Monday, 28 February 2022

Editors Note

Dance is a visual medium and you cannot deny that the glamour quotient does play a part in the making of a “star”. Artists, who can combine it with style and substance, shine for long and even light up the path. There are a few who rise like meteors, glitter for a while and fade away. There are others well versed, who follow their chosen path with a determined passion and, over the years,  gain a long-lasting luminosity – senior  Bharatanatyam exponent Bragha Bessell is one such. This unassuming dancer has endeared herself to rasikas through her art and artistry, especially her abhinaya. Nurtured by eminent gurus, she has blossomed into a mature artist and is following in the footsteps of her two famous gurus to become a “global abhinaya teacher”. In the cover story this month, Bragha Bessell shares many interesting facets about her gurus and her own artistic journey.

After detailed reviews of the music season in the February issue, the focus this time is on the “dance season” of 2021-22. As many writers are still not totally comfortable with the thought of attending live performances, we bring to you reviews of online concerts where you have the luxury of revisiting them though you lose out on the multi-dimensional viewing experience of a live ambience. Seasoned writer Sujatha Vijayaraghavan has literally brought to life the concerts at the Music Academy, while Bhavani Ravindran recalls memorable moments at events in Kalakshetra.

As the years roll by, people celebrate the birthdays and anniversaries of eminent personalities past and present. The centenary celebrations of musician,  musicologist and teacher ‘Calcutta’ K.S. Krishnamurti was conducted by many of his disciples in December last year. “KSK” – as he was popularly known – was an eminent member of our “Sruti parivaar” led by the Editor-in-Chief N. Pattabhi Raman.  He joined Sruti as a Senior Editor, and participated in the work of research and analysis of music and musicians. He was part of the eminent Study Group constituted by the Sruti Foundation to undertake a detailed study of the music of G.N. Balasubramaniam which was presented during a two-day seminar in Chennai. As the group met regularly for almost a year, I remember listening in to his insightful discussions and incisive comments. He also wrote reviews about the music season concerts and was also involved in a comprehensive assessment of Carnatic music that Sruti launched on the completion of its first decade. KSK Sir had a puckish sense of humour and would often analyse  the numerology of our names during free-time. You can read more about him in the centenary tribute penned by his daughter  in this issue of Sruti.

With a heavy heart we pay tribute to G. Sundari who passed away in February this year. She was a good friend. Very loyal and deeply associated with Kalakshetra and the Theosophical Society; she knew Kalakshetra inside out. I would  telephone  her to clear doubts about old happenings and she would willingly share relevant information. On several occasions she volunteered to write about the people she had known. She was a  prim and bold woman who liked to call a spade a spade! As she was not tech savvy, we worked out a ‘formula’ to quickly send her articles to Sruti. After writing it out, she would dial me with an “Aiy” and proceed to clearly dictate it to me on the phone. Her articles were always factually correct, crisp and focussed. At  Sruti we will miss “Sundari Teacher”.

We also pay tribute to the “Melody Queen of India” – the one and only Lata Mangeshkar. Meri awaaz hi pehchaan hai sang she -- whose voice was indeed her identity! Her versatility, her felicity of voice, pitch-perfect rendering across octaves and poignant singing have made her music immortal.  A true Bharat Ratna!

S. JANAKI

 

 

Monday, 7 February 2022

TRIBUTE - Sivasakthi Sivanesan

Sivasakthi Sivanesan, well known Carnatic vocalist, vainika, and music teacher with the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in London, passed away on 31 October 2021.

Sivasakthi was born in Jaffna, in northern Sri Lanka, on 21 February 1957, in a musical family. Her father was her guide and mentor, and her training in music and dance began at the tender age of five. The renowned Yazhpanam N. Veeramani Iyer -- a composer, choreographer and dancer --  was her first guru.  She performed her arangetram in Jaffna when she was thirteen, in the presence of S. Balachander, the chief guest.  She continued her musical training from stalwarts like Chittoor Subramania Pillai (vocal) and Kalyanakrishna Bhagavatar (veena) at the Ramanathan Academy of Fine Arts and graduated with a Sangeetha Ratnam diploma when she was just fifteen. Sivasakthi was proficient in Carnatic vocal music, the veena and Bharatanatyam.

