Sunday, 22 July 2018

Bhagavata Mela at Kalakshetra

Bhagavata mela in Kalakshetra                                                               
 This article is a homage to our dear Peria Sarada teacher. The later generations of students were not fortunate to know her, or the many names mentioned here, but they should remember that they formed the backbone of Kalakshetra and its famous dance -dramas.  
The connection between Kalakshetra and Bhagavata Mela is brought to light by S. Sarada Teacher, in her book, ‘Kalakshetra-Rukmini Devi’ (1985)

(Photo Courtesy Acharya M.R. Krishnamurthy Bengaluru) This rare photo is precious as it shows our senior dancers with Balu Bhagavatar. Standing L-R Dhananjayan, Hombal, Krishnamurthy, Dia (Cambodia) Kneeling- Balagopal and ? Seated on the ground Janardanan.

S. Sarada Teacher or Peria Sarada as she was known was the backbone of Kalakshetra dance-dramas all her active life. Fascinated by Rukmini Devi’s beauty, talent, and vision from the first day she witnessed her historic public performance in 1935, she felt drawn towards those ideals. In her book ‘Kalakshetra-Rukmini Devi’ published in 1985, Sarada teacher gives us a fairly detailed account of the genesis of the dance-dramas from bud to bloom. This is a valuable book as it gives us a ring-side view to the work development of the dance-dramas. Peria Sarada was so dear to all of us and so accessible. She never wore her erudition, seniority, and importance like a chip on her shoulder. She remained modest and unassuming all her life.
I was a frequent visitor to Chennai for the December season for in the 80’s. On every visit I would make it a point to meet G. Sundari teacher and Sarada teacher at the Theosophical Society, Adyar. In 1985, she presented this book to me, with her own signature, making it an invaluable possession.

She graciously agreed to come for my performance of ‘Sumathi Tyagaraja’ at the Rasika Ranjani Sabha at Mylapore and presided as Chairperson in the panel over my Bhagavata Mela lec-dem and presentation at the Krishna Gana Sabha NatyaKala Conference and the Bhagavata Mela  performance at Sri Kabaliswar temple in 1994. Others on the panel were Sri.V.P. Dhananjayan (Convenor of the Conference) and Dr. Arudra.

Natyakala conference 1994 with Dr. Arudra, Sarada teacher, Me and Dhananjayan .Panel discussion after my lec-dem with Bhagavata Mela Artistes.

this book, Sarada teacher has explained how Bhagavata Mela came to Kalakshetra.
In those days when Bhagavata mela was unknown and buried in the deep interiors of Thanjavur, scholars like Mohan Khokar, Dr. V. Raghavan and E. Krishna Iyer wrote about it in newspapers. Sarada came across an article by Mohan Khokar which mentioned the dancer-musician Natesa Iyer, who was

G. Sundari, Sarada Teacher and Kamala Rani attend my performance of 'Sumathi Tyagaraja' in 1990 at Mylapore Rasika Ranjani Sabha.

known for his attempts to revive Bhagavata Mela. She knew both his daughters, Kunjamma and

Kalyani who were childhood friends. She got in touch with the latter and broached the subject of

lending the manuscripts of a few natakams. Kalyani Ammal gave Kalakshetra Natesa Iyer’s

notebooks which had Prahlada Charitram, Usha Parinayam and Markandeya Charitram. As these

 were Grantha script, Venkatrama Sastri, the Telugu Pandit of the Adyar Library wrote them down in

Sanskrit for use at Kalakshetra. Kalyani ammal then taught the Kalakshetra musicians the songs of

Prahlada Charitram and Usha Parinayanam.

E.Krishna Iyer, a dancer and revivalist himself, was instrumental in introducing Rukmini Devi to Sadir and Bhagavata Mela. He suggested that Balu Bhagavatar of Melattur be invited to stay at Kalakshetra and help with the production. He came with his sister, who was his caretaker, and resided on the campus for several months.

