Tag Archives: India

Balasaraswati and bharata nāṭyam

T. Balasaraswati (1918–84), a dancer and musician from southern India, became recognized worldwide as one of the great performing artists of the twentieth century. In India she was a legend in her own time, acclaimed before she was 30 years old as the greatest living dancer of traditional bharata nāṭyam.

Balasaraswati was a passionate revolutionary, an entirely modern artist whose impact was proclaimed by some of the most prominent figures in contemporary dance in India and the West. Her art and life defined the heart of a tradition, and her life story offers an extraordinary view of the enigmatic matrilineal devadāsī community and traditional artistic practice from which modern South Indian dance styles have emerged.

This according to Balasaraswati: Her art and life by Douglas M. Knight (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2010).

Today is Balasaraswati’s 100th birthday! Below, a 30-minute film about her by Satyajit Ray.

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Ananthalakshmi Sadagopan

As a small child, Ananthalakshmi Sadagopan proved able to reproduce songs after hearing them once, and she could recognize individual rāgas when she was three years old.

As word of this talented child spread, a neighbor arranged for her to study Karnatak music. She gave her first full-length concert when she was 11; the next year she performed on All India Radio, and soon she had a contract for regular broadcasts.

While she enjoyed a successful career, she never pushed for stardom—she was content to earn the respect of her colleagues and maintain an unstressful schedule as a performer and teacher. One of the pioneering career women in Karnatak music, she also demonstrated the possibility of leading a full family life at the same time.

This according to “Ananthalakshmi Sadagopan: A lifetime of music” by Sriram Venkatakrishnan (Sruti 266 [November 2006] pp. 33–45).

Today would have been Ananthalakshmi Sadagopan’s 90th birthday! Below, a recording from her heyday.

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Konakkoḷ in pedagogy and performance

Konakkoḷ is an important part of the Karnatak music curriculum in South India. The unique aspect of this pedagogical tool is that it is also a performance medium on its own. Classical concerts in India have featured a konakkoḷ soloist performing a vocal percussion solo in the same way that a jazz concert may feature a drum solo.

Konakkoḷ is appealing in its beauty and allows students to express their musical rhythms in performance tempo (even when it is very fast). This relates directly to how music is felt internally by a performer and is precisely why it is of great use in Western music education.

This according to “South Indian konnakkol in Western musicianship teaching” by Tony Tek Kay Makarome (Malaysian music journal V/1 [2016] pp. 37–52). Above, Trichy R. Thayumanavar, a renowned konakkoḷ performer; below, a demonstration.

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Palghat Raghu finds a teacher

In a 1995 interview, Palghat R. Raghu recalled how he became a disciple of the legendary Palghat T.S. Mani Iyer.

“I was born in Rangoon. My grandfather was a self-made musician and in the locality he was known as Rangoon Radhakrishna Iyer. I was fond of drumming on biscuit tins for rhythm. [A relative] who came to our house presented me with a small mṛdaṅgam. It was a slow progress.”

“[A friend] suggested that I should have the guidance of Palghat Mani Iyer. So we shifted to Palghat. But Mani Iyer did not accept me as a disciple at our first meeting. My grandfather told him beseechingly, ‘We want to entrust Raghu in your hands. The boy is eager to learn from you.’ There was no encouraging response from Mani Iyer.”

“Two or three days we visited his house expecting a favorable reply; but no word of acceptance from Mani Iyer. It was here I found the hand of God coming to my rescue. One day when we were waiting in Mani Iyer’s residence, a close friend of his came there with a vessel of halwa and gave a piece to me and told Mani Iyer ‘Mani, this boy plays exceedingly well. I have heard him.’ That settled it. Mani Iyer asked me to come every day for lessons.”

Quoted in “Challenges brought out his best” by S.V. Krishnamurthy, an article included in The Hindu speaks on music (Chennai: Kasturi & Sons, 1999, pp. 245–47).

Today would have been Palghat Raghu’s 90th birthday! Above and below, the master in his element.

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The Dancing Queens of Mumbai

For many Indian hijras—a casteless and classless queer minority—badhais (ritualistic music and dance) are the only available means of revenue aside from sex work and bar dance; this has been the practical reality for hijras for nearly two centuries of legal persecution.

While the current reality does not bode well for the continuation of hijra badhais as we once knew them, newly emerging transgender ensembles like Mumbai’s Dancing Queens are introducing new possibilities for hijra performativity and empowerment.

Established within a reconstituted urban Indian context, new adaptive strategies are predicated on the exchange of devalued ways of encoding hijra difference for updated, modern ones based upon the distinctly LGBTIQ discourse of pehchān (acknowledgement of the self, or identity). The Dancing Queens’s staging of pehchān empowers hijras through a global transgender lexicon while simultaneously renewing particular preexisting performance repertoires of homo-sociality.

