News & Notes


A national cultural confluence

The Shreshtha Bharat Samskriti Samagam is a unique series of festivals featuring music, dance, drama, folk, tribal arts, puppetry and allied traditions, organised by the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi, under the advice of the Prime Minister, in six directions of India, including smaller cities and towns. The confest is the brainchild of Chairman Shekhar Sen, whose desire it is to celebrate all branches of the performing arts at one venue. Apart from presenting these art forms through performances, seminars were also held wherein paper presentations by scholars of the respective forms were included. These have been documented and will be brought out as a volume for the benefit of future generations.

The mammoth project was launched at Bhubaneswar in Odisha (10-14 July 2018), and its success gave SNA enough impetus to hold the next events in different parts of the country: at Ahmedabad, Gujarat (west) in September 2018; Amritsar, Punjab (north west) in November 2018; Guwahati, Assam (north-east) in December 2018; and Tanjavur in Tamil Nadu (south) from 10 to 14 September 2019. The sixth one will probably be held at Indore in Madhya Pradesh (central India).

The fifth edition of the confluence was held in collaboration with the South Zone Cultural Centre, in Tanjavur—the ancient capital city of the Cholas, where culture flourished. This edition too covered music, dance, drama, folk, tribal arts, puppetry, and allied traditions. The pattern followed was also the same on all five days. The morning sessions, from 10.30 am to 1 pm, were devoted to seminars and discussions by stalwarts, while the evenings were devoted to performances by veterans. The topic for discussion was ‘The past, present, and future scenario of the performing art forms’. Some of the senior musicians who participated were Pushpraj Koshti, Neyveli R. Santhanagopalan, Chitravina N. Ravikiran, Kaivalyakumar, Lalgudi G.J.R. Krishnan, and Neela Ramgopal.

On the second day, stalwarts spoke on folk and tribal arts. Indumati Raman gave a spellbinding talk on the Bhagavata Mela tradition practiced and performed at Melattur on Narasimha Jayanti every year. M.V. Shimhachala Sastry, Harikatha exponent from Andhra Pradesh, presented an erudite and interesting paper on endeavours for the sustenance and development of the art form. Anupama Hoskere from Bengaluru was articulate about the puppet tradition of Karnataka, which encompasses several art forms, and is a rich repository of the social history of the land. Atashi Nanda Goswami spoke of the past, present, and future of glove puppets in West Bengal.

In the evening, there was a shadow puppet show of Karnataka on the theme of Gautama Buddha, to give the audience a taste of puppetry.

Among the speakers on dance were veterans Kanak Rele, who gave a glimpse of her work in the revival of Mohini Attam, and Saroja Vaidyanathan, who spoke about the past, present, and future of Bharatanatyam. Senior Kuchipudi dancer-teacher Vyjayanthi Kashi, traced the history and changing patronage of dance as well as the present scenario, while Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam exponent from Gujarat, Smita Shastri spoke about the evolution of Kuchipudi, the need to preserve, propagate tradition, and called for more interaction between generations.

Zafar Sanjari spoke on Nautanki, and Murari Rai Choudhury from West Bengal spoke on theatre. The topic of drama was taken up again on the last day where Deepak Karanjikar (Maharashtra), K.G. Krishnamurthy (Karnataka), R. Raju (Puduchery), Padamshri Josalkar (Goa), Naresh Chandra Lal (Andaman and Nicobar) and Debasish Mazumdar (West Bengal), gave their valuable inputs. Interestingly, Karanjikar threw light on the history of the Marathi Natya Sangeet tradition.

The performance segment included choral music by the Madras Youth Choir, a Carnatic violin concert by veteran M. Chandrasekharan—both from Tamil Nadu, and Hindustani vocal maestro M. Venkatesh Kumar from Karnataka. Shimhachala Sastry presented Harikatha, Khirod Khakhlari of Assam provided a glimpse into the tribal dance of the Bodos, and Ravi Kumar of Telengana performed Oggu Dolu with his troupe. Legendary T.A.R. Nadi Rao performed the rare poikkaal kuthirai attam (dummy horse dance) along with N. Jeeva Rao of Tamil Nadu.

Jawaharlal Nehru Manipur Dance Academy, headed by Rajdhari K. Jadu Singh, presented a mixed bag of breathtaking pung cholom, dhol cholom, and vasant ras. The team from Kathak Kendra, Delhi, led by senior artist Rajendra Gangani, presented the technique of Kathak in all its aspects.

The Dogri play Ghumayee, directed by Balwant Thakur of Natrang, Jammu, was a poignant presentation about a bride who refuses to blindly bow down to orthodox traditions. Bhasa’s Karnabharam, a Sanskrit play, directed by K.N. Panikkar of Sopanam Institute of Performing Arts and Research Centre, Kerala, was a gem presented with much sensitivity, bringing out the greatness of the protagonist, who in spite of being a brave warrior was led by circumstances to accept defeat. Kathakali was used abundantly in the drama.

Kapila Venu, Director, Natana Kairali Research Training and Performing Centre for Traditional Arts, Irinjalakuda, and an exponent of both Nangiar Koothu and Koodiyattam dramatised Kamsavadham in Koodiyattam style. She narrated the story from Devaki’s point of view and also wove in the navarasa. Since it was held in the open air, with bright electric light outsmarting the glow of the traditional oil lamp, the show was somewhat marred.

Rounding up the Tanjavur Samagam, Aruna Sairam, Vice-Chairman of the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi, said that a common thread runs in all of us even if we hail from different regions. The deeply embedded  impulses are in our genes, though we may not be aware of them. She recalled the importance of the devadasis and the rituals performed by them, as narrated to her by her music guru T. Brinda. In summing up, she said that every art form goes back to the core values in each tradition. Over the years, the stories told cannot remain constant; even if they are reinvented in new forms by new artists, they build character and unite us as one cultural unit.

The Sangeet Natak Akademi and the Department of Culture hope that the Samagam congregations would go a long way in the furtherance of their mission “to strengthen and propagate  all that is living and life-sustaining in India’s culture”.