Song of Surrender

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Sangita Kalanidhi Poll by Sruti

Your vote for the title

It's that time of the year. The Music Academy, Chennai, will soon sit down to select the Sangita Kalanidhi designate for the 2017-'18 season. We invite readers to submit their recommendations in the following format. Please let us have your names for publication. 

1. Your nominee for the title of Sangita Kalanidhi.

2. Would you prefer a new system of more than one title, e.g., one vocalist, one vidwan/ vidushi playing a wind or string instrument, one percussionist? If the answer is YES, your nominee for each category.

For example:
Vocalist                           OS Thyagarajan
Instrumentalist 1          N Ravikiran
Instrumentalist 2          Vikku Vinayakram.

Please rush your choices asap. We'll publish the result of this poll both online and in print.


Birthdays & Anniversaries

Chittoor Subramania Pillai 
A True Legatee Of The Kanchipuram Style
(Excerpted from the Sruti archives)

The following article was written by Contributing Editor K.S. KALIDAS, with inputs from T. Sankaran, B.M. Sundaram, S. Ramachandran, T. Lokanadha Sarma, E.N. Purushothaman and Hemavathi Sunderraman. 

Sangeeta Kalanidhi, Isai Perarignar, Swara Chakravarti, Laya Brahma, Gaanarnava, Isai Mannar, Gaana Kaladhara and Saptagiri Sangeeta Vidwanmani were some of the titles presented to Chittoor Subramania Pillai during the six decades of his illustrious career as a Carnatic vocalist, at least in three of which he was in the front ranks. He was also a recipient of a Sangeet Natak Akademi award. 

He earned plaudits not only as a leading performer but also as a teacher, especially in institutions. He was a stalwart among stalwarts in the golden era of Carnatic music. The string of awards and titles is but one aspect of his life and career. As his birth centenary is being celebrated, there should be many among the old who can recall his impressive personality and equally impressive accomplishments, but the story of his life and career must be recounted for the benefit of the young, especially those seeking to make a mark as concert musicians.

Early years 

Subramaniam was born on 22 June 1898 at Gollamachannapalli, a village in Chittoor district (now in Andhra Pradesh), into a family of musicians. Perayya, his Telugu brahmin father, was a violinist employed by the Punganur Samasthanam in Chittoor district; his mother Mogileswaramma was a vocalist who belonged to the kalavantulu community. There was a tradition among the Telugu-speaking members of this community to call themselves as Naidu. Thus Subramaniam's younger brother was known as Chittoor Krishnappa Naidu. But Chittoor Subramania Naidu became Chittoor Subramania Pillai when he became a disciple of Kanchipuram Naina Pillai. Interestingly, Naina Pillai's real name was Subramania Pillai too, but he came to be called Naina (a term of endearment) by his childless maternal aunt Dhanakoti Ammal who doted on him. 

Subramaniam started learning music and Harikatha from his father at a very young age and began giving Harikatha performances even as a young lad. One such performance took him to Madras (now known as Chennai). The occasion was the annual Ramanavami festival conducted by Jalatarangam Ramaniah Chetty, a great connoisseur and patron of music and musicians. There he was privileged to hear the great Kanchipuram Naina Pillai sing and the experience bowled him over. He wanted to learn at least a few kriti-s from the maestro. He requested Ramaniah Chetty to introduce him to the maestro but was instead taken to Pillai's aunt Dhanakoti Ammal. The latter, who asked the boy to sing, was struck by his fine voice, as well as by his keen interest in learning. Then and there, she taught him a Tyagaraja kriti. She also suggested that the lad should switch from Harikatha to vocal music. "Go back to Punganur and ask for your parents' permission and come to Kanchipuram," she said and added assuringly: "I shall ask Naina to teach you." 

Subramaniam did as he was told and was taken by Naina Pillai under his wings. Eventually he became the maestro's most important disciple and his prime musical legatee.

To read full story, buy Sruti 168

Alangudi Ramachandran
(Excerpted from the Sruti archives)

If today, ‘Vikku’ Vinayakram is synonymous with the ghatam, there was a time such giants as Tiruvilvamalai Vilvadri Iyer and Umayalpuram Kodandarama Iyer added lustre to the magic mudpot of Carnatic music. Alangudi Ramachandran was one such exponent of the ghatam, someone who made significant changes to its practice.

