Madhukali - Omenad:

'Art as Vehicle of the Intangible' -- 3rd Annual Conference

Report on Conference

By Neerja Gore


(With inputs from Dr. Sashi Kumar, Fauzia Arshi, Meelit Sharma and others)

31st December, 2010

The three day event comprising paper reading sessions on the topic, “Art as Vehicle of the Intangible” and Ninad concerts were organized by Madhukali in collaboration with Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya at Avvritti Bhavan and Veethi Sankul, IGRMS, Bhopal. Arrival of participants and artistes from Agra, Banasthali, Bangalore, Delhi, Indore, Jaipur, Mumbai, Sagar, Ujjain, Varanasi started on 30th morning and most of them had reached in time to attend the inaugural session.

The venue of Conference, Avritti Bhawan was a welcome surprise to scholars and artistes – almost all of whom were visiting Manav Sangrahalaya for the first time. Unspoken, but unanimous was the thought that organizers had wisely chosen this location for a discussion on “intangible”. The wide open spaces with rectangular structure that somehow lost its angularity seemed to reflect the presence felt but uncaught.

Shri Ashok Kumar Tiwari, Curator, IGRMS welcomed the special guests and participants. Dr. Kiran Deshpande, Director of Madhukali too welcomed them all. Dr. Santosh Kumar, ex Vice Chancellor, Dr. H.S. Gour University, Sagar expounded the recognition of abstract values that govern such materialistic field of studies as scientific research. Globalization is an all pervading phenomena and it is only trust in our traditional values that shall leave us standing on our feet. Prof. Satyabhan Sharma, a practitioner of ancient Temple music tradition, echoed the exact sentiments quoting ancient Indian Vedic literature. All of Indian thought has defined action as means of lifting one from the state of grossness (sthool) to ethereal (sookshm) one. In his address as Chairpesron Prof. Kamalkant Mishra, Director IGRMS stated that globalization cannot be wished away; its benefits cannot be denied and one has to be ready to pay for the price. We have to be concerned equally with the contemporary gains that accrue and the labour, commitment required to preserve the essential and the delicate values descended from our tradition. Dr. Umesh Yadav, Coordinator of ICH Events Madhukali proposed a vote of thanks. The short inaugural session was gracefully conducted by Garima.

Guests and scholars greeted each other over a cup of tea. The morning chill had turned pleasant by now and people, revitalized, entered the conference hall that would unfurl the drama of their personal and cumulative thoughts through the next ten sessions.

The first session stretched over an hour and half with just two speakers. Mrs. Neerja Gore conducted this introductory session bringing speakers and listeners on continuous platform of thought. Prof. Rajiv Trivedi explained the theme; actually, the various levels that theme incorporated. He illustrated how the sense of intangibility, experienced from the early childhood is conserved through art; why is the question of its philosophic evaluation as significant as the social one and how a study techniques used in different art-forms may supply a clue to formulating a definition of the intangible. Briefly, he connected the present concerns of this conference with those of UNESCO Convention 2003, emphasising urgency of community participation in conservation of cultural practices. Prof. Satyabhan Sharma delivered the key-note address with suggestion to include the intended aspect of art as well – that of perpetrator. Illustrating his ideas from ancient scriptures, music traditions, he emphasized that not only has the artiste to meekly practice his art but use it to perpetrate a dialogue with the intangible. It is only through this that the state of Moksha would become attainable.

The two speakers had given two clear viewpoints – practice and contemplation – and the pleasant trip to tribal Habitat for lunch acted as necessary interlude.

In the post lunch sessions of the first day Neerja Gore presented Sandhya Pureecha’s paper on tracing relationship between dance and painting. The collaborators insisted upon the inherent poetry in both art-forms that acts as source of inspiration. The poetic idea takes a visual image that requires creation of language by the dancer for faithful expression. While Sandhya could not travel from Mumbai, Balkrishnan Iyer did and was awaiting his chance to interact. His paper, “Static States in Fleeting Rhythms” confessed of experience that left the artiste numb to his surroundings (later, Kavita Dwibedi also spoke of such experiences) but it also explored the technical practices which connected the undefined with concrete. Gary, trained in western music, who opted for freedom of innovation accorded by guitar, presented a well reached paper in collaboration with Sarita, a generational folk singer trained in classical Sitar. The writers emphasized how despite changes in diction and external conditions the spontaneously caught moments in folk-music and methodically nurtured strains in classical music convey the same spirit.

Although Dr. Ramanna could not reach in time, her paper was read out. The paper dealt with mechanisms that evolve in refugee communities by which they manage to preserve their national identity and trauma of exile; stories, ballads, songs and skits are used to maintain that elusive sense of wholeness. Another paper scheduled in this session “Uniqueness in Hindusthani Music: Knowledge, Creative Expressions and Experiences” could not be presented as uncertain weather decapacitated another scholar, Dr. Bandopadhyaya from reaching Bhopal.

