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Indian Classical Dance & Music Over The Years


Dr. Seshu Sarma, an Associate Professor in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at the Morehouse School of Medicine, is a well known figure in the Atlanta classical dance and music community.

The Atlanta Indian community has been quite successful in preserving its Indian cultural heritage. It was a small community, no bigger than 15-20 households in the late 60s, which came together under one umbrella to celebrate the most important ethnic, cultural as well as religious festivals. Over the years, the Indian community in Atlanta grew exponentially and started building cultural and religious organizations based on the language, the regions of their origin and their religious preferences. As a result, today we see the Indian community not under one umbrella but belonging to several regional organizations.

In the 1970s and 80s, some members of Indian community with the zeal to propagate and preserve their cultural heritage worked hard to bring the community members together. They organized various successful cultural events with the limited resources they had. One such presentation was the Ramayana ballet which was presented under the direction of Nalini Ayyagari with the help of Dr. P.Venugopala Rao, a professor of physics at Emory and many others. Sujaya Dixit and Usha Kadaba were the pioneers in classical dance training in Atlanta and Vibha Desai was their counterpart in classical music teaching. They taught Indian kids classical dance and music in the 70s and 80s.

In the mid and later part of the 80s, the Carnatic Music Association of Georgia, and the Indian Classical Music Society were established to promote and preserve Indian classical music. It was the 1990s when the Atlanta Indian community witnessed an influx of professional artists in both Indian classical dance and music, who made Atlanta their home. As a result, the quality as well as the number of professional programs presented in Atlanta improved tremendously. 

Sasikala Penumarthi and Revathi Komanduri, disciples of the world renowned Kuchipudi guru, Dr. Vempaty Chinasatyam set up dance academies to train students in Kuchipudi dance, a unique dance form which hails from Andhra Pradesh. Padmaja Kelam and Chandrika Chandran started teaching Bharatanatyam, the majestic classical dance form from Tamil Nadu. Later in the 1990s and early part of 2000s, Preethy Shah, Savitha Viswanathan, Rajasree, Uma Pulendran, Subhadra, Gayatri Vasanth, Gayatri and C.V. Subramanian and many others entered the classical dance arena of Atlanta. These professionals carry impeccable dance resumes' with extensive training in such premium institutions as the Kalakshetra; Rukmini Arundale academy; and from famous gurus like Vasantha Lakshmi and Narasimhachari; Chitra and Madurai Muralidharans, Shanta and Dhananjayan of Bhrata Kalanjali and Rajarathnam Pillai, to name a few. Kumud Savla and Dina Sheth of Kruthi Academy are two well revered dance professionals in Atlanta. While Kumud specializes in Kathak, a graceful North Indian dance form, Ms. Sheth exposes her students to a multidisciplinary approach to Indian dance. The impact that these professional dancers have had and continue to have on Atlanta is so great that the Atlanta community has been enjoying a vibrant cultural atmosphere. 

When one looks at what has happened in the field of Carnatic and Hindustani music among the Atlanta Indian community, one clearly sees similar growth and expansion. Many well trained Carnatic and Hindustani musicians found their home in Atlanta providing ample opportunity for youngsters to learn the art with the same emphasis on detail as they did when they were students in India. Savita Namuduri, Subhashini Krishnamurthy, Sujatha Rayburn, Usha Balasubramanian, Padma Rajaraman, Lakshmi Prabhakar and Kala Vasudevan are some of the well trained vocalists in Carnatic music. There are many instrumentalists who have enriched the field of Carnatic of music in Atlanta. Dr. Ram Sriram, Subra Viswanathan, Suresh Kothandaraman, and Santosh Chandru are some of the professional percussionists, where as Jashoda, Ramesh Panchagnula and Papanasan Gokul, the great grandson of the legendary composer, Papanasan Sivan, are well trained violinists in town. Many Hindustani musicians who deserve to be mentioned are the sitarist, Kakoli Bandopadhyay, violinist, Amitava Sen, and the flautist Apurva Srivastava, the son of the legendary Hindustani musician, Raghunath Seth. There are many Hindustani percussionists in Atlanta. Shekhar Pendalwar, Anil Sharma and Anjaneya Sastry are well known tabla players. 

Several organizations and music schools, namely the Pundit Jasraj School of music, Tarang music academy, and Sruthilaya, have been established to promote Indian classical music in Atlanta. Thousands of Indian American children are being trained in these institutions. Given the support that these art forms have received, it is not surprising that Atlanta has been showcasing talented youth both in music and dance nationally. Children have won competitions at the prestigious Cleveland Tyagaraja festival in manodharma sangeetam, an area not easy to handle unless one has had years of training and practice. One such youngster worth mentioning is Priyadarshini Rathakrishnan. Priya had her training initially from Subhashini Krishnamurthy but later received advanced training from Palghat Ram Prasad. At a tender age of 13, Priya can give a full three hour concert. Ramya Ramakrishnan, Anita Rajaraman, and Smitha Ganesh are among many who have received advanced training in Carnatic music. Several youngsters got recognitions for their mastery of Bharata Natyam, Kuchipudi and Kathak. Siddharth Kelam, Samta Savla, Kanya Manoj, Vandana Murthy, Mangala Maddali, Akhila Takkalapalli, and Nisha Chandran are just a few among many child artists who gained recognition as seasoned dancers in Atlanta. Every year, many youngsters are celebrating Ranga Pravesam and Arangetram under the guidance of their gurus with live orchestral support from local professional musician.

In the last two decades, Atlanta's Indian community had the fortune to host top rated artists both in classical music and dance. The list is so exhaustive that it is impractical to mention names of these artists in this article. In addition, many top notch music and dance programs were produced by local artists. Swapna Vijayam, Arpan, Sri Vighneswara Vaibhavam, Mohana Krishna, Andal kalyanam, Sivoham-Sivoham, and Saptapadi were some of the high caliber programs directed and produced by local artists in Atlanta. 

Drama and theatrical production, which have been totally replaced by the modern cinema in the last two centuries, gained a strong foot hold in Atlanta, thanks to veteran actors and producers like Swaroop Nyshadham and Syam Yellamraju. Under the direction of these two individuals, countless mega shows and dramas were staged in Atlanta.

At present, Atlanta's Indian community is experiencing a plethora of cultural programs. Many visiting professional artists are still being patronized in spite of the availability of local professional artists. In fact, professionally trained local musicians and dancers are finding it difficult to present their talent in the community due to lack of time and resources. The Indian community is no longer eagerly waiting for good programs. Many wonderful shows are knocking on the door. So, the community is now at a stage to pick and choose the programs they want to attend. 

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