have expressed their appreciation with encouraging words. Says John McLaughlin, “I've been involved with musicians from India and Indian music for the greater part of my life and one of the fascinating aspects I have experienced is the attempt to integrate harmony into the Indian traditions and now we have this young generation of the 21st century and they are studying Western music -- in particular, harmony and this music video from Apoorva and Varijashree is amazing on how they are integrating harmony into the melody, with the sophisticated rhythms of India and it's really an amazing piece of music, really quite outstanding."

Something a young aspiring violinist would only have dreamt about came true for Apoorva Krishna when in November 2019 two legendary maestros  John McLaughlin and Zakir Hussain invited her to play the famous Shakti masterpiece Lotus Feet at the Harvard Business School organised by the Berklee India Exchange. Since then McLaughlin’s encouragement led her efforts towards merging the music of East and West.  


Lalgudi tillanas have had a great fascination for her with their melodies and rhythms; they were the muse for her to compose five tillanas, and the debut album Apoorva Tillanas was released during the Cleveland Aradhana festival in 2018. Apoorva says, “With my love for Carnatic  tillanas and Western harmonies, Merging Parallels came to life. The piece relates to the concept of adhara sruti bheda ragamalika, which means different ragas over different srutis and tonics -- like the world of different modes over different keys and chord changes”.

Adapting, transposing and improvising over chord changes and different styles of playing, besides the strong difference between Indian classical tuning and the Western standard tuning, was a big challenge that she had to take on. It was her abiding passion for music and the exposure to different genres of music along with her training from understanding teachers that  gave her the courage to continue with the venture of composing melodies with Indian classical ideas with chord changes. Merging Parallels was a natural corollary that has swept her up to greater levels of acclaim.  

Merging Parallels runs for 3.15 minutes and is set to khanda Chapu tala with ateeta eduppu. It contains 18 ragas with chord changes and is set aesthetically, abiding by the tillana format, patterns, mathematical jati prayogas, as well as a lyrical section in Sanskrit in the raga Saramati.  Apoorva has been fortunate to have had other artists joining with her in this production, which has added to its musical value. Vajrashree, through her clear passionate voice, has rendered vocal support, the versatile Sunaad Anoor has brought forth his creativity with percussions like konnakol and khanjira enhancing the rhythmic aspects of the tillana. Apoorva adds, “Aleif Hamdan’s magical colours, chords and love for Indian classical music paved way for seamless transitions, rhythmic synchronisation and rock-solid harmonic support. The double bass support by Bruno Raberg has enhanced the total effect immensely.” All the musicians have played from their own homes due to the pandemic situation; nonetheless the coordination is completely seamless.


Apoorva has been part of several collaborations with both Indian and Western musicians.  Shankar Mahadevan’s composition Ragamaya is a fusion of Indian classical music conceptualised with graham bhedam with contemporary arrangement. Essence is a recent electronic track produced by Atmanam, where she plays the violin; it was shot in the heart of New York and it has been popular on Spotify. Transcend has William Cepeda, the creator of Puerto Rican jazz and a four time Grammy nominee; this is a collaboration of Indian classical music and Latin jazz styles.

There are some very recent  yet to be released works with her playing the violin which have influences of various musical genres such as Flamenco, Latin jazz, Polish jazz, Western classical, Electronic, Bluegrass, Iranian and hip-hop.

V. KARPAGALAKSHMI

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

CONTEMPORARY DANCE LOSES ITS GENTLE INDIAN CRUSADOR – ASTAD DEBOO


Seventy- three years old, born on 13 July  1947, Astad Deboo slipped away from life quietly on 19 December 2020, leaving behind a varied legacy of creative productions, built up through sheer hard work in a painstaking career – the unostentatious artist while braving through a-not-very-congenial ambience for contemporary dance in India, never stooping to drawing aggressive attention to himself. Ploughing a lone furrow through five decades of work with the body, Astad lived in a world of his own creativity, his non-conformist approach following no established dance norms, traditional or contemporary, defying categorisation. Born to a Parsi family in Navasari of Gujarat, with no history of anybody taking to the dance, Astad, inexplicably drawn to the art form, began his dance career as a boy of six, with Kathak lessons under K.Mohanty and later Prahlad Das in Jamshedpur, where the family settled for some years, after an initial shift to Kolkata, before the father got employed in Tata Steel.

