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Should Leela Samson reconsider her resignation from Kalakshetra?

April 29, 2012

Several artistes around the country, the world and especially in my home town of Chennai are stunned with the news. I have been getting so many phone calls and sms messages expressing universal dismay at Leela Samson's decision. The PIL that was filed by a disgruntled former student about her age being over 60 (totally ridiculous) was allegedly dismissed by the courts recently but her decision to resign without the knowledge of some of the Kalakshetra committee present at the April 10th meeting has added to the dismay among the leaders of the artistic community in Chennai.

Kalakshetra needs Leela Samson now more than ever. Classical dance needs a strong and capable visionary to guide it through its perilous state.
What do you feel?
Should Leela Samson reconsider her decision?
Should the voice and feelings of the artistes be heard in unison (for once!)?
Kalakshetra deserves a leader with an international profile in the arts and administration.
Leela Samson is the ideal person and she should be persuaded to continue to do her excellent work at this iconic institution.
Tell us what you feel.
- Anita Ratnam, April 29, 2012

A Petition was set up
- Ministry of Culture, Board members of Kalakshetra and officials of the GOI: Reinstate Leela Samson as the Director of Kalakshetra
All concerned about the future of our performing arts spoke up through this online forum

* Comments posted by art lovers who signed the petition
* Anita's message
* Official Press Release from Kalakshetra Foundation
* Leela Samson's message after the board meeting

Press Reports

- Why appoint new director at Kalakshetra? (August 4, 2012)

- Centre mulls all legal options on Kalakshetra (August 4, 2012)

- High Court puts spoke in Samson’s wheel (August 1, 2012)

- Court restrains Leela Samson (August 1, 2012)

- More legal troubles plague Kalakshetra (July 16, 2012)

- More battles ahead for Leela Samson by Meera Srinivasan (July 13, 2012)

- More controversy at Kalakshetra (July 7, 2012)

- Leela Samson caught in age row
(July 1, 2012)

- Leela Samson back as Kalakshetra head (June 30, 2012)

- Leela Samson is back in Kalakshetra by Meera Srinivasan (June 30, 2012)

- Marubadiyum oru agni pravesam by Sujatha Vijayaraghavan (Tamil, June 1, 2012)

- Article by Harsh Sethi (Back page, June 2012)

- Interview with Leela Samson - CNBCTV18

- Kalakshetra in crisis over Samson’s return by Sharanya Gautam (May 14, 2012)

- Need support if I rejoin: Leela Samson by Meera Srinivasan (May 12, 2012)

- Kalakshetra board reviews stance, seeks Leela Samson’s return (May 12, 2012)

- Culture clan votes for Samson return by Pheroze L. Vincent (May 11, 2012)

- Kalakshetra board unanimous in backing Leela by Meera Srinivasan (May 11, 2012)
On whether the Board would write to the Culture Ministry now, Mr. Gandhi said: “The resolutions passed at the meeting are now in public domain. It will go to the Ministry as well.”

- Avoid undue haste, board member writes to Kalakshetra chairman (May 11, 2012)
Industrialist A C Muthiah has written to Gopalkrishna Gandhi, chairman of the Kalakshetra governing board expressing his support for reinstatement of Leela Samson as director of the foundation.

- Leela Samson quits Kalakshetra, but why? by Gautaman Bhaskaran (May 11, 2012)

- Kalakshetra to discuss Samson’s exit on Friday (May 10, 2012)

- The culture vultures of Delhi by Swati das (May 9, 2012)

- Leela Samson quits as Kalakshetra director by Sruti (May 8, 2012)

- Bound by red tape by Malvika Singh (May 8, 2012)

- Kalakshetra matters (OPINION » LETTERS) (May 6, 2012)

- Bollywood’s show of support for Leela Samson (May 6, 2012)

- 'Bring Leela back' campaign gathers support from artists (May 5, 2012)

- Who's behind Leela Samson's ouster from Kalakshetra? by Bhama Devi Ravi (May 5, 2012)

- Turning Kalakshetra to Kurukshetra by Sadanand Menon (May 5, 2012)

