Dancer Priyadarsini Govind: The December music season is unique to the city, and the hoary guru-sishya parampara thrives here
Learning the classical arts is an integral part of most children's growing-up years in this culturally-rich city. Even if they do not turn into performing artistes, they become good rasikas. That is why every artiste finds the Chennai audience the most discerning. Known to uphold traditional values in all spheres of life, the guru-sishya method of learning is still practised in this part of India.
In a tech-driven world, skype, podcasts and DVDs are increasingly playing the role of teachers, but the students of classical music and dance here prefer being guided personally by gurus. So, this city can take pride in upholding the guru-sishya parampara. The old-world nattuvanars-cum-gurus were the apostles of different padantaras of Bharatanatyam and composed and choreographed gems that are still performed. They dedicated their lives to teaching, and were the people behind many acclaimed artistes. They have now been replaced by modern performers-cum-teachers, who still nattuvanars keep the padantaras alive and are training youngsters too. Of course, now there is friendly interaction and give-and-take between sishyas and gurus, unlike earlier when students hesitated to ask questions, raise doubts or offer suggestions.
I remember how my guru Swamimalai K Rajaratnam Pillai, who came home to teach, was always relaxed, completely focussed and never ever looked at the watch. So it is with Kalanidhi mami, who has helped me infuse emotion into my dance. According to her, abhinaya extends to life beyond the stage. It's nice to perform in well-equipped, swanky auditoria but nothing can compare to the aura of Chennai's sabhas that briefly transport you into a time zone where art is a way of life and not just a medium of recreation.
Nothing can also replace the joy and satisfaction of watching a music or dance recital at these sabhas that have played a pivotal role in preserving the ancient arts. As a young girl, I would accompany my grandmother to watch maestros perform at the Brahma Gana Sabha, The Music Academy and Krishna Gana Sabha. I have even watched many of acclaimed theatre artiste Manohar's plays at the Mylapore Fine Arts Club; the yellow light from the gas lamps at this sabha added to the mystic appeal of the performances.
Another inimitable feature of the Margazhi festival of the city is the stimulating lecture-demonstrations — a boon for young learners, practitioners and art lovers. The Natya Kala Conferences initiated by the late Yagnaraman at Krishna Gana Sabha still draws artistes and connoisseurs from across the world. Nowhere else can you get to hear and see every nuance or feature of different styles of dance explored and analysed. The December season of music and dance is incomplete without a mention of sabha canteens that are as much a draw as the recitals. Hot pongal, dosai and keeravadai and soulful keeravani, bhairavi and kalyani...it's a perfect jugalbandi!
(As told to Chitra Swaminathan)