 While studying in Podar College, University of Bombay, in the sixties, Astad ‘s eyes opened to the thrills of Contemporary dance after being treated to a Murray Louis Dance Company show. In 1969 dancer Asha Coorlawala, seeing his vaulting enthusiasm helped him find a place in the New York School for Dance, studying Martha Graham’s method of approach to movement. In 1974, Astad joined the London School of Dance to study the Jose Limon technique. Later he worked for some years with Pina Bausch’s Wuppertal Dance Company in Germany.

After also working in Dartmouth with the Pilobolus Dance Theatre Company of Alison Becker Chase who won the Guggenheim fellowship in 1930, he travelled through Europe, Japan, Indonesia, finally returning to India in 1977. And here he was advised to learn Kathakali – not for performing but to improve his body’s Indian dance vocabulary; his guru was E. Krishna Panikar. Astad even mentioned performing in the Kerala temple! With this melange of movement forms, his body had experienced, one wondered what he was going to create. While critics cynically debated on what this medley of dance techniques would lead to, Astad was quietly working at discovering his own body language – which as he himself remarked to me once, fell between two stools- “not Indian enough” for the western critic, and “too westernised” for the Indian watchers. “But I was determined to discover my own method of movement”. And indeed he did, his dance theatre productions gaining sizeable audiences.    


To soldier on, through nagging criticism about this assemblage of mixed vocabulary, one needed courage, daring and a sense of adventure – all of  which Deboo’s quiet fa├žade accommodated in plenty.   

One remembers the dancer moving on the stage performing Mangalore Street, suddenly take a leap to land on the lap of a startled Baba Jamshedji seated in the audience! In similar defiance of all performance rules, during the Khajuraho festival, while following Satyadev Dubey’s idea of performing Ladki Ka Ravan, he made his stage entry, heralded by loud sirens  and black cat, in an Ambassador Car! In yet another production, he landed from a height jumping on to a stage full of burning candles! One wondered how he avoided getting severely burnt while moving through this forest of lit flames. Constantly travelling, his adventurous nature accepted no boundaries of what one could try in dance. He collaborated with Pink Floyd at Chelsea Town Hall in London. In 1986 he was commissioned by Pierre Cardin to create a short piece for dancer Maya Plisetskaya performing for Bolshoi Theatre, using South East Asian hand movements! In 2004 Astad choreographed for a Hindi film by Painter M.F.Hussain - a work called Meenaki- Tale of three cities, and in 2019, he collaborated with Hema Rajgopal, Sikil Gurucharan and George Brooks to present INAI with Natya Dance Theatre in Chicago.

 Unlike traditional dance where expertise is judged by the effortlessness of a highly trained dancing body performing immaculately, contemporary and modern dance believe in testing the endurance of the body in performance.  And Astad was a champion at this – his sweating tortured body performing a whole work with two syringes sticking out of his hand, or wriggling  his punished body  through  the spaces between strands of a ladder! Showing the mentally and physically tortured drug addict, and in works like Insomnia produced in 1982, and Asylum in 1979, the watching spectator’s body and mind also suffered – so contorted were the dance movements. These facets represented typical modern and contemporary dance, where the body (without any facial expressions) conveys meaning through pure movement unaided by the histrionics of abhinaya.

But the confusing aspect was that Astad also consciously used facial expressions – and of a strong type thanks to his Kathakali training. But very often his eye and brow movements came as part of body movement – rather than to express an emotion, though that too was not taboo.

I often wondered if this self-flagellation of the body pointed to a certain compulsive trend of morbidity in the dancer’s personality. He also, while collaborating with puppeteer Dadi Padumjee, dealt with death in Thanatomorphia, and here the dancer dialogues with death appearing as a puppet character. “Is death a liberation or is it a celebration?”

 Myth which provides so much material for the classical dancer was also not precluded. He once told me “I have no special predilection for myth, nor do I nurse an animosity towards it. If a myth helps in bringing out a point, I will use it. And I have taken recourse to myths, generally in tones of a light hearted interplay like Yama who is mistaken for Krishna, caught in an exchange with Radha and Yashoda. In countries like Mexico and Spain, the item was highly appreciated.”


