News & Notes

Bengaluru Round-Up

The summer in Bengaluru has been infamously unprecedented. Thankfully, the arts scene has given audiences and art connoisseurs respite. With a diverse palette to choose from, audiences of varying sensibilities have found a match with art and artists this summer in Bengaluru.

This edition’s event roundup highlights the dynamic shift in the presentation and appreciation of art, exploring how five diverse art forms have transitioned from primarily outdoor or community settings to indoor, air-conditioned proscenium stages. Each art form carries a distinct origin and has undergone a unique evolution to reach its present mode of curation. Although there isn’t a scholarly article detailing the reasons and realities behind the evolution of art spaces, this writer aims to pause and ponder our current position in this ongoing transformation and contemplate its implications for the future.

The Mahindra Percussion Festival, in its second edition, opened to a nearly full house at the grand Prestige Srihari Khoday Centre for Performing Arts over a March weekend. Touted as a ‘platform for diverse unexplored marginalised voices traversing various music genres’, the festival brought together experimental collaborative work in percussion to the forefront. Charu Hariharan’s ensemble opened the festival. Layering traditional rhythmic structures with melodic patterns, Charu presented some of her original tracks before proceeding to present pieces born out of collaboration with the Jenu Kuruba and Kozhikode Nanthalakootam communities and the Girijana Samagra Abhivridhi Kalasamsthe. The technical prowess of the musicians is, without doubt, superior. Beyond that, one does wonder how the aural quality of such music changes when the paradigms of performance change from informal community to formal proscenium spaces, from the largeness of open arenas to the confined prim silence of auditoria. While we must appreciate the intent to integrate rarely heard folk music and mainstream audiences, one hopes that a festival of this magnitude can eventually lead audiences to the outdoors to engage with rustic authenticity- where the music is not confined by state-of-theart equipment.

The festival featured a galaxy of percussion maestros, each bringing with them a unique sensibility that was eagerly lapped up by the audiences. The festival seems to have ticked a few boxes by invigorating audiences and warming them up to what all percussion can offer.

From Southern Bengaluru to the quietly busy Malleswaram, the MES Kalavedi Festival of Dance, curated by Seshadri Iyengar, allowed the Bengaluru audience to experience Yakshagana through the innocent charms of the Junior Ensemble of Yakshakala Academy. Yakshagana, a traditional regional art form, has undergone significant changes over the decades. Performances have shifted from all-night events to just an hour, prompting content adjustments and a shift in performance intent. Despite an increase in female students and other changes, Yakshagana continues to evolve while retaining its timeless relevance and offering solace.

Yakshakala Academy presented some young talent under the steering guidance of senior Academy members and Krishnamurthy Tunga – FounderDirector of the Academy. Tracing the story of Vrishasena, the warrior son of Karna from the Mahabharata, the artists wove the past and present subtly. One often hears artists of various genres of dance claiming to present ‘rare’ stories. If only they looked more keenly at these theatrical genres that have - for several generations - presented elaborate retellings of the same rare stories with brilliance and tongue-in-cheek wit. Yakshakala Academy has some promising talent that is bound to blossom in this tradition. In an age where local languages are ignored in daily transactions, thankfully for these art forms that have retained the need to converse in Kannada, one retains the ability to think in the language, express in the language and thereby access an indigenous reality that is not too distorted.

Yakshagana was followed by Avijit Das’s sprightly performance in Kuchipudi. Accompanied by live musicians, Avijit presented three pieces choreographed with a keen eye on the aesthetics of Kuchipudi. Kuchipudi is no new entrant to the proscenium. Content within the idiom has been enormous and diverse for decades, with the venerable masters leading the way and several practitioners following suit. Avijit, too, in his capacity, brings a fresh perspective to storytelling in Kuchipudi. A plea by Bhooma Devi to Vishnu to protect her from Hiranyaksha was incorporated in a ‘story within storyline’ - featuring Gajendra Moksham and other anecdotes from the Puranas.

He presented ‘Gopala Krishna’ through the popular Chitike vesithe and ‘Balakrishna’ through the evergreen Krishna Nee Begane Baro in Nanda’s voice. In all three pieces, Avijit presented Kuchipudi with much restraint and classicism. Does the journey of dramatics in this idiom reflect the evolving urbane aesthetic eye for restraint and minimalism? We could discuss, debate, deliberate, or simply experience it.

Piyush Chauhan and Sweekruth BP (Kathak), Janki DV, Anand CS, Lavanya Ananth (Bharatanatyam), Gopika Varma (Mohini Attam) and Usha Datar ( Mohini Attam, Kuchipudi and Kathakali) were also featured on the third day of festival held at MES College Auditorium. Guru Usha Datar was felicitated with the Kalavedi award.

A Harikatha performance by Sharat R. Prabhat on a sultry Sunday evening in May 2024 transported the audience to Ayodhya- through the eyes of Bharata – eagerly waiting for Rama’s return from his exile in the forest.

Written originally by his grandfather, Gopinath Das, Bharata Bandu Prema has been adapted by Sharat to suit his vision and audience. Much like in older performances by his predecessors, Sharat had the audience in tears as they ‘saw’ the descent of the pushpaka vimana and Rama reuniting with his beloved Bharata. Harikatha exponents excel at singing, dancing and dramatised spoken words. However, instead of overemphasising the technical qualities of any of these art forms, they place the story at the altar. It is probably this quality of surrender beyond human excellence that transports the audience.

Today, Harikatha has morphed versions in English and has presented at elite gatherings, conferences, festivals, and air-conditioned auditoria. While that could be a hook to attract audiences, the colonial hangover of English storytelling should eventually give way to Harikatha in all its glory.  

All of these art forms may have travelled into the auditoria for audience comfort today. Hopefully, we gain the wisdom to look beyond the façade of material comfort into the rustic authenticity of these art forms and their roots – our commune.


(Bharatanatyam dancer and freelance writer)