Sunnyvale, Calif. — Bay Area Indian Americans were treated last weekend to “Kala Mahotsav,” a unique classical arts festival, held in association with the Consulate General of India, at the Sunnyvale Hindu Temple that was free of charge. The audience saw an array of art forms, encompassing Indian classical dance and traditional Hindustani and Carnatic music, all day June 7 and 8.
For the first time in the Bay Area, eight classical dance forms — Sattriya, Manipuri, Mohiniattam, Kuchipudi and Kathakali, in addition to the better known Bharatanatyam, Kathak and Odissi — were showcased.
Inaugurating the Kala Mahotsav festival on June 6, Consul General N. Parthasarathi said he hoped the event will become an annual program featuring the best of India’s classical music and dance talents coming together on one stage.
One of the prime motivators behind the festival, the consul general said he was excited to be here on this occasion, calling the temple a “fantasy land,” and praised the efforts of the members of the Sunnyvale Hindu Temple in bringing the concept to fruition.
Addressing the audience, temple board member Mukesh Mowji praised the various volunteers from the temple who were largely instrumental in bringing the artists to the San Francisco Bay Area for the festival. Temple treasurer Raj Bhanot also addressed the gathering, and received a proclamation for his efforts from Ajay Bhutoria on behalf of California state assemblyman Bill Quirk.
Mowji also told the audience that the Sunnyvale temple has come a long way from when it was first built. In fact, he said, temple volunteers now visit the local jails to teach the inmates about the Bhagavad Gita.
Special invitees who attended the weekend program, which raised $9,000 and secured pledges of $21,000 for the temple, were Consul for Culture and Community Relations Anand Kumar Jha, Milpitas Mayor Jose Esteves, Sunnyvale city councilmember David Whittum, amongst others.
Special lighting and hand-painted artwork on stage created an aesthetically pleasing backdrop, depicting the facade of a temple in ancient India.
Some highlights of the festival, enjoyed by the over 2,000 people in attendance, were:
Sattriya, an older dance form and a living tradition in Assam since its creation by the great Vaishnav saint Srimanta Sukdev, from the 15th century. In Sattriya, originally performed by male devotees, story-telling from the epics is done through plays with traditional native instruments such as khols (drums), taals (cymbals) and the bansuri (flute). Bonmayuri Kalita, a dedicated exponent of the rare Sattriya, traveled from Colorado to share with the audience the beauty of this austere art form.
A Kuchipudi item, “Tarangam,” was performed by Samidha Satyam on the rim of a brass plate. In another Kuchipudi performance by Madhuri Kishore, the audience savored the triumph of good over evil in the depiction of Mother Durga's fierce “Mahishasura Mardhini.”
Mohinattam, a classical dance originating from Kerala and famed for its exquisite grace, was performed by Radha Carmen from Los Angeles, while on June 8, a Kathakali piece was depicted by Roshani Pillai, a passionate exponent of the dance form.
Nirmala Madhava of the Pampa Dance Academy gave a rare thematic Kathak performance, and Vishal Ramani of Sri Krupa Dance Academy chose to demonstrate Abhinaya, the art of expression in Bharatanatyam.
Manipuri dancers from Chandrayee Mukherjee's troupe enacted Krishna's Rasa Lila, in a combination of solo, duet and group dances.
Nataraj School of Dance presented Odissi, a soft and lyrical temple art form of Devadasis who were dancers dedicated in service to the Lord.
Other notable performers included veteran exponent Mythili Kumar, who received a standing ovation for her solo performance of Bharatanatyam pieces;Kathak expositions by the vibrant Anuradha Nag from Tarangini School of Dance; Jyoti Rout's charming Odissi troupe led by Nilanjana Roy from Jyoti Kala Mandir; a collaborative effort from Niharika Mohanty in Odissi with the talented Navia Natarajan in Bharatanayam.
For Carnatic music, Hemmige Srivatsan treated the audience to Carnatic vocals while the accomplished Anuradha Sridhar, niece of late Lalgudi Jayaraman, presented the Lalgudi tradition on the violin. Offerings in Hindustani classical music included vocals by gold-medalist Shubhangi Sakhalkar and Sisirkana Dhar Choudhury, a violinist, who regaled the audience with her student ensemble from Ali Akbar College of Music, San Rafael.
The entire festival was a labor of love from over 50 volunteers right from the planning stage to contacting and hosting artists to the final coordinating of segments. Treasurer Raj Bhanot of the Sunnyvale temple along with Surajit Sengupta, Anil Annam and Anand Bandi took active interest in overseeing the arrangements and ensuring the program was a success.