Astad was not just sombre themes and one cannot forget what a funster this dancer could be in his art and his repertoire has several skittish and playful numbers like Chewing Gum for instance where his entire body shrouded and covered in stretchable material moved like kneaded dough taking on myriad shapes and forms! Astad also created spectacular productions built round the concept of Devi – represented in over-sized striking Padumjee -designed puppets in red – the powerful visual extravaganza giving an entry stealing the show in many a festival! Turned out in a striking gown flaring out when he took a pirouette, the dancer evoked a high meditative mood like a dervish, as he kept circling round the stage. This one Kathak movement of the very slowly spun chakkar, would be maintained over several minutes with tireless non-stop pirouetting, pointing to the extent to which Astad had trained his body. Never once through all these years could I ever catch him losing balance even once! At the age of 73, his body retained the same ability, some of the poses mind-boggling in the kind of muscle control required!

Astad’s taste in music was equally eclectic. His love for Western music was a natural inheritance from his Parsi background. He loved Rap, variety of popular music, Gregorian chant rather than authentic modern music, and a variety of different types of music superbly recorded and assembled formed part of his work. He had friends Indian and Western who shared this interest with whom he worked. Astad also enjoyed Indian music. He did a whole production with the Gundecha Brothers - Ramakant and Umakant. The slow drupad alap and music with Astad ‘s body interpreting it through poetic unhurried movements, made for a fine combination. He also collaborated with other classical musicians like Bahauddin Dagar, the Rudra veena player and with percussionists Sivamani and Lories Band in a work commissioned by Zee TV.

How then did one define the dance theatre of Astad? No two productions were the same and stylistically it was difficult to think of a set of norms his work followed. It was not certainly traditional, and yet with his facial movements and deliberate use of mudras, it did not resemble contemporary dance in the east or west. One important feature running through all his work is the element of surprise and the unexpected that he believed in. For him anything predictable could never become great art. Always testing the body’s potential, his sense of adventure had no limits. With the prop of a wooden contraption with squares, some closed and others open, he would dance behind this, with parts of his body being seen through the uncovered spaces – creating strange visual aesthetics of body parts. Dadi Padumjee his puppeteer pal mentions how Astad, on his request, choreographed a work built on a line from a Jose Saramago novel, Angst - Angst Coonth Coonth Boom Baram Dhandal Damal Kaput! Astad worked with several theatre directors like Sunil Shanbag, the Korean Director Hyoung–Taek Limb and others and also on poetry of Bulleh Shah, Tagore, and writings of Manto. Anything was grist for his choreographic mill. In fact, his unpredictability also came from the places he performed in like the 40-feet-high walls at Champaner, atop the Wall of China where he presented Astad Tandav Mudra. He performed in a pool of water in Chandigarh and danced on the catwalk of the IGNCA building. Site dancing was his specialty.

  Astad himself was not given to describing or categorising his work through any kind of theorising. “It is my type of body work”, is all he said. For him differentiating between categories like ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ in movement or music made no sense. In fact, his latest collaborations have been with Thang Ta Manipuri artists –  who are perhaps the most rigid in terms of not deviating from their tradition. Astad’s desire to collaborate with these martial artists led him to their guru in Manipur whose permission he sought. He gave his word that while the artists would collaborate in his productions, he would never interfere with their traditional vocabulary or change them in any way. Similarly his work with the Pung Cholom Manipuri drummers in Rhythm Divine, is an interplay  for artists pertaining to two very different approaches and schools of art.

 Critics like Sadanand Menon wondered if Astad had a definite philosophy which he was trying to project through his work. Was he making some kind of statement or was his entire work just extravaganza?   He wondered why the indignation against the power structures of contemporary society, exhibited in the work of most contemporary dancers, was missing in his work.

These attitudes stung the very sensitive Deboo. “I have heard cutting remarks. I have my convictions and they do find expression in my work, but unobtrusively. I do not scream out my criticism. With a certain sadness he recollected how the “Gundecha Brothers who enjoyed singing for him were asked to stop accompanying him ‘if they valued their classical status’ – by the then Secretary of the Sangeet Natak Akademi!  Behind my work is deep thought and effort. I do not do anything lightly. Some of the established classical dancers too have made very cutting remarks about my dance. If one does not fall into a slot one becomes a misfit. Never one to take part in a slanging contest”, Astad suffered in silence.