K. Ramachandran was born on 22 June 1912 at Koduntarapalli, Kerala and passed away on 15 June 1975. Learning the art of percussion and ghatam playing from Kuttalam Kuppuswami Pillai, Kuttalam Sivavadivelu Pillai and Needamangalam Meenakshisundaram Pillai, Ramachandran first ascended the performance stage as an accompanist of Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar. Even as a child, Ramachandran had unusual interest in music, percussion in particular, and after his father Krishna Iyer settled down at Alangudi, often walked a few miles to listen to radio concerts at Terezhundur town. Fascinated by the tavil prowess of Meenakshisundaram Pillai, he took up a job in a restaurant at Needamangalam to facilitate his joining him as a student. It was Pillai who persuaded him to take to the ghatam. Ramachandran later took lessons from mridanga vidwan Mayavaram Kuppuswami Pillai.

Big-made Ramachandran had the right physique, potbelly and all, for the effective demonstrative style of ghatam playing. Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar was very fond of him; he would not hesitate to add him as an unscheduled second ghatam artist to his kutcheri ensemble. A believer in meaningful collaboration on stage, he underplayed his role if he thought it necessary for the success of a concert. Known for his precision fingering, “the sound of his fingers would resemble hitting with steel, that too on a Manamadurai ghatam” (Centenarians 2012, Chennai Fine Arts). Even though he used a very heavy ghatam, he invariably tossed it up for dramatic effect in concerts and composed special korvais for the act, according to mridanga vidwan T.V. Gopalakrishnan, a friend, colleague and admirer.

Among Ramachandran’s happy accomplishments was his longish stint as an accompanist of M.S. Subbulakshmi and popular musicians K.B. Sundarambal and M.K. Tyagaraja Bhagavatar. He had the rare blessing of dying in harness, immediately after his tani avartanam for a D.K. Jayaraman concert at Shanmukhananda Sabha, Bombay.

To read full story, buy Sruti 344

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Krishnaveni Lakshmanan (1942 - 2004)
(Excerpted from the Sruti archives)

The following is by S. SARADA, more famous as Peria Sarada, of Kalakshetra. 

Rukmini Devi and I noticed a girl watching, day after day, from the window, the dance classes we were teaching in the Mirror Cottage in the Theosophical Society where Kalakshetra was then situated. The child did this invariably on her way back home from The Besant Theosophical High School. Rukmini Devi— Athai— called the child inside and asked her: "Would you like to dance?" The child's joy knew no bounds and she readily tried to repeat the dance she had been viewing. Athai immediately arranged for her, Krishnaveni, to join Kalakshetra as a part-time student. She was the daughter of K. Ananthanarayanan, the History teacher in the Besant School. I may mention here that, though she learnt from N.S. Jayalakshmi and myself and other teachers at Kalakshetra, her class teacher throughout Krishnaveni's Diploma course was Chinna Sarada (Hoffman). Years earlier, Sarada had also become a student of Kalakshetra, watching from the window the classes Athai and I were taking in the same cottage! Sarada Hoffman contributed to Kalakshetra by evolving, under Athai's guidance, the style of Bharatanatyam of perfection and grace which became the hallmark of the institution. 

Krishnaveni absorbed everything in the classes— practical dances: Bharatanatyam and Kathakali, dance theory, music and the languages, religion and philosophy at Kalakshetra— like a blotting paper absorbing ink. Innate in her was the craving and talent for fine arts, which made her flower forth as a beautiful artist. Athai wished her dance students to learn Kathakali compulsorily. Why Kathakali? In Kathakali, facial bhava-s or expressions have to be shown in an exaggerated manner for them to be visible through the elaborate make-up. When one mastered this after training or exercises of the facial muscles and eye movements, he or she could express with ease any bhava or emotion. Great masters like Ambu Panicker and Chandu Panicker adorned Kalakshetra as teachers and they were hard taskmasters. 

