A project for the arts

Print edition : February 27, 1999

Samudri, a project launched by the Sruti Foundation in honour of Carnatic music legend M.S. Subbulakshmi and T.S. Sadasivam, seeks to promote and sustain all art forms, especially music and dance.


"THERE is nothing divine or esoteric about music or dance. These are forms of art and they have been ruined by the commercialisation of bhakti and hijacked by Brahmins." This is the anguished voice of Dr. N. Pattabhi Raman, managing trustee of the Sruti Foundation and editor-in-chief of Sruti, a magazine devoted to classical music and dance. The Foundation has launched in Chennai the Subbulakshmi-Sadasivam Music and Dance Resources Institute (Samudri) in order to take music and dance to a wider audience by breaking the barriers created by classical schools.

A unique effort, the Rs.5-crore Samudri project is in honour of the living legend of Carnatic music, M.S. Subbulakshmi, and her late husband,T.S. Sadasivam, who took Carnatic music beyond the borders of India. The 10-year-old idea took concrete shape on September 16, 1997, Subbulakshmi's 81st birthday. Pattabhi Raman says: "Only after spending a lot of time to understand the concept did M.S. agree to lend her name to the research institute." According to Subbulakshmi, Samudri is an important and useful project that has to be encouraged by anyone interested in music and dance.

Pained by the dwindling size of the cutcheri (concert) audience and by the fact that classical music is beyond the reach of most people, Pattabhi Raman, who returned to India after spending 25 years in the United States working with the United Nations Development Programme, started the magazine in 1983. There was scepticism about its future even among well-known musicians, but Sruti, run on a non-profit basis, has not only survived and thrived for 15 years but set its own standards. According to Carnatic vocalist D.K. Pattammal, the establishment of an archive and a library, with the enormous material accumulated by Sruti as the core, is the most significant contribution of Samudri. Bharatanatyam guru P.V. Dhananjayan agrees: "Anyone connected with any form of art should support it."

Sruti was brought under the Sruti Foundation in 1985. This Foundation also set up a Special Projects Division, a Research and Documentation Centre, and a Publication and Audio-visual Division. The work done by these divisions over the past 15 years contributed the core material for Samudri. For instance, the work taken up by the Special Projects Division and the Research and Documentation Centre includes the revival of ragam-thanam-pallavi in concerts, the documentation of the Melattur Bhagavata Mela, an audio-visual documentation of the art of tavil, a study of the Hindustani and Carnatic music systems, an exposition of an all-male dance drama of Tamil Nadu's Thanjavur district, the organising of a national seminar on the traditions of Bharatanatyam and the contributions of E. Krishna Iyer to the renaissance of the dance form. The Publication and Audio-visual Division brought out a series on Balasaraswati's contribution to Bharatanatyam and Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer's contribution to Carnatic music. It has also produced a monograph on Thakur Jaidev Singh.

Sruti has conducted studies on Birju Maharaj and Kathak, Guru Bipin Singh and Manipuri, and also the maestros of mridangam. While material is being collected for a book on ragas, the Foundation is working on a national survey of critiques of music and dance.

Sruti has published hundreds of comprehensive special features on musicians, dancers, musicologists, compilers, gurus, composers, institutions and patrons of music and dance. It has devoted entire issues to maestros such as M.S. Subbulakshmi, D.K. Pattammal, M.L. Vasanthakumari, Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, Kumar Gandharva, Lata Mangeshkar and John Higgins (vocalists); Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu and Mysore T. Chowdiah (violinists); Mysore Doreswamy Iyengar and S. Balachander (veena exponents); Purandaradasa and Papanasam Sivan (composers); and Balasaraswati, Rukmani Devi, Astad Deboo and Chandrabhaga Devi (dancers).

Sruti's seminal work relates to its well-researched articles on topics as varied as the history of Indian music and dance, musical instruments, the Tamil isai movement, the format of Bharatanatyam, cinema and classical music, the concept of pallavi and raga, fusion music, music in China, folk and classical music, and fine arts and foreign students.

With Sruti stabilising with the help of a committed readership of over 80,000 in India and abroad, Pattabhi Raman turned his attention to issues such as preserving different forms of music and dance, dwindling audiences at concerts, the problems of teaching music, the confusion over history and mythology, and the general impression that music is beyond most people. He was especially disturbed by the fact that some forms of music and art were considered more evolved than others, that the roles of some castes and States were considered more important in perpetuating music, that mainstream music was too rigid, and that anything short of classical music was considered impure. Pattabhi Raman wanted to set up a centre that would look into, if not remedy, the situation, and thus Samudri was born.

