Sabha business & sri Sumukhi Rajasekharan Foundation: how our fellow Indians dupe us and make $$ from promoting the “traditional Indian” culture

There is one thing about Sumukhi Rajasekharan Foundation (SRF) that makes people wonder why their award functions gather fully packed auditoriums (300-400 people at least), but there are hardly 20-30 rasikas attending their “regular” Bharatanatyam programmes – even when these programmes present excellent dancers (such as the little virtuoso Sri Gayathri, who got the VDS Arts Academy’s Best Dancer award, and whose guru, Vijay Madhavan, featured her in his Sanmatham Bharathiyil DVD) .

Isn’t it because no serious rasikas, critics and dancers take SRF seriously? SRF recently jumped on the bandwagon of the profitable sabha business in Chennai. SRF launched its Exclusive NRIs’ “Kala Poshakam”, while other sabhas are now quietly making $$ from non-exclusive festivals where the rich (but visibly inferior) NRI dancers and foreigners pay 50 times more than a poor but exceptionally talented Chennai dancer can afford. Although Hamsadhwani was the pioneer in cashing in on bringing the NRI dancers to Chennai, SRF’s recent II Year International Art Festival of Dance & Music included hardly any Bharatanatyam dancers from Madras, so as to avoid embarrassing the less-capable NRI dancers and make them feel good. As S. Surendranath explained it, “You see, at Marghazhi Bala Utsavam we were planning to give titles even to the winners in such traditional categories as Junk Art but, surprisingly, we received no NRI bids”.

Well, SRF so far have tried to follow the simple method that other sabhas adopted: to enhance the “prestiigeousness” of a newly introduced title, the sabha gives such a new title to a well-known dancer of (obviously?) high caliber. Then, in a few year’s time, these well-known dancers discover that the same title has been given to the dancers who are not in their league. Naturally, they rave and rant, post their protests (like the Dhananjayans), curse the sabha, threaten to throw away the title/award into the garbage bin, and so on. The rasikas enjoy the social comedy.

The SRF followed this scenario and gave the first (or was it one of the first?) “Natya Bala Brahmam” to the dancers who were outstanding ( Medha Hari), then it tricked down to very good dancers and so on. Some utterly useless dancers too such as Shraddha Nagaraj got the title of “Nrithya Bala Sri”. Yet we received no response regarding the criteria on which SRF founds its allocation of these titles. In any case, SRF, like other sabhas, allocates these annually, which usually means that sooner or later all the deserving dancers as well as undeserving ones will be awarded this title. As one Bharatanatyam dancer awarded the SRF’s title told us “I was not sure whether to accept it or not because SRF is mainly known for its folk dance, junk art, fancy dress, and kolam competitions, and the ancient Indian “Master Mylapore” contest“.

Here is a quote from the Hindu on how awards are given:

One of them was once approached by a sabha, which offered to honour her with an award. Happiness at such a recognition soon turned to dismay and indignation when she found out that she was expected to sponsor her award. Needless to add that she called it off.

SRF is currently largest junk organization if you judge by the sheer number of the children who get a chance to be seen on the stage and who get certificates, memo’s, and titles, whether it is Junk Art or Fancy Dress. The latter was particularly interesting as SRF present’s itself as a supporter of “traditional” Indian culture. Some smarter NRI’s are still perplexed to hear that SRF considers as traditional such musical instruments as violin , electronic keyboard, and saxophone. “We are considering including traditional Jazz in our folk dance programmes”, a SRF representative told us.

The Emperor’s New Clothes

There is one element that distinguishes Sri Sumukhi Rajasekharan Memorial Foundation from other cultural organizations in South India: the strict dress code. While Mr. S Surendranath sports a traditional Persian kurtha, the outfit that arrived in North India along with the Arab invaders not so long ago (this is something that Mr. S. Amarnath with his Doctorate in History, tries not to mention), SRF’s lower-ranking functionaries are dressed in traditional French shirts, English trousers and Italian-style shoes. The top two men from the Mylapore Trio confess, “We do not want to wear Dhoti because we are hoping to get the sponsorships from the Muslim community too”.

SRF’s web site states its “dress code”: “Girls: uption 13 years – Paavaadai, Chokka”. No sleeveless for Girls & Women

Mr. S. Amarnath explains, “We try to have our programmes in the traditional, air-conditioned auditoriums, so as to create the ambience similar to what my ancestors had in Iran’s winter 500 years ago. If any South Indian women dare tell us that it is too hot for South India to wear long sleeves, we warn them that they would catch a cold if they come to our programmes. We are considering making the traditional burka mandatory too”

One woman remarks, “These folks invited us for their fancy dress competition, but their dress code states, “No Fancy Bindhis”! An SRF guard was clearly embarassed when asked to explain where is his ruler to help him measure the size of Pottu – only in Red colour / Min. Size: 8mm Round or Thilakam.

One of the “traditional” elements in SRF’s events are the demand for children to be separated from their parents so that they would happily chat to other kids, play and fight with each other in the front rows, and run towards their mommies every time they want some water or a few biscuits.