To pursue advanced training in music, Sivasakthi left Jaffna for Chennai in 1972 and enrolled at the Carnatic Music College. She was fortunate to learn from eminent musicians like D.K. Jayaraman, Prof. S. Ramanathan, R. Vedavalli, K.V. Narayanaswamy, T.M. Tyagarajan, B. Rajam Iyer, Sandhyavandanam Srinivasarao and Tiruppamburam Shanmugasundaram in Chennai. She also took special training in nattuvangam from natyacharya Adyar K. Lakshman in Chennai.

After obtaining a diploma in music teaching, Sivasakthi returned to Jaffna in 1977 and started teaching Carnatic music at the Vembadi Girls High School. The following year she joined her alma mater, the Ramanathan Academy of Fine Arts, now Jaffna University's Department of Music, as a Carnatic music teacher. She taught at the University for five years and simultaneously pursued a performing career to become a well-known name in Carnatic music over the radio (Sri Lankan Broadcasting Corporation) and in the concert circuit.

Marriage to Sivanesan took her to Beijing, where she worked as a teacher of Music, English and General Knowledge in a school. The Sivanesans moved to London in 1984. The Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan was then looking for teachers. Sivasakthi Sivanesan joined the Bhavan with a letter of reference given by violin maestro Lalgudi Jayaraman; she presented it to Mathoor Krishnamoorthy, who was then the Executive Director. Though she continued her education at the Bhavan, she soon emerged as a premier teacher and performer as she could sing, play the veena and do nattuvangam for dance programmes. In the early 1980s, she came under the advanced tutelage of music maestro T.V. Gopalakrishnan which enabled her to further hone her skills as a musician and teacher.

 She founded Vani Fine Arts in 1986 in  London, which has served as a space to showcase up-and-coming talent and also as a platform to raise funds for several charitable causes. She played host to several visiting musicians in the UK and was a much-respected personality in Carnatic music and classical dance.

Sivasakthi Sivanesan travelled widely and performed in countries including the USA, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Belgium, The Netherlands, China, Malaysia, India, and Sri Lanka.

Sivasakthi's most notable accomplishment has been her dedicated effort to bring to light the works of her guru, Yazhpanam Veeramani Iyer, which she published in the form of a book in 2004.

SAMUDRI

(With inputs from sivsakthimusic.co.uk)


In memoriam

It is with ineffable grief that we learn of the sad passing of our dear Sivasakthi Sivanesan "Aunty" to all of us at The Bhavan. Vidushi Sivasakthi was our revered teacher of south Indian classical music -- both vocal and veena. She joined us in 1984 and was an outstanding member of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan London's teaching staff. She was trained in Sri Lanka and India, including Veeramani Iyer, and in Chennai, Chittoor Subramania Pillai. Moreover, Sivasakthi had also learnt Bharatanatyam and was, therefore, an incomparable and sensitive asset at classical south Indian dance performances at our Bhavan and elsewhere.

As a teacher, she had an uncanny knack of bonding with her students of all ages. The love and respect – nay awe – in which we held her was itself a testament to her commitment to the subject and discipline required of any serious student of Carnatic music. Sivasakthi never compromised with any form of trendy modernism.



In this regard, Sivasakthi Sivanesan was, in my view, the greatest single figure in the preservation and furtherance of south Indian classical music in Britain and elsewhere, too, in Europe and Australia. I dare to make this assertion partly based on my love of Carnatic music going back to the mid-40s!

Countless is the number of her students -- both past and until very recently -- when a prolonged illness forced her gradually to retreat from public and professional appearances. In this regard,  one must acknowledge the enormous support given to her by her husband, K. Sivanesan. Always in the background, he was ever there for her.

Her friendship was an incomparable gift to me as much as she asked me from the late 1980s onwards to take over the teaching of theory and history of Carnatic music at The Bhavan. This I was gladly able to do, however inadequately, from the time of my retirement from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of  London. To be able to work with such an unparalleled figure as dear Sivasakthi was an immense privilege and pleasure.

Her presence in our midst inspired, informed, and encouraged us one and all, and we shall never forget the refulgent light of the knowledge of and devotion to south Indian classical music that her beloved presence afforded us all. Go in peace, Sivasakthi and may your spirit find eternal rest and happiness.

