Wednesday, 30 September 2020

FROM THE EDITOR

S. JANAKI

Thirty seven years have rolled by since Sruti magazine came into being on 16 September 1983,

through the efforts of its founder and first Editor-in-Chief N. Pattabhi Raman. This being our October “anniversary issue”, the spotlight is on Sruti ! We approached a few personalities—musicians, dancers and writers—long-time subscribers who have been well-wishers of Sruti and have been watching it since its inception—to recall their association with the magazine. We express our thanks to Sangita Kalanidhi T.V. Gopalakrishnan, Natyacharya V.P. Dhananjayan (it is interesting that both compare it to the adhara sruti for music), Prof. Sudharani Raghupathy, vidushi Geetha Raja and rasika-writer S. Sivaramakrishnan, for agreeing to do so with alacrity. Sruti has always tried to uphold objectivity and responsible journalism. We believe in tradition and meaningful innovation, and have been in step with the times—the print magazine is our mainstay, but we do have its digital version through our Sruti website, our App, and have established our regular presence on social media via Facebook, Instagram and YouTube (showcasing recordings from our archives). We invite our readers to ‘Like’ and freely ‘Subscribe’ to these to stay updated on our latest posts. It may seem like patting ourselves, but at this juncture it would be apt to also place on record our thanks to the dedicated small Sruti team which has risen to the occasion in a difficult scenario in the wake of “work-from-home”, juggling time schedules to meet physical distancing norms and the financial constraints, to successfully bring out the magazine without a break in the months following the Covid 19 pandemic and the resultant lockdown.

The cover story this time is a tribute to Sangeet Martand Pandit Jasraj—the sun in the firmament of Hindustani vocal music— who has moved into the eternal orbit of Nadabrahman. Two articles throw light on his life, his music as a romanticist crusader, along with an interview with disciple Kala Ramnath which gives a glimpse into the personality of the prolific teacher.

Not many of this generation may know about J.S. Prabhu whose twin passions were Hindustani music and the SGS Sabha. From the 1950s to the 1980s, he played a major role in patronizing Hindustani music in Chennai, and also in the growth and progress of the Samyukta Gowda Saraswata Sabha.

The News and Notes section includes online initiatives organized by Sukrtam Foundation, Upasana Arts and Ananda Shankar Jayant—each one of them commendable for the “take away” quotient for viewers. A comparative analysis of rasa in the Sanskrit and Tamil traditions—as mentioned in the Natya Sastra, Tolkappiam and Koothanool, by dancer-scholar Lakshmi Ramaswamy, should provide our readers some food-for-thought. There is an interesting behind-the-scenes account by Seetha Ratnakar on the genesis and the making of Viralimalai Kuravanji—the runaway hit, produced and televised by Doordarshan Kendra, Chennai. The second part of the article on Siva temples on the Akhanda Cauvery takes you to the heritage sthalam called Iyermalai—Ratnagiri. S. Rajam’s interpretation of the ‘Gandhara’ takes the saptaswara devata series forward.

The passing away of the nonagenarian erudite scholar Kapila Vatsyayan on 17 September in New Delhi, is an irreparable loss to the field of scholarship in Indian art and culture. She was among the rare personalities who could effectively connect theoretical knowledge to practice. She was an able arts administrator and institution builder involved in several premier cultural organisations in India. Her vision, her holistic approach to Indian art and culture, and her pathbreaking books helped place Indian art, culture and scholarship on the international map. In this new age of ‘cut and paste’ research it is very hard to come across scholars of this stature.

As the issue goes to print, we are hit again by the shocking news of the passing away of the legendary popular musician S.P. Balasubrahmanyam in Chennai, and the nonagenarian Bharatanatyam guru and composer Rajee Narayan in Mumbai.

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Sruthi-Laya Kendra Aust Charitable Inc: Receives funding for State-of-the Art Black Box Theatrette


 

To Guruji, With Love

Abhinav Seetharaman

dhyānamūla gururmūrti

pūjāmūla gururpadam |

mantramūla gururvākya

mokamūla gurūrkpā ||

The root of meditation is the form of the Guru

The root of worship is the feet of the Guru

The root of mantra is the word of the Guru

The root of liberation is the grace of the Guru

To my beloved guru, Karaikudi Mani sir: my most humble pranams to you on your 75th birthday.

As one of the most revered mridangists of all time, he is: a transcendent musician whose rhythm has reached and influenced all corners of the globe.

Watching him play is akin to watching someone who has completely mastered their craft. With a style of playing so distinct, nuanced, and majestic, he elevates a concert so seamlessly. Every performance of his is a completely cathartic listening experience, and a listener is filled with an indescribable sphere of energy afterwards.  