On the completion of middle school studies, Krishnaveni became a full-time student of Kalakshetra and benefited from the all-round education there. The best talents of the students were brought out naturally by the teachers and nothing was imposed on or imparted to them. 

I recollect the child Krishnaveni coming early on her way to school and sitting beside me observing the classes. She would practise the adavu-s with concentration in an adjacent place before entering the afternoon classes. Thus she could execute these adavu-s with ease in the classes. She had nimble feet in a pliable body and, above all, bright eyes and an attractive smile. She was able to express later on, as a full fledged dancer, all emotions with ease. 

In 1957, Athai presented Usha Parinayam, the Bhagavata Mela dance-drama which she had beautified. Both Krishnaveni and Shanta learnt the main roles of Usha and her sakhi Chitra-lekha. It was only a few days before its premiere, at Sarada Hoffman's insistence, that Athai decided that Krishnaveni should be Usha and Shanta, Chitra-lekha. They won accolades for their portrayals, though they had not yet had their arangetram. Balu Bhagavatar of Melattur who had come to assist in this production was full of praise for them as the girls were able to present on the stage the various situations with embellishment. 

Athai arranged for Krishna-veni's arangetram in 1960 only after awarding her the Kala-kshetra Diploma with distinction the previous year. She was a Government of India scholarship holder for three years from that year. She received the Institution's Post Graduate Diploma, also with distinction, in 1962. 

S. Lakshmanan whom Krishnaveni married in 1965 was initially unable to perceive that she was a dancer with a good future in the field. However, on Athai's persuasion, he came and watched her as Seeta in Sabaii Moksham, which changed his attitude. It was his first experience of dance which was not earthy but divine! He not only encouraged Krishnaveni but became an ardent admirer and supporter of Athai and Kalakshetra!

To read full story, buy Sruti 241

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Birthdays & Anniversaries

A. Kanan: Respected Senior Musician
By Basavi Mukerji-Rath
(Excerpted from the Sruti archives)

A. Kanan is a respected Hindustani vocalist who has had an illustrious music career spanning almost five decades. 

Gifted with a sonorous and powerful yet smooth voice, Kanan would draw crowds as big and as admiring as the luminous musicians of those days, like Bade Gulam Ali Khan and Amir Khan. His open-throated yet aesthetic gayaki was equally appealing in forms as diverse as thumri, bhajan and of course khayal, which was his mainstay. His voice remained in as much control in the lower and higher octaves and high speed as it did in the middle octave and the slower tempo. The unerring 'sur' (tunefulness) which marks his 'gayaki' even today is perhaps the most striking feature of his music. 

Born in Madras in June 1920, Kanan had his education in Hyderabad since his father was employed in the Nizam's State Railway. Also an accomplished sportsman in his schooldays, it was during a cricket tour in Bombay that he got his voice tested at All India Radio and was instantly offered a programme by its much astonished officials. Later, he himself joined the Railway. When he was sent to Calcutta by it for advance training with Saxby and Farmers (Signalling Engineers), he came in contact with vocalist Girija Shankar Chakraborty who recognised his musical genius and readily accepted him as a disciple. In no time thereafter, he emerged as a fine vocalist and a fine representative of the Bishnupur-Kirana style of gayaki. 

Kanan's melodious and captivating voice also brought him many film playback-singing assignments. Some of the songs rendered by him are still remembered and also heard. 'Dhuli', 'Meghe Dhaka Tara', 'Surer Piyashi' and 'Jadu Bhatta' in Bengali and 'Basant Bahar', 'Humdard' and 'Megh Malhar' in Hindi were some such films. Celebrities like Ustad Amir Khan, Gyan Prakash Ghosh, Pankaj Mullik, Kamal Dasgupta, R.C. Boral and Ritwik Ghatak were some of his ardent admirers and friends. Of this group, only Ghosh is alive today. 

Kanan's phenomenal success at his first All Bengal Music Conference appearance in 1943 and the persistent insistence of his friends and fans, when, after two years of training in Calcutta, it was at last time to bid adieu to the city, succeeded in finally persuading him to stay back and devote himself full time to music. Thus, he resigned from his secure job with the N.S. Railway to devote himself to music. He performed all over the country and sometimes also abroad with great success, and trained many students, often free of cost.