Dr. JOHN R. MARR

(Padma Shri awardee, veteran Carnatic musician and musicologist)

Kapila Vatsyayan – a tribute

Buds do blossom

for the bees to feed,

they mix their preserve

for a future need;

 The roving army,

the Queen and the Drone,

wait for the that day

when the moon never shone

 If not stolen by the men around

they quench themselves

from their wax-store-house

and their tiny shelves;

 But where is the nectar

and where is the honey

to feed the mind and

the intellect of so many;

 The one that shines

like the sun and the stars,

like the illumined mind

and a soul sans par;

 The effulgence of the sparks

that light several lamps

with a glow that never leaves

forever and forever and forever and forever....

Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan was one of the most distinguished personalities and unparalleled scholars of our times. Of course, much has been written and published about her scholarship and wisdom; nevertheless I take the liberty of sharing a few thoughts about her since I have known her for over six decades.

I first met Kapila ji while she was still an under-secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of Culture in New Delhi in 1958-59. This was the time when I was awarded that prestigious Government of India scholarship by the Ministry of Culture, New Delhi. I was 14 years old then. She had signed in the correspondence and the certificate. I was later given to understand that my scholarship award was challenged. The reason was that I was pursuing my schooling while training to become a Bharatanatyam artist. It was mandated that only students from traditional families were eligible for such scholarships. However, my scholarship was upheld and I was awarded the same as a special case. Kapila ji continued to keep in touch with me even after my marriage in 1965. She used to visit us in Chennai and has also stayed with us. She made it a point to get me butter (in the mud-pot) prasadam from Dwaraka whenever she went to the temple. She was a spiritual person and we have travelled to Kancheepuram to pay obeisance at the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham.

 Once I had mentioned to T. Balasaraswati that Kapila Vatsyayan was in town and Balamma asked me to bring her home to her Poonamallee house and I still cherish the extempore performance that Balamma gave for the two of us.

I have had the occasion to review Kapila Vatsyayan’s book in the past. We have had several fruitful discussions on the subject of dance, painting, poetry, culture and music. I still remember the time when Kapila ji and Dr. Nagaswamy started the Natyanjali festival at the Chidambaram Nataraja temple in 1981. She was a very soft spoken person though being very erudite. She was loving and affectionate towards me and my family. 

Kapila ji made many pioneering efforts and headed several, cultural, education and governmental organisations. Her writing and publications stand testimony to the indelible mark that she left behind in the art history of the country.

 I pay my respects to this noble soul and shall cherish the moments of our association.

 Prof. Sudharani Raghupathy

 

SBKK’s ‘Ram’ continues to enthral generations

Delhi’s Ramleela, now in its 65th consecutive year, played to packed audiences in the capital through the Dussehra month of October. Originally enacted with a live orchestra in Delhi’s Feroz Shah Kotla grounds, Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra’s iconic production, now termed simply Ram, assumed a legendary hue. Creditably, it has been witnessed by most of India’s Prime Ministers.

Much has changed in the dance-drama over the decades, but much has also remained the same. The original script derived from Goswami Tulsidas’s Ramayan was rewritten in the mid-1990s in ‘khari boli’ to cater to a modern Delhi audience who could not fully comprehend the Awadhi dialect. With this came the necessity to recompose the music, to fit the new sahitya. The music of the over two-hour production had to be painstakingly re-recorded.

This was not so easy a task; the composing of music for a dance-drama production, where due consideration had to be given to the lyrics and movements, was something that many professional musicians 40 years ago had not experienced. Nor were they ready to take on a project that involved so much time and tweaking of the music to fit in with the movements. Thinking of appropriate music while the monkeys scampered or the golden deer enticed Sita in the forest, involved thinking out-of-the-box for a classical musician. Another concern was tuning music to a changed script; some thought it was sacrilegious to tamper with the original holy words of Tulsidas. Apparently, many senior classical musicians approached for the task refused. 

