Wings of Fire - Ignition Stage One!
- Harish Jayanth and Sumant Nemmani

August 8, 2016

The very first edition of ‘Wings of Fire’ dance festival (July 27 and 28, 2016 at Bangalore), paying tribute to our late beloved President, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, was flagged off by an inaugural speech by Dr. Padmaja Suresh, the founder of Aatmalaya Trust, reminiscing her moments with Dr. Kalam at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in the year 2007. The dignitaries on the dais, Dr. Kalpana Sampath and Dr. Raman Soundararajan, made a brief welcome address and drew a picture of how Dr. Kalam left a massive impression on all of us as the simplistic and saint-like man that he was. The very celebration of this festival as a tribute to him was a testimony to this fact.

The audience, which was comprised of avid proponents of dance, then watched Aparajita Sharma and troupe from Delhi, begin the day’s dance performances, by artistically displaying famous quotes of Dr. Kalam, in a very creative manner. This was followed by two other performances by Nritya Prerana group and Amruthavarshini Ensemble, from Pune and Bengaluru respectively.

“Folk and temple arts have enriched the artistic and cultural values in our lives since time immemorial”- the guests of honour opened with these words and indeed Aatmalaya Trust recognized this fact, identifying three senior artistes from rural backgrounds, and awarded a sum of Rs. 25,000 each, in appreciation of their contributions to their respective art forms. Along with the cash awards, the artistes were presented with a silver coin, whose value was much greater than that of the silver alone - heightened by the engraving of Dr. Kalam’s face on it.  Peruvadi Narayana Bhat, a Yakshagana artist from Puttur, received the award in memory of late Justice K. Jagannath Shetty; Chakyar Koothu Rajan Memorial Award, in memory of the legendary Chakyar Koothu artist, was given to K. Vishwanathan, a senior performer of ritual and temple art from Kerala, and S. Rajalakshmi Memorial Award was presented to Gulabi Ajalti Balili, a Tulu folk singer whose folk songs have been published in the Tulu Janapada Haadu compilation. The award ceremony was presided over by Chief Guest, Justice K.R. Shriram and the guests of honour Dr. C.M. Neelakandhan, Dr. A.V. Anoop and Sulochana Saralaya, who then addressed the gathering, expressing their congratulations to Padmaja and team for putting up an event of such significance, lauding it as a milestone in the work of Aatmalaya.

The evening was marked by dance performances by professional dancers from different parts of the country, representing various dance forms. Excellent dance pieces by Uma B. Ramesh, Madhur Gupta, Maya G. Shivakumar and Padmaja Suresh herself, depicting excerpts from Mahabharata, Ramayana, Kumarasambhavam and Soundarya Lahiri to state a few, took everyone to a state of trance through their graceful and impeccable performances. The day was concluded by a beautifully conceptualized and choreographed dance performance by Dr. Uma Rele and group from Nalanda University, Mumbai.

The second day began on an auspicious note with the invocation song in the Sri Vidya and Chakra music form, sung by Charumati Nagarajan and Shivashankari. Following this, were performances by dancers from across the nation, with artistes from Delhi, Bangalore, Pune and Kolkata paying homage through their respective art forms.  Devika Rajaram, Kshitija Kasaravalli, Prabal Gupta and Sanchaita Munshi Saha gave individual performances, each with their own tribute to Dr. Kalam’s life and thoughts. Shubhangi Litke from Pune, choreographed a piece based on the great soul’s thoughts. An entire story was narrated in her dance but not a word was spoken.

Another uplifting fact was seeing children from different schools in the city enthralling the audience with dance performances on both the days. A few students from class 9 and 10 then gave eloquent speeches on the book ‘Ignited Minds’ written by the missile man himself. 

The second half of the day began with a talk by Swami Muktananda from Anandashram, Kanhangad. Swamiji spoke about how education serves to expand our thinking from “me to we.” Quoting lucid examples from everyday life, he disserted the importance of thinking beyond “for me” and how the world has come thus far in all walks of life, only because of the presence of this thinking. He also touched upon his experiences with Dr. Kalam, describing him as “someone whose mind is fully occupied with the rest of god’s creation.” He ended the talk on an introspective note: “The sense of otherness sets limits to the illimitable.” This festival addresses this very fact through its undertakings and mission.

The chief guest for the second half of the day was Guru K. Kalyanasundaram, Director of Sri Rajarajeshwari Bharatanatya Kalamandir, Mumbai, who is Padmaja’s guru. Stunning performances followed the felicitation of the dignitaries, by Tharangini School of Dance from Chennai, Sonalika Padhi from Bangalore, Dr. Ranjani Ganesan Ramesh and Daksha Swaminathan from Mumbai followed by Janani Murali from Bangalore. Every one of them brought a unique element to the festival and captivated the audience with their varying styles and genres of dance.

The grand finale to day two was the performance by Shruti and Sivakami from Mumbai, who are the granddaughters of Guru K. Kalyanasundaram himself. They performed 3 dances, beginning with a salutation to Goddess Saraswathi in a tribute to Dr. Kalam, followed by a rendition of an introspective song written by Dr. Kalam titled “Where are we heading?” and concluding with the theme, “The soul cannot be broken. It is eternal.”

A resounding motto among the dignitaries, guests and participants of the festival was to adopt at least one noble quality of Dr. Kalam, and imbibe it into our own lives. There is no greater homage that can be paid to the great soul. This is a personal learning that we as the authors also took, from these two wonderful days. To sum the festival up, a quote from the book ‘Wings of Fire’ by Dr. Kalam is only too fitting. “We are all born with a divine fire in us. Our efforts should be to give wings to this fire and fill the world with the glow of its goodness.”  Padmaja Suresh through Aatmalaya has succeeded in fulfilling the purpose of this festival, in her maiden endeavour.

Wings of Fire is proposed to be a five year (vision 2020) festival with emphasis on value based classical dance performances by reputed artistes, school children and awards to senior rural artistes.

Harish Jayanth and Sumant Nemmani, are musicians and art enthusiasts who grew up listening to classical music and rock ‘n’ roll on the same playlist - viewing life through the looking glass of technology and more.