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Of Padams, Pixels and Philanthropy
- Supraajha Murali

June 28, 2021

Flooded in darkness, the dawn may fall
Sickness hopes to sway the Hope standing tall
Horror may strike, a plague may befall,
But Art always heeds the humans' call

These very words rang in my mind, as my ears were flooded with the lilting rendition of "Jayathi Jayathi Bharatha Maatha," the opening piece of one of the most prodigious charity based initiatives rooted in Indian classical dance - the "Unite for India" initiative by Bharatanatyam dancer and guru Usha Raghavan, the Founder-Director of Kalasagara UK. An event that brought together a panoply of artists from across the globe including the likes of Priyadarsini Govind with her mesmerizing performance 'Hasati' and Rama Vaidyanathan with her Thiruvempavai and a rare Kshetrayya padam, this fundraiser took the shape of a Dance Marathon of a whopping 30+ hours, aiming to collect funds to aid the pandemic afflicted people of India.

Rama Vaidyanathan

Priyadarsini Govind

From the crisp Bharatanatyam jathis to the graceful sways of Mohiniattam dancers of Gopika Varma's Dasyam group and the solo by Jayaprabha Menon, from the spellbinding chakkars of the Kathak artists Sharmila Sharma and Isabelle Anna to the beautiful hues of the Kathakali costumes of Kalamandalam Manoj Kumar—encompassing riveting dance forms like Odissi by Sujata Mohapatra, Kuchipudi by duo Vyjayanthi Kashi and Prateeksha Kashi, and Manipuri by Bimbavati Devi, Unite for India laid out a feast for not simply the senses, but the soul as well.

The audience watched in awe, the beautiful dance numbers of Vidhya Subramaniam, Roja Kannan and Nithyakalyani Vaidyanathan, the intricate choreographies of Ramya Ramnarayan, Ramya Harishankar, Mythili Kumar, Rathna Kumar and Dr.Janaki Rangarajan, and the soul-stirring compositions by Srinidhi Raghavan, Shweta Prachande, and Apoorva Jayaraman, the stars of the next generation. Other captivating performances include Sujata Banerjee's adaptation of Swan Lake and powerful group productions by Apsaras Arts, Singapore.

Gopika Varma

Sujata Mohapatra

Vyjayanthi Kashi and Prateeksha Kashi

Bimbavati Devi

The initiative saw nearly 200+ artists who came together in a stunning display of solidarity with those facing the repercussions that COVID-19 pandemic had wrecked over India. Every miniscule moment of the Dance Marathon, which commenced on the 12th of June and ran well into the hours of the 13th was meticulously planned. Usha Raghavan had poured in months of endless planning to chisel her brainchild into perfection. Each detail had to be moulded to its final atom, she comments, which drew from her an enormous amount of patience and foresight. Dance Marathons have always intrigued Usha, she further details, and hearing of the suffering of those affected by the pandemic only further stoked her fire to help those in need through her art. She worked relentlessly for this initiative, which Krishnapriya Ramamoorthy had graciously agreed to collaborate, as well as host, on her platform Paallam Arts.

The fundraiser was an enormous success, surpassing the targeted £10K pounds to reach the impressive sum of £11392 through the donations. The 108 chants of the sacred "Om" between the performances and conversations gave a good feeling. The eager ears of the rasikas listened with rapt attention as the celebrated stars spoke of their immense passion towards their craft, ranging across various disciplines such as dance, music, painting etc. Their words submerged the audience into an ocean of knowledge. The topics were carefully curated to cover a wide range of topics such as student-teacher relationships, past and current style of teaching, understanding different art forms, singing for dance performances, mother-daughter collaboration, the current concerns given the pandemic, dance in paintings, etc.

Some highlights include those by Malathy Thothadri, Director of Kalasagara, Chennai, and her students about the current pandemic situation in Chennai and pursuing their passion for dance amidst the crisis; Dr. Nandakumara, Director of Bhavan, London, about the issues of running an organisation amidst the pandemic, and interviews of renowned artists such as Dr. Geetha Upadhyaya, Geetha Sridhar, daughter Sandhya Sridhar and sister, the actor Sukanya. Keshav Venkataraghavan, the artist who is globally acclaimed for his 'Krishna For Today' paintings, spoke at length about the relation between dance and paintings.

Malathy Thothadri

Anita Ratnam with Chitra Sundaram

Certain especially insightful conversations stole hearts—Dr. Anita Ratnam with Chitra Sundaram, on the changing landscape of the performing arts with particular reference to this past, and Rashmi Mishra of Inspiring Indian Women about her work for Covid stricken Mumbai. Perhaps one of the most striking aspects of the Unite for India initiative is the sheer diversity it could boast of - the fundraiser-cum-Dance Marathon was a potpourri of dance, music and art, each performance bringing its own, distinctive flavour. The list of artists stretched across countries like the UK, France, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, USA, India, Australia and Singapore.

As producers of "Tat Tvam Asi" (for two major shows) in the US, Vinita Venkatesh and Srinidhi Raghavan spoke about the intricacies involved in planning and performing in a mega cross continental production. Fascinating to listen to were the conversations and demonstrations by Ramya Harishankar and Sudarshana Arunkumar, on music for dance. In addition, young dancers shared their experiences of dancing for the BBC, doing arangetram in the UK and taking part in the mega dance production 'Kamba Ramayanam' for a festival in Paris. The chat between the alumni of Kalasagara as well as those of mature students added flavour to the already scrumptious spread of conversations. Dr. Madhusudhan's conversation about UK Chinmaya Mission's charitable work and also about the dance production on Swami Chinmayananda furthered our appreciation of this charitable event.

Usha Raghavan

Srinidhi Raghavan

Usha had compiled a broad umbrella of artists and their disciplines to include not just Indian and Indian origin performers but also those of European descent who've taken to the Indian art forms as a way of life. In the European chapter, Dominique Delorme captivated the audience with his bhava and karanas. Scholar-dancer Annalisa Migliorini of Rome presented powerful shlokas, the actors of Teatro Tascabile di Bergamo, Italy, spoke about their passion for Indian arts and their decades long collaboration with Usha. Scintillating compositions were presented by dancers from Russia, Latvia and Lithuania. The students of Bhavan, London, and students of Shanthy Rajendran and Meena Elankumaran of Australia gave beautiful Bharatanatyam performances. The entire dance marathon was brilliantly compered by Sowmya Krishnan, Seema Menon, Deepti Nagendra and Srinidhi Raghavan.

Usha mentions in an interview the flurry of behind-the-scenes activity - from preparing the list of artists to invite, to curating the innumerable performance slots and content, and, importantly, deciding on making the ICRF-2 (India Covid Relief Fund-2) run by GiveIndia Charity the recipient of the donations. Dedication, hard work, and sheer passion was the seed behind this fundraiser—to anchor Art as a medium of humanity, of charity, that had blossomed into the Unite for India Fundraiser-cum-Dance-Marathon as a testament to the sheer sway that Art
holds over our hearts.

Supraajha Murali is a novelist, poet, and engineer-in-the-making. She has authored two books 'Half A Moonstone' and 'Mystics and Muses', besides having her work published in a number of literary magazines. Her tryst with Bharatanatyam began when she was all of 7 years old, and has never ceased since. She can be found lurking on her instagram handle @purpleearrings123.

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