History & Culture

Culture in progress

Harikatha exponent Visaka Hari. Photo: K.V. Srinivasan   | Photo Credit: K_V_Srinivasan

What strikes you is the nine-yards drape over a frail figure; what shocks you is the impeccable English and what draws spontaneous appreciation and applause is the spicy discourse. You get closer to take a peek into her background and find Vishaka Hari is a Chartered Accountant, an ‘A’ grade Carnatic musician, was a Bharatanatyam danseuse before she married into Swami Krishna Premi’s traditional household, a family of Harikatha exponents including her husband and cousin Hariji. It’s no surprise that she took to Harikatha with a missionary zeal, carrying the ‘madisaar’ (customary nine-yard saree) with enough panache to make it a style statement.

A voice and vocabulary that spans across like a boundless ocean, coupled with a razor-sharp intellect and wit, have catapulted the kathakalakshepam (Harikatha) into a higher orbit. Unlike the archetypal rendition, Vishaka Hari squats down to a regular Carnatic kacheri recital with accompanists in tow and narrates her content with a flavour of contemporary paradigms and edu-entertaining preludes which are instantly appealing to her audience across all sections and ages. Her USP lies in a progressive thought process cultivated by an individual identity shaped by Indian tradition and culture.

What made her shift from classical music to Harikatha? “In the process of studying the connotation of musical compositions, the complete picture began to take shape as if asking for an interpretation. And I took it up, backed as it were by my family.” She donned the mantle of a cultural ambassador in sharing ancient wisdom ensconced within the sheets of our traditional literature and living standards. Vishaka Hari vociferously denounces the apathy towards our culture and traditions by Indians. “I find this erosion in traditions more in south India which fared better vis-à-vis north India which faced the onslaughts of foreign invasion time and again-be it Muslim or British and yet, today, north Indians still uphold their traditions and culture, while down south, people are turning more and more towards a global scenario where our identities are merged and we are emerging clones. It is pathetic, since the greatness of our country lies in its diversity-we live 10 km distance from one another and yet speak a different language, follow different customs and still live in amity. No longer,” she sighs.

According to her, post-Independence, we have lost our patriotism. Thanks to Western consumerism and commercialization, we are steadily wiping out our regional literature and allowing a cultural degradation to set in. “We shun our religion and religious texts as myths. This idea has to go. Our myth is our history. Fiction has caught on from the West. We gloat over and live on borrowed feathers all the time. When we can believe a fictional character like Harry Potter and fall head over heels over the series, why can’t we believe in Rama? Parents should first be taught to feel proud of being Indians and respect our customs and traditions. What is wrong if one is ritualistic? Can it be not seen as discipline in the way of life? Every culture across the globe has its rituals of which it is proud. We would be ready to lap up some other nation’s ritual but not accept ours. When we are able to rise above this, we would truly be a developed nation,” she says vociferously as she bids good-bye.

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Printable version | Apr 12, 2021 5:52:22 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/culture-in-progress/article5805032.ece

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