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Kalakshetra administration failed the Founder's vision
- VP Dhananjayan

June 16, 2023

(The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.)

This refers to the timely and explicitly introspected article by Anjana Anand in the Sruti Magazine ('Kalakshetra - Time for introspection,' Point of View column, June 2023 issue), which should be taken seriously by the institution and its administrators. Institutions like Kalakshetra are the pride of the nation, hence the Bharat Sarkar should give them special status and not to apply the rules and regulations applicable to government offices and organisations. This is where Rukmini Devi differed from the Government and rejected the offer to give the institution the status of 'Deemed to be University' in 1963/64.

Under the government appointed administrators, Kalakshetra lost its credibility as an integrated wholesome art institution envisaged by its founder Rukmini Devi and her immediate associates like Sankara Menon and others. Though initially started as a Naatya institution it gained name and fame as a comprehensive arts and cultural centre in the Dakshina Bharata, nurturing Carnatic music and its allied subjects like veena, mridangam, flute, violin, painting and folk arts. In our times all these subjects were given equal importance along with Naatya. Many musical legends adorned the faculty and several great musicians (both vocal & instrumental) emerged from the portals of Kalakshetra. Even great painters and sculptors emerged from Kalakshetra. Unfortunately after government takeover it became an exclusive Bharatanatyam centre, side-lining all the other art subjects and allied art faculties which used to be an integral part of Kalakshetra with equal importance to all such subjects.

Maybe under the advice of the newly appointed directors, the government appointed Governing Body members consisted of persons or artists from different parts of the country, majority of them who are not even aware of the existence of an institution like Kalakshetra. This is a big blunder they have been doing, while some of us who were an integral part of the growth of the institution are still around. Such a governing body has not been helpful to the good administration of the institution, escalating to the grave situation they are facing now. As an old alumnus, and in the interest of the institution, I have tried to advise and suggest to the newly appointed Directors an introspection to bring back the glory of Kalakshetra as an all inclusive art and cultural center. I have even requested the Kalakshetra Chairman to give an appointment to discuss matters of concern, but none of them paid heed to my advice or request.

Kalakshetra has neglected the departments of music and its allied faculties. It should be revamped and let the world know that there exists a department of music equivalent to Naatya. Kalakshetra music department used to be affiliated to Madras University and given the 'Sangeeta Siromani' degree equivalent to BA (Bachelor of Arts). Likewise, the art and crafts department of Kalakshetra used to be recognised on par with Santhi Niketan (Rabindra Bharati University).

Kalakshetra should train second line of accompanists for their monumental naatya productions apart from training talented accompanists for Bharatanatyam performances.
Unfortunately general connoisseurs of performing arts think that Music graduates from Kalakshetra are not good enough to excel in platform concerts. The institution also did not pay attention to encouraging music students to participate in city sabha competitions to expose their talent in comparison to outside talents.

In the recent past, to the best of my knowledge, not a single concert vocalist or instrumentalist from the portals of Kalakshetra is established as a well-known Carnatic musician, though several of them have been established as accompanists for Naatyam. In the glorious days of the institution, vocal stalwarts like M.D. Ramanathan, D.Pasupathi, Mani Krishnaswamy, Jaya Krishnan, M.S. Ramaadevi, artists like Sreenivasulu, Srinivasan, N.Veerappan, Pazhanivel, Jamuna for paintings, Raghu Prasad for mridangam and painting, Karaikudi Rajeswari and her brother Subrahmaniam for veena, to mention a few who made it big.

While introspecting the future of Kalakshetra, the concerned Ministry should rethink constituting a proper Governing Board knowing the ethos of past and present of the institution. The Governing Board members should take more interest in the day to day affairs and frequent visits and interaction with faculties and students will augment a fresh breeze of new life.

I have listed several points to ponder while suggesting revamping the institution to its past glory and reinstate the visions of its founder. If the concerned Ministry or administration is really interested in taking the institution to a higher level of functioning, some of us are here still looking forward to share our valuable suggestions with no axe to grind.

V.P. Dhananjayan
Natyacharya V.P. Dhananjayan is a Kalakshetra alumnus and director of Bharata Kalanjali, Chennai.

The article by Dhananjayan is timely, relevant and crucial to the survival of greatness of an institution. The colossal dimensions of Kalakshetra can never be measured or fully understood as it was really one of the unique institutions founded, guided and carefully nurtured by the great visionary, Rukmini Devi Arundale. When there are so many eminent alumni who are famous cultural exponents in their own right, it is absurd to exclude them studiously and push in names of others who may not have the least idea about the greatness of this institution. As Modiji is interested in preserving the best of Indian history and culture, I appeal to him through your column to please try and restore the sanctity of this great institution which richly embodies both our history and culture.
- Laxmi Subrahmanyam (June 19, 2023)

What is Kalakshetra’s future?
I was fortunate in childhood to attend a school in rural Pennsylvania still run by the founders, who brought their philosophy and vision with them into the classroom. Later, fortunate again to join Kalakshetra where some of the greatest artists of the twentieth century still held prominence, and guided us with firm love and absolute commitment to upholding the dream that had inspired Rukmini Devi to manifest that dream.
Throughout all my years with Kunhiraman, the stories of his own childhood, playing with the children who later became among the most prominent in their respective artistic fields. I knew most of them, and now watch as we all grow old and die off, one by one.
I agree with how much of that vision has been lost since that sad day in 1986 when she had to finally let go. It is difficult in a changing world to hang onto ideals that look to many to be impractical, even primitive. India is changing, not always for the better. At every turn we lose treasures of the human spirit that can never be preserved or replaced. The impractical courses in weaving and painting, sad to say, even music; are these disciplines so archaic that they should not have support in an institution that was established to preserve and nurture them?
Government leadership is notorious for losing the thread. Plowing across our modern world, with little care for what should be protected; once we lose our traditions we may not get them back. My world now includes exposure to several ancient civilizations, balancing unsteadily in modern surroundings that constantly threaten to unseat them. I have seen how things get lost forever. When the government insisted on bringing in unrelated supervision that had not grown up with the dream, ignoring the stalwarts who had been a part of Kalakshetra since early childhood, they committed the first mistake. They could have given the needed support, while encouraging the continuation of so many elements that made Kalakshetra the most unique center for traditional arts, in an environment where the artists would not need to compromise constantly just to survive. It was in their hands to do that. But they didn’t.
- Katherine Kunhiraman (June 17, 2023)

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