In the first session of Ninad concerts, Satyendra Solanki presented Raga Bhupali on Santoor. He was accompanied by Chandrahas Pimpalkhare on Tabla. Highlight of the evening was Thumri recital of Dr. Sharada Velankar. Rahul Swarnkar on Tabla and Dr. Neena Shrivastava on Tanpura accompanied the vocalist from Varanasi. Zameer Khan provided accompaniment on harmonium. The final event on the first evening was recital in temple tradition of various Dhruva-padas, Bandishes and devotional compositions by Prof. Satyabhan Sharma. Apart from two accompanists from earlier recital, Pt. Kaushalesh Dwivedi too had joined with his Pakhawaj. It was a matter of great joy that Pt. Omprakash Chourasiya, founder director of Madhukali, despite poor health, made it a point to attend the concerts.

January 1st 2011

On the second morning several more participants had joined and apart from the group of scholars several interested persons too had joined in.  The fourth session started with Hirendra Singh from Rewa who explained how learning folk lore and listening to tall tales of elderly village women  in his tender years brought him closer to live in Baghelkhand. It was the nuances of different eras encapsulated in toil, tales and songs that find their place automatically in his play Kaun Bhoom te Bhari with a cast of almost 100 actors.

Theatre gave way to music as Dr. Mallika Banerjee demonstrated how by softening phrases, the Delhi school of vocal music grants allure to compositions. The conversation was carried further when Rachana Sharma explained the role Raga-s play in expressing emotions. Almost on cue, Dr. Sharada Velankar illustrated how small deviations changed the mood of a composition.  She demonstrated how the same phrase recurred in different compositions of varying emotional strain. Supportive words like ari, re, he, ho, etc. so much a part of modern Thumri, come from ancient times. These are used to balance poetry within the musical structure.

Music remained in focus even in the next session. Dr. Ragini Trivedi referring to earlier papers stated that the key to Raga lies in the principle of consonance. The principles Bharat had established were later proved to be mathematically true. In a way, Indian music is based on natural sounds and has discovered the perfect manner of interlacing them. The consonance is “intangible” born out of measurable sounds. She pointed out that of possible 72 Thaat-s, Pt. Bhatkhande had selected only 10 relying solely on his ear. Later Dr. Lalit Kishor Singh provided the mathematical basis for those very 10 Thaat-s as musically acceptable – all, following the principle of ‘Nava-Trayodash Shruti-antaraal’.

The next speaker Arati Rao from Bangalore clarified in her paper, Musicography in Karnatic Music how the traditional music compositions have been preserved through innovations in notation systems. Intangible elements are a product of the performer’s or composer’s ‘manodharma’ (imagination) which has been honed over a long period of time with learning, listening and practice. These intangible elements are those which give a composer, performer or particular bani (school) their distinct identity.  They are contained within the multifarious expressions of spontaneous music emanating from the composer or performer.  After these expressions manifest themselves in a performance, their beauty can be re-captured by oral reproduction or documentation. Such recapitulation is essential for a systematic analysis and study of music.   The idea was amply illustrated by Dr. S. Sashi Kumar in his paper, The Spiritual and Philosophical aspects of Carnatic Music. He started the paper highlighting various composers of Carnatic music like Tirunanasambandar, Arunagirinathar, Annamacharya, Tirunjanasambanadar, Trinity, Kshetraya, Narayanathirtha, Badrachalaramdas, Jayadev etc. Prof. Kumar theorized that Bhakti movement, infused with thoughts of several saint singers through their musical compositions, was responsible for chaste conveyance of both philosophy and music. His renderings of various compositions, while carrying the intellectual dialogue forward also conveyed the intangible aspect by binding the audience emotionally.

Small groups informally deliberated various aspects and applications over lunch. By now interaction between theatre artiste and musician, painter and the dancer was cemented and everyone was re-examining his or her understanding of the “intangible”.

An Odissi practitioner, Dr. Kavita Dwibedi initiated the sixth session with her presentation, “Dance: Infusion of Ethereal into Substance”.  She said that at the learning stage, a gesture or movement is available on a mechanical level but gradually the artiste begins to develop sensibilities so that later the same gesture is able to invoke the same emotions which the situation carries. While a number of these feelings acquire fullness with maturity and experience, she confessed that at times she is unable to convey the feeling of ecstasy that she actually comes to experience in a performance. A vocal performance, said Dr. Sudha Dixit relates to untrained audience through poetry and ‘Kaku’ – intonation, modulation and combination of various notes. Even though the listener has no actual experience, the intense emotion is enjoyed by him and this is true ‘Rasa-nishpatti’. The reference to Rasa theory she made caused several informal dialogues between participants later that day.

In the final session of the day, “Visual Prowess: Exploring Layers of Reality”, films of Nandan Saxena & Kavita Bahl forayed into the ambiguous region of tracing relation between poetry and the visual medium. Three haikus of Japanese poets were turned into films; the words were not spoken but natural sounds and visuals presented thought distinctly. On a more concrete level it was demonstrated how the myth, reverence and artistic possibilities related to a musical instrument – Veena – could be communicated through a film. Next in session was Dr. Pankaj Tiwari from Sagar whose presentation, “Visualizing Poetry: Carrying essence through “Nai Kavita” traced the conscious camera techniques employed to resonate the thoughts and feelings of poets. He said that this proved to be a good learning experience and Dr. Rajiv Trivedi in response to the films outlined how a work of art outgrows its creator and occupies a larger, subtler and more intense message than actually envisaged. Dr. Tiwari’s short film about death of folk art and culture, made almost two decades back, reflected concern of UNESCO ICH Convention 2003 in full, thereby indicating that artiste is quick to catch a thought in its intangible embryonic state.