I often pointed out the fact that he was the most travelled artist (covered over seventy countries) having seen every corner of the world performing – which even the most famous of classical or contemporary dancers cannot boast of. Astad’s reply was “Unfortunately I have to travel to survive. In India staying in one place, I will never earn enough to keep body and soul together. Not many have a love for contemporary dance, and it is only now that some festivals have begun to include non-traditional work as part of the programme. And with the stage setting and lights my works require, sponsorship is minimal. So I have necessarily to be a nomad. And constant travelling can be very taxing.”

For me, Astad represented the typical Zoroastrian in mind and work – given his inclusive and very accommodating mental attitude which apart from being all embracing was very giving. The Parsi community in India is known for its high sense of duty towards the needy in society. Few industrialists have been as giving as the Tatas. Astad’s compulsive humane qualities of unstintingly using his art to help the less fortunate in society, has been equalled by few artists. He first started with training youngsters from The Salaam Baalak Trust.  Those trained by Astad are a credit to society. His work in dance with the deaf and blind had to be seen to be believed. He worked for quite some time in the University for the Deaf in the United States. He participated in the Olympics for the Deaf in Spain. In 1995, he produced Road Signs working with the deaf with his own students and those from Gallaudet. Working in the Clarke School for the Deaf with tweleve deaf women in 2005, Astad created some fine work. He worked with the Salaam Baalak Trust NGO for six months, his work in 2009 entitled Breaking Boundaries astonished those who saw it. Seeing the poise and confidence with which these children trained and moved under Astad’s teaching, one was astonished to think that these were once street children! Watching his training classes when he participated in the SPIC MACAY Convention, I saw his meticulous teaching and strict attitude brooking no nonsense. Wondering if youngsters from these handicapped and deprived backgrounds would flourish under such rigorous rules, I had to change my mind when I saw how his students from nearby towns and cities never failed to attend his concerts - and the affectionate after- performance exchanges left me in no doubt of how much these youngsters loved and adored their teacher. And my respect for Astad increased when I stumbled on this side of him, without his ever mentioning the topic even once! And I was told by sponsors that on tours abroad with these children, he insisted that they stay in the same hotels that he was put up in. His desire was to make these youngsters feel a part of society and equal to others in every way. This aspect of Astad was so appreciated by Sadanand Menon that he felt that Astad, while given his still perfectly poised body, should nevertheless give up performing to concentrate on just training bodies – for dance badly needed such excellent trainers. Alas, little did anyone realise that eating into the vitals of that superb physicality was non-Hodgins Lymphoma which would snuff out any future plans!

That Astad procured the SNA award and later won the Padma Shri were proof that his work had earned due recognition. And above all this that an old fashioned,  traditional art sponsoring institution like the Sri Krishna Gana Sabha should have thought in terms of decorating Astad with a title and award is proof to the fact that Deboo’s work had succeeded in communicating to all sections of people and that this gentleman artist had danced his way into many hearts. The art world is the poorer without this gentle, giving spirit!

LEELA VENKATARAMAN

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

Natyarambha’s Kutty Kahani - Eternal Stories , Young Storytellers

 


In 2017, dancer Ananda Shankar Jayant created and produced Natayrambha, a Bharatanatyam practice app (www.natyarambha.com)  that has been well-received by gurus and digital leaders alike, and is now followed across the world.

Natyarambha, is also a digital platform, that has been creating unique content, on arts, inspirational videos, learning capsules, motivational talks, and sharing of Indic knowledge.

Natyarambha  has now  produced and presented  Kutty Kahani - Eternal Stories , Young Storytellers. Kutty Kahani is a unique and game changing idea, in how India’s civilisational and cultural ethos, can be shared with children, and by children bringing together tradition and technology.

Concept of Kutty Kahani:

As adults we have often been concerned about young India’s disconnect with our civilisational roots. It is often noticed, that this important Indic cultural and civilisational  knowledge connect, is side stepped due to punishing work schedules of parents, and formal school education not providing for this knowledge. And yet, the streams of enduring Indic knowledge continue to be taught and learnt, by generations of young Indians. A stream that begins, when young toddlers, learn of these tales, from grandparents and parents, and when some of them learn of this cultural ethos, as students of India's myriad arts.