This according to “The Dancing Queens: Negotiating hijra pehchān from India’s streets onto the global stage” by Jeff Roy (Ethnomusicology review XX [2015] pp. 69–91). This journal, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.

Above and below, the Dancing Queens in action.

BONUS: Ready for more? Here’s a full performance.

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Indian theatre journal

Launched by Intellect in 2017, Indian theatre journal (ISSN 2059-0660) is the first international journal on Indian dramatic arts.

ITJ is committed to publishing a wide range of critical and scholarly approaches to various aspects of Indian theater and performance in their social, political, cultural, economic, and diasporic contexts through academic essays, plays, production reviews, interviews, and performance events.

The journal brings together current intellectual debates and artistic practices in theater, dance, music, arts, aesthetics, and culture, illuminating the wider context of the confluences and correspondences between philosophy, performance, and culture in India.

This double-blind peer-reviewed journal creates an international platform for scholars, critics, playwrights, actors, and directors for presenting their work through cutting-edge research and innovative performance practice. In addition, ITJ explores recent developments in intercultural theater, theater anthropology, performance studies, and the Indian and South Asian diaspora across the globe.

Below, an excerpt including music and dance from Rabindranath Tagore’s Phālgunī, a work discussed in ITJ’s first issue.

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M.S. Subbulakshmi breaks the glass ceiling

m-s-subbulakshmi

In January 1964 Smt. M.S. Subbulakshmi, along with other eminent women Karnatak vocalists, boldly gate-crashed the uñcavritti and pañca ratna groups at the annual Tyāgarāja ārādhana, in which women had not previously been permitted to perform, opening the floodgates for women’s full participation in the future.

The Madras newspaper Hindu, in its coverage of that year’s festival, printed a large photo showing the women participating in the uñcavritti procession with a caption saying simply, “Prominent musicians, including . . . M.S. Subbulakshmi, taking part in the uñcavritti bhajan procession”.

In an accompanying article, Hindu’s (male) correspondent wrote matter-of-factly that women musicians had joined the uñcavritti bhajana and had taken part in the singing of the pañcaratna kriti compositions, without commenting on the fact that this was the first time in history that they had done so.

This according to “The social organization of music and musicians: Southern area” by T. Sankaran and Matthew Allen (The Garland encyclopedia of world music V, pp. 383–396); this encyclopedia is one of many resources included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.

Today would have been Subbulakshmi’s 100th birthday! Below, Bhaja Govindam, a song similar to those that Mahatma Gandhi requested from her.

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Humor in kūṭiyāṭṭam

kūṭiyāṭṭam

While the Kerala dance-drama kūṭiyāṭṭam focuses on weighty episodes from the venerable Indian epics, its performance affords a number of occasions for humor outside of the stock buffoon character of the vidūśaka, who provides narration in Malayalam and jokes directly with the audience.

Some comic moments are produced in the classical Sanskrit texts by the characters of maids, doctors, and so on, but other verbal and physical comedy has been interpolated into the tradition by the performers representing monkeys, demons, madmen, drunks, sweepers, soldiers, and gardeners.

This according to “Comic relief by non-vidūśaka characters in kūṭiyāṭṭam” by L.S. Rajagopalan, an article included in Living traditions of Nāṭyaśāstra (Dilli: New Bharatiya Book Corporation, 2002) pp. 123–127).

Below, an uncostumed kūṭiyāṭṭam dancer demonstrates some monkey moves.

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Bismillah Khan and Varanasi

Bismillah-khan

The renowned Hindustani śahnāī player Bismillah Khan lived in Varanasi for all of his adult life, and never wanted to leave the city even for a day—for example, complicated negotiations were required to persuade him to travel to Eluru to receive a prestigious award.

An American patron once invited him to come and live in California, but he replied that he could not bring himself to leave his beloved house. When the patron offered to build him an identical house and create a similar neighborhood, Khan asked him whether he could also bring the Ganges River!

This according to “The legend that was Bismillah Khan” by Pappu Venugopala Rao (Sruti 264 [September 2006] pp. 20–21).

Today would have been Bismillah Khan’s 100th birthday! Below, a live performance; can anyone help us to date it?

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N. Ramani, maestro of many jubilees

ramani

Natesan Ramani performed his debut seven decades ago. He has spent six decades as a soloist, five decades as a globetrotting star, four decades as a top-ranked performer and teacher, three decades as an academic, and two decades as an elder of the Karnatak music community.

This according to “N. Ramani: A front-rank flutist” by Manna Srinivasan (Sruti 223 [April 2003] pp. 21–29)—except that we have added one decade to each category in honor of his 80th birthday!

Below, Ramani performs Muttusvāmi Dīkṣitar’s Mahā Gaṇapati, a song in praise of the elephant-headed god also known as Ganesh.

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