To read full story, buy Sruti 140

Friday, 16 June 2017

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Kamala at seventy five
Blooming in an alien land
(Excerpted from the Sruti archives)

Famed in India as “Kumari Kamala” during her prime as a dancer, the acclaimed Bharatanatyam exponent has dedicated about seven decades of her life to its propagation. Endowed with a rare and uncommon prowess at the art, her name has become synonymous with the dance form. She began performing classical dances in many Indian films in several languages, including Hindi, since the late 1930s at the age of five, till about the mid-1960s. One of her best known films includes, Naam Iruvar in Tamil, based on the patriotic songs of Tamil poet Subramania Bharati. Kamala has given thousands of stage performances in India, and was the country’s unofficial cultural envoy to many different countries. At the Indian government’s behest, she performed before many visiting foreign dignitaries to India, including President Dwight Eisenhower and Queen Elizabeth. Kamala Narayan received the central Sangeet Natak Akademi award in 1968 and was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1970. The elderly artist who turned 75 on 14th June this year, has been living in the New York metropolitan area since 1980 and runs a dance school, Sri Bharata Kamalalaya.

On the occasion of the 28th anniversary of Kamala’s dance school in New York, UMA DANDAPANI gives us a glimpse into Kamala’s life in the United States.

Kamala Narayan seemed to morph from deities chiselled in graceful stances inside a temple sanctum. Images in black and white from decades ago, of the young and lithe dancer captured in statuesque poses, became vivid and real, as she choreographed for a recent show by the students of her school, at the Yonkers Public Library auditorium in Westchester County, New York. Her school, Sri Bharata Kamalalaya, is based in Long Island, New York, where she has lived since 1980, but the septuagenarian with an unflagging passion for the art, commutes weekly to Westchester County and New Jersey, to conduct dance lessons for her young students.

On a wintry morning, she was watching a rehearsal by her students, to prerecorded music playing on a stereo deck. The tenderness and ardour of the raga, Brindavana Saranga, in a lilting paean to Krishna composed by Subramania Bharati, lent a tropical balminess to the spacious hall of the India Center of Westchester County, Inc., located in Elmsford, New York. The elderly artist looked petite and trim, wearing a coiffure and dressed in a taupe and maroon salwar kameez. Her chiselled features, accentuated by her soft and pleasantly pitched voice, seemed to conceal a latent energy that sparked into life as she demonstrated dance movements to her young students, her feet maintaining an unerring rhythm as she moved, synchronised by the positions of her arms and hands, while her eyes darted in each of those directions. With her students in Westchester County, ranging in age between five to the twenties, and divided into groups varying from beginners to advanced, the dance guru was generous with praise, using gentle humour to keep them focused on the coordinated moves as they danced. She showed a meticulous approach to the instruction.

“I don’t compromise with my students. Regardless of whether they are strong or weak, I teach them the same lesson so that they can improve themselves,” she said, while explaining that the deep plie posture, or the araimandi, is de rigueur for the dancer. “Your eyes should follow the arm movements,” she said, explaining one more aspect of the dance to her young students, as they were engrossed in the challenge of coordinating the movements of their feet with those of their arms and hands.

Kamala radiated the beauty of Bharatanatyam to an Indian public through her classical dances in scores of Indian films made in several languages. Many of these were choreographed by her dance guru, Vazhuvoor Ramiah Pillai. She also gave hundreds of stage performances between the 1940s through the 1970s, exuded a sensuousness and verve that attracted waves of enthusiasts. Bharatanatyam was a redeemed classical art, and Kamala its most luminous exemplar.

One of the many dances that became synonymous with the image of Kamala, both onscreen and in stage performances, was the snake dance choreographed by her guru, the most popular version being, “Naadar mudi mel irukkum naagapaambe”.

To read full story, buy Sruti 288

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Saraswati Bai
By Sriram V
(Excerpted from the Sruti archives)

Saraswati Bai began her travels within India once again on returning from her tour of Ceylon in 1913. In an interview given later in life she was to recall with considerable pride that she had not "spared a single village and neither had any village spared her". Travel to far off places meant being on the move for several days and journeys by several modes of transport including the bullock cart. Bai, who had been of a sickly constitution as a child, found that she had to put up with the rigours of such travels and also of the strain of standing for six to seven hours each night and perform non stop. 

