Thursday, 31 March 2022

Through The Lens

Clicking live vs clicking a shoot 

Ever since the pandemic began, life has changed, and the art industry which is a completely visual and aural medium, is no exception. Not shattered by lockdown, artists explored various ways via social media to stay connected with rasikas. Being connected is the key.

As a performing arts photographer and a Carnatic music rasika, it surely was a big disappointment for me when the announcement came that concerts will be recorded live and streamed.

Clicking in a live concert without disturbing the audience is like an energy tonic for photographers. There is no alternative to capturing the emotions in a live performance. During the pandemic, I got an opportunity to click during the recordings in one of the sabhas. The distance between the stage and the sound pit was about 12 feet and no close human contact in whatsoever form was allowed. Moreover, all those present were masked for the entire period that we there (including the recording team). It was a different experience as my movements were constricted for a different reason—not because I would disturb the audience as there were none! It was primarily because of the cameras that were used for recording wide/close up. It took me a little while to understand the camera position and move accordingly. However, when you are clicking in a recording, the advantages are that you do not need to bend or duck and move to click.

The usual euphoria among rasikas that emerges after the concert was surely missing. As a photographer, when the artists look at us, acknowledge and smile, it definitely gives a ‘josh’ or happy feeling—which in general I have missed during the past two years. Likewise, the quick snippets of conversation that we have with rasikas when they tell us about having seen our earlier photos posted on social media or be it the exchange of smiles of acquaintance are also greatly missed.

There is nothing equivalent to clicking during a live concert. The emotions that come automatically when the artists see the rasikas enjoying their music are the “real waiting moments” for a photographer—to be clicked and treasured. What we also get to enjoy is the unedited casual 10-second conversation among artists! As a ‘performing artist photographer’, the joie de vivre definitely lies in live performances. I sincerely hope that 2022 paves the way for the arts scene to get somewhat closer to ‘normalcy’.


Hemamalini S

Editor's Note

The nagaswaram and tavil, popularly known as the ‘mangala vadyam’, enjoy the pride of place in Tamil Nadu. These ‘auspicious instruments’, which have been integral to temples and weddings  over centuries, have further journeyed over the years to the sabha circuit. There have been several nagaswaram and tavil maestros whose names are synonymous with the villages  they hail from. Tiruvavaduthurai Rajaratnam Pillai, Tirumarugal Natesa Pillai, Tiruvengadu Subramania Pillai, Karukurichi Arunachalam, the Semponnarkoil Brothers and Namagiripettai Krishnan are among the many nagaswara vidwans who have brought fame to the place and the instrument. Recently, a village near Kumbakonam has shot to fame not because of the artists who play the instrument, but because of the artisans who make the nagaswaram. Narasinghapettai – a village in Tanjavur district in Tamil Nadu – is home to several families of traditional artisans who specialise in fashioning the nagaswaram out of the specific sturdy  ‘acha maram’ or wood most suited to produce the sonorous sounds  of the blowing instrument. It takes about three days for three artisans to painstakingly make one nagaswaram; each family in the village is said to produce about 40 pieces in a year.

It is a matter of pride for Indian art and culture as well as for Tamil Nadu and Carnatic music that, after the Tanjavur veena (in 1914), the ‘Narasinghapettai nagaswaram’ has been recently granted the Geographical Indication (GI) tag under ‘musical instrument of class 15’;  possibly under the woodwind category. According to the GI of  Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999, goods having specific geographical origin and possessing “distinct qualities, reputation or characteristics essentially attributable to that place of origin” are given the GI tag. It is commendable that the Geographical Indication Registry of the Government of India  issued the registration certificate number 420 in January 2022, based on the application on 31 January 2014, on behalf of the Thanjavur Musical Instruments Workers Cooperative Cottage Industrial Society under the guidance  of  P. Sanjai Gandhi, the Nodal Officer for GI registration of products of the Tamil Nadu government. The GI has now turned the spotlight on  the makers of the Narasinghapettai nagaswaram which has been used extensively by  famous nagaswaram  artists over the decades. This will hopefully extend legal protection and financial assistance to the artisans and check unauthorised use of the brand name by others. It is indeed good news for those working quietly behind the scenes.

In the classical arena, there are many singing duos and dancing duos, but singing-dancing duos are very few. The brilliant duo -- Odissi musician Raghunath Panigrahi and his wife Odissi dancer Sanjukta Panigrahi immediately comes to mind. So do the names of the internationally acclaimed duo of Bharatanatyam exponent Chitra Visweswaran and her musician husband R. Visweswaran. The spotlight in the April issue of Sruti, is on a talented couple of the next generation – Bharatanatyam exponent and teacher Indira Kadambi and Carnatic musician and teacher T.V. Ramprasadh. Indira is a vivacious dancer, brilliant choreographer, and a traditionalist who has the spunk to take up challenging themes in the vocabulary of Bharatanatyam. Ramprasadh’s music is mellow, sonorous and laced with emotion as he sings for dance. Both revel in exploring their respective mediums, have carved  a name for themselves as individual artists, and have also wowed audiences wherever they perform together. Read the interesting story of this family of artists.

There is also a story about another duo from Kerala – that of a guru and a disciple who often sang together – Mavelikkara Prabhakara Varma and P.R. Kumarakerala Varma.

Veteran Bharatanatyam exponent and guru Lalitha Srinivasan offers insights into the tradition of javalis in Karnataka. In this issue we have several reviews about the performances of  young musicians and dancers – in the concluding segment of the music season as well as in the News & Notes section. Happy reading!