I started learning from guruji when I was 15. As I vividly recall, sitting down in my first class with him was as though my life’s wishes in music had been fulfilled. He was my musical hero, someone I had drawn inspiration from for years. Since then, I have watched him teach for hours at a stretch, spontaneously creating unique korvais and patterns with his ever-flowing fountain of creativity. His compositions reflect his deep musical intellect and remind us to break barriers in the world of percussion, where exploration is eternal.  

Classes were an exercise in hard work, perseverance, and discipline, interwoven with invaluable lessons applicable to the real world, from the do’s and don’ts of life to core values of human dignity. At the same time, the more light-hearted moments outside of the teaching realm were equally special: hearing him reminisce about some of his most memorable concerts, joining him in prayer at various temples, and of course, eating his idli-sambar made from scratch.

Additionally, his U.S. tour in 2018 marked a series of truly unforgettable memories I have shared with him. I stayed by his side in Cleveland, New York, and New Jersey, and had the ultimate blessing of performing with him on stage. Being his sishya, few things mean more to me than expressing my gratitude through seva.

Mani sir’s life has been one dedicated to paying homage to this rich art form through unwavering determination. And though the weight of his legacy and lineage is heavy, it is one that I — along with all his students — feel privileged to carry forward.

Happiest of birthdays, guruji. May we continue to be recipients of your grace, and selflessly share this knowledge and wisdom with others as you have shown us.

Click here to watch vidwan guru Kaaraikkudi Mani’s 75th Birthday celebration Premiere by Udupa Foundation

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IsFhjb7YdE4&feature=youtu.be

Veena Mahotsavam 2020

 


Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Social Media & the Shatripus


The sudden spurt in online performances and digital marketing pieces makes certain sahrudayas question what is the purpose of Naatya vs. classical dance today – does it only revovle around the artist’s perfect formations, ”collaborations” and ”concepts”? Can’t the performance go beyond just a personal experience? What is supposed to be the viewer’s takeaway? Are they just supposed to like, share, and subscribe or actually take the effort to reflect on their actions?

Most of us have heard, (and few have experienced) that Naatyam as per the Naatya Shastra has the potent ability to mentally and socially uplift those who witness it - compared often to that of performing a ”yagna” of the body and soul. This was also the main need/requirement it fulfilled in the temple festivals, court gatherings etc. The Nartaka or Nartaki becomes a prism through which the audience can see the best and worst of themselves, played out through the characters presented on stage. The Itihasa, and Puranas are presented time and again to help educate, evaluate and elevate every person’s dharma – from the kings to the common man.

But it’s quite a different story today.

While many a case study speaks to the ability of social media platforms in bringing about transparency and agency for civic wellbeing, the classical arts (especially Naatyam) have turned mostly into a grand Showcase. There is no use blaming the platforms, because that was precisely what they were supposed to do. Here, the dancer’s ’showcase’ and his/her ability to capture millions of netizens in 30 seconds or less - has eclipsed its content.

Alternatively, allow me to share one recent online performance that was able to tweak the narrative of a Bharatanatyam piece (within the traditional format and vocabulary), to address millions digitally at a safe distance – a good marriage of both worlds!

”Shatripu: Mukti Perum Vazhi” by Padmabhushan Dr. VP & Shanta Dhananjayan was a curated presentation that was in the works for 2+ years. ”The idea stemmed from a sanchari in our Kharaharapriya Nrityopahaaram, but it was only now that I had the time to give it form,” shares the Naatyacharya. Like a kurinchi tree that blooms only every 12 years, this Nrityopahaaram in a varnam format, chose this lockdown scenario and a digital medium for its birth – and how aptly so

”Shatripu” or ”Arupagai Agatral” is a piece that explores not the usual pangs of separation, srngara, or even bhakti towards a particular deity. It takes a hard look at our selves and at the 6 vices – Kaama ( lust), Krodha (anger), Moha(greed), Lobha (miserliness), Mada (arrogance) and Maatsarya ( jealousy ) mentioned time and again in the Vedas in preventing us from any progress in life. No gendered notions here, but just the self vs the Self.

From today’s political and financial news, to those detective series we read and watch – the seed of malicious intent can almost always be traced to these 6 villains. Such a blessing that our Vedas and Maha Yogis had identified this for us long before, and yet such a travesty that we have yet to learn our lesson!

Knowing these basic human traits that cut across all strata, and more importantly acknowledging their presence when it slips in unannounced in our own minds is the first step to reconciliation. ”One should try to get rid of them from an early age with the right kind of moral education,” says the Naatyacharya, ”Naatya, being a visual medium of education, leads us to Bhakti maarga, (path of devotion) and should be used to communicate this philosophy through creative ideas.” And a creative collaboration it was.