In 1916, Bai and her troupe performed at the Gandharva Maha Vidyalaya, Bombay in the presence of Pandit Vishnu Digambar Paluskar and she was awarded the title of 'Gayanapatu' (skilled in singing) by him on the 13th of February. While in Bombay she also performed in aid of the War effort (the First World War or the Great War as it was then known, was in progress). The proceeds from the performance earned for Bai praise from Lady Willingdon, wife of the Governor of Bombay Presidency. On the 13th March, Bai, still in Bombay, gave a performance in aid of the East Indies Station Naval Fund and Rs. 422-8-0 was donated as half the gate collection. Between 1916 and 1920, Bai continued travelling across the country and in 1920 arrived in Poona. There on the 15th April, she performed at the Kirloskar Theatre and among the audience was 'Lokmanya' Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the great patriot. In his own words: "I was present at one of the Harikirtans performed by Mrs. Saraswati Bai, a Madras lady, at the Kirloskar Theatre and had the pleasure of presenting her a 'gold medal' on behalf of the Poona public, for her proficiency in performing a Kirtan as well as for her learning in Tamil and Sanskrit. She addresses the audience in Tamil, but as the songs and texts used are in Sanskrit, one not knowing the Tamil language can easily understand her address and follow her right through. Her voice is melodious and singing very good." It was on this occasion that the second of Bai's two most well known titles, namely 'Kirtanapatu' (skilled in kalakshepam) was conferred on her by Tilak. Hereafter Bai was always referred to as 'Gayanapatu Kirtanapatu C. Saraswati Bai'. The terms became as much associated with her as Sangeeta Ratnakara was with Ariyakudi, Gayaka Sikhamani with Muthiah Bhaga-vatar and Gayana Gandharva with Chembai.

To read full story, buy Sruti 262

Sikkil Sisters
Torchbearers of tradition
By Charukesi Viswanathan
(Excerpted from the Sruti archives)

With flute genius T.R. Mahalingam and his remarkable sishya Sangita Kalanidhi N. Ramani for close relatives (see family tree) on their mother’s side, the sangeeta gnanam of the renowned Sikkil Sisters, flautists, has been no surprise.

Probably the only successful flute duo of their time, certainly the first female pair of instrumentalists in Carnatic music, Sikkil Kunjumani and Neela have continued the vocal style of flute playing that Mali (Sruti 24) launched so memorably during their lifetime, changing the history of the pullankuzhal irreversibly. Before Mali, the Carnatic flute as a concert instrument owed much to the pioneering efforts of Sarabha Sastri (1872-1904) and the maintenance of that tradition by his sishya parampara of the likes of Palladam Sanjeeva Rao and H. Ramachandra Sastri (see Sruti 67).

“Azhiyur Narayanaswami Iyer was my guru,” reminisced Sikkil Kunjumani, the older of the Sisters. “He was my uncle, residing in Puliyur, near Azhiyur. I was seven or eight then and we had an idol of Krishna playing the flute at home. I used to imitate that with a stick in place of the flute and humming tunes. My father Azhiyur Natesa Iyer noticed that and felt that I had a natural flair for music. He decided to take me to my guru for initiation. It was a bold step as girls those days were never into artistic pursuits. My Periappa Narayanaswami Iyer was also very supportive of the idea. He gave me a short flute. In just two years, he prepared me for a concert. Our servant Tangavelu escorted me everyday to my guru’s house. I had to walk to cover the distance. It would take an hour or so to reach my master’s place. The class would start by eight in the morning. Periappa was impressed by the nada of the flute and played it as his main instrument, though he taught many students vocal, violin and veena. He gave many solo concerts accompanied by our father on the mridanga.”

Narayanaswami Iyer played the flute so well that it enraptured the listener. “He had a huge passion for the instrument. The sound should always permeate the air without a break, he said. All else should be forgotten, he insisted. ‘It is in your hands to succeed’.”

