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Jyothi Venkatachalam

Rukmini Devi Arundale is a respected authority on dance, music and drama. She has contributed more than any other individual to enrich India's artistic and cultural heritage. As one of India’s outstanding personalities, she inherited a background full with a cultural, artistic and learned atmosphere. Rukmini Devi devoted her entire life for the revival and re-establishment of many of the traditional arts and crafts of India.

Rukmini Devi Arundale
A pioneer and fearless crusader, she was the first highborn Indian lady, to espouse the cause of Bharata Natyam, which was not considered a respectable art in the early twenties. Recognizing the beauty and spiritual value of this art form, she had the courage not only to learn the dance, but also to present it on stage in spite of strong public protest. Her marriage to Dr. George Arundale was another shocking break from tradition and she faced the public outcry and ostracism with great courage.

Though she lived in a house next to a Bharatanatyam dancer, she was not drawn to dance as a child. It was Anna Pavlava, a noted ballet dancer, who introduced her into the mystical world of dance. So in her late 20s, Rukmini Devi started her training in dance under Meenakashisundaram Pillai. Her typical day would begin at 7 in the morning with dance practice, which would go on till late in the evening with an hour break for lunch.

With her spellbinding performance Rukmini Devi converted the conservative outlook of the Madras (now called Chennai) audience, which did not accept the fact that a Brahmin girl had taken up dancing. She changed many concepts and things related to dance. Rukmini Devi was the first dancer who started making musicians sit on the side of the stage. She designed her own costumes.

After her astounding performance at the diamond jubilee convention of the Theosophical Society her husband Dr. Arundale realized that dance was not just a hobby his wife had picked up, it was a spiritual experience for her. So, he along with Rukmini Devi decided to start a dance academy. Pandit Subramaniam Sastry suggested the name Kalakshetra, and thus the now famous Kalakshetra, was born in 1936 in Madras, as a cultural academy for preservation of traditional values in Indian art in the field of dance and music.

Kalaskshetra gave Rukmini Devi ample scope to exhibit her genius. Many renowned artists of Bharatanatyam, Kathakali and Carnatic music participated in building up the institution and maintaining the highest traditions in education and training.

The institution had the unique distinction of having had such great scholars and musicians as Tiger Varadachariar, Mysore Vasudevachariar, Papanasam Sivan, Meenakshisundaram Pillai, Mylapore Gauri Ammal, Veenai Sambasiva Iyer, Budalur Krishnamurthy Sastri, H. Ramachandra Sastri, M.D. Ramanathan, Chandu Panikkar and a host of other geniuses as principals and professors in their respective disciplines.

A notable feature of Rukmini Devi’s efforts was the integration of all forms and maintaining the highest traditions of art and culture in pristine purity and conformity with traditions.

To ensure that the principles of education without fear and art without vulgarity are adhered to in the activities of the Foundation and not to permit any deviation from these high ideals. Today, this institution has become a center of excellence and a haven of opportunity for thousands of students to learn traditional arts, thanks Rukmini Devi’s dedication and perseverance.

Jyothi Venkatachalam, director of Abhyasa School Of Dance, Club Tampa Palms, offers classes in Bharat Natyam, traditional folk dances, Indian percussion instruments (Mridangam, Dholak, Ghatam, Kanjira, Morsingh and Konakol). She can be reached at (813) 977-9039 or (813) 404-7899 or via e-mail at


Lavanya Dinesh

The Indian music firmament is dotted by a vast number of fascinating musical instruments, providing a whole range of unique sound and melody. There are traditional instruments that have evolved over a period of many centuries within the country and also adopted ones imported from the west but beautifully integrated into the complex Indian music system.

Most of the popular musical instruments can be placed in these three main categories.

Percussion instruments: Provide rhythmic accompaniment to vocal and other instrumental musical renditions. The most popular ones include Pakhawaj, Mridang, Tabla, Dholak, Thavil, Ghatam, Khanjira and Morsing.