We at Natyarambha thought –it be wonderful if we could bring this knowledge base to the fore, and thus inspire others too. Thus was born
Kutty Kahani -  a short story video series, that was also inspired by our Prime Minister’s vision, of the importance of storytellers and storytelling, to build values, as shared during the Mann ki Baat on 27 September 2020 

Kutty Kahani with Ananda Shankar as its Creative Director was premiered on 20 November 2020, and will continue upto 31st December 2020 ( Season 1) with one video released every day

A series of short videos of stories from India, that aims to create a digital bank of Indian stories and storytelling, of Indic knowledge and wisdom, encapsulated in brief videos further embellished with animation and digital design - thereby connecting tradition to technology 

A daily series of short video premieres, of stories from India, of India's timeless wisdom and knowledge, of storytelling and performance by enormously talented young children, (age 6 to 13 years) 

A multi art, multi lingual, (with subtitles as needed) story telling by young storytellers from across India, Malaysia, UK and USA, bringing to us India's ancient wisdom, creating, ready to access digital Indic content for children.  Kutty Kahani stories are from the spectrum of India's culture - stories from the epics, sthala purana of temples, rich tales on the origins of music and dance, handicrafts, folk tales, inspirational poets, Bhakti poets and poetry.

An absolutely new way of sharing India’s timeless stories and eternal wisdom; as understood and internalised by young children, through chanting, music, dance, poetry, puppetry, acting and of course storytelling; in short sized video capsules, (each video is about 5 minutes long)  in a unique format, of  short stories, told by young children, yet  making it a must watch for child and adult alike.

Kutty Kahani showcases the possibility of a simple and digitally enabled way of sharing Indic content, a new way of how India’s eternal knowledge can be transmitted in a simple and easily accessible way, that will help the young of India to have their cultural and civilisational roots and yet reach for the sky.

Click here to view the episodes

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhhNaKm0I10&feature=youtu.be

Thursday, 10 December 2020

Sri Rama Lalitha Kala Mandira

Sri Rama Lalitha Kala Mandira at Bangalore arranged Facebook event on  6 December 2020 and presented the Sangeetha Vedanta Dhurina' with a cash award of one lakh rupees, a silver medal and a citation to senior mridanga vidwan   A.V. Anand by His Holiness Sri Sri Yadugiri Yathiraja Narayana Ramanuja Jeeyar of Melukote Yathiraja Mutt. The Raga Laya Prabha Award' with a cash prize of Rs 25,000 to the up'and coming  artists of Karnataka - Anjali Sriram, S.V. Sahana, Heramba and Hemantha, Apoorva Krishna and A. Radhesh. Pallavi Sammela Award with a cash prize of Rs. 25,000/- was presented to Eeshwar Aiyar, and II prize Rs. 15,000/- was presented to Abhirama G. Bode and R. Lakshmi Priya and judges special prize was presented to Madhuri Kaushik and was presented by vidushiT.S. Sathyavathi. The programme concluded with a memorable veena concert by S.V. Sahana.

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Dhananjayans honoured with Sangeetha Kala Vibhushan


The Shanmukhananda Sangeetha Sabha, Mumbai,conferred the title Sangeetha Kala Vibhushan, and  presented the National Eminence Award to veteran Bharatanatyam couple Shanta and V.P. Dhananjayan. This ptestigious award carries a purse of  rupees two and half lakhs, citation, shawl, gold medal and spatika maala to Dhananjayan  and navaratna mala to Shanta Dhananjayan. The well organised virtual award function was held online in Chennai virtually on 5th December at the Bharatakalanjali hall in Adyar. V. Viswanathan  and his wife Sukanya, executive members of Shanmukhananda Sabha, represented the organisation  and conducted the ceremony.  Sukanya Viswanathan read the citation and Viswanathan presented mementos to the awardees. 

Kala Pradarshini presents Ghantasala Puraskar


December 4 marks the 98th birth anniversary of the music legend Ghantasala Venkateshwar Rao. Today, even 46 years after his death, his music remains evergreen and is appreciated by young and old.

His tryst with music had a humble beginning, but his hard work, keen sense of music and abundant talent drove him to the pinnacle of success.  Ghantasala was ever empathetic and encouraging of musicians and talent.