- The Dance of Controversy (May 4, 2012)

- To Silence The Salangai by Pushpa Iyengar (May 4, 2012)

- Emergency meet of Kalakshetra board likely (May 4, 2012)

- Reinstate her by T.M. Krishna, Chennai (OPINION » LETTERS) (May 4, 2012)

- Case of missing the wood... by Leela Venkatraman (May 3, 2012)

- Efforts to bring Leela Samson back to Kalakshetra go online (May 3, 2012)
Netizens step in to bring Leela Samson back to Kalakshetra

- Samson had Centre’s backing to continue by Sharanya Gautam

- The dirt beneath the charm by Meera Srinivasan, A. Srivathsan (May 1, 2012)

- Bring her back by Justin McCarthy & Navtej Johar, New Delhi (OPINION » LETTERS) (May 1, 2012)

- Leela’s resignation sends shockwaves by Lakshmi Krupa (April 30, 2012)

- Conservative Chennai ejects eminent dancer Leela Samson by G Pramod Kumar (April 30, 2012)
For-and-against-Samson discussions are out in the open now with two leading newspapers taking interestingly divergent positions.

- Artistes join chorus against resignation (April 30, 2012)
Difficult to find a successor as dynamic as Leela Samson, say staff and students

- Kalakshetra in CAG muddle

- Kalakshetra board members want Leela to continue by Meera Srinivasan (April 29, 2012)
A majority of the members on Kalakshetra's governing board want Leela Samson re-appointed as director.

- Why did Leela Samson quit from Kalakshetra? by K Vijayan (April 29, 2012)

- Eased out of Kalakshetra, Samson unhappy by Sharanya Gautam (April 29, 2012)

- I'll try through my dance to find myself again by Meera Srinivasan (April 29, 2012)
Leela Samson who recently stepped down as the director of Kalakshetra on how she had to put up with “lies, allegations and games people play.”

- CAG faults Kalakshetra, director goes by DC Correspondent (April 29, 2012)

- Leela Samson to quit as Kalakshetra director (April 28, 2012)
The news has shocked many in the artiste fraternity.


Leela Samson is a true torch-bearer of Rukmini Devi's vision. According to Leelaji's biography, Rukmini Devi herself faced so many obstacles while founding and running Kalakshetra. Our bureaucracy has scant respect for heritage and committed people are just not allowed to hold any position of power and profiteers are ever ready standing in the side wings to pull down visionaries. Given her dynamism, sixty is hardly an age to ask her to retire and relinquish all that she has been doing to put Kalakshetra on the world map that it deserves as an institution. I was happy to see them perform in NCPA, Mumbai and seeing Leelaji there in person, encouraging her artistes, reminded me of the time way back in the late seventies and early eighties when Rukmini Devi herself traveled personally with her troupe (Buddhavataram in Chowdiah Memorial Hall, Bengaluru). I sincerely hope that she will be allowed to continue and do the good work she has been doing with unquestionable integrity and honesty.
- Anonymous (30 April 2012)

Yes, she should reconsider her decision. It will be a loss to Kalakshetra and its current students not to have a visionary like her. As we are discussing the issue, I hope Narthaki spearheads an online petition, where all artists can say in unison, for her return. This petition should be submitted to the Ministry of Culture and to the Kalakshetra board. Would Narthaki do this?
- Ragothaman Yennamalli (30 April 2012)

In view of the fact brought to light in The Hindu , it is obvious that Leela Samson owes us, the CAG and the public, some explanations. How the filming of a few dance dramas could cost Rs. 3.9 crore, how the renovation of the kitchen can cost Rs. 34 lakh, and why a sound system worth Rs. 62 lakh was bought but not utilised. Why couldn't the visionary resign after giving the CAG the answers to support her unquestionable integrity and honesty by actions? This explains all the haste, doesn’t it?
- Priyanka Narayanan (Apr 30, 2012 via email)