The link opened to an aesthetically decorated stage, with professional lighting and live musical accompaniment balanced beautifully for the screen. After the customary introductions, the lead dancers of Bharatakalanjali Sri Uttiya Barua and Sri Shivadasan presented a Panchanadai alarippu composed by Smt Shanta Dhananjayan. The piece had interesting alliterations of the traditional alarippu adavus in different jaatis, making for a intricate start to the evening. The evening concluded with a remembrance to Naatyacharya Sri CK Balagopal by his daughter Prithvija with the well-known Hindolam Khanda Eka Thillana.

The main presentation of the evening was a new Nrityopahaaram entittled “Arupagai agatral” (expel six enemies). The lyrics were in simple chaste Tamizh penned by Smt. Nirmala Nagaraajan of Kalakshetra, and tuned by Dr. Vaanathi Raghuraman.

Couplets for each of the vices had a very similar treatment to the Tirukkural – describing the vice and its effect on us. The beauty of the kavitvam came to light with a recitation of the verses first, followed by melody and finally finishing off with swarams or jatis. The swaras (musical notes) passages were composed by Smt. Shanta Dhananjayan and jatis and Naatya composition by Sri V.P.Dhananjayan. Another interesting choice was the usage of ”Jati-sanchari””: ”We did not use the usual format of ‘varnam’ pattern, but used the ‘jatis’ as communicative expressive narration of certain ideas taken from the Puranas, Panchatantra and contemporary incidents.”

Kama (lust) was elucidated through a quick jati-sanchari of Indra’s escapade with Ahalya. Krodha (anger) brought back the well-known panchatantra tale of a mother beating her pet mongoose for having harmed her child, when it had infact defended the child from a snake attack. Moha (Greed) was a contemporary take on present-day politicians and businessmen who seek to possess material wealth and power only to pass away alone. Lobha (Miserliness) recalled the nose ring episode that made Purandara Dasar realize his miserliness. Madam (Pride) showed a quick exposition of how an arrogant student who disrespects his Guru, meets his doom in no time. Lastly, Matsaryam (Jealousy) also hit close to home – recounting the unhealthy competition between two dancers a la Vanjikottai Valiban.

The uniqueness of the jati-sanchari composition lies in its efficacy – testing the Nartaka’s ability to communicate with minimal gestures, time and iterations. Announcements of the sancharis ahead of time helped the trained eye to follow through on its quick delination, but could likely be missed by a wandering audience. The seed of creativity, however, has been sowed again by the innovative Naatya dampati for the community to consider – very similar to the swara-sanchari innovation in their Attana Nrtyopaharam way back in 1967.

The performers per se showed strong dedication towards the task at hand. The nritta passages had signature new adavus, hinting at the sthayi bhava to follow with the usage of specific hastas and adavus. For the right rasottpatti, a medley of ragas were chosen from Kamavardhini (Pantuvarali for Kama - Lust), Kannada (Krodha/Anger), Ratipatipriya (Moha/Greed), Kuntalavarali (Lobha/Miserliness), Mukhari (Madha/Pride), and Vaagadheeshwari (Matsarya/Jealousy). One notes that while depicting a series of vices, it is easy to slip into a single-faceted approach and mukhajaabhinaya. The lines get especially blurry between Kama, Moha and Lobha, all commonly driven by a unappeasable Want to own. Krodha and Matsaryam by Shivadasan, and Moha by Uttiya Barua showed good balance of angika and mukhajabhinaya, displaying the different stages of intoxication and repentance in quick succession.

The need for such innovations is self-explanatory. Its presentation takes us to the first level of realizing that the enemy and obstacle to spiritual growth lies within. Multiple puranas, itihaasa, slokas, tevaram, paasuram and prayers across religions speak to this. But what is truly noxious, which we encounter everyday, is the surreptitious manner in which infects the mind, clouding all objectivity and judgement. In most cases, all this happens behind the veil of civility. This duality can be explored more by the performers of this piece.

In this way, as one pens his thoughts, one realizes there is a strong resemblance between the Shatripus inside and the Corona outside. It can come from anywhere, anyone, anytime, only vigilance and distancing can help.The time has come to better enable the divine artform to educate, evaluate, and elevate this truth.