In the short lifespan of 51 years Ghantasala did not let go of any opportunity to give back to society, from which he had received in abundance. For example, while on his tour of the USA in 1971, he received a number of expensive gifts from his fans. Ghantasala auctioned off all the gifts and raised money which he  donated to various charities.  He passed away in 1974. Apart  from his film songs, he has left behind for posterity, the renditions of the Bhagavad Gita and the ashtapadis, which are heard in  many households to this day.

His daughter-in-law Parvathi Ravi Ghantasala (Bharatanatyam exponent, teacher and organiser) has being paying tribute to him through her not-for-profit trust Kala Pradarshini. Every year she has been curating a dance programme epitomising her father-in-law’s music. The trust also honours individuals who have made exceptional contribution in the fields of music, dance and philanthropy, with the Kala Pradarshini Ghantasala Puraskar. Recipients of the award over the years include eminent personalities like S.P. Balasubramaiam, Padma Subrahmanyam, Nalli Kuppuswami Chetti, Sobha Naidu, Vyjayanthimala Bali, The Dhananjayans, C.V. Chandrasekhar, M. Krishnan (of Sri Krishna Sweets), Mitta Janardhan, and K. Kalayanasundaram Pillai.

On 12 December 2020, the Ghantasalas will be honouring the memory of their patriarch with an online tribute and will be awarding the Kala Pradarshini Ghantasala Puraskar to Dr. V. Shanta (Cancer Institute, Adyar),  singer Vani Jayaraman, veteran classical dancer Yamini Krishnamurthy and K.N. Ram Subramaniam.  This will be followed by video broadcast of the performances of various artists to the maestro’s songs. The event will premiere online at different time zones on Saturday 12 December 2020 at 8:00 PM IST, UK 2:30 PM, USA 9:30 AM.

For further information about the event contact 9840157090 and visit www.kalapradarshini.com/ghantasala98

Monday, 7 December 2020

Unlocking a range of talent

And then they were back, though in a truncated form. The concerts started all over the place. Narada Gana Sabha held its annual Sadguru Gnanananda Sangeet Sammelan, which is usually scheduled in September. This time it was for four days with concerts held in camera sans audience. The duration of each concert was one hour.


The inaugural concert was the violin duo by A. Kanyakumari and her disciple Embar Kannan accompanied by Mannargudi Eswaran (mridangam) and Purushothaman (khanjira). The brisk opening with Pranamamyaham set the tone and pace. The alapana in Todi was followed by Syama Sastry’s swarajati Rave Himagirikumari. An intensely moving piece, the swara passages even without the lyrics conveyed the same intensity of emotion. Another alapana in Arabhi was the prelude to Palimpa raava delara, a rare composition of Pallavi Sesha Iyer. The unusually formatted, racy chittaswaram, said to have been composed by vidwan T.M. Thyagarajan, eminently suited the instrument and  added pep to the short song. The main piece was an expansive alapana in Kalyanavasantam, soaked in emotion. The guru and the sishya played second fiddle to each other with such empathy that it was a seamless build up to a high point and resolution. The kriti Sree Venkatesam in Kalyanavasantam with the Guruguha mudra (attributed to Muthuswami Dikshitar and to Ambi Dikshitar)  is a beautiful composition, regardless of whoever might be the composer. The raga seems to have dictated the treatment for the swaraprastara which proved to be an object lesson in sustaining the mood set by the alapana and the song. The brief and sharp tani avartanam was followed by the enchanting Muralidhara Gopala in Mand, and the concert concluded on a meditative note Madhava mamava deva in Neelambari. Kanyakumari’s total identification with her instrument lets the playing go almost on autopilot as her fingers fly over the strings. To have trained a disciple to share the dais on an almost equal participation speaks volumes for her as a teacher of extraordinary competence and generosity.

A rich and ringing voice ensured instant appeal to Manimaran’s concert, from the opening syllables of the viruttam in Nata. Swaminatha paripalaya was crowned with an assertive swaraprastara, far from the run of the mill kind. The rest of the concert was a welcome pack of Tamil compositions. A spirited alapana of Suddha Saveri entirely in akaaram was followed by the Papanasam Sivan kriti Arumuga adimaiyai kai viduthal aramalla. The pallavi which sounds like a statement in prose, metamorphed into evocative lyrics through the power of the music. Sound pathantaram, adherence to the sangati build up and a clear enunciation of the lyrics breathed life into the song. Sivan followed again with the Poorvikalyani kriti Ksheera sagara. The raga Nadanamakriya spells poignance and when it comes at the tailend of the concert enveloping bhakti soaked lyrics, it can be a moving experience. It did here when Manimaran concluded with the Tevaram Pattharai panivaarkal ellaarkkum adiyen. The judicious use of canned applause at the right moments created the aura of a packed auditorium and enhanced the concert experience.

