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Remembering Manna Srinivasan
- Dr. Sunil Kothari
Photos courtesy: India International Centre

April 18, 2012

A memorial meeting was held by Dance Alliance, Asia Pacific Performing Arts Network (APPAN) in collaboration with India International Centre, New Delhi on 12th April 2012 at 6pm in the main auditorium. A large number of scholars, dancers, organizers of cultural institutions, members of IIC and friends of Manna Srinivasan gathered to pay tributes to him. He passed away on 9th March 2012 at New Delhi.

Prof. MGK Menon and Dr. Sunil Kothari

From Chennai, a number of well wishers, scholars, dancers and institutions including Dr. Pappu Venugopal Rao, Secretary of The Music Academy of Madras, Editor in Chief V Ramnarayan and executive editor S Janaki of Sruti monthly (their messages are quoted below), dancers Sudharani Raghupathy, VP Dhananjayan and CV Chandrasekhar had sent warm tributes for Manna Srinivasan's services and selfless attitude.

I came to know Manna in 2006 when I joined Sruti after a 20 year hiatus, to take over as editor from KV Ramanathan. On his visits to Chennai, he and I struck a very pleasant rapport, often walking over to the restaurant next door for a typical south Indian meal on banana leaves. In food as in music, Manna was a true rasika, enjoying the fare and appreciating the service whole heartedly.

Though he was essentially a traditionalist, Manna was always ready to welcome fresh talent and innovation. He was a man of considerable reading and scholarship, though he did not make a show of it. For instance, his knowledge of the history of Tanjavur as a granary of all that's good and great in art and culture was both extensive and intensive. No less impressive was his understanding of the history of the North, in particular various streams of thought and artistic endeavor responsible for its rich and vibrant heritage. He brought enormous energy and enthusiasm as well as academic rigour to the many research projects that he undertook, both out of his own interest and to help other individuals and institutions. He was ever helpful to artists and scholars alike and had an active and questioning mind that illuminated the many interesting discussions we had at Sruti and elsewhere whenever we were closeted together.

Nearly 15 years older than me, I know he did not approve of me addressing him as Mannaji. "Manna will do," he said to me repeatedly in the recent past, though I was never sure if he was not making a facetious reference to Sruti's avoidance of use of honorifics in the way we refer to people in our pages, no matter how eminent. On this and a couple of other issues, Manna did not see eye to eye with some of us at Sruti, and he made no secret of his feelings, but our affection and respect for him did not diminish one bit as a result.

Manna Srinivasan was our window to the North and a friend in fair weather and foul.

V Ramnarayan
(Editor-in-Chief, Sruti)

The Sruti Parivaar mourns the sudden demise of one of its close associates, Manna Srinivasan in Delhi, on 9th March 2012. He was 78. He was a good friend of Founder-editor N Pattabhi Raman, and a tower of strength to Sruti almost since its inception. He served Sruti in many capacities as its Delhi Correspondent and Representative, Contributing Editor and Senior Associate, but his favourite designation was Roving Editor - a role he enjoyed, sending us reports, articles and features from places far and near.

We (especially S Janaki, Sudha Narayanan, and PS Narayanan) remember with fondness and a deep sense of gratitude how Mannaji immediately swung into action when Pattabhi Raman passed away in Chennai in December 2002. He was a pillar of strength willing to lend a helping hand in every way to the team which worked with the Editor-in-Chief at Alapana - the Sruti headquarters. For almost three months, Mannaji would spend every day at Sruti giving moral support and valuable advice, discussing ways to keep the magazine going, suggesting story ideas, networking, and generally trying to help the young Sruti team come to grips with the vacuum created by the death of the father figure and leader that Pattabhi Raman was to them.

Even after Sruti moved into the Sanmar Group premises in 2006, Mannaji would visit the Sruti office whenever he was in Chennai, to share not only his ideas but also his bagful of tasty snacks. There was never a dull moment as he was a man of strong opinions and enjoyed a debate.

Manna Srinivasan shared Sruti's passion about documenting tradition and making it accessible in different ways to the general public. This traditionalist was amazingly tech-savvy. He has played a significant role in paving the way for many Carnatic musicians and Bharatanatyam dancers from the South to present programmes in the Capital and improving their representation in Central cultural bodies. He was ever willing to help artists in need. It is a pity that he worked overtime, at the cost of his own health. But he happily lived life on his own terms.

The Atma of this illustrious son must certainly have become One with the eternal sruti maata and laya pitaa.

