The recent Spic Macay convention in Chennai proved the movement has been growing despite daunting odds over the past decades.

The Spic Macay movement led by the imperturbable Professor Kiran Seth through 37 years of sweat and toil, fighting unending fund crunches, has managed to not just survive but also grow it would seem, amidst situations thwarting aims of educating youth on India’s cultural heritage. Encompassing performance traditions along with disciplines underlying the mystic, subtle and intangible elements of the Indian consciousness, Spic Macay’s integrated programming enters spaces that education has been wary of treading. Comparing Spic Macay’s earlier convention in 1996 at the Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai, to what one witnessed during the week long June 8-14 event 2014, at the same venue, would suffice to assess how the movement has grown. The annual convention has acquired an international status with youth from foreign countries —Afghanistan, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, the U.K., Bangladesh and over 20 students from Pakistan participating.

As collaborators, the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, Delhi, gave this year’s convention an added intellectual input, mounting a most informative photographic exhibition in the auditorium foyer, displaying priceless photographs of Raja Deen Dayal, capturing 18-19th century Hyderabad. Lack of captions for the photographs and generally inadequate publicity led to poorly attended lectures on its activities and IGNCA publications forming source material for scholars working on Indian art themes — pointers for the future of what hopefully will be a long term association. The best part was the screening of archival material with late Ustad Rahimuddin Dagar and late Professor S.K. Saxena in an artist/academic exchange on the ornamentation principles of Dhrupad. The Gurjari Todi rendition with ‘Nirankar/Akar’ mention on one hand and ‘Allah’ on the other underlined the Sufi blend in the Ganga/Jamuna culture.

Dance took on manifold avatars. From the razzle dazzle of Padma Subrahmanyam’s students, green light rays pouring on their brightly costumed bodies, presenting “Ardhanariswara” based on Muttuswami Dikshitar’s kriti in raga Kumudakriya, to the austere classicism of C.V. Chandrasekhar’s “Roopamu Joochi” varnam in Todi, it was varying perspectives one saw. Provoking wonder in the young was what shakti in art enabled senior artists like Padma Subrahmanyam and a near 80-year-old Chandrasekhar to still perform with such passionate involvement? And amazing is the kind of dedication prompting the over 75-year-old Pandit Birju Maharaj perform Kathak with a disabled right foot following a fall just a day earlier! Any doubts on whether Koodiyattam with its highly internalised strength could hold the interest of youth fed on frenetic movement/rhythm speed in most dance forms vanished when Margi Madhu of Thiruvananthapuram’s Nepathya Moozhikkulam took the stage as Hanuman in “Anguliyankam”. There was total silence, till the pulse of the mizhavu percussion by Kalamandalam Ratheesh Bhas and Kalamandalam Manikandan took over. Through the mood/tempo rise and fall, climaxing in the fevered act of Hanuman setting Lanka aflame with his tail as torch, it was an hour and a half of penance through forceful abhinaya and speaking gestures, the persona of the artist ceasing to exist in a creative journey of transformation. Youngsters sitting through (some grownups slunk out of the auditorium) showed a measure of growing art sensitivity. The other powerfully communicative tradition of Ottanthullal by Kalamandalam Mohana Krishnan whose vibrant dance/dialogue narrative was spun around the “Kalyana Sowgandhikam” episode from the Mahabharata had the audience in raptures. Also featured was Bhagavatamela under Sri Natarajan presenting “Mohini Bhasmasura”, with male artistes in stree vesham, the musical accompaniment in sur-faithful, chaste classical Carnatic music being a noteworthy feature.

Bedevilled by muffled dialogue, the “Draupadi Vastrapaharanam” episode by the Terukoothu group of Purisai Sambandam Tambiran held the audience solely through the vibrant energy of the performers.

