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Rediscovering one's roots

Shankara brings urban and rural artistes on the same platform. As its founder Rashme Hegde Gopi says, it is a bridge between artistes and art lovers.

The architecture adds to the scenic surroundings of Shankara

SITUATED AT a comfortable distance from the noise and crammed confines of the City, Shankara is a sprawling countryside setting dotted with unusual architectural spaces and riveting sculptures. It accommodates a crafts mandi, an open-air theatre, a contemporary art studio, and an al-fresco restaurant. Shankara provides infrastructural support to artists in their creative endeavours. But primarily, it is a place where dying dance forms find full play, folk as well as modern artists paint and showcase their work, craftsmen demonstrate their skills, and culture is more than just a word.

The initiative to create this place came from classical dancer Rashme Hegde Gopi, who wanted Shankara to be a perfect confluence of art and life and a bridge between artists and art lovers.

Rashme is a professional dancer whose expertise in this field has earned her the privilege of being the cultural ambassador of India. She has participated in festivals held in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Africa, the erstwhile USSR, and the Eastern Bloc.

In recent years, Rashme has composed a number of ballets among which are Rituchakra, depicting the different seasons through traditional dance forms, Nupura Kaveri, featuring 500 dancers including tribal dancers from Bellegeri, Kodagu, and Yakshagana artists from South Canara. Nupura Kaveri was the inaugural piece at the 1997 National Games.

Omkarini is another ballet, which presents the primordial energy in its different manifestations. Her latest piece is a concord between the visual and philosophical aspects of mystic tantra and the aesthetics of body language.

Wanting to extend her love for dance to other artists and patrons of fine art, she established Rudraksha — a centre for showcasing Indian art, culture, and cuisine — about eight years ago. Rashme converted a farmland plot into a theatre dotted with original stone and terracotta artefacts, which embody the Indian mystique and ambience while taking care to preserve ecological and ethnic balance. At Rudraksha, one can take in the fragrance of the jasmine, hibiscus, and champak blossoms while young artistes perform the dollu, bhootha, maramma pooja, and the somana kunitha. Classical dances such as the Bharathanatya, Kuchipudi, and Mohiniattam performances are staged. Yakshagana the folk theatre from Karnataka and Kalaripayattu, the martial art of Kerala are also performed here.

"When I set up Rudraksha it was initially a theatre and performance space. But when the crowds came in, I wanted to let them enjoy the space in more ways than one. Artisans, fortune-tellers, mehendiwaalis, and home-cooked food let them linger for the entire evening and made Indian folk and rural culture more accessible to foreigners and busy corporates. Shankara, as an expansion of Rudraksha, aims to reach out to more people. The idea was to create an exclusive place for the arts which is more accessible." Or in other words, India in a nutshell.

Though a number of different dance forms are portrayed, Rashme takes care to see that they are delivered to the viewer in their purest form. So one won't find a fusion performance of any kind, keeping each dance form professional and intact.

Despite dance and rural customs being popular with the executive crowds, Rashme felt the need to spread the revival of Indian aesthetics to more than just a select few. With construction having been completed in March and the entire area becoming functional as early as June, Shankara managed a quiet entry into the arts and culture scene. The recently-concluded crafts mela marked the ten days of Dussehra, and was the pioneering project of Hastanjali — the crafts segment of Shankara.

Shanivarasante, which translates to Saturday bazaar, is a weekly effort to promote crafts. It aims at bringing together the urban consumer and the village artist, who might never interact without a space such as Shankara.

The Studio is a place for those who wish to exhibit their works of art. In the past, The Studio served as a space for established as well as amateur artists who worked unrelentingly to create various sculptures, installations, and paintings. The Studio promotes understandable and affordable art, which is pleasing to the eye and is even utilitarian at times. Candlestands, handmade paper, portraits, and wooden furniture all find a place here.

Ranga Guccha is a department of Shankara devoted entirely to children. The workshops and annual summer camp inculcates in them various alternative creative media, in order to nurture their aesthetics in different directions.

Bhoomandala is the open-air performance space at Shankara. They plan to host weekly performances. Bhoomandala has a significant project for this year called Poorva Ranga, which takes on research and the revival of lost performing arts. This year's attention is devoted to Perini — a dance form that vanished along with the warriors of the former Kakateeya. And realising that food is one thing that draws the horde, Rashme has built Nakshatra, a café theatre, where Indian food is served. This is not a commercial space, but a sincere attempt to bring in an idea of a co-operative of women, which might give them ideas to start their own entrepreneurship later on. The ambience of the eatery is warm and hospitable with health food to complement it. While one sits on the periphery of the café, the theatre space in the middle hosts a performance. The café will also have visual arts displayed, making it a feast for one's senses in every sense of the term.

But food for Rashme is secondary. She maintains that it is the roots of Indian culture that sustain her. Shankara can be contacted on 8435133.


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