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Waiting for their spring

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ROUGH WEATHERLynne Fernandez: `We stopped Habba in 2005 on account of the tsunami. Since then we have not been able to resume it due to a lack of sponsors
ROUGH WEATHERLynne Fernandez: `We stopped Habba in 2005 on account of the tsunami. Since then we have not been able to resume it due to a lack of sponsors

Every art-loving Bangalorean is surely missing the trendsetting dance and music festival Vasantha Habba. Reeling under a fund crunch, it hopes for support to be able to get back

When Protima Bedi was alive a small plaque that hung on the wall at Nrithyagram said: "The Gods danced the day you were born". Somebody gave it to her a long time ago. Perhaps, the Gods renounced the art of rhythm the day she died in the Himalayas. The near empty - Nrithyagram bears eloquent testimony to this. The place that once reverberated with sound of music and dance is now almost deaf-mute. Nrithyagram, which spawned as a brainchild of Odissi dance exponent Protima Bedi on the outskirts of Bangalore, was most famous for its welcoming of the spring season with an annual dance and music feast, Vasantha Habba. Now Nrithyagram is so frail that it is not in a position to celebrate the Habba. Art lovers who have relished performances by some of the greatest dancers of the world under the night sky every year, without an entry fee, now feel deprived. Reason: Lack of funds. Nrithyagaram is craving for attention and nourishment. Gaurima, as Protima was fondly called in Nrithyagram, dreamt of a dance village where all the seven forms of Indian classical dance are taught in the guru-shishya parampara. An abode of dance where young people would master their art guided by the greatest teachers, was her dream. Due to her daunting efforts, a sprawling Nrithyagram rose at Hesaraghatta, a sleepy village 30 kilometres away from Bangalore, in 1990. The greatness is that the students get holistic training for seven years, free of cost. They board and lodge there without paying anything. Protima, who in her own terms used to "falling in sex", had this time fallen in love with dance at Nrithyagram. Dance was alive there in all its glory till she was there as a great guru. Vasantha Habba, another brainchild of Protima started in 1994. One of the most luminous dance events, as The New York Times described it in 1996, the Habba has treated about 25,000 people with the cultural delicacy on the first Saturday of February every year until the killer tsunami hit the country's coastal belt in 2004. The tsunami did not sweep lives off the seashore alone, but also took away Vasntha Habba, the very soul of Nrithyagram. Lynne Fernandez, Managing Trustee of Nrithyagram says: "We stopped Habba in 2005 on account of the tsunami. Since then we have not been able to resume it due to a lack of sponsors." However this time around she is hopeful of getting funds from corporate houses. Some sponsors have already come forward, she says, and if all goes well, the acclaimed performers will dance once more to the tunes of the Habba in March or April.Although Nrithyagaram is crumbling under a financial crunch, teaching has never stopped. Guru Surupa Sen and guru Bijoyini Satpathi have stayed on to carry the icon's ideas forward. Six students are learning with the same earnestness as they did when Protima was around. At present only Odissi is being taught, again due to a shortage of teachers of other forms. Lynne says this problem too shall be addressed in coming days. Efforts are on to resume classes in Mohiniyattam, Kathak and other streams.Protima dreamt of a self sufficient Nrithyagaram. She wanted her students to be self-dependent. Even today, gurus and students toil in the fields on the premises of Nrithyagram, which has 10 acres of land, to grow their own food. They give performances in and around the country that fetch them some money. Regular revenue is flowing in, in the form of visitors and tourists. Isn't the government that supports Bengalooru Habba so approvingly, also responsible to keep the tradition of Vasantha Habba alive? Kannada and Culture Minister H.S. Mahadeva Prasad agrees heartily. He says his government is ready to do anything to conserve heritage centres like the Nrithyagram. He assures that he will look into any proposal that might come forth from Nithyagram. B.V. SHIVA SHANKAR

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