Tuesday, 29 March 2022

TRIBUTE - G. Sundari

G. Sundari of Kalakshetra passed away on the morning of 3 February 2022 in a comfortable Home in Chennai. She was 93 years old. She served Kalakshetra as Superintendent of studies, was Secretary to Rukmini Devi and Sankara Menon till she retired. She was a close friend of N. Ram of The Hindu. She had her education at the Besant Theosophical High School. After post graduation, she joined Kalakshetra, assisting Rukmini Devi and Sankara Menon to build the institution. Her dedicated service to Kalakshetra is laudable. She lived in the Theosophical Society in Adyar, Chennai, for a long time. She was instrumental in helping publish three books on Kalakshetra stalwarts: Nirmalam: The genius of S. Sarada, Sankara Menon Purushothaman, and Krishnaveni of Kalakshetra.


Thanks to Preetha Reddy (of Apollo Hospitals), Sundari Teacher as she was  popularly known, had a good and very comfortable old age care in a Home for the last few years. With her demise, another important branch of the ‘Banyan Tree’  has fallen.


G. Sundari was a kind hearted lady. She helped poor students with financial help  out of her own meagre salary from Kalakshetra. One of the senior alumnus of Kalakshetra  (P.T. Narendran) says he was offered free accommodation in her house in the Theosophical Society campus till he found  his own  economical accommodation near Thiruvanmiyur.  She paid the tuition fee for  some of the poor students who wanted to study natyam and music in Kalakshetra.  


She encouraged me to study and asked me to join the Matriculation classes much against the wishes of Rukmini Devi and others. She took classes in English, history and geography.  I owe my English writing and speaking abilities to Sundari Teacher.


When Kalakshetra was taken over by the new management (Kalakshetra Foundation)  both the strong pillars of the institution were asked to retire and vacate the campus --   Sundari gave shelter at her home in the Theosophical Society,  Adyar  to Sarada Teacher (Peria Sarada) and looked after her like her own mother, though she was not even a biological or blood relation.  Unequivocally,  every one praised G. Sundari for her humane quality. 


She was an animal lover and fed all the stray dogs and cats in the Theosophical gardens.  When we helped her move from her home in the Theosophical Society to   a new house on Harrington Road, while clearing her desk we found  paid and 

unpaid bills of cats and dogs food  to the tune of nearly 14,000 rupees! She shared her carrier meals from the Theosophical Society’s bhojanshala with these stray animals who remained very loyal to her.  When she realised that she was being taken to a safer and comfortable home,  the first thing she asked was “Who will take care of the poor animals, and requested us not to starve them”.  Such was her concern for animals. She was a true ‘pranimitra’ following her mentor Rukmini Devi. 


One of her nieces, Subha Nilakhantan, recalls her relationship with her “Athai”  as she called her. 

 V.P. Dhananjayan


Everybody’s aunt 

Subha Nilakhantan

I had two aunts who extended to me the caring hand of a mother. One was my father’s sister, Radha Burnier; the other was my mother’s sister, G. Sundari. They were themselves friends, who together saw to my well-being whenever I was away from my parents.

My aunt Sundari was born on 21 February 1929 in Tanjavur, where she lived with her family in a large house next to the Big Temple. The youngest of six children, she was four years old when her father, M.V. Gopalakrishnan, inspired by the Theosophists, gifted away all his property, and moved with his wife Rukmini Ammal and their children to serve the Theosophical Society (TS) at Adyar.

Adyar lay on the outskirts of the city. Young Sundari grew up in beautiful natural surroundings, became a favourite with everyone, and made many friends in and outside school. She kept contact with most of them until old age. My grandfather was a scholar by temperament; the house was filled with books. My aunt inherited this quality. At University, she earned a Masters with Distinction in Political Science, and spent long hours communicating with prison inmates for her Ph.D thesis. Unfortunately, her guide lost the thesis. There were no xerox machines then  -- and no copy! Accepting that it was too daunting a task to re-do, she looked ahead towards other avenues. The Theosophical Society and Kalakshetra were closely aligned at that time. The most attractive avenue led to Kalakshetra -- and thus, she devoted her life work between the two institutions.

My grandparents’ house was open to everyone, always filled with visitors, and in the summertime with their grandchildren. My aunt Sundari was a favourite. We could tease her -- and she laughed with us. An aunt who put on no ceremonial airs! She had the rare gift of making every child feel special. She called me ‘Honeypot’. For long, I thought I was the only ‘honeypot’, until I realised all children were her ‘honeypots’, to be cherished alike. She took me to concerts, dance performances, to doctors, nursed me to health, and gave me my first professional assignment when I was still a student -- painting posters for Kalakshetra dance-dramas.

She maintained the ‘open house’ tradition after my grandparents were no more, and kept her promise to my grandmother to care for S. Sarada (Peria Sarada). We began to call her Sarada Periamma. I still regard Periamma as a dear member of our family. My aunt gave shelter to many who needed a home, whether dance students, foreign visitors, or the destitute. Even animals were cared for. She helped innumerable people in as many ways. She was everybody’s aunt.

We travelled together on her foreign lecture tours. I found her an ideal travelling companion, careful but eager for adventures. She was talking about travelling together again to the Andamans, a few years before she fell ill and was shifted to a Home by her doctors and friends. She remained in Chennai for medical attention, where her students took wonderful care of her. When she passed away, I am sure she left behind her Andamans dream after travelling into God’s incomparable realms, and there is no wish left to travel anywhere else.