Monday, 31 January 2022


Every year, come January and Republic Day, we eagerly await the list of Padma awardees announced by the Government of India. The Bharat Ratna is the jewel in the crown of civilian awards, followed by the Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri in the order of ranking. Like several other awards, the Padma awards too, have not been above controversy; as they are often influenced by the powers that be. The Padma awards – presented to distinguished persona in different walks of life, continue to be among the coveted honorifics in the country.

India is one nation which can proudly boast of its matchless, rich and varied cultural heritage, and hoary traditions dating back to several millennia. It is numero uno in this field, but when it comes to honouring personalities in the arts, or budgeting for the arts, arts administration or appointing heads for cultural bodies, such matters are not accorded the importance and urgency they deserve. This year too, a quick glance at the Padma awards list reveals that not many artists have made it to the meritorious list. In the list of 128 Padma awards announced this year, very few belong to the category of performing arts. Four eminent personalities will be adorned with the Padma Vibhushan for their “exceptional and distinguished service” and we are delighted that vidushi Prabha Atre – vocalist, scholar and veteran doyen of Hindustani music (who was recently featured on Sruti’s cover), is one of them. Among the 17 persons honoured with the Padma Bhushan, two artists find a place: one is renowned Hindustani vocalist Rashid Khan who had bagged the Padma Shri about 15 years ago. The other is  the famous septuagenarian Punjabi folk singer Gurmeet Bawa who passed away in November 2021. She had the distinction of being the first Punjabi female artist to sing on Doordarshan. The list of 107 Padma Shri awardees is peppered with the names of classical and folk artists. It ranges from iconic veterans to those quietly serving in their  chosen fields. It includes names like the Kathak divas Kamalini and Nalini Asthana, veteran Carnatic musicians A.K.C. Natarajan and H.R. Keshavamurthy, and the octogenarian Sadir practitioner and teacher R. Muthukannammal – among the last living devadasis in Tamil Nadu.. Sruti extends its congratulations to all the Padma  awardees of 2022. However, one feels it would have been befitting to confer the Padma Bhushan on the 92-year-old A.K.C. Natarajan, whose name is synonymous with the clarionet in Carnatic music.

As in previous years, in the February issue of Sruti, we bring to you reviews of the music season 2021-22. Our correspondents have been busy attending live and virtual concerts and putting them down on paper for our readers. A special word of appreciation for our Chennai correspondent C. Ramakrishnan who has diligently toiled almost like a one-man-army. It is evident from the reports that nothing can match the feel, the aura and the spirit of “live, in-person concerts”. We also have interesting articles on events which have combined innovation with tradition in order to sustain the interest of future generations. We are privileged to publish a book review by renowned writer  Shanta Gokhale. She has written a beautiful and insightful
review of a Marathi book which makes you feel “How I wish I could read Marathi!” At the same time it underlines the necessity of having such excellent translators who can capture the spirit of the original writing.

As Sruti goes to print, it is also time to convey our condolences to the members of the bereaved families of the legendary Kathak maestro Birju Maharaj, of the iconic archaeologist and scholar Dr. R. Nagaswamy, of Milena Salvini – founder-director of Mandapa Centre, Paris and ardent propagator of Indian arts. We are also saddened by the sudden passing away of our Chennai correspondent V. Karpagalakshmi (better known as Lakshmi Venkataraman). She was N. Pattabhi Raman’s niece and was associated with the magazine almost since its inception, contributing articles from time to time.

S. Janaki

Sunday, 9 January 2022

#Unlock 100- Young Artiste roars with talent galore

A nationwide, completely online cultural competition held by Singhal Iyer Family Foundation (SIFF), received a whopping 12,000 applications. This competition received responses from students from both cities, as well as villages. 


The competition began in January 2021 with the aim to encourage talented youngsters by rewarding them with prizes worth 25 lakhs. The competition featured 20 different categories across classical and contemporary forms of various art forms. The top hundred finalists were selected over three rounds, after extensive evaluation and screening by a panel of judges. These finalists were mentored by artists from their respective fields under the ‘Young Artiste Advanced Mentorship Programme’, sponsored by SIFF.


Kavita Iyer, co-founder of SIFF emphasises the fulfilling journey the Committee and founders had to see the growth of these young students, and believes that the competition brought out the best in each contestant. 


The first season winners (Tamish Pulappadi for instrumental (guitar), Akshita Singh Chouhan for vocal, Janki DV for Bharatanatyam) for the title of “Young Artiste of the Year” were announced on 4 September 2021 in a grand virtual event.


