Mohiniyattam exponent Gopika Varma was conferred the “Nritya Choodamani” title and Bharathanatyam artist Radhika Shurajit the “Aacharya Choodamani” title at the launch of the art and dance festival hosted by Sri Krishna Gana Sabha here on Saturday.

N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu, launched the 55th edition of the festival and conferred the titles on the dancers. The “Nritya Choodamani” title carries a citation and cash prize of Rs. 2 lakh while the “Aacharya Choodamani” title is accompanied by citation and purse of Rs. 1 lakh. The festival, which runs through December and January, also coincides with the 30th ‘Naatya Kala Conference' and the 23rd ‘Pongal Nagaswara Isai Vizha' of the sabha.

Mr. Ram called for a better, systematic and sustained funding support for musicians, dancers and drama artists though it was for the sabhas to work out the remuneration. He also sought more focus on developing infrastructure for staging classical arts.

While urging performers — and sabhas — to be more accommodative of critical appraisal, Mr. Ram said there was at the same time a clear case for criticism of the classical arts with responsibility.

Noting that accessibility of classical arts was as important as patronage, Mr. Ram said combining the pursuit of excellence with efforts to make the arts accessible to larger sections of society was “at the heart of the challenge today.” Offering felicitations, Preetha Reddy, Managing Director, Apollo Hospitals, said the music festival would continue to grow with the support of discerning rasikas of Chennai. Extending support for classical arts was more a responsibility than philanthropy, she said.

Shantha Dhananjayan, Bharathanatyam exponent, provided an overview of the Naatya Kala conference.

Nalli Kuppuswami Chetti, president, Krishna Gana Sabha, introduced the title awardees while Y. Prabhu, Sabha general secretary, read out the citations.

In their acceptance speeches, both dancers acknowledged the motivation provided by the city's discerning connoisseurs in raising the bar of performance. Ms. Gopika Varma said performing in Chennai encouraged an artist like herself to set higher standards. Ms. Shurajit said rasikas were always a driving force for artistic improvement.

A Bharathanatyam performance by Krithika Varsha followed the inaugural ceremony.

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