M.S. Sheela is a versatile musician with a captivating voice. Her long and successful career in music as a vocalist, teacher and organiser came into the limelight when the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi Award was recently conferred on her in the Carnatic vocal category. She is an ace student of R.K. Srikantan and is carrying his musical legacy forward in an admirable way. Born on 16 March 1952 at Bengaluru in Karnataka, Sheela grew up in a musical atmosphere. Her mother M.N. Rathna was a popular, busy vocalist and an A-grade artist of All India Radio. Little Sheela would tag along with her mother and sit quietly through all these programmes. Very soon, the little girl started formally learning music from her mother. But as she progressed to varnams and kritis, Rathna wanted to ensure that parental lenience did not hamper her daughter’s musical progress. She made the wise decision to entrust Sheela’s further musical education to vidwan R.K. Srikantan, whose refined music and musical pedigree she respected. Sheela emerged as a prime disciple of the maestro.
Viji Prakash is a senior dancer, choreographer, and teacher of Bharatanatyam in the U.S.A. She honours the traditional repertoire while extending the technique to connect her rich and intense style with a sharp contemporariness. Her Shakti School of Bharata Natyam in Los Angeles offers meticulous and rigorous training that was instilled in her by the grand masters of the Tanjavur tradition of Bharatanatyam—gurus T.K. Mahalingam Pillai and T.K. Kalyanasundaram of the Sri Raja Rajeswari Bharata Natya Kala Mandir, Mumbai. Viji was born in Mumbai, in a family deeply committed to the arts. At age four, sitting on her mother’s lap on a rickety chair in a dusty auditorium, she watched her cousin performing Bharatanatyam on stage. Viji turned to her mother and said “I must dance”. From that moment the world became magical for her with astonishing possibilities. Viji Prakash is also a Mohini Attam and Kathakali artist having trained under the guidance of guru Kanak Rele of Nalanda Nritya Kala Mahavidyalaya, Mumbai. She has performed and toured extensively in the U.S.A., Europe and Asia.
Musiri Chamber—this beautiful home tucked away in a quiet little alcove on Oliver Road in Mylapore, has been hosting concerts without a break for twenty-five years. The road has now been renamed after Sangita Kalanidhi Musiri Subramania Iyer whose house stands adjacent to the residence of S. Thyagarajan, Musiri’s grandson, where the chamber music concerts have become a regular monthly feature in the classical music calendar of Chennai. The inaugural performance by Raji Gopalakrishnan in February 1994 was a portent of things to come. The concept was the brainchild of industrialists S. Thyagarajan and his brother-in-law V. Chandrasekar (popularly known as VC) and the idea came about on their trip to Varanasi in the 1990s. S.V. Krishnan (SVK) of Nada Inbam and Raga Sudha Hall fame was their inspiration and they also sought his help in setting up the first few concerts. An initiative that began with musicians who were closely associated with the family, soon transformed into a whole new culture in the chamber music space. The concerts are held under the auspices of Musiri Chamber. An impressive list of musicians have performed here over the years. The family members are passionate about music and they all pitch in on the day of the concert. The kutcheri is always followed by a simple home cooked meal not only for the artists but even for willing rasikas.
It is not the thatched cottages and sands that define an institution but the merit and values the teachers possess and bequeath to the students. D. Pasupathi, literally a product of Kalakshetra, having been a student, performer and teacher, lived as an artist and upheld highest values of life. I have been indeed fortunate to have closely observed, interacted and learnt from D. Pasupathi and C.V. Chandrasekhar, two of the many illustrious artists from Kalakshetra. Pasupathi, born on 17 April 1931, a native of Vandavasi, was literally ‘hand-picked’ by Rukmini Devi when he was just a boy. He was ‘adopted’ as a child of Kalakshetra, had exposure to all the arts and acquired a good repertoire of the kritis of Muthuswami Dikshitar from the vidwans teaching at Kalakshetra.
8 News & Notes
12 Birthday calendar
14 M.S. Sheela
22 The Indian diaspora v Viji Prakash
31 Art spaces v Musiri chamber
37 News & Notes (continued)
43 Tributes v Manakkal Rangarajan v D. Pasupathi
50 From the Editor
Front Cover: Viji Prakash and M.S. Sheela