A plethora of cultural events are happening this week across South. If you are around any of these places, take time out for some of these.
The India International Center in Delhi is having its annual festival of arts this week. Called as ‘The IIC Experience’, the fest has a wide range of events put together by the efficient programming team lead by Ramola and Indraini. The star attraction of the festival for me was the event curated by history-enthusiast and writer Pradeep Chakravarthy. ‘India’s Best Kept Secret – Sarasvati Mahal Library, Thanjavur’, is one of the best exhibitions put together on this less-explored slice of Tamil Nadu. The Thanjavur district has always had the reputation of being the cultural hotbed. The rulers of Thanjavur were generous patrons of arts. The library was initially started as the Royal Library of the Nayak kings who ruled between 1535-1675 AD, later found patronage from the Maratha rulers who captured Thanjavur in 1675. Over sixty nine thousand rare books and palm leaf manuscripts of Maharaja Serfoji are housed in this library as of today. It is a researcher’s and historian’s delight to visit this place.
Historian Pradeep Chakravarthy at the exhibition
Pradeep who is the author of ‘Thanjavur- A Cultural History’ has been passionate about this for some time now. After a lot of research, time and effort, he collaborated with the IIC and put up this exhibition. In addition to rare Thanjavur paintings, one can see images of rare palm leaf manuscripts and paper manuscripts in Marathi, Telugu, Sanskrit, Modi Lipi and so forth. Historical details about music and dance in the palace, the famous Devadasis who practiced these art forms, details about the world famous Brihadeeshwara Temple in Thanjavur, ancient maps, gazzetes, chronicles and much more. Pradeep collaborated with ace photographer Satyajit C.P and spent several years researching the rich archives in Thanjavur. Satyajit, himself a trained Bharatanatyam dancer who gave up his active dance career to take to photography has managed to capture some excellent shots of the library and the precious archives in it. The exhibition is on till the November 4 at the IIC. Pradeep’s efforts towards creating awareness about the subject are commendable. While Pradeep says he has no more energy to carry this show to anywhere else, the exhibition is desperately looking for individual or institutional support that can help it tour across the country. A visit to this exhibition is like an intensive course in Thanjavur history and would be of great interest to universities, heritage conservationists and academics alike.
In Bangalore, South India’s largest and easily the best-organized theatre festival is underway at Ranga Shankara. Over the last decade, Ranga Shankara (RS to anyone familiar with it!) has become the one point reference for anything to do with the growth and development of theatre. Under the custodianship of actor Arundhati Nag and her team, RS has put together some of the finest festivals of theatre. This year the theme of the festival ‘Youth Yuga’ explores the works of young directors. The line-up is impressive. The festival opened with Abhishek Majumdar’s play ‘Dweepa’. Abhishek was the first recipient of the ‘Shankar Nag National Award for excellence in theatre last year. Abhishek also opens this year’s Prithvi Theatre festival in Mumbai with his highly acclaimed play ‘Kaumudi. Mohit Takalkar from Pune is yet another name to look out for. His production of Girish Karnad’s ‘Une Pure Shehar Ek’ is the best version of it. His play ‘Main Hoon Yusuf Aur Yeh Hain Mera Bhai’ is a part of the RS fest. NSD graduate Aditee Biswas from Delhi is one of our young dynamic lady directors. She was awarded with the Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskaar from the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi. Her play ‘Illham’ is being staged at the RS fest.Delhi –based director Neel Chaudhuri’s ‘Still And Still Moving’, Quasar Thakore Padamsee’s ‘A Peasant of El Salvador’ and several other exciting plays are a part of this festival. So head to Ranga Shankara and get to watch some great plays directed by the next generation league of India’s most promising theatre directors.
Events at Ranga Shankara
Karnataka celebrated its State formation day on Monday. Every year the Rajyotsava Awards are given to eminent people from various fields. This year one of the winners is Kathak Guru Chitra Venugopal. Hailing from a Konkani Saraswat family, Chitra followed her older sister Maya Rao’s footsteps and trained in Kathak from the legendary Shambu Maharaj of the Lucknow Gharana. She was one of the earliest students of Kathak from South. A stickler to tradition, she is reputed for her uncompromising standards in teaching. Having lived in Delhi for many years, Chitra migrated back to Bangalore and continued to teach Kathak. The national cultural scene connected to Kathak, strangely centered in Delhi, forgot her over time and no national awards came her way. The State honouring her with the Rajyotsava award was long overdue. Better late than never.
Kathak Guru Chitra Venugopal
Andhra Pradesh also celebrated its formation day on November 1. Those of us who love cultural history were in for an unpleasant surprise earlier this week when we got the news of the damage of the famous Hyderabad Residency building. This architectural masterpiece was the brainchild of James Achilles Kirkpatrick, the British Resident, who built it between 1803-1806. Kirkpatrick became enchanted by the courtly culture of Hyderabad and married Khair-un-Nissa, a teenage relative of the Hyderabad prime minister. Kirkpatrick and Khair-un-Nissa’s love story has been written out extensively in several books. First the late historian and playwright Bilkiz Alladin and later in William Dalrymple’s best-selling ‘White Mughals’.
The British Residency at Hyderabad
The Residency and its extensive gardens became the Osmania University College for Women, known as Koti Women's College, in 1949. Since then it has been gradually declining and was in dire need of restoration. After the formation of Telangana state, authorities shunned all responsibility to take care of the place, like many other neglected historical sites. With its collapse last week, we lost out on a precious slice of history, thanks to the sheer negligence of the State. One can only enjoy its past splendor in books and old images. The place desperately needs history-enthusiasts like Pradeep Chakravarthy to revive its memory. Hope the State authorities wake up and realize the best way to celebrate their own heritage is to conserve it.
(Veejay Sai is an award-winning writer, editor and a culture critic. He writes extensively on Indian performing arts, cultural history, food and philosophy. He lives in New Delhi and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Images Courtesy – Veejay Sai, Jagan, Krishnamurthy, Sheetal