The title winners bagged 1 lakh rupees each, while the winners in each category received a prize of Rs. 25,000 each (about twenty such prizes were announced).


Thirteen year old Janaki DV (disciple of dancer Manjari Chandra) from Udupi mentored under dancer Rukmini Vijayakumar. Considering the choreography for the final round her biggest challenge, Janaki wishes to remain in the dance field perpetually and learn, perform and create new pieces. Many winners from the other categories have put in years of effort, time, and commitment to win their place in this competition.


Renowned artists such as Dr. L Subramaniam, Nikhita Gandhi, Ehsaan Noorani, Shalmali Kholgade, Terence Lewis, Shovana Narayan and the Black Ice crew were featured in this event.

Many initiatives of SIFF have been successfully implemented, the most notable being the ‘Young Artiste Courses’ offering focused SIFF comprehensive curriculum in

performing arts that aims to enable students to become practicing artists. The participants are to be trained via live classes, supported by guided practice sessions, creative assignments, learning in groups and more. The end-to-end specialising programme spanning a few years with focus on practical knowledge and application makes this unique.


The SIFF comprehensive curriculum, pedagogy and accreditation are developed with the guidance of the advisory panel consisting  of veteran artists such as Madhavi Mudgal, Nikhitha Gandhi, N Rajam, Rudrapatnam Thyagarajan, and Uday Bhawalkar. 


Vibha Krishnakumar 



Friday, 7 January 2022

IIT Saarang 2022 - Lores and Legacies

 Saarang is the annual cultural festival of the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, accredited with a heritage stretching from the late '70s and proud of hosting talents like Farhan Akhtar, Opeth, When Chai Met Toast, Shankar Mahadevan, and other international headliners have performed. This covers a variety of genres like Rock music, Classical music, EDM and Pop.

It is the largest student-run festival of its kind in the country, witnessing a footfall of over 75,000 in the last few editions. The five-day festival is scheduled from 6th to 9th January 2022. As an ISO accredited fest, it is one of the biggest cultural extravaganzas of the year. 

Saarang is coming back this 2022, with the grand theme "Lores and Legacies." In this edition, they explore stories of the old fables and legends, some passed on from ancestors and some we have witnessed in our transient lives, reliving every moment of it in a mystic way.

Over the five-day span, our events and workshops range from categories of Music, Sports, Food, Fashion, Fine Arts, Dance, Oratory, Drama, Quizzing, and so on - providing a platform for showcasing the talent and energy of the youth because Saarang is such a unique channel to reach a diverse demographic of audience.

Classical Arts Club, in collaboration with Spotlight, is proud to organise a guest lecture by the esteemed Vidushi S. Sowmya. She is one of the leading performers and exponents of the Carnatic tradition of vocal music. She is reputed for her deeply classical style and for her large repertoire spanning a wide spectrum of composers, including some of the rarest works of the Carnatic Trinity. She is also a passionate promoter and practitioner of Tamizh Isai – the ancient classical and folk music traditions of Tamil Nadu. Dr. Sowmya is also a fine exponent of the Saraswati Vina, one of the world’s oldest musical instruments. She is also known for her path-breaking research work in enhancing the tonal stability of the mridangam, the pre-eminent percussion instrument in South Indian music.

The Classical Arts Club has an array of events that allow for a diversity of performances starting with Aroh. At Aroh, participants are expected to charm the audience with your mellifluous rendition and effortless techniques to get a chance to hear the personal feedback from some of the finest and leading musicians in the realm of Indian classical music at Āroh, Saarang's platform for Carnatic and Hindustani vocalists.

Celebrating the poise of Kuchipudi, the spirit of Bharatanatyam, the sensuousness of Odissi, the grace of Mohiniyattam and many more, Saarang presents Nrutyam! Participants can showcase their talent weaving together emotion, rhythm, and story at Nrutyam, Saarang's Indian Classical dance platform.

Watch instruments speak and rhythms make the world look and be wonderstruck at Dhrutam. Get the chance to be guided by few of the finest minds in the field of rhythm! Participants can let their beats set the pacing of Dhrutam, Saarang's platform for Indian Classical percussive instrumentalists.

Anhad is Saarang’s platform for Hindustani and Carnatic non-percussive instrumentalists. Bow, blow, or strum your way into the hearts of the audience and receive feedback from the leading exponents in the field!