The age-difference is almost eleven years between Kunjumani and Neela, the younger of the two sisters.

For Neela, the journey was more strenuous. “I learnt with difficulty, I must confess,” Neela said. “You know, a girl child normally begins to speak when she is less than a year. I started to speak only when I was four or so. There was an idol of Krishna in our house which I adored. When I wanted someone to fetch it for me, so I could play with it, no one understood my prattle. I then sang “uttani begene baa o.” Even if the words were not clear, my audience recognised the song Krishna nee beganey as I got the tune right. I already loved the flute.” Neela recalls, “I was seven years old when my sister Kunjumani initiated me into the flute. I took a good year and a half just to learn the sarali varisai. Since my fingers were very small, I had a problem holding the flute. I had no grip. The guru would prod me, ‘Play, you can easily do it’. Luckily for me, I could effortlessly remember my everyday lessons without having to write them down all the time.”

To read full story, buy Sruti 314

Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar (1932-2013)
By Meena Banerjee
(Excerpted from the Sruti archives)

The small but distinguished dhrupad clan of India lost its legendary ‘Chhote Ustad’ (younger guru) when Zia Fariduddin Dagar left for his heavenly abode, on 8 May 2013, to be with his elder brother Zia Mohiuddin Dagar (1929-1990). Both belonged to the famous Dagar family that traces its lineage to Swami Haridas, the guru of Tansen. The members of this illustrious family were scattered in different pockets of India – sheltered by music-loving maharajas of states like Indore, Jaipur, Udaipur and Bengal.

Maharana Bhupal Singh was the ruler of Udaipur when Ziauddin Khan Dagar became his court musician. He groomed his sons as proficient musicians – Mohiuddin as a rudra veena player and the younger Fariduddin as a vocalist. In the wake of modernity, however, the Privy Purses were withdrawn to pave way for a sovereign democratic nation. The social upheaval, with new value systems, found the traditional arts as a very soft target. Under the circumstances, the family had no choice but to shift base to greener pastures. They moved to Mumbai for better opportunities to make a living.

The family remained dedicated and immersed in the ageless art of dhrupad and fearlessly went ahead to introduce its next generation to carry the mantle. Ironically, by the 1970s and 1980s, as a result of its deep spiritual appeal, dhrupad found a firm footing in the West. Concerts and teaching assignments started pouring in from countries like France, Austria, Germany, even from the U.S.A. The brothers almost decided to again shift base – this time to Europe. Realising the gravity of the situation, a few sensitive bureaucrats put their thinking caps on. In 1981 Ashok Vajpeyi, former secretary in the Department of Culture, State government of Madhya Pradesh, made a bold move and launched the Dhrupad Kendra under the Ustad Alauddin Khan Music Academy, Bhopal, with brothers Mohiuddin and Fariduddin as gurus.

The first batch had five students hailing from families which had little or no musical background. This did not bother the brothers at all. They were ready to accept the challenge and were willing to accept learners from outside their close-knit clan which looked at music as its sacred religion.

A typical day began early at around 4 am. The students, following in the footsteps of their Bade Ustad (Mohiuddin) and Chhote Ustad (Fariduddin) would rise early and sing. Ashok Vajpeyi often referred to this ethereal, empirical experience he had during his morning walks. The whole area surrounding the Dhrupad Kendra reverberated with the deep, resonant voices!

Bade Ustad was more of a philosopher and thinker, while Chhote Ustad assumed the role of a taskmaster. Bade Ustad helped the vocalists to gain deep insights into tantrakari (instrumentalism), while Chhote Ustad taught the gayaki ang (vocalism) to instrumentalists like Bahauddin Dagar (rudra-veena), and Pushparaj Koshthi (surbahar). Strictly adhering to their music, they exposed the students to other art forms as well – including literature, dance and visual arts. All this broadened the students’ horizon. Inspired by the ustads, a culture-starved region became the role-model – a haven for the traditional arts of India.