Nattuvangam: Smt Shanta Dhananjayan

Vocal: Sri Shalin M Nair

Violin: Sri R Kalaiarasan

Mrdangam: Sri KP Ramesh Babu

Stage & Technical Direction: Sri CP Satyajit

Nartakas: Sri Uttiya Barua & Sri Sivadasan

~Nandi~

Anand Satchidanandan is a Bharatanatyam Practitioner, Director of the Shanmukhananda Natya Vidyalaya, Mumbai, and Associate Director of Consumer Science & Research at Nepa India 

Thursday, 3 September 2020

Punarnava – an inspiring initiative

 NEWS & NOTES

Punarnava -- Resurrection through Dance, was a commendable online initiative during the pandemic by well known Hyderabad-based classical dancer-teacher and orator, Ananda Shankar Jayant. She chose four iconic artists, whose life stories and the challenges they overcame in order to stay true to their passions, were awe-inspiring. Listening to how they rose resplendent as the phoenix, renewing themselves, will surely provide many the inner strength required to stay on the chosen path no matter what vicissitudes may come their way. The session revealed that the success of these stalwarts had not come to them as a ready package. The arduous, at times hazardous, journeys of these artists had at times come to a point when many would have given up. However, their indomitable will, incredible passion for the art, combined with hard work, determination, discipline and dedication have made them what they are today.

The iconic artist and Rajya Sabha MP, Sonal Mansingh was the first to be interviewed by Ananda Shankar Jayant.  Trained in music, Bharatanatyam and Odissi, she did not think twice before running  away from affluence, after graduating while in her late teens, driven by her inner courage  and conviction – to find her gurus in Bengaluru. She has always been “constant as the Northern Star” as far as her passion for dance goes. She gave up the comfort of her home at that early age when most would not have dared to do so.

Even after a serious car accident in Germany, when doctors had declared that she would never dance again, her determination not to let go, led her on the arduous and painful path of recovery.  The viewers were awestruck and many were moved to tears by the story of resurrection of this nonpareil artist. Though a septuagenarian, this accomplished artist is as energetic as ever, travelling around the globe,  giving performances and conducting workshops. Her will power is indomitable; if Sonal Mansingh wants do something, she does it and if she does not want to, then no power on earth can force to! That is what the power of the human spirit means to this charismatic artist. 

For Ramaa Bhardwaj it was faith  that powered her destiny; faith has shown her the way to resurrect her life. She answered  the call of her guru to leave her successful dance career in the US to join Chinmaya Naada Bindu Gurukul in India. She received a “divine signal” from Lord Nataraja in Chidambaram, to start teaching when she could not dance anymore. While in the United States, Ramaa  had led  a successful protest march  of artists in California, when their grants  were stopped. She soon realised her inner strength when the Arts Council restored the  grants. Presently, she is an able story teller who curates the festivals of her gurukul. She gave up her lucrative work of teaching and performing dance with divine inspiration.

Anita Ratnam is a multifaceted  artist trained in Bharatanatyam,  Mohini Attam, Tai-chi and Kalaripayattu by stalwarts. Her versatility is not confined to dance alone. She was a successful television producer and commentator in New York. She has a doctorate, a Masters degree in dance theatre besides being a contemporary classicist. She  left her lucrative career to relocate in Chennai -- her home city where she grew up. Her journey too has been a fascinating tale as she dared, where few would venture. She has lived her art life on her own terms;  “barefoot and solo” she has traversed new ground. Her out-of-the-box thinking has invariably made her come up with novel and creative ideas. She has pioneered Arangham Trust, launched narthaki.com -- an online dance magazine soon after, with a full-fledged list of all artists and their addresses. Research oriented articles are to be found regularly in narthaki.  


Ananda Shankar Jayant, the convenor of this virtual programme,  was interviewed by her disciple Sneha Magpu. Nothing can match her ability to deal with every contingency -- be it her ability to come out from her life threatening affliction and her incredible TED talk. Dance has always been her passion and she has plunged into it heart and soul. Proficient in both Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi, she did not lag behind in her academic pursuits but qualified in the civil services, which would take care of her finances. As one can imagine, managing a high profile job alongside her passion for dance could not possibly have been  a bed of roses.  Uncannily and invariably she made the right choices. And today she stands tall amongst artists. In the difficult times of Covid 19 marked by isolation and social distancing, Punarnava was her inspiring  contribution to the dance community and aspiring dancers.     

What these icons shared, has the ingredients to make a one-of-its-kind-book. With carefully selected illustrations, it  would be  inspirational material for artists and connoisseurs alike – especially the young – to follow their dream and  forge new paths with grit and determination.

Our technological advancement has certainly made a difference. Had not Covid 19 hit us globally, the idea of holding programmes online would not have caught on. Programmes are being viewed by several hundreds across the globe, rather than a half-full hall of audience! Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube – have all played a role in reaching out to the  elite and  the enthusiasts alike.

TAPATI CHOWDHURIE