Yes, classical dance needs a strong and capable visionary to guide it through its perilous state. But first we need to specify what is meant by "classical dance" (is Kalakshetra's dance classical?), who is a "visionary", and why the classical dance is in a perilous state. We already have one visionary: Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam who is guiding classical dance through its perilous state, and who is not going to retire from the stage anytime soon.
- Niranjana (Apr 30, 2012 via email)

Well, looks like the 'art' scene is into lot of talks and controversies over the past few months - Leela Samson's exit from Kalakshetra or the recent article which I read by Sunil Kothari (in & somebody from that festival pointing how these critics write about particular artistes because their hotels bills are looked after by these artists and so on. Like Mr. Ragothaman has suggested, maybe Narthaki can help us to sort such issues for us.
- Sheela (Apr 30, 2012)

The way a person like Leela Samson who worked herself to the bone for Kalakshetra has been treated is shocking. Will our country keep sacrificing institutions for petty politics? I think it is shameful that a person who breathed new life into KALAKSHETRA AND MADE IT A REAL HAPPENING place should have been packed off in this fashion. Directors of Kalakshetra at 80 and much above 60 served - so what is this fuss about her age? This was just an excuse to get rid of her. We cannot stand anybody who does really good work it seems. What a sad thing that the one institution which was showing such promise is being cut down by such an act. Glib statements are being mouthed about Leela Samson's intentions and her integrity. For a person who knows about her unswerving loyalty to the institution she served and her unimpeachable integrity, all this has come as a shock. We HAVE BECOME A NATION WHICH CANNOT STAND QUALITY.
- Leela Venkataraman (May 1, 2012 via email)

To remove Leela Samson from the directorship of Kalakshetra is to remove the institution's beating heart, leaving a hollow shell to be gnawed by the bureaucracy like dogs fighting over a bone.
- Christel Stevens (May 1, 2012)

This is ultimately Ms. Leela Samson's decision. Maybe it was the last straw on a series of events which she has tolerated for many years. The fact that she was able to travel with a Kalakshetra troupe in America last year was in itself a great achievement. Wherever she is, she will continue to do great work in the dance field and beyond. If Ms. Samson wants to continue her work there, let's support her and make sure that such circumstances do not rise again.
Best wishes for whatever she chooses to do next. I know the offers will be many. Peace.
- Jai Govinda (May 1, 2012)

The news that Leela Samson has quit the Directorship of Kalakshetra is shocking. The institution has been fortunate in being led by such an illustrious artist and should persuade her to withdraw her resignation in the interest of the vast number of aspiring young dancers who have joined the institution to benefit from her art, leadership and mentoring.
- Raghavan Srinivasan (May 1, 2012 via email)

Art and administration are two different paths. Art lies within one’s own heart, administration requires changes of many others’ hearts. Most artists will have difficulty in administration as this involves too many parameters. Most art administration is a thankless job. I am not surprised Guru Leela Samson has stepped down. Administration involves bureaucracy, one has to deal with it. That’s where the leadership lies. Usually, artistes are soft on issues, as they are very sensitive. Only those who can make hard decisions can make the things work for their vision. It may involve some rudeness and conniving to make the things work. One should use “sama-daana-bheda-danda.” The leadership roles could be difficult if one becomes emotional. One can look at the example of Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel. Two great leaders. One is still ruling through his dynasty, but other vanished in history, as he was principled and emotional. I regret that a prolific artiste such as Leelaji had to step down. But I believe it will lead to another eminent person to hold the mantle of Kalakshetra. Kalakshetra is not one person's dance school. It is a symbol of Bharatanatya, which reflects democracy. Let others come and rule the mantle. Gurus like Leela Samson and others could be introspective eyes for quality control.
- Prasanna Kasthuri (May 2, 2012)

The sequence of events and the circumstances that led Leela Samson to put in her resignation papers need to be reviewed carefully by the Ministry, and the possibility of re-instituting her as the Director for a further period of five years needs to be seriously addressed. During her tenure as Director, Kalakshetra, Leela Samson’s vision, devotion, integrity and tireless efforts to strengthen the ideals of her alma mater and to ensure its long life as a sustainable and professional institution of excellence in the arts in the 21st century, can scarcely be questioned. Kalakshetra in particular and the future of India’s performing arts in general stand to gain immensely from her. Her sudden exit leaves many crucial projects incomplete, which at this stage are not likely to be as competently taken care of by anyone else.
- Parul Pandya Dhar (May 4, 2012)