To just amble through the corridors watching workshop intensives on music, dance and crafts was a heart warming experience, with the infectious zeal of students from different parts. One saw master craftsman conducting classes of innumerable forms of tribal painting from Karnataka, Kalamkari of the Andhra region, Warli tribal painting (Dadra Nagar Haveli), Gond tribal painting, block painting, Patua painting, Pattachitra from West Bengal and Odisha, Rajasthan’s Phad folk painting, Mata Ni Pachedi painting, Sanganeer block painting from Rajasthan and Madhubani with papier mache from Bihar and Cheriyal Scroll painting. Alongside were Tamil Nadu’s terracota pottery, art of drawing kolam, Bandhani tie and dye from Gujarat and exquisite Mughal wood carving from U.P. with delightful samples on display. Sri Sardar Hussein the master in a private exchange expressed anguish at the cheap machine- made imitations from China slowly eating into the vitals of the craftsman’s market. “We pray that in all this trade one wants to enhance with our neighbour, our livelihood is not totally destroyed.”

The intensive on charkha spinning linked with Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings was the first of its kind, deft handed youngsters (one from Pakistan and another from Afghanistan included) learning the tricky art of spinning in double quick time. V.R. Devika Managing Trustee of Aseema Trust, designed the intensive, weaving in daily one-hour lectures. A spirited exchange saw Abdul Rahim from Afghanistan challenging Dr. Swaminathan on growth (which Gandhiji always maintained had to have an inclusive spread) which with modern technology could only be linear. “That we all had a wonderful week of togetherness and learnt much about Gandhiji’s wisdom is great,” said Pakistan’s Mohammad Sameed Ali.

The Kalaripayattu intensive led by Shaji K. John, trained in the northern style of Kalari for ten years, also attracted students from all over. Touching on the spiritual atmosphere in Kalari training, inclusive of all religious persuasions, Shaji, who worked extensively with Chandralekha, remarked “Kalari is not dance, but by improving the body alertness, presence, concentration, Kalari prepares a dancer for his/her creative journey.” Poland’s Karolina, Nita from the U.S., businessman Ravi, Anwar (Pakistan), Linda (Mauritius) were all participants, hoping to continue training.

The Qawwali of the Warsi Brothers Nazeer Ahmed Khan and Naseer Ahmed Khan stole hearts through the poetry of their music based on compositions of Amir Khusrau, Nizamuddin Aulia and Baba Farid and others. “Maula Saleem Chisti” in Ahir Bhairav of “Garm Hava” fame brought down the house. It was not so much any punditry in music,as the volatile energy in the singing that captured, with the audience enthusiastically clapping and joining the performance.

The main music component with numerous manifestations (in intensives and performances) comprised wide representation, led by established greats like violin maestro T.N. Krishnan and classical Thumri specialist from Benares Vidushi Girija Devi. If Vidushi R. Vedavalli’s ragam-taanam-pallavi in raga Shanmukhapriya woven round words “Ananda poornoham bodhoham Satchidananda Shivam” spelt austere Carnatic classicism, it was vintage Hindustani classical one was treated to in Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar’s rendering of Khayal in Kedar (vilambit and dhrupad) followed by the melodious thumri in Khamas “Koyaliyan kooka”. Ravikiran’s robust Chitra veena (occasionally grating violin and too high decibel level detracted) through the Saveri varnam to tillana in Behag evoked audience applause constantly, the riveting, high energy percussion trio providing added spice. A festival high point was the meditative santoor music of Shiv kumar Sharma’s alap, jod and jhala in Bageshri followed by a dhun, evenly matched by Ram Kumar Misra’s tabla subtlety.

Notwithstanding the unfathomable logic of T.M. Krishna’s individualistic concert format, when raga followed raga in quick alap flashes in the prelude to Muttuswami Dikshitar’s ragamalika composition, the fleeting Shankarabharanam and Mohanam, the taanam flourish in Arabhi and the improvised solfa passage in Sama, attained truly sublime levels.

When a fine musician like Vishwa Mohan Bhatt seems to assault the senses with the metallic pounding of his Mohan veena, killing the sweetness of Maru Behag, one wonders if this kind of violent playing is needed to fetch thunderous applause? Should not music also touch the innermost chord in the listener? Is not Spic Macay’s aim to sensitise young minds through culture? To quote poet Radha Mohan Tiwari of Muzaffarnagar, “Ek peher ko gayi Kanhaji tor, pahunchi koi aur thi aur lauti koi aur.” (Going to meet Krishna as one person she returns from the experience a different person.)