Bhagavathar explained that Prahlada Charitram was a sacred natakam and many are rituals associated with it. It was to be performed in a purified environment by hereditary Bhagavatars. The Narasimha mask was worshipped in the temple and cannot be taken out. So, Usha Parinayam was selected.
Balu Bhagavatar and Kalyani Ammal taught them many theermanams from these natakams. “Balu Bhagavatar also taught the traditional method of using the movements, dance-patterns, characterisation”

Pandit Venkatachala Sastri, and Vidwan Thuraiyur Rajagopala Sarma helped in editing of the natakams. In 1970, all these stalwarts were an unforgettable part of our lives.
While composing of Usha Parinayam had begun, Rukmini Devi wanted to compose a short one hour drama and selected Rukmangada  Charitram. The Melattur Guru and Kalyani Ammal “were happy to see this Kalakshetra production, because it brought out the excellences of this type of dance-dramas.”
S.Sarada explains, “ Though Rukmini Devi followed the Bhagavatamela tradition basically in style and pattern when presenting Usha Parinayam…she completely modified the stage presentation., the scenes and the movements and positions of the various characters.”
In 1964, Rukmini Kalyanam was composed and presented. Kalyani Ammal gave the manuscripts and taught the songs. In 1966 when I joined Kalakshetra, the production was on in full speed. Although a fresh student, I was selected for the group dance of the Krishna Sabdam. I distinctly remember Balu Bhagavatar sitting outside the then Kathakali Cottage (opposite the Banyan tree) or watching us during class.
In 1971, the government sponsored the production of Dhruva Charitram to be produced in consultation with Balu Bhagavatar. At this time, Harishchandra was also selected but was found to be too long and as Rukmini Devi reacted by saying ‘it is too distressing to see the burning ghat scene, and the terrible suffering of the king and his wife.’ Dhruva Charitram was performed using the traditional aspects of Bhagavata Mela natakams like Konangi, Ganesha Patra Pravesham and Patra Pravesham of the major characters. Sarada Hoffman (Chinna Sarada) assisted Bhagavatar in the dance compositions.
For more information on Bhagavata Mela, its history, natakams and much more do read my book ‘Bhagavata Mela, My Tryst with Tradition’ published in January this year.

Friday, 13 July 2018

Book Review in Samudhra , Magazine dedicated to Arts

Here is a review of my book Bhagavata Mela My Tryst with Tradition which was published in Samudhra a magazine dedicated to Music, Dance, Drama and Art Cinema. The review is written by the erudite  Dr. Smt. Radha Bhaskar a musician, musicologist and convenor of many events in Chennai. Shri Mudra Bhaskar is a multi faceted personality both Mridangam artiste and Master printer. Thank you so much Samudhra.

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Kalakshetra Shri M. R. Krishnamurthy

In 1966, I joined Kalakshetra after completing a gruelling five-year course under Smt. Uma Devi, an alumna of Kalakshetra. After my arangetram, my teacher insisted that I join Kalakshetra for further training.  Training under her, learning the time-honoured items like the taxing Varnam and Thillana was so perfect that I could perform with my cousin without a rehearsal. When I joined, my initial few months was spent in polishing the posture and the adavus. I became aware of the finer points of eye movements, nuances and delicate flourishes of the wrist and shoulder, and the all important araimandi. I would get back to the ‘mirror’ cottage every afternoon and practice my adavus every day, without rest after lunch break. One afternoon, Kittu Anna as he was fondly addressed, came in wielding his thattukazhi threateningly, or so I thought. From that day for several months he took my class, one to one, encouraging me, explaining the importance of practicing three speeds and so on. His favourite word was ‘inhibition’. He immediately understood that I was timid and anxious to make the grade. He would repeat emphatically, do not have any inhibitions, be bold, you are working so hard, all will end well. I owe so much to Kittu Anna for his kindness, encouragement and the time he gave me.
Professor M. R. Krishnamurthy joined Kalakshetra when he was sixteen years of age with a three-year Government Scholarship under his arm.  Blessed with an impressive personality, he dedicated himself to dance and was trained under Rukmini Devi. He was fortunate to get his foundation for Bharata Natyam, under great teachers like Sarada Hoffman, Smt. Vasantha Vedam, Smt. Jayalakshmi, Pushpa Shankar and Mylapore Gowri Ammal. He learnt Kathakali under the legendary Chandu Panikker Asan. Bhagavata mela Guru Balu Bhagavatar was resident in the campus and trained students like Krishnamurthy, Janardanan, Dhananjayan and Shankar Hombal.
He played major roles in the famous Kalakshetra dance-dramas. As Jatayu, Vibheeshana, and Sugriva in the Ramayana series, Brahmana in Rukmini Kalyanam and Shakuntala are some that come to mind immediately.
Born in 1936, his dance career continued to bloom after he left the institution to establish his own in Bengaluru. ‘Kalakshithi’ is his homage to his Guru Rukmini Devi. He dedicatedly follows all the tenets and values he had imbibed at Kalakshetra. He never wavered from the Kalakshetra Bani and continued to uphold the strict adherence to the technical perfection ingrained in him for decades. He demands the same discipline and perfection from his students. His sister Rukma Narain is the pillar of support for his career and is the backbone of Kalakshithi. The school campus is artistically designed by her and has a beautiful theatre space designed by her. The classy stamp of beauty and refined taste in the d├ęcor is evident everywhere.

