History & Culture

In step with the times

It is 10 in the morning, but the only sounds in the sprawling, green campus of the Kalakshetra Foundation are of the thattu kazhi and the rhythmic stomping of feet.

When rehearsal for Rukmini Devi’s ‘Ramayana’ begins as a part of the institution’s 80th year celebrations, songs ring through the air. No one looks stressed or hurried on this campus. It’s a world contained in itself, far removed from the noise and chaos outside. Here pursuit of the arts, education, and preservation of tradition are the main goals.

Kalakshetra, ever since its inception in 1936, has been synonymous with tradition. Rukmini Devi was keen that this would be a place for the nurturing of Indian thought and aesthetics, where art would be taught purged of “vulgarity and commercialism”.

Much has changed since then, but how has this arts behemoth stood the test of time, concentrating on the founder’s three core values of “art without vulgarity, beauty without cruelty, and education without fear”? And 80 years since its birth, in what direction is it being steered?

For Priyadarsini Govind, who was the first Director of Kalakshetra to be appointed from outside the institution in 2013, the responsibility came as an enormous challenge. She had stepped into turbulent waters as a well-known artist, but also as an outsider with “no knowledge about administration”. But this came with its advantages too, she says — she didn’t know too much about the churning within the institution. She was sure of what she wanted to do: “instil confidence in the students about the institution”.

Almost three years since she occupied the prestigious post, Priyadarsini is all the more determined to achieve as much as she can. Some of her short-term goals have been achieved while some others, such as the much-awaited reopening of the Koothambalam, are waiting in the wings. “We hope it will be reopened next year,” she says.

Her goals, when she took over, included strengthening the curriculum; converting the diploma to a degree; providing more exposure to the faculty so that they go outside the institution, like Rukmini Devi did, to broaden their outlook; and initiate outreach activities including heritage walks, yoga, and shloka classes.

She wanted to place more emphasis on art education at the primary level and partner with art institutions around the world.

The crafts centre has always been a strong section of the foundation; she aimed to strengthen it further and also make the repertory the “best in the world”. She is also keen on signing MOU’s with other institutions; MOUs have already been signed with Cracow University in Poland and Hope University in Liverpool.

Outreach activities are in full swing now and the discussions on converting the diploma to a degree have moved forward, but Priyadarsini speaks most passionately about art education. “Art education moulds human beings,” she says. “Every child has to learn some level of discipline, technique and aesthetic. This is why Kalakshetra has partnered with Amanjyoti. The point is to have community programmes in corporation schools and get people to learn different perspectives and art.”

Tied to strengthening arts education is also strengthening of the Craft Education and Research Centre. “Every unit must realise its potential,” she says.

“ We’ve expanded our products over the last few years, we’re renting our premises to make the centre financially stable, we are creating more products that represent the brand of Kalakshetra. We want to start a textile course too.”

While all these activities take place simultaneously, the energy inside the campus is also high because of the 80th year celebrations. “I’m happy to be here for it, I hope to be here for the 100th year too,” says Arjun, a third year dance diploma student, who joined the institution after studying engineering.

But why Kalakshetra and not some other institution in India, I ask Damir, a student from Kazakhstan. “There’s a unity of all religions here. You can see it during the morning prayer,” he says. And this is known as the best place for the arts.”

“The institution beautifully combines culture, education, sense of aesthetics, openness to understanding and learning, humility and respect,” says Priyadarsini. “People come here as it is a symbol of all that we cherish. The pride in the nation and our heritage which was what Rukmini athai wanted to showcase are still relevant.”

And how does this more than half-a-century-old institution keep up with the times? It doesn’t have to, she says. “When Rukmini athai in 1955 choreographed the Ramayana, she was influenced by everything she saw and she incorporated all of that in the compositions. Yet she retained Kalakshetra’s core values. There was a depth of understanding combined with aesthetics. That Ramayana is appreciated by everyone even today.” The institution’s vision, what Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay referred to as a “vision of totality”, keeps it strong. Priyadarsini elaborates: “Kalakshetra is the institution that it is today not because it tries to keep up with the times. It is what it is because it creates traditions that stand the test of time.”

Dedicated to Founder

Kalakshetra is celebrating ‘Remembering Rukmini Devi’ festival, February 21-March 2, with a miscellaneous fare of music and dance. Watch today, Manipuri Drummers and Astad Deboo (6-7.15 p.m.) followed by ‘Alapadma.’ The Ramayana series will culminate with Maha Pattabishekam on February 29, 6 p.m. Taking the audience on a trip of nostalgia will be ‘Ninaivalaigal’ at 5 p.m. The Malladi Brothers are presenting a Carnatic vocal concert on March 1, 6 p.m. Scholar and dance writer Ashish Mohan Khokar will give an illustrated talk on March 2, 6-7.15 p.m. A solo violin concert by Dr. M. Narmada at 7.30 will bring the curtain down on the festival.

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Printable version | Jun 13, 2021 8:47:45 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/kalakshetra-celebrates-its-80th-year/article8280926.ece

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