Re: Sadanand Menon's article ‘Turning Kalakshetra to Kurukshetra’
I personally feel that Mr. Menon has used too strong a caption for his article on Kalakshetra situation now. Sadanand's comments are totally absurd and unwarranted. There was absolutely NO such situation in Kalakshetra. The institution has been very systematically and smoothly running as normal as ever. Even in the thick of its crisis of litigation and later searching for an inheritor to Sankara Menon, Kalakshetra always remained calm. Misguiding people to believe in a Kurukshetra war happening in the campus is rather mischievous or presumptuous. Kalakshetra was never on the brim of collapse or as he puts it, 'impending implosion'. Administrative lapses happen in any private institution or Government institution. Please correct this wrong propaganda that Leela Samson resurrected Kalakshetra. Of course she did manage it well and probably made the institution more accessible with plus and minus benefits. People who have no connections with Kalakshetra now come out with such absurd comments. Leela opened the door for all and sundry to walk in and they claim their proximity to a mighty institution built by us, literally brick by brick. People like us have been kept aloof for no reason or rhyme. Every tree there today will speak about how we, the old alumni, toiled to make the Kalakshetra of today, and people like Sadanand Menon or TM Krishna speaks as if they are concerned about the fall and rise of the institution.

I also read a comment that Kalakshetra never made foreign trips (international) since 1936 and it was Leela who broke the ice and made a US trip. Her trip last year was her own individual tour using Kalakshetra name and artistes. Kalakshetra had made several trips all over the globe as part of ICCR tours, and when we were there, we participated in international festivals between 1960 and 70 to Karachi, Nepal, Adelaide Festival followed by 3 months tour of Australia and Fiji Island, Malaysia, Singapore, Edinburgh Festival (UK). After 1970, Kalakshetra has been taking tours to south east Asia, Japan, China, Eastern Europe etc under the stewardship of Sri Rajaram. Rajaram was leading the institution extremely well and dynamically. During his period as Director, several dance dramas were choreographed by senior staff members like Krishnaveni, Janardanan, Vijayalakshmi. He composed music for those dance dramas and very many individual songs for solo Bharatanatyam were his contributions to the Kalakshetra repertoire. HOW CAN PEOPLE SAY Kalakshetra was dying?? This comment is deplorable; none of the existing staff members would accept this nonsense comment.

Leela Venkataraman in her article praised Leela's book on Rukmini Devi as a deeply researched work which had all factual errors. Though well written, we all felt she did not do much research for the book. Not even consulted any of us who are closely connected with Rukmini Devi and Kalakshetra. We have point blank told Leela Samson the mistakes she made.
- VP Dhananjayan, an old alumni of Kalakshetra (May 5, 2012)

It’s time for a new and resurgent Art India. We are looking forward for the induction of new blood as the Director of Kalakshetra. They will surely bring in new contemporary ideas into this great institution. Kalakshetra cannot be caught in this old rut of same antique ideas. Since Anita Ratnam has every deserving chance to become the next Director, we need to offer her our support which she always deserved, but was denied because of Leela Samson's clout in Delhi. Kindly let’s not thread around insignificant topic of bringing Leelaji back and rather focus on what Anita Ratnam can do! And surely will.
- Lavanya Iyer, Bridgewater, NJ, USA (May 8, 2012)

Kalakshetra calamity:
I have served Kalakshetra for more than three decades as superintendent of studies and Asst Secretary to the institution under Rukmini Devi and Sankara Menon. I have the authority and authenticity to talk about the inside - outside functioning of the institution.