“One of our aims is to create a traditional Indian noisy atmosphere that would make the performers on the stage realize that life is no funny matter”, explained SRF’s president. We do not know why SRF functionaries encourage them to clap their hands in an untraditional, un-Indian matter: applause came from the uncultured West, didn’t it? And the rasikas sit in the untraditional, un-Indian armchairs. SRF’s T-shirt-clad cameramen would traditionally point their cameras with the traditional mounted 1KVA floodlights right into your eyes, 2 meters away from your face. The rasikas would traditionally curse these idiotic cameramen in their minds, and swear that they would never come again to SRF’s programmes.

SRF’s Ms. S. Aparna, sporting a traditional Swiss watch, comments, “Of course, the musicians and vocalists who sing at our programmes are using the traditional Indian mikes, antique amplifiers and loudspeakers of the M.Gandhi era. With the proper NRI funding, we are going to eradicate all mention of Sangeetha Ratnakara: this text does not mention the necessity for a vocalist to use a traditional electronic shruti box. Instead, it describes too many harmful practices that can help a vocalist develop a strong voice that would undermine the business of our traditional microphone manufacturers.”

6 thoughts on “Sabha business & sri Sumukhi Rajasekharan Foundation: how our fellow Indians dupe us and make $$ from promoting the “traditional Indian” culture

  1. Hi
    i think all this is foccussed to inculcate lost indian values to the upcoming generation.the srf team need to be very specific as most of the people do not actually know about indian culture.
    i think being indian(note- not south indian) itself is being traditional.why do you seperate the persina kurtas/the swiss watches and many more.yes to many people they will seem like school teachers trying to whip the child and make them behave for nopt being traditional.if you visit a conference,you are expected to be in a foriegn dress are not allowed inside if you dont follow it.why not take this as a small good example.follow it if you can.leave it if you dont want to.dont just sit there and comment!

  2. Dear Gayatri,

    Answering point by point.

    1. You say, “if you visit a conference,you are expected to be in a foriegn dress are not allowed inside if you dont follow it.why not take this as a small good example.follow it if you can”

    The point is the SRF functionaries try to enforce
    a) the dress code that themselves do not follow
    b) some of this dress code that is presented as “traditional Indian” has nothing to do with India

    2. You say, “most of the people do not actually know about indian culture”.

    I disagree: most people in Mylapore know that “Junk Art” or “Fancy Dress” have nothing to do with the Indian culture, and they know that “Mister Mylapore” titles are just cheap mimicking of the idiotic western contests.

  3. hi bharatanatyam!is that your real name?
    thanks for the point to point analysis.
    well please note that they are insisting that you be in indian attire.what do you mean by this-‘they dont follow themselves?’can you explain?
    i am only mentioning about the dress code and not the competitions. junk art and fancy dress may not be indian names and competitions.they are having a great number of ideas to attract young minds!have you ever actually seen the miss/master contest?
    it may be a mimic of the western culture but i assure you my friend that its defenitely not CHEAP.
    will you be knowing the delicacies of a traditional south indian meal and where each item has to be served on the banana leaf?
    will you be knowing the history of maamylai?
    will you be interested in knowing how to tie the madisar or the panchakacham for an auspicious occasion?
    do you know the different pujas that are celebrated in india(please note- not south india),the mantras for these and the method of celebration?
    these are the contests for the young ones who compete for the kumaran/kumari title.
    this foundation is one such that teaches you everything about the ancient,forgotten customs of india.
    try to teach something good to everybody.thats what they do.thats a great job i think!

  4. Vetti, Gayatri, ah? 🙂

    If they “are insisting that you be in TRADITIONAL indian attire”, why do they wear the non-traditional Persian suits???? The suits of the Muslim conquerers who destroyed much of the Indian culture!!!!!!

    Re: “having a great number of ideas to attract young minds”, the Indian cricket board have even a greater number of these ideas. The question is, “Do these ideas have anything to do with the traditional Indian culture”????

    Re: “have you ever actually seen the miss/master contest?”
    No. What is there to see anyway??? A few brahmin cheri’s competing with each other for a cheri title????? What is “its defenitely not CHEAP”???

    If you want to know “the delicacies of a traditional south indian meal and where each item has to be served on the banana leaf”, go to any decent restaurant in Chennai and enjoy it.

    how to tie the madisar or the panchakacham for an auspicious occasion? Who cares how you tie it since IN REAL LIFE it is a totally useless skill, and nobody of those kids will ever wear anything like madisar or the panchakacham, nor will they have any idea of what is “auspicious occasion”, and when it is! It is time you stop trusting the half-illiterate brahmins and self-styled astrologists!

    Re: the different pujas that are celebrated in india(please note- not south india)

    Ah, you mean the Muslim pujas? South India still retains most of the ancient Hindu culture. Who will watch Bharatanatyam in Delhi?????

    Re:”the mantras for these and the method of celebration”

    Tell me if you know at least 1 bhrahmin who understands the meaning of these mantras! I have met 1000 parrots who tried to look like they know anything!!!! You can’t call these parrot-people “cultured”, can you????? Mantras are supposed to have some effect, so if you know anybody whose mantra recitation produces anything more than noise, drop me a note here! 🙂

  5. this is too much! Im laughing ! Why didn’t you start writing these blogs like years ago!

    Bharatha natyam, they should have given you an editorial section in a chennai based dance magazine long ago!

    If I do intend on making such a magazine, I swear there will be one place for you to vent the reality of dance in India!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s