The school recently celebrated 25 years and a few contemporary artistes and colleagues were honoured on this occasion.
He has presented his students in various platforms. His choreographic presentations in classic themes like Pancha Kanya, Rasa Vilasa, Gokula Nirgamana, and Akka Mahadevi.
He has been honoured with prestigious awards: Chandana Puraskara (2014), Attendance Rukmini Devi Award (2012), Natya Tapasvi (2001, Karnataka Kalashri(1998)

I met Kittu Anna this year (February 2018) to gift my book Bhagavata Mela My Tryst with Tradition. It was an emotional and nostalgic meeting. My heart was overflowing with gratitude to have trained under such a wonderful teacher.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Navarasa Sadhana by G.Venu

G. Venu is a performer, teacher and scholar of Kutiyattam and a senior disciple of Guru Ammannur Madhava Chakyar. He has devised 'Navarasa Sadhana' module as a transformative process for artistes seeking a deeper insight to the depths and diversity of human emotions. He is Chairman, Natanakairali, Ammannur Chakyar Madhom in Irinjalakuda.

I came across this extremely interesting and informative article by Shri G. Venu on Navarasa Sadhana in the dance website of Dr. Anita Ratnam.  These workshops are conducted by G. Venu, the veteran Kathakali and Kudiyattam artiste and revivalist of Natanakairali, Irinjnalakuda (Kerala) has the theatre world by storm.
The article contains the process of teaching the acting methodology for actors and dancers. Famous actors from cinema and theatre have benefitted from this workshop.
Venu ji has dived in the deep waters of the ocean of abhinaya and found some pearls of wisdom of Bharata’s Natya Sastra. It is an amazing read and I earnestly urge all dancers to read this article. Here is the link.

Way back in 1995, I met him for the first time in an 8-day workshop by Rajeev Sethi and performance organized by N.C.P.A. and its dynamic Director, Vijaya Mehta. I knew about his exhaustive work to revive Kudiyattam and other dying arts of Kerala. I spoke to him about my association with Bhagavata Mela and sought his guidance. The legendary Ammanur Madhava Chakyar was also present.

In 2000, I received an invitation from his institution to participate in a two-month residency workshop on Netra and Hasta Abhinaya. At that time, I was already in the process of bringing Melattur and Mumbai together for the Marathi natakam Sakuntala.

Those two months were educative and opened the horizons of what theatre and dance could achieve. The intensive eye exercises, meeting international artistes like Peter Oskarson besides artistes from China and Japan, infused new meaning into my life as a dancer.

With G. Venu, Niramala Paniker, Tomoe Irino , and Kapila. Kneeling L-R Reiko Irino, Arabella Lyons and flautist Ludwig Pesch at the workshop (2001)

I met his brilliant daughter Kapila whose Nangiar Koothu performances are exquisite and unforgettable. Every single nuance of abhinaya is performed with clarity through her eyes but seated on a wooden stool. She had undergone intensive training from the Guru Ammanur Madhava Chakyar which included exhaustive sessions of eye exercises and memorizing volumes of learning Sanskrit texts.

Ms. Tomoe Irino, a Japanese percussion artiste, also trained regularly in Nangiar Koothu.  Here is a report of the workshop and its content written after the workshop in 2001.

