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Rama Seva Mandali
Month-long festival preview by Veejay Sai
Veejay Sai is a well-known award-winning writer, editor and a culture critic. He has written and published extensively on Indian classical music, theatre, food, travel, fashion and performing arts. He loves traveling and researching literary and cultural history. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
Sai is Indian classical music/dance critic and
It was the summer of 1956 and SVN had made all his efforts to bring down the great Ustad Bade GhulamAli Khan saab down to Bangalore for the music festival he was organising. An evening before it started to pour and rains lashed the city for a whole one week. But the stubborn SVN was bent upon getting Khan Saab to perform because the music lovers would not leave him or forgive him. Finally Khan saab did perform a week later. On an earlier occasion in 1952, the one and only M.S.Subbulakshmi performed at the Rama Seva Mandali for the first time. From then on till 1992, she performed here about thirty one times. It was quiet co-incidental that every time she performed, it poured heavily. But could the packed hall care? The music-loving audience of Bangalore was left thirstier, thanks to the undying efforts of someone like SVN.
So who was this SVN and what was this man doing, spending all his personal earnings of a lifetime on a month long festival in Bangalore? S.V.Narayanaswamy Rao, a small-time humble employee of HAL in Bangalore changed the phase of music creating history in1939. Fourteen-year-old Narayana Swamy, a police officer's son in a middle class family, felt a sudden urge to celebrate Ganesha Chaturti. With two other friends he went house to house seeking donations. They raised a total of five rupees. Their success encouraged the boys to celebrate Rama Navami the next year. They collected fifteen rupees for this event and thus the birth of the Sri Rama Seva Mandali, in 1939. Narayana Swamy Rao sidelined academics to pursue the Mandali's development seriously. He studied up to the eleventh standard, and then got a job with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. But his employers failed to understand his driving commitment to the Rama Navami celebrations, and refused to grant him leave for organizing the festival. Did that stop him from his passion? Instead he quit that job after two years and joined the Life Insurance Corporation where the same story followed and so he had to quit another job for the same reason. This cycle continued until he finally gave up trying to hold a job and serve the Rama Seva Mandali. He dedicated all his time to the Mandali's growth. Over a period of time their month-long music festival became one of the biggest events to look forward to by artists and music-lovers alike. It has become a Teertha Kshetra, a place for pilgrimage over the last seven decades to each and every classical musician and music lovers across the country.
SVN was one of the most committed organizers. He made close friends with the legendary Violin Chowdiah and Flautist T.R.Mahalingam who supported his genuine efforts. In days with limited communication technology, SVN would personally go to Madras, Mysore and elsewhere in the country, catching trains and busses, to meet artists and musicians requesting them to participate in this festival. Gradually over the period of time, the whos who of Indian music travelled all the way here to perform because no one had the heart to turn down such a massive effort. The great Veena Doreswamy Iyengar performed here from 1947 to 1998, every year without fail. The other greats like Bharat ratna Ustad Bismillah Khan, Bharat ratna Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Gangubai Hangal and the list of the greats who have performed on this stage is a long endless one. Such were the golden days of the Bangalore cultural scene when cultural entrepreneurship was more a passion enacted in spite of the fact that no one came forward to sponsor. SVN would go door to door requesting people for donations. Today when we see, young cultural organizations cribbing for sponsorship money and then giving that as an excuse for not doing any activity or organizing bad shows, one must show them the example of SVNs passion and the way he captained the Rama Seva Mandali for six decades. In the good old days when Rama Navami did not mean communal riots, curfews, and police patrolling, SVN saw that it became a secular tradition in that area. Hindus and Muslims would be seen distributing the traditional Paanaka and Kosumbri to the audiences that flocked there. What a wonderful sacred secular tradition to uphold!
Bantu reeti kolu viyavayya rama .(Oh! Rama, let me be your guard and stay close to your divine company). Lord Rama himself must be proud to have such a committed devotee in a gem like SVN.
SVN passed away in
2000. He had left a legacy, its mantle falling on his worthy sons and
associates. It is a matter for gratification that has risen like one man
to shoulder the onerous responsibility. Their first task was to continue
the tradition. It is there for everyone to see that they, especially the
family have fulfilled it admirably. His son Varadaraj and his brothers
come together year after year and continue this festival. At the same
time they were not unaware of the many unfulfilled ambitions of their
father. One such was to create facilities for study and research in music
and its allied arts like literature and dance. With this in view, the
Mandali has instituted the S.V.N. Academy of Music, which has already
set in motion with concerts and demonstration. In the piece of land that
it has acquired in the outskirts of the Bangalore city, the Mandali plans
to put up structures suitable to fulfil its laudable objective. A National
award was constituted in 2001 to commemorate the revered memory of SVN.
Its first award was given to M.S.Subbulakshmi. The following years many
others like Dr. Balamurali Krishna, Vidwan R.K.Srikantan, Lalgudi Jayaraman
and many others have received this award.
Once a year on Rama Navami day the three acres of playgrounds of the Fort High School--built during the British Raj--are converted into a huge auditorium. The school is surrounded by some landmarks like Tipu Sultans summer palace, a centuries-old Lord Venkataramanaswamy temple and Tipus old fort. The road in front of the school leads to the main bazaar named after King Krishnarajendra, of the Wodeyar dynasty. The market area is now congested with traffic, vegetable, fruit and flower vendors and roadside hawkers. Amidst this hustle and bustle, the sleepy dusty Fort High School grounds suddenly come alive in preparation for the music festival. Special pujas and little ceremonies surround the pandal construction, everyone anxious to impregnate every post, rope and crossbeam with a feeling of power. The massive pandal is constructed out of bamboo poles and zinc sheets. Once completed, it becomes an imposing open-air concert hall that can accommodate over 10,000 people. Sober advertisement banners carrying welcoming messages to the performers line every available space inside and outside the pavilion.The sparkling, seven-foot-tall bronze mandapam or alter kept aloft at the centre of the southern end of the pandal arrests attention as one enters. Big images of Lord Rama, Laxmana, Sita and Hanuman draped in silver outfits adorn the alter. The deities are exquisitely decorated with garlands of jasmine, fragrant lilies and bright orange flowers. And this sets the stage background for the month long musical extravaganza.
Unlike many other places in India, where the founding of new cultural organizations generally indicates, the gradual decline and death of old ones, south India is privileged to be home to some of the countrys oldest and most active institutions. The Rama Seva Mandali is one such gem. This year the music festival begins on the 24th of March and ends on the 30th of April. In this month long festival some of the big artists performing are Kadri Gopalnath, Vishwamohan Bhatt, Ranjini and Gayathri, Sanjay subramaniam, Bombay sisters, T.N.Krishnan, Hyderabad brothers, sanjeev abhyankar, Mysore brothers, Malladi brothers, U.Shrinivas and U.Rajesh, Kumaresh and Jayanthi Kumaresh, K.J.Yesudas and many more.
So set yourself to this month-long musical treat and pray that we have more SVNs around in the making. The more the merrier for Indian classical music. It is a month long festival and hence gives one the ample time to fit it into their day to day hectic schedules. Happy listening!
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