‘Never say never’ seems to be the spirit of Shruthi, Adelaide’s carnatic music lovers’ group. With COVID-19 restrictions on social gatherings limiting cultural events, Shruthi Adelaide decided to continue with their customary winter event with a virtual treat. They hit upon the idea of presenting the programme online, streaming from the homes of performers in three different countries. (Maybe a first for Indian cultural organisations in Australia.)
On the afternoon of 12 July, Shruthi brought on ‘stage’ 16 artistes for a four- and half-hour cultural bonanza. They comprised singers, dancers and instrumentalists both local and overseas. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the evening, too, was the effortless switching between locales in different parts of the globe, operating with clockwork precision.
The event started with the traditional invocation song by Anagha Madhu accompanied by Gopi on mridangam. This was followed by Taruni and Lekha and a violin duet by Jaya and Madhu Iyengar.
Then, we were transported to Chennai where Sikkil Gurucharan, a top-line vocalist, sang three popular Tamil compositions in ‘anthakshari’ mode, a novelty in classical music. He was generous with his time to sing two more songs requested by the online audience. Even without the traditional accompaniments like violin and mridangam, his golden voice was heard in its purest form.
The scene switched to the Adelaide home of Abhiram and Sangeetha Venkitt who performed two dance numbers in Kathakali and Mohiniattam. With so much movement, it can be difficult to stay in the camera’s focus, especially without a professional crew. Still, the dancers overcame such handicaps. Decorating their lounge as dance floor, their performance was commendable.
Next, we were ‘flown’ to Singapore to be blown away by Bharatnatyam exponent Mohanapriyan Thavarajah. She enthralled us by performing three episodes in thandava, the masculine dance form attributed to Lord Shiva.
Back in Adelaide, Somi Lindsay of Apsara Arts danced to the lyrics of Sri chakra raja in ragamalika in her garage, with the roller door improvised as a backdrop. This was followed by another bharatnatyam piece by Roshini Chrispa Christy, dancing to the lilting tune of kavadi chindu, a popular folk song.
Shruthi, a platform for carnatic music, extended its cultural reach to Hindustani music with retired professor Punendra Jain’s flute recital, proving that age is no barrier to follow one’s passion. Young Mayuresh Kulkarni delighted online viewers with his vocal rendering of raag maru bihag, predicating a star is in the making.
Sangeetha Ramkumar played the veena accompanied by Gopi on mridangam, showing that she could strum the strings with ease even after long break from the instrument.
The evening concluded with a stellar music performance by sisters, Aishwarya and Saundarya who are the great granddaughters of M.S. Subbalakshmi, the uncrowned queen of carnatic music. Although they had their own style of singing, there were flashes of MS style, giving us a nostalgic delight. What a way to lift our spirits in the midst of all the woes from the virus!
Shruthi Adelaide and its president Narayana Rai are to be commended for this bold experiment. Treasurer Srirama Srinivasan deserves great credit for roping in some top-notch artistes from overseas alongside home-grown talents. A programme of this kind, seamlessly switching between a dozen locations, needs some special skills and Rajesh Lakshmikanthan did a wonderful job.
A virtual version of cultural events of this genre may not match the real-life experience, but the efforts that have gone into it deserve kudos. In fact, the webcast has already watched by over 1700 people in Australia and overseas.