 Unique International Acting Laboratory

Natana Kairali of Irinjalakuda (Thrissur, Kerala) celebrated its silver jubilee year in 2001 with the inauguration of a unique concept -the 'Abhinayakalari'. Japan Foundation with Sanskriti Pravah as its executive agency supports the international Acting Laboratory, first of its kind in India. The Abhinayakalari was inaugurated in September 2000 and the first two- month long workshop on Netra-Abhinaya and Hasta Abhinaya was conducted in December. This project was launched at Natanakairali in association with the Ammannur Chachu Chakyar Smaraka Gurukulam.
Smaraka Gurukulam.
The workshop is the brainchild of G.Venu, Director of Natana Kairali. Venu's research in Kerala's lost arts like puppets, Kutiyattam and Nangiar Koothu has resulted in their glorious revival and has created an international demand for them. His wife, Nirmala Paniker, was going back to the roots of Mohiniyattom when she discovered its close affinity to Nangiar Koothu. For over a decade, she collaborated with Ammannur Madhava Chakyar, the legendary Kutiyattam actor, to reconstruct the lost repertoire of Nangiar Koothu. The immense histrionic potential of these two arts is based on the use of eyes and elaborate hand gestures. The workshop focused on a holistic approach to juxtapose pan- Asian concepts of abhinaya. The dancer-participants and resource masters were selected from all over India and countries like Taiwan, Korea and Japan. The strenuous working schedule began at 7.30 am with Yoga lessons from Swami Hari Om Ananda of UttarKashi. The participants were then introduced to lessons in Kutiyattam (Ammannur Kuttan Asan), Kathakali (Sadanam Krishnan Kutty) Mohiniyattom (Nirmala Paniker) Bharata Natyam (Indu Raman), Le Coq dance Technique (Arabella Lyons), Dun Huang (Jessie Fan Ko) and Kamigata Mai (Keiin Yoshimura). Documentation of eye movement and hand gestures has now enabled the project to enlarge the vocabulary of dance. G. Venu conducted the master classes in eye exercise in front of an oil lamp and with application of ghee in and around the eyes. Senior Kathakali actors like Ananda Sivaram, V.P.Ramakrishna Nair, and Keezhpadam Kumaran Asan spoke extensively about their experiences and shared insights into the traditional eye care and exercise routines. These veterans discussed the Navarasas and their presentation at length. Octogenarian Ammannur Madhava Chakyar elaborated on Shringara Rasa with demonstrations and splendid performances of rare items from the Kutiyattam repertoire. The participants were taken to visit the Tantra Vidya Peetham near Alwaye where K.P.C. Bhattadripad spoke and demonstrated the use of mudras in tantra practice.  A bit of history was introduced by Dr. K.G. Paulose who clarified the process of how Natya became "Attam" in Kerala. The Hindustan Kalari Sangam gave demonstrations of Kalari.  The project Director, G.Venu's vision in planning this workshop was greatly appreciated by visiting payattu and the special oil massage for the face. The most illuminating lectures on Tantra as practiced by them came from this group. In a simplified manner, they explained the SriChakra and its equivalents and significance with relation to our body.

 Dignitaries Tadishi Ogawa and Reiko Irino (Japan), Peter Oskarson (Sweden) Padma Subramanian, Ludwig Pesch, and Vasundhara Doraiswamy. A team from Folkteatern i Gavleborg (Sweden) who are working on the production of a Greek play was invited to study the ancient Sanskrit theatre traditions in India. They were present for the annual festival of Kutiyattam and Nangiar Koothu that took place at the beautiful NatanaKairali auditorium from Dec 1 to 14th. The young dancers of this tradition, Renjith, Rajneesh, Sooraj, Kapila, Aparna, Rajeev and Hari won the admiration of all for their devotion, dedication and performance of an exceedingly demanding tradition. They were also completely in charge of the arrangements of the workshop. In addition to this extravaganza, Venu had invited troupes to perform Pavakoothu (hand Puppets), Tolpavakoothu (Leather shadow puppets who perform Kamba Ramayana) Mudiyettam, Theyyam and Kummatikali (masked dancers). The beauty of the Natankairali campus, the generous and warm hospitality of the hosts and the excellent vegetarian Kerala cuisine made this an unforgettable and wonderful experience for the participants.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Thanjavur Maratha Kings-A Book

Image result for Thanjavur Kings Book

With the blessings of my ancestors…says the author in the introduction to his book “Contributions of the Thanjavur Maratha Kings”. What an ancestry! The author, Prince Pratap Sinh Serfoji Raje Bhosle is a scion of the erstwhile royal Bhosle family of Thanjavur. He is the 14th descendant of King Venkoji (Ekoji I) founder of the Maratha rule at Thanjavur in 1676 CE and 6th descendant of Maharaja Serfoji II the great scholar.

