It is the lack of space that has driven many musicians, music lovers and rasikas to explore far-flung areas. They seem to have taken a bit of their art and its ambience with them too. They have formed sabhas in these peripheral areas.
A few questions were posed to the heads/coordinators of some sabhas – the origins, viability, response, constraints and their plans for the future. All of them spoke with a sense of optimism. The sabhas had a common cause - to form an organisation to promote classical music, as there were no music institutions around and music lovers had to travel to the city spending time, energy and money.
Ramanathan of the NSTSS (Nanganallur) says it was really God's will that prompted the Nanganallur elite to form the sabha 18 years ago. It has been able to raise the level of an ordinary listener to that of a good rasika. Constraints do exist - financial and accommodation - as there are no corporate sponsors. A philanthropist/music-lover has given the premises for free and the immediate need is to look for an alternative place. All the expenses are met by donations from the general public, committee members and a few banks. During aradhana, funds need to be sought, but otherwise there is no major crisis for there is excellent support from the members. The artists also co-operate and have great regard for this institution that is run by a fellow musician.
Padma Sarangapani Cultural Academy operates at Villivakkam and Virugambakkam. Initially at Villivakkam, it had to insist on attendance from the school children, attached to the Academy, but now the sabha is getting better response from the public. This organisation conducts Tyagaraja Aradhana and invites top musicians. In short, an awareness has been created, say Varadan and Srikrishnan. An important aspect of this sabha is the free transport organised during kutcheris. The artists are booked well in advance (May-June) and they can look forward to a well-equipped auditorium at Villivakkam.
For Seetha Narayanan, who is the founder-president of Divyadhwani (Ayanavaram), the sabha came into being 12 years ago mainly to help train her students for the concert stage. The sabha has concentrated on encouraging the not-so-popular artists and prefers that the members pay lifetime subscription. The artists who have performed speak highly of the sabha.
K.R. Saranathan, who is the coordinator for Sri Rama Baktha Jana Sabha of K.K. Nagar, says the sabha was started with the money collected following a door-to-door campaign to celebrate Rama Navami. The president, secretary and other committee members regularly get sponsors during the Season. Most musicians accept their terms and it has been a phenomenal success, with huge attendance. A few popular artists may not figure on the programme sheet – but that does not cause the organisation undue worry.
Thrimoorthi Sangeetha Sabha of Pozhichalur was inaugurated in 2003. Says Krishnamurthy, “At the time of the launch, it had more than 100 members. Now there are more than 200 members. Initially except the premises, nothing else was available. But with the enthusiasm of the people in the area and financial help from the Airport Authorities, it has been able to manage the show. Overseas students of Neyveli Venkatesh, the mridangam vidwan, have helped in installing the audio system here. Venkatesh and Tiruchi Murali are part of this sabha. The membership fee is nominal but financing is mainly from companies which have their base in North India. The spiritual ambience in the premises and the discipline of the audience, enthuse the artists.
Padmavathy Ananthagopalan of Annanagar Music Circle says the objective of her 20-year-old outfit has been achieved to a great extent. “We could do better with more support from the community and sponsors,” she says. To sustain the sabha economically without any permanent sponsor was a challenge and they have had to rely largely on its members. Support from the artists is vital. The sabha is grateful to Chinmaya Vidyalaya Management for giving the hall. The sabha has several feathers to its cap. For instance, honouring the laya segment with an annual award for a percussion artist.
Sathyabama of Shiba Fine Arts Academy (Villivakkam) started with a five-day festival, which went up to seven and then to eight days from 2006. A bank and a philanthropist support the sabha financially. Competitions are conducted to attract the youth.
For Raji Srinivasan of the Gita Nivedana Trust (Nanganallur), the experience of sitting near a musician and listening to him/her is unique. This organisation does not stop with concerts. It has other wings – Vanavil, Ganavarithi, Subodhayam – for specific projects, all for the propagation of music. It also offers scholarships to those who want to pursue music seriously. It does face problems, especially during the rainy season as the stage is under a makeshift shamiana. Now it wants to hold concerts at least once in two months. Above all, the sabha is happy that people living in that area need not travel to the city to listen to an RTP. They have a place closer home.