Short and Sweet! 
- A Seshan, Mumbai 

December 3, 2004

Sur Singar Samsad is one of the leading institutions in Mumbai devoted to the promotion of Indian music and dance through the arrangement of programmes of both senior and junior artistes and conferring honours on the eminent ones. The Award entitled Nritya Vilas for dancers was given to Sitara Devi (Kathak) and Balasaraswati (Bharatanatyam) in the very first year of its inception (1971). Artistes consider it prestigious to perform on its platform. Its annual series, the Swami Haridas Sangeet Sammelan and Kal-ke-Kalakar concerts were looked forward to with eagerness in the past by both artistes and audiences alike. Unfortunately, in the recent years, the events organised by the institution have not been able to attract large-size audiences of the type one saw in the sixties and seventies of the last century. This year’s series was held November 21 through 29 with a number of young artistes participating. There were 56 performances (including some duets) spread over 9 days, each day having 5 to 7 of them between 6.30 p.m. and 10 p.m. As a result, an artiste could not dance for more than 30 minutes. 

Vidhya Mani of Kanaka Sabha Performing Arts, a well-known institution in North Mumbai devoted to the propagation of Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi under the guidance of Saroja Srinath and Siri Rama, performed on November 28, 2004. Keeping the limited time in view, Vidhya had chosen the items thoughtfully in consultation with her guru, who had choreographed them. As a result, she could provide total satisfaction to the audience in terms of bringing out the finer nuances of Bharatanatyam. 

The programme started with Ganesh Stuti in Gowlai and Adi.  The song “Ananda Natanam” in Tamil is a composition of Madurai Muralidharan. Nartana Ganapati, one of the manifold aspects of the popular god, was explored with a good understanding of the lyric, which portrays the Lord as one who gives joy, removes obstacles and is praised by the gods.  It was followed by “Neene Anatha Bandhu”, a Purandaradas kriti in Kannada in Gurjari Todi set to Adi. It was performed as a padam. The song recalls the episode of Gajendra Moksham – the rescue of the elephant devotee by Lord Vishnu from the jaws of a crocodile. Vidhya’s entry on the stage was dramatic with her arms stretched upwards in a mood of appeal to the Lord presaging what was to come later. Some elegant sanchari-s  were cleverly woven into the movements. The stayibhava of bhakti sringara tinged with pathos was well established right from the beginning of the song.  In view of the audience belonging to different linguistic groups, the third item was the popular song “Jaya Ganga” in Marathi borrowed from the Natya Sangeet repertoire. The penance of Bhagirath to bring the Ganges from the heaven to the earth, his prayer to Siva to control the fury of the floods and the Lord sublimating Ganga in his matted locks were all depicted with finesse. It provided also an occasion to portray Siva as Nataraja in his popular stance. The last item, a Tillana in Sama and Adi, was a surprise. A composition of the late scholar and musicologist Prof V Subramaniam, it had Lord Buddha as the subject. He is praised as the one who established Buddha Dharma. It was offered by the  dancer to him as an embodiment of compassion. 

To sum up, it was a short and sweet performance. The recorded music was of the high standard that one has come to associate with the Sabha. The sound system was mercifully not loud. Endowed with a petite and pleasing personality, Vidhya exudes charm and projects the image of a natural-born dancer. The stamp of Kanaka Sabha, in which she studied and where she teaches, was evident in every aspect of her performance - be it the faultless footwork or the authentic adavu-s with handsome hastamudra-s. However, although full of joy, Vidhya was somewhat restrained in some of the technical aspects like utplavana for which she is known to the Mumbai critics.  Young, in her twenties, she is already a senior artiste in her own right having performed both in India and abroad for more than a decade in solo and group dances and training youngsters in Bharatanatyam. One hopes that the Samsad will find an opportunity for her to perform a full-fledged programme so that she could show her talents in various departments of the art form adequately. 

It should also find out ways of publicising its events. As a result of lack of publicity, there were not many people in the auditorium of the University Club. It could plan to hold its future concerts in the suburbs to facilitate attendance by more rasika-s. The University Club, though situated conveniently close to the Churchgate terminus of the Western Railway, is at one end of the Mumbai island. It is a deterrent to many office-goers who live in the suburbs at the other end and commute to the downtown on working days. Travelling long distance by trains on a Sunday or a holiday to attend a cultural show is not a welcome prospect for those who feel tired of the journey on other days of the week. The Samsad is planning to celebrate the 50th Swami Haridas Sangeet Sammelan in 2005 on a grand scale with 50 days of music and dance in many cities all over India. The planning of the event should be the occasion to give some thought to the question of attracting audiences. 

The author, a former Officer-in-Charge of the Department of Economic Analysis and Policy of the Reserve Bank of India, Mumbai, is a music and dance enthusiast.