Author: Aarthi Srinath; Photo Courtesy: Margazhi.org

The photographs displayed at the Moods of Margazhi exhibition were a fitting finale to the Margazhi season 2012, possibly the world’s largest dance and music festival.

Walking through the gallery, one was transported to every rasika’s fantasy world of interconnected sabhas, each with a different concert in progress, with rasikas old and young immersed in the music/dance, with the smell of ghee dosa and filter coffee wafting from the canteens and art and only art being the topic of discussion.

The photographs, at the same time, evoked both a sense of pride and doubt; pride – that our city is the melting pot of classical arts; doubt – are we doing all the right things to preserve this heritage. In today’s world of infinite options and distractions, powered by the advancing technological innovations, will the Margazhi be able to keep up?

In this context, three photographs stood out. To me, they seemed to tell today’s story of our classical arts. They made a very important point on the three things that matter most to the survival of the classical arts – the artist, the rasika and the patrons.

THE ARTIST

Photograph by: Achuthanand Ravi

This photograph of the Kathakali dancer captures the silent moment typically at the beginning of a dance performance, when the artist prays to Lord Nataraja to bless him with success.

Looking at the artist, his painstakingly painted face, the devotion in his demeanor and the blurred but ever-supporting Almighty in the background, reminded me of the plight of several talented young artists in our country today. It also symbolized to me the artist’s undying love for the art that keeps them going.

Just like several other professions, an artist’s life too is not easy – it requires discipline, practice and dedication. But over and above all that, an artist requires patronage. What was historically provided by kings and nawabs to artists (musicians, dancers, painters, sculptors) in the form of support, encouragement, privilege and financial aid is today in the hands of a more dispersed group of patrons comprising of veteran dancers, sabha secretaries, rasikas and students. The veteran dancers for their aegis and mentorship, the sabha secretaries for the performing stage, the involved rasika for his financial support and the student for their dedication to carry forward the heritage.

Juggling the patrons to win favors is seen as a thankless (and political) diversion for the simple artist. This has resulted in many a talented performer dropping out of the ‘artistic race’ to seek out other professions with more predictable outcomes.

THE RASIKA
If one were to ask any artist to narrate their most memorable moment, it would usually not be an award or a medal but an incident with a delighted rasika. A rasika is at the same time a supporter, a critic, a friend and a barometer of public opinion for the artist. Without an interested and involved audience, an artist’s performance is merely a rehearsal. The joy that an artist experiences when he sees an appreciative nod or hears hushed whispers guessing the ragam or catches a glistening eye in the audience is unparalleled. Rasikas will always be indispensible and irreplaceable patrons, who hold the key to the future of any performing/classical art.

Photograph by: Ashok Kumar

This photograph of a young child of around 4-5 years old completely immersed in the music symbolizes something very crucial to the preservation of our heritage – the rasika belong to the millennial generation- the rasika of tomorrow.

This generation of millenial-rasikas is dramatically different. They grew up with computers. Between blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, Flickr and smartphone applications, the Millenial-rasika is more connected and networked than any other generation in history. They want to learn, share and change.

And they use technology for all this – to access and share information about causes, organizations and people whom they want to support; to connect with like-minded people across the globe who share their interests; to take action and see the results of their efforts.

In short, the new age Millenial-rasika is a techno-savvy changemaker who intuitively uses technology to effect social change. If you can grab their attention, they will market your product for you.

Grabbing the attention of the Millenial-rasika is key to ensuring the permanence of the classical arts.

A NEW APPROACH

If each of us considers ourselves as custodians of our heritage and traditions, what should we do to protect it and safely pass it on to the next generation?

The world around is constantly changing. And changing times have always called for changing approaches. Changing approaches to adapt and thrive.  What worked in the 12th and 13th century will not work today. In fact, what worked yesterday may not work tomorrow.

This applies to the world of performing arts too. A new approach of working is necessary to be adopted by all the stakeholders so that the art can benefit from the advantages offered by today’s world.

New approach for patrons 

Corporates have replaced the kings as the new patrons of art. Their involvement needs to go beyond the traditional advertisements at venues.

Some ideas for a new approach could be:

  • Sponsor artistic research and experiments
  • Set up funds for annual scholarships and financial aid
  • Support scholastic work related to art
  • Set up research chairs in our universities to promote research into our classical heritage
  • Work closely with artists and art institutions to help them harness the technology innovations for the promotion of art
  • Establish not-for-profit centers for artistic dialogue and interactions
  • Include art education in their campus outreach programs to spark student interest
  • Use corporate functions as a platform to promote classical arts to a global audience

New approach for the rasika by the artists
Given the number of distractions and options offered by technology, the task of getting a rasika is much harder today. And this is where technology and early induction into the arts will help.

The social media is an efficient medium to connect with rasikas unconstrained by location, time or space, constrained only by interest. Open two-way dialogues that include sharing thoughts, receiving feedback and making changes are an important first step to winning the interest and loyalty of the Millenial-rasika.

In fact, that is what makes Moods of Margazhi, organized by Margazhi.org, go beyond a conventional photography contest. It has successfully connected with the rasikas in a new construct, on a viral platform, and brought many new people with different skills in touch with the art. More such initiatives are required to keep nurturing the rasika relationship.

The Guru-Sishya parampara of relationship and learning needs to expand beyond dance schools and physical spaces. Artists and gurus may need to use technology and the virtual medium to reach out to the youngsters across the world to spread the word of art.

It is heartening to note that there are many movements that have been started and that are supported by artists to spread the reach of classical arts to the grassroots of our society and especially teach our children to appreciate dance and music. Matrka (www.matrka.org) by T M Krishna and Rhapsody (www.rhapsodymusic.in) by Anil Srinivasan are only some of the initiatives that are creating new platforms of engagement with the rasikas to expand the reach of music.

New approach by organizers

The organizers (sabhas) play a very important role as the custodians of the art. They provide the crucial connect by bringing the artists and rasikas together. But in this age of instant communication and hyper-interconnectedness, artists and organizers should change their traditional approaches and tap into the collective energies of the Millenial-rasikas to spread the appreciation of art.

Sabhas may need to adopt a more egalitarian social model that connects and engages with the MIllenial rasikas as friends and collaborators. Some new approaches could be:

  • Invite youngsters and young artists to be members of their sabhas based on their interest and talent rather than on financial or family backgrounds
  • Use social media to interact with its members and establish a democratic process of getting member feedback on artists’ performances and inputs for concert schedules
  • Facilitate artist-audience interactions to encourage dialogue and open conversations between the artists and the new age rasika

These are only some ideas. But all of this requires a change in our approach.

And that is where this third photograph celebrating the South Indian Kolam tradition seemed apt.

THE HOPE

Photograph by: Sunil Subramanian

 Every morning, thousands of South Indian women say their prayers and adorn their home entrances with the Kolam as a mark of welcome to Goddess Lakshmi.  This tradition of drawing Kolams dates back to the Indus Valley Civilization and is one of the oldest surviving arts. It has been passed on from mother to daughter for thousands of years.

While seeing the woman of the house draw a beautiful Kolam is a fairly common sight, seeing a gentleman so beautifully draw a Kolam during the Margazhi festival is certainly not.

I believe that it is these uncommon changes that have made this tradition of Kolams live on.

And that is what about this third photograph of the gentleman, so delicately and carefully drawing the Kolam, fills me with optimism that we will be able to make these changes and ensure many more centuries of Margazhi in our country.