Ekoji was a half-brother of Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and was the first of several great kings who were scholars, authors and supporters of music, dance and drama. Born in 1993, the prince completed his B.Tech (Electronics and Communications Engineering). He quotes Marcus Garvey -A people without the knowledge of their past, history and origin and culture is like a tree without roots. This seems to be his inspiration to delve deep into his family ancestry, preserve antiques, coins, and photographs from their treasury of memories and possessions. He has supported his interest in research activity by completing a course Conservation of Museum, studied Modi and Marathi script at the Saraswati Mahal Library. In his eagerness to share all the information with the fans and friends around the world, he has created a blog, and a Facebook page and Instagram to share images and information about Thanjavur, the history and heritage monuments around the region.

Now Prince Pratap Sinh Serfoji Raje Bhosle is the author of a monumental book of the history of Maratha Kings of Thanjavur. The first edition sold out within a few months and this book, released in December 2017 is the second edition. The information given in this book comes straight from the royal stable which itself is a guarantee of authenticity. We now have access to many details and rare photographs which are made public for the first time.
There is history of Thanjavur and the fourteen great Maratha Rajas, including Shahji I, Chatrapati Shivaji, and Sambhaji who were prominent and others who ruled from 1676 to 1903. A detailed history of the Cholas and Nayaks gives a holistic perspective. A summary of Thanjavur Maratha History beginning 1676 CE from the Inscriptions of Bhosle Vamsa Charitram is an important addition to this book.

There is history of Thanjavur and the twelveMaratha Rajas that ruled till 1903. A detailed history of the Cholas and Nayaks gives a holistic perspective. A summary of Thanjavur Maratha History from the Inscriptions of Bhosle Vamsa Charitram is an important addition to this book

Like his ancestors, Pratap Sinh’s interest in Bharata Natyam, is revealed in his chapters on Devadasi tradition, Natya Sastra and the Karanas. In his direct simple style, the author has made this interesting book easy for readers of all ages but is as invaluable to the historian as the epigraphic inscriptions of ancient kings.

The book would have benefitted with a glossary and an index besides a more vigilant eye on the typos that have crept in.

Shri Pratap Sinh’s book was released at the same time as my book, Bhagavata Mela-My Tryst with Tradition. We got in touch with each other on social media and were excited that the two books on Thanjavur were being released almost together. I have always expressed the fact that our arts and Bhagavata Mela in particular was eternally indebted to these royal families and was thrilled to be in the presence of one such descendant.

I met Shri Pratap Sinh in Chennai at the holy precincts of Sri Kapaliswarar temple in Mylapore. We exchanged books and have been in touch since. He comes across as an enthusiastic, academically inclined, and ambitious historian. I wish this young author success in every project he undertakes, because each book he authors will be an asset to our cultural history.
Follow the author on:
@Pratap_rpb- Instagram, Twitter Website

Friday, 2 March 2018

Respect Bollywood Dancers as Artistes

Respect Bollywood Dancers as Artistes

Image result for Sridevi as dancer

(Representative image taken from the internet)