The rest is history. The very first batch produced world renowned dhrupad exponents like Ramakant Gundecha, Umakant Gundecha and Uday Bhawalkar. Rudra veena exponent Bahauddin Dagar – son of Mohiuddin and nephew of Fariduddin – is a sparkling example of the family’s strong resolve to introduce its next generation to carry on the mantle. The list of the disciples includes names like vocalists Ritwik Sanyal (Varanasi), and Nirmalya Dey (Delhi). Dhrupad will forever remain indebted to the brothers for this great contribution.

To read full story, buy Sruti 347

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Sarada Hoffman
In Rukmini Devi’s footsteps
(Excerpted from the Sruti archives)

“Every Kalakshetra alumnus claims he or she was taught by Rukmini Devi. While that may be true in a broad sense, most of us were Sarada Teacher’s students.” Quite a few senior dancers, from Janardhanan and Balagopalan to Krishnaveni Lakshman and Leela Samson have said this on different occasions. “She taught generations of students the best way of performing Bharatanatyam,” Balagopalan once told this writer, “she was a perfectionist who spared no one until we got every step, every expression, every time. Without her dedication, where would we all be?”

Recipient of the central Sangeet Natak Akademi award, and the Rukmini Devi Award for Excellence by the Centre for Contemporary Culture, Kolkata, Sarada Hoffman was the Madras Music Academy’s choice for the honour of Sangita Kala Acharya in the just concluded season.

All Kalakshetra students between 1945 and 1996 came under the influence of Sarada Hoffman. She is the one teacher said to have imbibed in fullest measure all that Kalakshetra founder Rukmini Devi Arundale knew in Bharatanatyam and passed it on to her students. For over fifty years, soft-spoken but strong-willed Chinna Sarada Teacher served her guru’s cause with self-effacing dedication.

“I was a third generation theosophist. My grandfather, Mahadeva Sastri, had been the head of the library department at the Adyar Library during Annie Besant’s time and my father, M. Krishnan was the first Indian headmaster of the Olcott Memorial School, then called the Olcott Harijan School, much beloved of the children and their parents,” Sarada once reminisced.

“I had been awestruck by Athai’s dance even as a girl of six,” she continued, “when I witnessed her first public performance at the Adyar Theatre inside the Society. She danced beautifully, no doubt under divine influence. I had earlier seen her do the swan dance and straightaway wanted to learn dance. I had even taken part as a five-year old in her production of Light of Asia. Now all of six years old, I asked her to teach me.”

“You are too young,” Rukmini Devi had told Sarada then, promising to start teaching her once she turned ten. “And promptly, on my tenth birthday, in 1939, she sent word for me and started Bharatanatyam lessons for me.”

Rukmini Devi was a fine teacher and great storyteller who had a way with children. Sarada remembers listening to her stories of rishi-s, seated in the Buddhist shrine inside the Theosophical Society. “I was so happy to be with her, and often missed school to watch her learn dance from Meenakshisundaram Pillai. My parents did not object.”

Sarada was barely 14 when she had her arangetram. Unfortunately, Meenakshisundaram Pillai decided to leave Kalakshetra, and Chockalingam Pillai – who taught Sarada and other students – left along with him, very sad to miss Sarada’s arangetram.

To read full story, buy Sruti 293

Monday, 12 June 2017

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Palghat T.S. Mani Iyer (1912-1981)
By Sriram V
(Excerpted from the Sruti archives)

Sometime in the 17th century, a Raja of Palghat is said to have invited many Brahmin families belonging to the Tanjavur region to his principality. They were to inculcate learning and culture in the area. These families settled in 96 villages of Palghat district and greatly enriched the place. Many of their descendants rose to high positions in administration, business and other walks of life. Several shone as musicians. But the man who was to prefix the name of the district to his own name and make it synonymous with percussion was Mani Iyer, the mridanga maestro.

Palghat T.S. Mani Iyer was born on 12th June 1912 at Pazhayanur, Tiruvilvamala Taluk, in Palghat District to Sesham Bhagavatar and Anandambal as their second son. The couple had many children of whom some died early with only two sons (Mani Iyer and a younger brother) and two daughters surviving into adulthood. Sesham Bhagavatar was a vocalist in the Harikatha troupe of Mukkai Sivaramakrishna Bhagavatar, a famous exponent of the art form. Mani was christened Ramaswami at birth— after his grandfather who was a school teacher besides being a good singer.