S Janaki
(Executive Editor, Sruti)

Rama Vaidyanathan acknowledged guidance she received from Manna for her work on Brihadeeshwara temple and the Varnam she performed. Manna assisted her by giving her all the relevant material. Recently at the Music Academy festival in Chennai, she performed a Tanjore Quartette varnam for which Manna had provided many suggestions. She said that he used to tell her to be happy with whatever she was doing in dance and carry on her good work.

S Kalidas, a disciple of Mallikarjuna Mansoor and a journalist, remembered how when he was barely 15 and was visiting Tanjore, Manna had helped by introducing him to various festivals. Recently when he was there once again, he called Manna to tell him about it and Manna and he met once again sharing so many memories. Because of his catholic interest and love for classical music, be it Carnatic or Hindustani, Manna was there to assist all musicians.

S Kalidas

J Veeraraghavan

S Krishnaswami

Rita Ganguly

J Veeraraghavan, Director of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, New Delhi, S Subramaniamswami of Delhi Tamil Sangam, S Krishnaswami of Shanmukhananda Sangeet Sabha paid glowing tributes to Manna as he had lent his support to the activities of these cultural organizations for the past forty years.

Leela Venkataraman, dance critic of The Hindu, recalled how Manna would go to great lengths to provide information on relatively unknown artists, supplementing it with clippings. Rita Ganguly, wife of Keshav Kothari, former secretary of Sangeet Natak Akademi, acknowledged Manna's assistance in her career at Kalakshetra, when she was studying Kathakali and later on studied Bharatanatyam under Rukmini Devi. She met Keshav Kothari through Manna. After her marriage, she took to learning vocal Hindustani music from Siddheswari Devi and in all her efforts Manna would help her, filling up forms for scholarship and introducing her to cultural organizations. Manna helped Keshav Kothari a lot for multifarious activities of Sangeet Natak Akademi.

Leela Venkataraman

Pt Birju Maharaj

Kathak doyen Pandit Birju Maharaj remembered how Keshav Kothari introduced Manna to him and for so many activities of Sangeet Natak Akademi and Kathak Kendra, Manna always lent support. Jai Chandiram, formerly working in documentation and film making department of Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), spoke as if she was upset with Manna for leaving us like this. Manna had suggested so many projects which she will now have to take up without his help. Manna had an abiding love for documentation and he will be sorely missed, said Jai Chandiram.

Prof. MGK Menon, renowned scientist and former President of IIC, remembered Manna for his services to the IIC, in planning performances, concerts, annual IIC week long celebrations, recent Golden Jubilee celebrations of IIC, organizing rare recitals of musical instruments, in particular of Jalatarang by a South Indian musician, oral history, need for documentation. Though he became member of IIC later on, he was always available for any work at IIC. He had formed New Artists Forum with help of Tarveen Mehra through help of some high official at the company of philanthropist Tatas. Prof. Menon said Manna used to say IIC means auditorium, where artists perform. Innumerable music and dance events at IIC received his total guidance.

Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan could not come as she was unwell. Her message is very moving and I quote it. "We are meeting at a very sad moment. The passing away of Manna Srinivasan is an irreparable loss to the entire community of musicians, dancers, scholars, both in the North and the South. Self effacing, humble, always helpful, altruistic, Manna was a rare human being. His role as a communicator between and amongst artists will be remembered for long. Manna made bridges of communication between South and North in particular, but also other regions of India. He was not only an organizer, a facilitator, a one-man promoter, he was more. He delved deep into the traditions of music and dance, particularly of South India. He knew the villages and the temples, the kutcheris, the vidvans, the sabhas as few would know. He was a mine of information.

Manna Sinivasan was as familiar a figure in Chennai as he was in Delhi. Through his selfless dedication, he was responsible for bringing to light many hitherto unknown traditions as also musicians and dancers. Manna matured as a scholar and documentation person, which is evident in his work with regard to the Brihadeeshwara temple in the IGNCA and his latest direction of the presentation of Rama Vaidyanathan.

I could say more but my heart is heavy because I have had the privilege of knowing Manna Srinivasan for nearly sixty years. I hope Sruti will dedicate a special issue to his memory and I hope that this assembly will find a suitable manner to perpetuate his memory, preferably through an award in his name. I am sorry I am not able to attend this meeting in person, but I am present amongst all of you in spirit. May his soul rest in peace."

Dr. Sunil Kothari is dance historian, scholar, author and a renowned dance critic. He is Vice President of World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific India chapter, based in New Delhi. He is honored by the President of India with Padma Shri, Sangeet Natak Akademi award and Senior Critic Award from Dance Critics Association, NYC. He is a regular contributor to, the roving critic for monthly magazine Sruti and is a contributing editor of Nartanam for the past 11 years.

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