On the second evening of Ninad concerts, Dr. Mallika Banerji enthralled the audience with recital of Maru Vihag. She was accompanied by Rahul Swarnkar on Tabla and Dr. Neena Shrivastava on Tanpura. After the traditional singing of Varanasi and Braj, the connoisseurs enjoyed vocal style of Delhi school. Pt. Balkrishna Iyer soon enraptured them with his Tabla recital. He presented compositions of different masters, in a way carrying forward his theory of interplay between the concrete and the intangible, revealing the inner rhythm rising out of the mechanical meter.

January 2nd 2011

The eighth session, once again presided over by Prof Satyabhan Sharma began with Dr. Richa Pande’s discussion of music as medium for conveying the intangible. Dr. Santosh Pathak from Banasthali considered the musical instruments as true example of being vehicle of the intangible. Dr. Bageshri Joshi from Indore once again discussed the gamut of Indian Raga-s as store house of human ingenuity involving both adherence of rules and innovations that transcend the rules. Comparing the Raga prescriptions to grammar, she illustrated that the abstractions of Sat Chit and Anand are manifested just as poetry rises out of language. The paper of Ramendra Mishra on “Origin and development of Benares music tradition” was deferred to later sessions as there was barely time for Dr. Neena Shrivastava to present hers on “Indian Vocal art: the Bond of Spontaneity”.

The next session moved from sound to sight. Dr. Naval Krishna, Joint Director Bharat Kala Bhawan forwarded his theory of indestructibility, proving it with examples from different locations and era in his paper, “Icons: Materialization of Essence”. The intangible aspects rooted in beliefs, needs and routine behaviours, stay dormant for long periods and appear once the pendulum returns. Dr. Annapurna Shukla’s presentation on “Rock paintings: Journeying from Intangible to Tangible” exhibited the presence of lines, structures and conflicts in paintings of all ages that have hardly changed in connotation. A seventh generation painter Mahendra Baoni spoke at length about his personal experience as an artiste regarding language of art that imperceptibly changes the message. The session ended with focus on a more concrete but equally elusive art-form. Mrs. Sandhya Egbote discussed the architecture of Bharat Bhawan both in terms of maintaining tradition as well as transcending it. Local and global find their meeting ground in this spectacular construction which fuses illusion and reality.

Post lunch, the participants faced a daunting burden of almost a dozen papers. A few who could secure a confirmed reservation later than they hoped felt sorry to miss the reading of almost fifth part of present Conference. At the same time, several serious concerns had piled up which required a full scale discussion. It was proposed by Dr. Naval Krishna to consider these papers read and seconded by Prof. Satyabhan Sharma. However as a two hour discussion would suffice, an hour was devoted to presentation of three papers -- Contemplation of Music as Source of Absolution by Prof. Namrata Mishra from Mathura, Weaving the intangible by Isha Bhatt, Jaipur and Interpreting life through Visuals by Debashish Banerjee, Delhi.

With Dr. Naval Krishna in chair, a discussion on “Cliches, Icons, Motifs” was held. Dr. Anandwardhan Sharma, Dr. Pankaj Tiwari, Fauzia Arshi, Dr. Mallika Banerjee, Ms. Arati Rao, Dr. Annapurna Shukla, Prof. Namrata Mishra, Prof. Satyabhan Sharma, Dr. Santosh Pathak and some members in audience participated in it.

The Valedictory session was convened with “monument of unageing intellect”, Prof. Satyabhan Sharma in chair. Scholars welcomed this opportunity to receive their certificates and blessings from a living legend.

The final concerts in Ninad started with Rachana Sharma from Banasthali who trained in the Gwalior school. She sang with authority and simplicity. Both Madhukauns and Bhairavi were carried elegantly in an unhurried manner. She was accompanied by Rahul Swarnkar on Tabla and Dr. Santosh Pathak on harmonium. The last presentation of the event was keenly awaited by scholars in the conference who had heard Dr. Ragini Trivedi speak about ‘Samvad Tatva’ in Indian music. The audience too looked forward to her rendering of a rarely heard Raga – Madhukali. Both groups were delighted by her presentation. For those with penchant for percussion she presented a Raga-bouquet – Shodash Pushp. She presented 16 different Raga-s each starting on a different Matra progressing from Sam to the sixteenth. On behalf of Madhukali, Dr. Kiran Deshpande thanked Director and staff of IGRMS for taking personal care and making annual Omenad Conference and Ninad Concerts a success. Shri Ashok Tiwari thanked participants and Madhukali. Expressing hope for collaboration in future, he requested everyone to treat it as an interval and not end of the activity.

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