At Durbar, participants can live out their dream of taking part in enthralling concerts. They can undertake the challenge of performing a mini-concert and get valuable feedback from stalwarts on Durbār, Saarang’s platform for upcoming Carnatic musicians.

Contacts: Ananya: +91 6385175454, Dhanush: +91 9840722578


Keeping the momentum going, the stage is set for Saarang’s first-ever Pop Fusion Night, with singers Malavika Sunder and Palak Muchhal promising a melodious and exciting time. Maalavika is a Carnatic Musician and has appeared in Indian Idol, Super Singer.    For starters, she is one of the regulars at Margazhi concerts every season, and she has recently turned into a playback singer. Maalavika has also a number of cine songs, including a few hits like Karuppu Nerathazhagi from Komban, Gum Zaare from Kadavul Irukaan Kumaru.

Palak Muchhal is an Indian Playback Singer based out of Madhya Pradesh, who is widely renowned for her extremely melodious voice. She has been awarded for her exceptional work in popular Bollywood films like Aashiqui 2 (2013) and MS Dhoni (2016). Along with this, she has also sung in many regional languages such as Tamil, Telugu, Kannada. Palak uses most of her earnings for charity work, for which she has been recognised in the Guiness Book of World Records as well.

Online or offline, Saarang promises great entertainment and a commemoration of art and culture like no other. With 850 young minds working together to make Saarang the kind of magnificent phenomenon it is, the festival is not just another college fest. Rather, it is a celebration of a collective effort taken to realise a dream and make it happen.

Monday, 3 January 2022

Sikkil Gurucharan -January Cover Story


How Sikkil C. Gurucharan became a vocalist is itself curious -- even to him! Born in Chennai on 21 June 1982 to V. Chandrasekaran and Mythili (daughter of Sikkil Kunjumani, the elder of the Sikkil Sisters flautist-duo), he recollects his grandmothers testing the blowing ability of prospective flute students by asking them to blow into a pen cap. Gurucharan’s musical aptitude was discovered as a child when he whistled a film song correctly whilst walking down the stairs athis home. He then sang the same song, perfectly in sruti, which made his grandmothers decide that the boy should be trained in vocal music. Now, some 35 years later, he remains the sole vocalist in his family, almost everyone else having learnt the flute. “My mother hadan arangetram in vocal,” clarifies Gurucharan. She, however, switched to the family instrument soon after and was on the flute faculty of the Tamil Nadu Government Music College for a few yearsGurucharan adds that his elder sister Lavanya, who too learned the flute, is most astute musically but elected to pursue academics. 


Gurucharan’s mother, Mythilibegan his formal training with small songs and slokas when he was six,in Hyderabad. The pieces were familiar to him, having heard them taught to young children by his grandmothers. Two years later, when they returned to Chennai, the boy got roped in by his grandmothers into their practice; he was asked to sing some sangatis, and the like, aloud. They firmly felt that he should get formal training from a guru outside the familyVaigalS. Gnanaskandan, then with All India Radio, and a student of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and M.M.Dandapani Desigar, was chosen. Classes began in 1991and continued actively until 2004-2005, with Gnanaskandan coming home to teach Gurucharan.

Gnanaskandan was a strict guru who did not cut Gurucharan any slack, something he is grateful for. “I had to keep the mat spread out, the water ready, and the sruti box on. I would even be seated and awaiting him. That was when he pulled me up and asked how I could be seated before he was. It was a good lesson imparted early.” The twice-weekly classes did not follow the conventional pattern. Gurucharan recalls singing sarali varisais in three speeds and being taught a few slokas. Very soon, he was taught MahaGanapatim in Nata, followed interestingly enough byVallabha nayakasya in Begada. Then it was a varnam. Nothing was written down, and neither were classes recorded. Gurucharan explains that it was not a fixed syllabus. “He would suddenly ask me to sing the alankarams and other basic exercises.” Not having learned these in the usual Ganamruta BodhinichronologyGurucharan looks at the geetams with fresh eyes and talks of singing the Malahari geetamSree Gananatharecently in concert. “I had heard it, of course, when my mother taught it, but I had never learned it, and I wondered why it should not be presented in the concert circuit.”

Gnanaskandan believed in getting his students on to the stage within a few years of commencing tutelage. In 1994, he told Gurucharan’s family that he was to perform on a particular day for his VaigalGnanaskandan Trust, giving them four months notice. His grandmothers were a tad perturbed, not sure the boy was ready. In hindsight, Gurucharan thinks Gnanaskandan’s aim, more than announcing him as a performer, was mainly to reduce the studentsinhibitions in performing before an audience.