A plethora of organisations have sprung up at home and abroad to provide a platform to a host of young musicians, performing from their homes. Sa Ni Da Pa Live operates from the US and some of the talents they have showcased are indicative of the vast unexplored hinterland of unseen and unheard artists, who deserve to be heard and encouraged. Sharada Karthik, who has been into music for three decades, had the advantage of having Sriram Brahmanandam accompany her on the mridangam (from a different venue), during lockdown and isolation. Opening on a bright note with Marakoti sundari in Bahudari, a composition of GNB, she took up Chintayamam in Bhairavi as the main piece. Competent alapana and swaraprastara and rendering of  the kriti testified to her maturity and involvement in the art. A lovely tillana in Durga composed by Lalgudi Jayaraman concluded the short and commendable mini concert. Rucha Muley launched on Pooria
Dhanasree and Bagesree, which testified to years of training in Hindustani music. Endowed with a voice that coursed up and down with comfort, she presented a rich fare in the short span. Nisha Kulkarni took off into Madhukauns and her powerful and melodious voice explored the emotional content of
the raga.

Watching and listening to these young set of talents, one could not but admire and appreciate their commitment to their art and their enthusiasm and involvement. It is a matter of conjecture whether they would have many performance opportunities or other avenues to pursue a career in music. But the talent, training and practice are unmistakable. The digital platform is a great opportunity for them to be noticed and brought to
the fore.

The descendants of vidwan Sathur A.G. Subramaniam paid a novel tribute to their ancestor through a Nada Nivedanam by twenty of his grand and great-grand children rendering a rare song made famous by him and his disciples. Singing from their respective homes in several countries and continents, they created a musical mosaic that was posted on Facebook and YouTube. Two young girls also presented it in dance alongside. This was conceptualised by his daughters Lalitha Santhanam and Bhuvaneswari Rajagopalan, popularly known as Sathur Sisters. Taught and monitored by them, this gem of a song, Sree Jagadamba kadamba vananta vasini Meenakshi maye, came through with the purity of a venerated pathantaram and the sense of devotion and dedication to their forebear and the Goddess of Madurai. Inheritance of an art is a treasure that can only augment with time. Not many families realise the value of this and the pursuit of music as career or a serious hobby was not an option until a few decades ago. The younger generation migrating to alien shores for career prospects often lost touch with the art or maintained a casual interest; and the second generation lost the context altogether. The new millenium has been witness to a resurgence in the arts at home and abroad and the gen next has taken to it with a sense of belonging and pride in their heritage. This family is a telling example of this phenomenon where the ancestor was more a legend whom they had never met. And they took to his art on their own impulse.


Strung in the appealing ragamalika of Chenchuritti, Punnagavarali and Nadanamakriya, the song Sree Jagadamba has an unusual form and gait with evocative namavali. While the song is given as a single raga composition in some texts, Sathur’s version was in ragamalika. The composer is variously known as Ramachandra Bawa, Ramachandra Bhave and Ramachandra Kavi. Musicologist Premeela Gurumurthy informs that there was a kathakar called Ramachandra Morgaonkar Buwa, a contemporary of Serfoji, in Tanjavur. It seems probable that he might have been the composer of this song. Scholar and musicologist, B.M. Sundaram informs that the composer’s descendants are still living in his old house in Tanjavur. He also says that the kathakars composed and sang several songs as illustrations for their story, which were known as “kathai uruppadis”. This song which is in Manipravalam of Sanskrit, Telugu, and Marathi, and does not adhere to the kriti or keertana format, is a movement in emotive appeal. This gem cannot be a loner from a gifted creator, there must be more. One can only wish that someone would unearth them and add them to the inexhaustible storehouse of compositions that form the body of Carnatic music.

