(As published in India Currents)
If music is the soul of humankind, then surely rasikas (art connoisseurs) are its mirror. The thousands of rasikas to attend the annual Indian Music and Dance Festival organized by Indian Fine Arts Academy of San Diego (IFAASD) will count as an emphatic true image of the city’s cultural claim to Indianness.
The festival is the NRI avatar of the intense December concert season (kutcheri) in Chennai, attracting rasikas from all over the U.S. December is what South Indian music aficionados in India calibrate their cultural clock by; when they act as judges and consumers of the arts, lauding laurels on the deserving and setting a qualified stage for amateurs. San Diego’s festival is a bid to re-create that heady atmosphere this side of the Pacific.
The theme for this year’s festival is “Resonating Ragas and Rhythms,” playing off of the mutuality between Hindustani and Karnatik music; and the relationship of dance to rhythm and raga-rasa (mood). The lineup, by a remarkable aligning of the astronomical stars and efforts of the IFAASD, includes two luminaries- erstwhile child-prodigies and current stalwarts, the world-famous Mandolin Shrinivas and sitar virtuoso Kartik Seshadri. Of the former, it is said that he inspires the audience into a stunned silence by the sheer originality of sound he can coax out an otherwise ordinary instrument.
Typically played as an accompanying instrument in Western orchestra, the mandolin has been elevated to being respected among serious music lovers in India and abroad almost single-handedly by Shrinivas.
Seshadri, a disciple of Ravi Shankar, is noted for the expressive beauty and extraordinary rhythmic intricacy in his rendition of the sitar. Most recently, Seshadri collaborated on the Orion project with the noted composer Philip Glass and Brazilian group UAKTI. He also teaches at the UC San Diego, where
he heads one of the largest programs of Indian classical music in the country. Seshadri’s recording, Raga: Rasa that Which Colors the Mind, earned a place in the top 10 world music list from the prestigious Songlines magazine in London.
IFAASD will be hosting several first-timers to the U.S. “We’re always excited about presenting new talent at the festival,” says Shekar Vishwanathan, IFAASD’s secretary. “This year, our lineup is particularly impressive—we have 28 artists coming from India,” he says. “Performances to debut in the U.S. or at our festival include those by Injikudi Subramanian duo (nadaswaram), Manasi Prasad (vocal, with ensemble), Trichur Brothers (vocal) and Pantula Rama (vocal) with husband M.S. Narasimha Murthy (violin).”
The freshest of the batch is perhaps Manasi Prasad, winner of Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar 2008 by Sangeet Nataka Akademi, New Delhi. She cut her musical teeth by performing at the Chennai December season, and Star of Mysore opines that she is an “M.S. in the making,” referring to M.S. Subbalakshmi, the Karnatik legend.
The festival will also highlight dancers, namely bharatanatyam dancers Divya Devaguptapu and Uma Suresh; and odissi by the Patnaik sisters. Devaguptapu was considered a prodigy in her preteens. She is the disciple of the Dhananjayans and divides her time between the U.S. and India. Suresh, a performer of bharatanatyam and kuchipudi, has been dancing for 30 years now and regularly lectures and conducts workshops at educational institutions in Southern California. The Patnaik sisters’ claim to fame was when they choreographed odissi nritya for Madonna in 1999. Winner of the California Arts Council’s “Next Generation Artist” award, Shibani Patnaik, one of the three sisters, was also instrumental in setting up the dance department at Stanford University.
To further strengthen the impact of a spiritual and soulful connection to the arts, V.S. Ramachandran, a well-known neurologist, will be delivering an opening-day lecture titled, “Mind, Music and Art.” And food from six different regions of India will provide a tasty delight to the senses.
As M.N.Krishna Swamy, 90, a retired executive in San Diego said of the festival last year, the fulfillment was akin to “Lord Krishna dancing in paradise”—this year’s event promises a weekend of sweeping magnificence.