String instruments: These have strings that can be plucked or strummed to produce melody. Some of them use frets and bows as well. Some well-known string instruments are Been, Vichitra Veena, Saraswati Veena, Rudra Veena, Vipanchi Veena, Sitar, Sarod, Surbahar, Sarangi, Dilruba, Esraj, Tar Shehnai, Guitar, Mandolin, Santoor, Violin, Viola and Tanpura.

Wind instruments: These employ blowing techniques used by the players to manipulate sound frequency and volume. They include Bansuri (bamboo flute), Shehnai, Nadaswara, Clarinet, Saxophone and also Harmonium.

Pakhawaj and Mridang: These are double-sided Indian drums; the Mridang is the smaller of the two. Ancient forms of these instruments have been around for thousands of years. The Mridang is traditional rhythmic accompaniment to Karnatic music. The Pakhawaj is used to accompany Dhrupad singing and also in ancient forms of bhajan and temple music rendition.

The Pakhawaj is made of a single piece of wooden cylindrical cask-like body. The walls of the instrument are 2-3 centimeters thick and give it stability at low frequencies. The body being hollow has two apertures covered by stretched goat skin, one wider than the other. When played, the wider side will generate a low-pitched sound while the narrower side of this drum will produce high-pitched sounds. The high-pitched aperture or ‘dayan’ played with the right hand has a thick black disc stuck to the center. This is made of flour, ferric oxide powder and starch to allow for an emission of harmonics. The ‘bayan’ or the left bass aperture is frequently coated in the middle with plain flour paste to give it perfect tune. Leather strips are used to stretch both the skins.

The amazingly melodious sound emanating from adept playing of the Pakhawaj comes from following certain specific ‘bols’ or sounds expressed in words that the player follows. Years of arduous training and ‘riyaz’ or practice are needed for even a moderate mastery over this instrument. The tuning is done using a round shaped stone.

Tabla: This percussion instrument is used as accompaniment to ‘khyal’ style of singing. The Tabla evolved about 800 years ago during the time of the great historian, poet-musician Amir Khusro. In the present day, the Tabla is used in several kinds of vocal and instrument rendition, including light, devotional and film music.

The Tabla is a pair of drums – the ‘dayan’ or the treble drum is played with the right hand. The ‘bayan’ or the bass drum is played with the left hand. The ‘bayan,’ also called ‘dagga,’ is a cylindrical drum made of copper or brass covered on top with a large stretched skin. The treble drum, also called just Tabla, is made of wood. The goat skin on both the drums has a thick black disc in the center called the ‘shiai.’ The skin is tightened using camel skin braces. The right drum is tuned to the scale or pitch of the main artist being accompanied. In the hands of a talented player, the Tabla can produce the notes of any melody or ‘raaga.’ Its tuning is done using a metallic hammer called the ‘hatori.’ Some legendary tabla players of the present and the recent past are Pandit Kishan Maharaj, Ustad Ahmed Jaan Tirakhwa, Ustad Allarakha, Pandit Shubhankar Banerjee, Pandit Anindo Chatterji, Pandit Samta Prasad, Pandit Suresh Talwalkar, Pandit Chaturlal, Pandit Sheshagiri Hangal, Ustad Zakir Hussain and Pandit Swapan Choudhury.

Ghatam: This is the traditional accompaniment for Karnatic music along with the Mridanga, Khanjira and Morsing. The Ghatam is an earthenware clay pot. There are two main kinds of ghatams. One has a lighter wall; the other with the thick wall is more difficult to play but produces nuanced, pleasing sound. Each pot is tuned to the tonic or perfect pitch of the vocalist – so a Ghatam player can have numerous such instruments depending on the many soloists the artist must accompany.

Dholak: This is a double-sided drum used to accompany ‘Qawwali,’ wedding and folk music in northern India.

Thavil: This is a two-sided wide cylindrical drum producing rich, high-volume rhythms. It is played in south India during auspicious occasions such as festivals, temple processions and weddings.

Lavanya Dinesh is an accomplished performer and teacher of Hindustani classical vocal music. She has worked as a music critic and feature writer for The Times of India and Deccan Herald. She can be reached at

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