A forward from a friend brought a picture in a quadruple frame. A girl was dancing in one while a girl was doing nattuvangam in the next. The third frame showed a girl singing and the fourth was that of a girl accompanying on the violin. I did a double take and found that it was the same girl in all the four!  It was the multi-talented, versatile Parur M.S. Ananthasree of the famed Parur clan of musicians. Granddaughter of  Parur M.S. Anantharaman and daughter of Parur M.A. Sundareswaran, both violin vidwans, Ananthasree has trained in violin, vocal music, and Bharatanatyam. She has also proved her mettle in composing music for dance. Another instance of the younger generation pursuing the art of the family forward.

Then there was the deluge of 345 artists presented in 245 concerts spread over 20 days.This was the unique Viswa Veena Mahayagyam organised by Narada Gana Sabha and The Bharata Ilango Foundation for Art and Culture (BIFAC),  curated by veena vidwan Kannan Balakrishnan and hosted by Kalakendra, the crusader for the performing arts on the digital platform. A festival of this magnitude calls for separate coverage.

Music is sacred, music is spiritual, music is bhakti, music is meditation, music is a tapas.... Wait a minute, music is fun too! This generation is aware of it and enjoys and imparts the fun. The seven-minute short film by the cousins Anantha R. Krishnan and musician Abhishek Raghuram, produced by Madrasana is a quirky and unique treat in rhythm play—and play it is for the virtuoso pair. They call it ‘super heavy, ultra magic’. Both are grandsons of the mridangam maestro Palghat Raghu and are his disciples, one a left hander and the other right.They play on two mridangams  facing  each other within arm’s length and indulge in top speed variations on the first syllables ta dhi tom nam of the mridangam lesson and build on them. With cameras on either side and from the top, the rhythm goes on with the young men playing on one another’s valantalai (right side) and toppi (left side), giving hi fives, snapping of fingers and beats on the lap. On the beat and syncopated, the syllables go nonstop with the precision of a metronome. Inherited and perfected with passion and perseverance, laya runs in their veins and reigns supreme in this exhilarating manifestation.

The lockdown has also provided an excellent opportunity to well known organisations to share good programmes from their archives. Natyarangam, the dance wing of the Narada Gana Sabha, started webcast of two of its thematic festivals held in the last couple of years. The first was Devi Bharatham, where the aspects of Devi were presented under the titles Janani, Harini, Paalini, Vani and Poorani by Divya Shivasundar, Meera Sreenarayanan, Pavithra Bhat, Praveen Kumar and Narthaki Nataraj, respectively. The performances, which were posted one per weekend, gave enough time for viewers around the globe to catch it and not get surfeited. This was followed by the dances of the Chithra Bharatham festival where the paintings of artists like Thota Tharani, Keshav, Ramesh Gorjala, Ravi Varma and S. Rajam were presented by Rama Vaidyanathan, Lakshmi Ramaswamy, K.P. Rakesh, Lavanya Ananth and Navia Natarajan respectively. These two festivals saw the blossoming of the talents with new ideas in concept and execution. Over the years, Natyarangam’s  annual thematic  festivals (featuring an insightful talk followed by the dance) have achieved a twofold purpose—the progress and maturity of the individual artists and the advancement of the art in a dynamic progression.

Sruti has been featuring very informative and interesting lecdems from its archives on its YouTube channel. One such was  ‘Ragas created by Tyagaraja’  presented by versatile musician-scholar
Sriram Parasuram, during the Lecdem Mela on Tyagaraja, organised by Sruti and the Music Forum in 2017. He illustrated what a master craftsman Tyagaraja was in his creation of ragas and in being the first to explore some of the melakarta ragas like Keeravani. He classified Tyagaraja’s methodology into four—namely varjya (dropping of notes), vakra (changing the linear order of notes), anga (putting together parts of different scales) and janya (born of a parent scale). It came as a surprise when he mentioned that there were more than eighty ragas that Tyagaraja had composed. It was a greater surprise to be told that the familiar and oft repeated ragas like Hamsanadam were his creations as were Chandrajyoti and Jaganmohini. Sriram could have gone on for hours and the audience willing to journey with him all the way wandering around the glorious garden of ragas. Perhaps he should plan on a series of talks on the subject, which would be a veritable archive for the musician and the student as well as a fountain which could quench the thirst of the rasika.

The lockdown lifted, my serenade—the nightingale in my neighbourhood, seems to have flown away and how
I miss the music!

SUJATHA VIJAYARAGHAVAN

(Writer, musician and dance scholar)