Destined as it seemed Mani Iyer was to acquire fame in the field of percussion, the forces that control fates could not have selected a better place for his birth. Tiruvilvamala, a village on the southern side of the Bharatapuzha river, was well known for its Panchavadyam performers. ‘Maddalam’ Venkicchan and Konthai were famed practitioners of the percussive arts. Venkicchan was, in particular, greatly celebrated, receiving awards from the Maharajas of Travancore and Cochin and the Zamorin of Calicut. Speaking of Mani’s talents in later years, Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar said that having absorbed the patterns of the maddalam and chendai in his infancy, he incorporated them in his own mridanga playing. Mani Iyer himself later said in an interview that from the age of two, the beats of the percussion instruments used in the neighbouring temple filled his being and entered his heart.

Accompanying Sivaramakrishna Bhagavatar meant frequent visits to Palghat for Sesham Bhagavatar and so the family moved to Kalpathi when Mani was around three or four. Mother Anandambal noticed that it was percussion that attracted Mani as he invariably began jumping when his father sang and the intervals between the jumps were remarkably precise. He also had the habit of producing rhythmic patterns on any available surface. Father Sesham Bhagavatar began scouting around for a good teacher.

The first formal lessons were imparted by Chathapuram Subba Iyer, a well known mridanga vidwan of the area (see box, The Guru-s of Mani Iyer), when Mani was six. He was also sent to a conventional Malayalam school around this time. Within a few months, Mani made rapid progress on the mridanga and his talents were noticed by L.S. Viswanatha Iyer of Alappuzha, an amateur mridangist. Viswanatha Iyer, was known to be an authority on the finer aspects of laya and lent percussion support on the mridanga or khanjira whenever vidwans from the Madras Presidency came to perform at Palghat. He began guiding young Mani on performing in various kalapramana-s and for pallavi-s.

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Thursday, 1 June 2017

Attendance celebrates World Dance Day in Bengaluru

By Manjula Amaresh

The focus of the World Dance Day celebrations organised this year by Attendance on 29 April in Bengaluru, focussed on the Guru Sishya Parampara. In its seventh year now, it was curated and conducted by Ashish Khokar, and hosted by Alliance Francaise, Bengaluru. Several senior gurus and young dance teachers shared their views about the guru-sishya parampara and about the use of gadgets and technology in art. Most were of the view that “Usage of gadgets is both a boon and bane for students. Excessive use of mobile phones and Ipads causes students to fare poorly in class as they lose their memory and concentration. They should use it for constructive purposes only.” Those who participated included veteran guru Radha Sridhar, Padmini Ravi, Vyjayanthi Kashi, Usha Venkateswaran, Vijaya Marthanda, Thunga Krishnamurthy (Yakshagana), Mysore Nagaraj, (Kathak), Madulita Mohapatra, Madhuri Upadhyay, Sampada Nad and Tushar Bhatt.

A film on dance History and Heritage from the Khokar Archives and Doordarshan featuring several famous gurus was screened. Dr. Kanak Rele, Padma Bhushan awardee, Mohini Attam icon and institution builder (Nalanda), was the chief guest. She emphasised on the importance of spreading Indian culture, and said, “In traditional India, the Gurukulam system laid out norms for the relationship between the teacher and student. Students spent extensive time with the guru. If natyacharyas focus on our parampara, like discipline, commitment, dedication and sincerity, naturally, it will flow on to the next generation.” 

The President of Alliance Francaise de Bangalore, Chiranjeev Singh, gave the keynote address. Guru Kanak Rele launched the AttenDANCE 2017, a special issue on the Guru Sishya Parampara, featuring many of India’s gurus and sishyas in the field of dance. The Mohan Khokar Award for Art Writing was presented to S. Janaki, Executive Editor, Sruti, by Kanak Rele. 

The event was presented by Ashish Khokar in a humorous yet effective way.

This was followed by presentations by gurus and their disciples belonging to different dance forms who demonstrated the process involved to train a disciple. It was an attempt to show the process of teaching, creating and choreographing dance.