THE non-profit, non-elitist project has five components. First is an archive and a library of performing arts. The only one of its kind in South India, it will complement and supplement archive elsewhere in the country. It will collate from all over the country material on performing arts dating back to the mid-19th century.

The second is a learning resource centre. It will concentrate on research, development and dissemination of source material for teaching and learning music and dance. The centre plans to bring out authentic versions of renowned composers with critique and demo-recording of renderings: the recordings will indicate the correct notations, splitting of words and so on, but not the mano dharma (alapana, swara kalpana and neraval), the creative part, which is left to the imagination of the singer. It will produce audio packages for comparative listening, analyses of the styles of great musicians and instruction material on voice culture and so on. Material on basic dance postures, abhinaya, adavus and korvais of traditional dance gurus will also be brought out. Another section the centre will focus on is source material on making and maintaining musical instruments.

The teaching and learning of classical music is virtually insulated from developments in folk, film and popular music. The centre therefore aims at clarifying and disseminating the philosophy of music and at linking music education with socio-economic changes.

M.S. Subbulakshmi-N.SRIDHARAN

The third component of the project is a research and documentation centre that focusses on the historical, sociological, economic, developmental and other aspects of the performing arts. It will take up special investigations requiring extensive surveys and field interviews in order to document the evolution of different forms and styles of music and dance through the ages, analyse government policy on arts, bring out the role of corporate support and conduct a national survey on music and dance criticism.

The fourth component of the project is a centre for creative interaction. This would facilitate interaction between musicians; between dancers and their orchestra; among artists and other specialists involved in concerts, such as stage designers, sound amplification managers, light technicians and make-up persons; and among artists and critics, videographers and funding agencies.

The fifth component is a centre for cultural orientation. Using a mini-theatre, it will organise workshops and seminars on various aspects of music and dance for specific target groups - for children, foreign tourists, corporate executives and teachers in India and abroad. A special programme is being designed to get urban youth interested in music.

While Samudri will not produce any material on a commercial basis, programmes and teaching material will be printed or video-taped on request. According to Pattabhi Raman, the primary aim is not to preach but to develop concepts and put things in perspective. "Not only are there no answers for most questions, but the right questions are seldom asked," he said. Thus, children and the youth would be specifically targeted.

Samudri is to be equipped with state-of-the-art scanners, microfiche facilities, computers and so on. The Foundation's video and audio recordings are to be digitised. It is to have a unique storage and retrieval method with 28 location categories for articles, photographs, artists, institutions, art forms, styles and so on. Work has begun on categorising the over 10,000 photographs and the hundreds of research articles available with the Sruti Foundation.

Samudri plans to conduct workshops and seminars outside its premises on request and to help interested people set up such resource centres.

The late T.S. Sadasivam.-N.SRIDHARAN

While all these five centres will work independently, there will be considerable interaction among them. Samudri is to function from a 20,000-square foot building built on 0.6 hectares of land in Siridhavoor, near Mahabalipuram and 40 km from Chennai. The building, work on which has started, is to house the five centres, a large theatre, a photo gallery, hostels, a canteen and guest houses. Samudri will function from the premises of Sruti until the end of next year when its own premises will be ready.

According to Pattabhi Raman, for the success of the project it is important to involve local people. So at least four music, dance and drama programmes are planned every month for the residents of the villages around the Samudri complex; these would feature art forms such as street theatre, folk music and dance, puppetry and film music. Apart from propagating the arts, these programmes will focus on contemporary issues such as communal harmony, child adoption, child labour, dowry, AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) awareness, family planning and importance of education. According to P.V. Krishnamurthy, former Director-General of Doordarshan, it is commendable that such "unfashionable" things as folk music and dance and street plays are to be preserved and disseminated by Samudri.

Samudri is an autonomous wing of the Sruti Foundation. It will not have the advantage of cross-subsidisation and each division will run on a non-profit basis. Funds for the project have been raised mostly from corporate houses: help has also come from the Central and State governments, philanthropists and artists. The endeavour has received encouragement from the Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, and the Music Academy, Chennai.

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