The final recording saw simultaneous recording in three studios, more than 400 pieces of music strung together, during a non-stop period of more than three months! Truly a herculean task -- sarodist Biswajit Roy Choudhury, who composed the music recalls, “I barely ever had lunch during those three months!”  About 120 musicians were roped in; an added concern was working with musicians who had studio recording experience and could also give uninterrupted time for days to record. The final new soundtrack recording came together in 1999. It involved the combined effort of several musicians, including vocalist Shanti Sharma and the recording expert – the late Jwala Prasad  (a part of dancer Uma Sharma’s team).  The vocalists included the late Shanti Sharma, Jitender from the Kathak Kendra and Indu Prakash.

The original music of the 1950s production was played by a live orchestra and was put together by Barun Dasgupta, Ravi Shankar’s esraj-playing disciple. This was later recorded.

Certainly, the music is a very important aspect of the production, though it is in no way solely a musical, as the dance element is predominant. Involving several classical dance forms, including Kathak, Kathakali, Kalaripayattu and Chhau, the production is a delightful, populist mish-mash of styles. The music follows a more raga based format, which enhances the experience. The scene when Ram sees Sita in the forest for the first time, uses the auspicious raga Gorakh Kalyan. Later in the forest scene, in spring, there is Bahar -- the raga associated with Spring; the scene in which Ram picks up Siva’s bow at the swayamvar has raga Sankara in the background; the forest scene with the dancing peacocks has Gaud Malhar (peacocks dance in the rains, and Gaud Malhar is associated with the monsoon). 

What remained the same was the same flow of scenes, the same originally chosen dance forms (Ravana is a Kathakali dancer with a fantastically evocative mask). Over the years, some of the scenes have been deleted (Luv Kush no longer appear), but overall the production has retained most of its original form.

The great Tapas Sen originally conceived the lighting, and for several years he would annually visit to handle the light effects personally; later, his student Gautam Bhattacharya tweaked the production. The costumes and accessories are meticulously changed every year to bring in a fresh feel as the core audience remains the same, though the generations have changed over the last nearly 70 years! This writer remembers being taken as a young girl to the show in the original venue; over the last 20 years, the venue has shifted to the Kamani auditorium grounds.

The costumes of some of the demons were particularly impressive this year, as were the masks worn by Ravana’s forces. This time, some parts of the original soundtrack were also included and intertwined with the newer music, giving the older viewers a nostalgic feel. Following strict Covid protocol, was itself a novelty this time -- sitting separately, with masks, and not having access to the scrumptious food stalls!

Another addition, now some ten years old, was the inclusion of audio-visual effects, a giant screen behind the live artists, projecting appropriate scenes. One must admit that some of the scenes were distracting from the main live-action; the scene with Hanuman flying through the air with the reviving herbs on the mountain was a tad annoying. 

Movable screens on the sides and at the back provided a wonderful context to the changing scenes; from a flower-filled forest to the durbar hall to Ravana’s Lanka, all the scenes were most aesthetically crafted. One lauds Shobha Deepak Singh, the overall director of the production, who has overseen all aspects of the production for more than 50 years, and who has ensured that the experience for newer generations of viewers remains fresh and enjoyable. Her attention to detail, whether it is in the background scenes, choreography, lighting, music, and the accessories worn -- all add to giving this production its iconic status. No wonder the show is enacted live in several cities all over India, especially in October and November every year; there are two full casts to make this possible.

This time, some of the memorable scenes included Bharat’s emotional meeting with brother Ram (played by Raj Kumar Sharma) in the forest; his swoop of more than 20-feet across the stage to fall at the Lord’s feet was breathtakingly impressive.  Suchitra Das Tithi as Kaikeyi was a glittering persona as the hard, inflexible queen mother insisting on her husband honouring his promise very moving. Anurag as Jatayu most effectively and heartbreakingly flopped around the stage, with both his wings cut off by Ravana, eventually dying.

Ram is the capital’s only continuously running production, with the same basic structure, since independence. It is a production for everyone, with senior citizens enjoying the familiar scenes of separation and union year after year. Of course, children love it; the prolonged scenes with the monkeys, the giant bird Jatayu, and the golden deer delight the kids every year; this writer took her five-year-old nephew, who was enthralled throughout the more than 90-minute production. One hopes to see this beautifully crafted production continue to inspire yet another generation.

SHAILAJA KHANNA