The unfortunate happenings in the administration and the resignation of the Government appointed director Ms. Leela Samson triggered several questions about the functioning of the institution and the sudden upsurge in the public interest in favor of Ms. Leela continuing as the Director has come up in various print media and internet forums. Unfortunately, discussions have been among people not connected to the institution in any manner, ignoring the many administrative lapses and Audit General report (CAG report) against the Government appointed Director.

Going through some of the ignoramus comments, I deem it my responsibility to straighten the record and make the public aware of the truth and not to be swayed by sweeping remarks by the discussion forums and articles by known and unfamiliar writers.

It is an absolutly faulty statement that Kalakshetra was in its downfall before Ms. Leela Samson’s arrival there. There was no such situation whatsoever even in the thick of controversy over the Society or the newly registered Trust running the institution. Functioning of the institution was always meticulous and no work suffered because of the dedicated and disciplined senior faculties like Krishnaveni Lakshman, A Janardanan and others. So no one can say that Leela resurrected a crumbling fortress. The institution was a cakewalk for her to take over from S Rajaram who was true to Rukmini Devi's ideology and ideals. In fact, it was a golden period to the present generation of staff and students, bubbling with activities and new productions choreographed by the truly direct disciples of Rukmini Devi, like Krishnaveni, Janardanan, Vijayalakshmi and so on. There has been no declining situation whatsoever as some of the media puts it.

Authoritatively, I can vouch for the number of foreign tours Kalakshetra has undertaken during my time as well as Mr. Rajaram’s period. How can people say that it is Leela who has put the institution on the world map, a total absurd comment of ignorance? Kalakshetra is already on the world map through several of the alumni like The Dhananjayans, Adyar Lakshman, Prof. CV Chandrasekhar, The Kunhiramans, The Satyalingams, to mention a few. We cannot ignore the tremendous contributions these old alumnae have made to establish the institution’s name and its fame and tradition aloft, much before the advent of Leela herself in the scenario.

Yet another comment I have to make is that opening up the institution for free flow of various other styles and talents is not Rukmini Devi’s ideology and vision. She vehemently wanted her institution to uphold “the uniqueness and Kalakshetra identity” at all levels. Now I am rather disappointed that the uniqueness of Kalakshetra identity in styles and functioning is slowly getting eroded. I may be criticized for old school of thoughts.

Has anyone questioned that while several of the anti Kalakshetra coterie have easy accessibility to the institution and its governing body, why old alumni like Sarada Hoffman (Rukmini Devi’s true inheritor), NS Jayalakshmi, Dhananjayan, Chandrasekhar, Janardanan or such eminent Kalakshetrians are alienated or isolated from the functioning of the institution or governing body?

All said and done, kudos to Leela (who was my student too) for managing well the affairs of the teaching and maintenance of the campus, student relationship and keeping up aesthetic legacy of the great and wonder lady of the last millennium, Rukmini Devi. I hold no ill will towards Leela, who could rightly continue as Director and the Ministry of Culture should realize that only a Kalakshetra moored personality could and should adorn the post of its Artistic Director. Administrative Director post could be filled by an efficient and artistically inclined bureaucrat.
- G Sundari, Retd Superintendent & Former Asst. Secretary, Kalakshetra (May 7, 2012)

One thing we all know for sure is that lost time cannot be brought back. Every student of every master has added her or his own to the art form which is what tradition is all about. Flowing with the times.

When we see videos of Shantha Rao we know how Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai would have taught her but Mrinalini Sarabhai and Rukmini Devi took the same teaching and added their own touch to it. Sharada Hoffman made it as araimandi as possible. The same Pandanallur style was learnt by Alarmel Valli and it grew into a different form. Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam enhanced her training of Vazhuvur style with her own research and Chitra Visweswaran created her own style.

The same river brings in new water every day. To want the same atmosphere and the same things that were done in the times gone by is looking backwards and not forward. We can never bring back our youth. There is something called Desha and Kala.

Things will not be the same for Leela Samson even if the board's decision to bring her back does culminate in her coming back. Sundari teacher keeps saying Government appointed director. R Venkataraman was there with the then board to appoint her. It is the government money that runs the institution today.
- VR Devika (May 10, 2012)

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