His aunt, flautist Sikkil Mala Chandrasekhar was a crucial keystone in Gurucharan’s early years as a performer, putting him through the paces firmly yet indulgently, expecting and pushing him to excel. Prior to his arangetram, she gave him written notes on how an alapana in Kalyani was to be structured, the phrases that should be present, and how it was to progress.  Gurucharan views Mala’s mother-in-law, Radha Viswanathan – M.SSubbulakshmi’s daughter -- as one of his teachers too. Over their years of association, she affectionately taught him several bhajans and kritis that are a treasured part of his repertoire. 

The list for that first programme was prepared by his grandmothers, based on the pieces he had been taught. The fact that Gnanaskandan did not object to this issomething Gurucharan now marvels at, with his subsequent awareness of musician sensitivities. Once the list was prepared, it was Mala who made him practice diligently and conscientiously. She also arranged the co-artists for the concertNeyveliRadhakrishnan (violin) and Poongulam Subramaniam(mridangam)While he had one rehearsal with them, it was Neyveli Venkatesh who had come in earlier, at Mala’s behest, for his first practice ever with the mridangam.


Lakshmi Anand

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Sunday, 2 January 2022

From the Editor


Happy New Year 2022 to all our readers. Will this year open a new chapter, reveal a new verse, or will it continue to be the same old story of pandemic, caution, curbs and restrictions? Whatever it may be, as Nido Qubein says, “Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go. They merely determine where you start.” And according to Plato, “The beginning is the most important part of the work.” Vern McLellan, on his part,  puts the onus on each one of us when he says:  “What the new year brings to you will depend a great deal on what you bring to the new year.”

Thousands of rasikas must be spending the month of Margazhi watching the gamut of online concerts on display – quite a saturating spread over a month with a concentrated offering in the last ten days of December 2021. Many have ventured out after a long break, to once again physically attend and savour live programmes in concert halls – that is indeed a vibrant, unmatched experience – whether it be music, dance, drama or lecdems.

The Sruti Foundation too, in collaboration with the Music Forum, had organised  a Lecdem Mela at the Arkay Convention Center in Chennai, over two weekends. This time the focus was on personalities no longer with us, who have made a notable contribution to the field of Carnatic music. The sessions devoted to veteran musicians, composers and scholars like B. Krishnamoorthy, Tanjavur Sankara Iyer, Sripada Pinakapani and maestro Lalgudi G. Jayaraman, drew a reasonably good audience with Covid protocols in place. The synergy between the presenters and  the onlookers was indeed palpable. You can view the Lecdem Mela sessions at your leisure on Sruti’s YouTube channel.

In the January issue of Sruti, the focus is on three varied personalities.  Nonagenarian Kapila Vatsyayan, whose first death anniversary was observed some months ago, was a trailblazer and pioneer in the field of scholarly research in Indian art and culture.  The doyen, who was an institution builder, toiled to build bridges between the regional, national and international  field of arts.  I recall being bowled over by her erudite scholarship, her holistic vision of the arts and high flown language, when she delivered the keynote address at the December festival of the Narada Gana Sabha many years ago.

Mavelikkara Krishnankutty Nair was a veteran mridanga vidwan whose centenary was celebrated in 2021. He played for several artists belonging to different generations. He is well known for his melodic accompaniment which embellished the music of the main artist. The fact that he was the mridangam accompanist  for M.S. Subbulakshmi for several years, itself speaks volumes about the man and his accompanying abilities. He also worked for the welfare of artists.

The third personality is a much younger artist – Sikkil Gurucharan, who hails from a family of renowned Carnatic flautists, but has made an impressive mark as a fine vocalist. Blessed with a good stage presence and voice, he has equipped himself well and has been able to consistently hold on to his place in the Carnatic music circuit. His forays into innovative collaborations too have won him large audiences.

In the section on Heritage sthalams, the series on the pancha sabhas comes to a conclusion with the article on the Chitra sabha penned by scholar Sudha Seshayyan. And of course, we have some of our regular features like News & Notes, Bookshelf and Snapshorts to keep you abreast of what is happening. So continue to read Sruti.

The new year is a canvas waiting to be painted, it is a song waiting to be set to tune, it is a dance waiting to be choreographed, it is a proscenium waiting to come alive with creative ideas. So let us all “begin” this New Year 2022 on a melodic, harmonic note with renewed, positive energy.