Somewhere in middle of scores of tributes paid to Sridevi on her sudden and unnatural death, was a note of bitter regret from a dancer that the star’s death made national news for days and that she was given a formal funeral with a tricolour draped on her body.
Will a classical dancer ever get such coverage, ranted the columnist. Dance had never been important to the government, she said. How can you ‘clap Bollywood’?
These unfortunate remarks set me thinking and compare a classical dancer’s career with that of a Bollywood superstar.
Let’s analyse this in parts. Every Padma awardee is an honoured citizen of the country who has contributed to the growth of the country or to its culture in a special way. Hence the government pays homage after death by commissioning an honourable funeral with service and draping the body with the tricolour flag. Elsewhere someone wondered why a filmstar should get military honours which should be reserved only for the servicemen.
Classical dancers in the past have been given national coverage. How can we forget Rukmini Devi who the entire nation paid homage to? Many reports were published on her various achievements as pioneer in dance, revivalist, Prani Mitra, Rajya Sabha Member, Presidential nominee, theosophist, pioneer in education and founder of Kalakshetra. What about Balasaraswati, Sanjukta Panigrahi and more recently Mrinalini Sarabhai? One must reach that level of achievement and respect which these artistes enjoyed to attract national coverage. (But it is true that south Indian musicians never get even a cursory mention in national newspapers.)
The column makes derogatory remarks about Bollywood and places classical dance on a pedestal. How fair is that? Firstly, let us acknowledge the fact that Sridevi is a classically trained dancer. Then, onscreen too she is famous for her dances. Bollywood dances, even item numbers are not easy to perform and filming them requires hours of rehearsals and days to film it under the hot arc lamps and with several ‘takes’. The choreographer and the cinematographer demand perfection. The star dancer must also be adept at various forms and styles be it Indian or western. Most screen dances are done with a group of dancers whose wrong moves too, call for retakes. The steps and movements are different with each film and even for other songs within the film.  
Compare this to a classical dancer’s performance. The good ones spend several hours in rehearsals of items that are taught to them by their gurus and practiced with musicians. They usually settle for one style, either Bharata Natyam, Odissi and Kuchipudi though they learn two or more styles initially. The main items are repeated, and occasionally new themes and concepts are presented. But what goes on in the name of contemporary dance on classical stages? How different is it from Bollywood dances? It can never claim to be framed in strict ‘shastraic’ norms, though it has earned itself a name as a genre.

Sridevi has proved herself as a dancer in classical terms in many southern films. I distinctly remember a duet between Telugu/Tamil actress Banupriya and Sridevi inside a temple (film??). It was brilliant. To mention a few, Revathy, Shobhna, Madhuri Dixit and Aishwarya Rai Bacchan are trained dancers.  Padmini, Vyjayantimala and Waheeda Rehman have performed dances based on classical styles in films.
Sridevi’s talent as an actor is unsurpassed and as actor Vidya Balan once remarked in a television talk show, ‘she is an institution herself, even if you just take her work in Mr. India.’ It is this multi-talented display of angikam, aharyam and vachikam abhinaya that is in full display in films. Classical dancers are not required to sing onstage or spout expressive speech. Most facial expressions are rehearsed and performed in exactly the same way in every item as prescribed by the shastra.
Another stressful factor for a high-profile heroine working in mainstream films in a leading role, is physical appearance. They are expected to maintain their attractive looks caring for their body from their shining hair to the tips of their manicured nails. This puts enormous pressure on their psyche. They workout at the gym, follow a diet and take supplements for health and energy. They are compelled to freeze their facial muscles to earn an extension for their place in the numbers’ game. They cannot afford to injure themselves as their ‘active’ career years are not more than a decade.
Actors like Sridevi, and Madhuri Dixit retired from action for fourteen years to pay full attention to family, marriage and kids. Some, like Nargis, Helen, Sadhna and Vyjayantimala left at the height of their career and never returned to the screen after marriage. Dancer gurus continue to lead an active domestic life parallel to their dance career.
What of the classical dancer? She can begin as a mugdha nayika in her teens and perform well into old age and will be accepted for her talents despite inability to sit down (muzhu mandi), bend the knees (araimandi) or waist or hold the elbows up. How many teachers insist on a round of warm-up exercises before class? Have we not seen young and middle-aged dancers 'rolling' on the stage? Do we chastise students who are unkempt or cannot control their expanding waistline?
The two arts are different. When Balasaraswati was recognised she was already into her mid-forties. Her large physique and heavy build was not pleasant, but the connoisseur and rasika could overlook these physical attributes and see the diamond shining within. Rukmini Devi, too, was in her thirties when she began training. Mrinalini Devi, Sitara Devi, Yamini, Kalanidhi Mami and Chandralekha continued to create fresh concepts and perform. Uma Sharma, Birju Maharaj, Padma Subrahmanian and C. V. Chandrasekhar are in great demand.  Vyjayantimala continues to give full performances and maintains the exacting requirements of classical dances. Should we credit her the discipline and experience of her film career for this miracle?

And to crib that they get paid more or rewarded more for their talents is not acceptable. They set the box-office registers ringing to the benefit of the entire team and the producer. If we classical dancers were so precious, why do organisers treat us so callously and expect us to pay for our own time on the public stage? Why have we not set standards of payment? Can we afford to forgo an opportunity or stage a dharna that dancers must get their due? And, in passing, do we attract an audience? But that is another story.
Being a Bollywood Tollywood Mollywood or Kollywood star is a not a joke. It is an art. In fact, no artist must look upon another art or artiste with condescension. Artistes should come down from their ivory towers, step down from their pedestal and respect others and their arts. 

