AFTER going without a chairperson for a while and then making do with an acting head for some time, the Sangeet Natak Akademi (SNA) is reclaiming its space in the cultural world with a bang. Within days of her nomination, Sandhya Purecha, the new chairperson, formed a new executive committee and announced the names of SNA awardees, SNA Ratnas (Fellows) and Yuva awards (Ustad Bismillah Khan Awards) for the last three years (2019–2021). These were conferred upon the artistes during a 10-day festival — underlined by a host of rich cultural performances — that began in Delhi last week.
Addressing the gathering on day one, the President of India said the awardees made for a virtual ocean of talent — 128 musicians, dancers, theatre artistes and instrument makers.
The awards were instituted in 1954. Ever since, scholars contributing to the world of arts have been honoured by the Akademi. Fellows have included eminent scholars Dr Kapila Vatsyayan and DT Joshi. The nine new Fellows (for life) include veteran folk artiste Tijan Bai, Manipuri dance exponent Darshana Jhaveri, Bharatanatyam exponent Saroja Vaidyanathan, Kathakali dancer Sadanam Krishnankutty, Carnatic clarinet player AKC Natarajan, Carnatic musician TV Gopalkrishnan, North Indian classical vocalist Chhannulal Mishra, tabla maestro Swapan Chaudhuri and scholar Bharat Gupt.
Chhannulal Mishra is today the seniormost vocalist of the Banaras gharana, equally popular for his thumris and his recordings of devotional music. Gopalkrishnan is an amazing musician, equally adept on the violin as on the mridangam; he also sings. Additionally, he has also trained in the North Indian classical idiom. Tijan Bai is a rare exponent of ‘Pandavani’ from Chhattisgarh. She is keeping alive an ancient storytelling tradition that flourished in various parts of the country but is now gradually disappearing. Veteran danseuse Saroja Vaidyanathan’s innovative choreography in dance productions has been much acclaimed. Sadanam Krishnankutty is another veteran in the field of Kathakali who continues to dance despite his age; he is regarded as an amazing all-rounder, with the ability to essay any role.
Veteran Lucknow gharana tabla exponent Swapan Chaudhuri has lived most of his life in the US, yet he has taught and inspired a new generation of tabla exponents. Darshana Jhaveri is the youngest of the four Jhaveri sisters who have dominated the world of Manipuri dance for decades. In fact, it is they who introduced Manipuri dance outside the state. At 92, ‘Clarinet Everest’ AKC Natarajan is the oldest of the SNA ‘Ratnas’, a man with an enviable 70-year performing career.
Gupt said: “It is good that the Akademi gives importance not only to performers, but also to those researching the arts and disseminating information on the importance of the arts. These awards lay stress on how the arts affect morality and better our lives, making us more sensitive. But such awards are few and far between. I wish there were more.” Earlier, his guru, Acharya Brihaspati, was also honoured with the SNA Fellowship.
There cannot be more than 40 Fellows at a time. Sadly, we have lost several recently, including Pt Jasraj, Lata Mangeshkar, Birju Maharaj and very recently, Vijay Kichlu. As such, to have nine new ‘Ratnas’ guiding the decision-makers at SNA is indeed welcome.
Scholar-vocalist Shanno Khurana, who was honoured with the Ratna in 2002, says that as a ‘Ratna’, the link with the Akademi remains strong as advice is regularly sought on nominations. Incidentally, she is another scholar-musician who was honoured with the Fellowship decades after her mentor, Thakur Jaidev Singh, was honoured in 1965.
One can look forward to active mentoring by the nine new Fellows, each a doyen in his or her field.
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