More than seven decades after its inception, RLV’s dream to mould more acclaimed artistes like K. J. Yesudas, its illustrious alumnus, is yet to meet fruition.
Where along the path did this Kalakshetra lose its sting? Departure from the traditional and rigorous mode of teaching and learning music, over emphasis on theory, dilution in admission and evaluation processes seem to have erased the prestige of one of the oldest institutions in the State, which was called Shantiniketan of the South.
Established in 1936 by the erstwhile Cochin Royal family, the R. L.V College of Music and Fine Arts was set up by the then ruler Kerala Varma Mitukan Thampuran and his wife Lekshmikutty Nethyaramma aimed at promoting various forms of art and culture. The college was named Radha Lakshmi Vilasam (based on the name of the ruler’s daughter Radha and wife Lakshmi). The institution was brought under the Kerala government in 1956. It was affiliated to the Mahatma Gandhi University in 1998.
Recalling the rich legacy of the college, noted mridangam exponent and Principal of RLV M. Balasubramoniam pointed out that the main intention of the then royal family was to produce great performers and preserve the glorious tradition of art and culture.
“There were dedicated teachers who showed us the right path. From the initial days of the college, 20 hours out of the total 25 in a week were set aside for practical training. Students watched concerts and used to travel with their masters. The focus was on development of the performing skill of the student,” he said.
Prof. Balasubramoniam said students were then admitted purely on the basis of their capabilities. . “The guru-shishya relationship was very strong. There were no loopholes. All faculty members in those days were great masters in their respective fields. The training was rigorous and utmost importance was given to discipline. Nobody went to class without doing their ‘sadhakam’,” he said.
Re-structuring of courses
Stating that the real downslide started after the re-structuring of the diploma and postgraduate diploma in 1999 as degree and postgraduate courses, Prof. Balasubramoniam said even a student of Kathakali was forced to learn English. “Language should be taught but it should not be the main focus here. Nearly 14 hours out of the total 25 were then devoted for learning of languages and additional languages. The lack of basic foundation became a major problem for students of music. With the introduction of the choice-based credit and semester system, you have now only time for internal assessment and continuous evaluation curtailing the time for practical training ,” he said.
Supporting Prof. Balasubramoniam’s views, Tripunitura Radhakrishnan, noted ghatam artiste and faculty member, said that it was tough to complete the existing syllabus under the choice-based credit and semester system. “Teachers are not getting the time to transform the real skills of the students in the present format. A music college cannot be treated like an arts college, as its priority is to impart practical training. Moreover, our generation’s idea was not to land up in any job but to continue learning music and hence we used to participate in as many stage programmes to step up our talent,” he said.
Abraham Joseph, faculty member of Department of Painting, reminded that majority of the students of the fine arts section enjoyed the advantage of fully concentrating on their area of specialisation, as they do not have the language part. “The Fine Arts department also does not follow the semester system,” he said.
But K. P. Manu, Chairman of the College Union, said that it was natural that students often deviate from their area of study and take up another related field as their career.
“It’s not mandatory that all students should end up as renowned musicians or performers. A music student can become a composer or a writer in his life and there is nothing wrong in it,” he said, reflecting the changing priorities of the new generation of students pursuing academic programmes in music and fine arts.