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Kudiyattam Scholar L.S.Rajagopal


Above- LSRajagopal with RGK. Below: With Writer and Mrs. Lakshmi Gopalakrishnan

RGK aka R. Gopalakrishnan aka R. G. Krishna (the illustrious writer and assistant Editor from the stable of Times of India) invited me to meet his friend L.S. Rajagopalan. We had a wonderfully nostalgic afternoon when the two veterans exchanged memories about music, dancers and musicians.  LSR was an amiable conversationalist and shared some personal incidents about his life.
LSR was born in 1922 at Konnangulam near Guruvayur. He was a student of St. Xavier’s college in Mumbai where eminent journalist M.V. Kamath was a classmate. After graduating in Chemistry, he procured a job in Kemp & Co. as a chemist. Kamath was employed elsewhere and as soon as a vacancy occurred in Kemp & Co, LSR called his friend over to work at a salary of thirty rupees.
The earliest contact with music was when he heard a classical music concert on the radio. While his sister learned the violin, he opted for the flute, which cost the least and required no maintenance. Vishnu Prasad Shirali who played jalatarangam inspired him, so he searched for a teacher who can teach him that instrument.  Another event which inspired him was Uday Shankar’s performance at the Capitol (Mumbai) when he witnessed the dance-drama Man & Machine. with a one-rupee ticket.
 Someone suggested Manohar Barve, a musician who conducted classes at Dadar. When Barve heard he was from Trichur, the first question he asked was , “ How is the King Cobra in the Trichur Zoo? When I went there for a performance I visited the zoo. The head master of Sarkar High School was my host.”
“My father is the headmaster.  You stayed at my house.”, replied an astonished LSR.
Barve could play a hundred instruments and is known to play the violin held behind his back. LSR learnt Tilak Kamod on the flute after unsuccessfully trying out the whimsical jalatarangam. One day, the instructor did not turn up but a young man sitting in his place said he has been deputised to teach that day. After the class, they made their way home together. Their conversation ran something like this:
I didn’t get your name.
Not Ram Marathe, is it? Ha, ha.
Yes, Ram Marathe.
Not Ram Marathe the singer, actor?
Yes, the same.
LSR describes this moment as thrilling and kept him on a high all his life to think he has been learning from Ram Marathe. He continued learning music and explored Carnatic music. He has a letter from Tiger Varadachari who advised him that the best way to learn Carnatic music is to learn as many varnams as you can.
 In 1944, he returned to Thrissur and began a pharmaceutical industry making medicines for rheumatism and filaria.
In 1950, LSR witnessed Koodiyattam for the first time. He remembered a verse from the Tamil epic Silapaddikaram: “His red eyes set forth a thousand ideas.” The red eyes are caused by a seed inserted in the eye to enhance Netra-Abhinaya. After considerable research in Koodiyattam and folk arts, he was considered a scholar who was a mentor for students. LSR was equally highly impressed by the folk and tribal artists who had fine voices perfectly aligned to sruti.
Folk arts need a platform and be accorded a status, he says. “Money can come later. Otherwise we may lose these arts.”

He was fascinated by the music of the Chakyars accompanying the dance. He began to analyse the performances for the swaras (notes) and their arrangement. In 1973, he gave a lecture demonstration on Kudiyattam at the Madras Music Academy with Mani Madhava Chakyar. This gave instant recognition to the art which was till then confined to Kerala.
He is the author of two books on Kudiyattam. His keen interest in Kathakali led him to experimental production of a Kathakali play based on Arunachala Kavi’s Rama Natakam in Tamil.
As a scholar who promoted not only the classical arts but also tribal arts and folk music, he devoted his efforts on his own steam and because of his passion for them.
At the time, I met LSR, I had not witnessed any Koodiyattam recital. When I was in Irinjalakuda in 2001 for a two-month Netra Abhinaya residential workshop, I visited LSR at his home.

Performing artistes of Indian classical and folk art forms were bereaved as L.S. Rajagopal, an eminent scholar and researcher, passed away in Thrissur in 2008 at the age of 86.