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Royal Legacy - An extraordinary journey through History

Dr. Rathna Kumar

Kannada Vrinda has done it again! Over the past few years it has brought to Houston scholars, both Indian and non Indian, who have shed light on different aspects of Indian history, art, architecture, and literature, particularly those pertaining to the State of Karnataka. This past weekend saw the Museum of Fine Arts once again come alive with the vibrant sounds and colors of Karnataka, as men and women of erudition gathered to inform and entertain the audience on the glory and grandeur of the Vijayanagara Empire, with special emphasis on Mysore. Smt. Urmila Devi, a niece of the late Maharaja Jayachamaraja Wodeyar, was the perfect choice for unveiling the seminar paintings. She also gave an enlightening and enlivening slide presentation, punctuated by personal anecdotes, on the Mysore Palace and the various Maharajas that graced its throne.

The Cultural segment of the seminar was inaugurated on Friday, December 1, by Smt. Urmila Devi. The two-hour program held at the Cullen Auditorium, University of St. Thomas, gave an excellent momentum to the seminar. Students of Swaralayam Arts Forum (an enthusiastic supporter of the Seminar) sang four compositions of Sri Jayachamaraja Wodeyar, with guidance from Vidushi Smt. Rajarajeshwary Bhat. This was followed by a rendition of two other compositions of the late Maharaja, by the mother-daughter duo, Asha and Vaishnavi Bhaktavatsalam. Jamuna Murali rendered several compositions representative of the Vijayanagara era, as well as by composers Sri Purandaradasa, Kanaka Dasa and other haridasas of the erstwhile State. The front lobby was adorned with a beautiful and authentic Saraswathi Veena (courtesy Mr. Ravi Iyer, Swaralayam Arts Forum), along with rare pictures of the late maharajas of Mysore (courtesy The evening’s program, attended by all the seminar speakers from various US cities, was brilliantly emceed by Smt. Neela Chakravarthy, a celebrated singer and a Houstonian.

← Dolls of Dasara exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston.

The two-day academic seminar was inaugurated on Friday, December 2, by the Chairman of the Texas Chapter of Asia Society, Mr. Charles Foster, and was followed by an excellent keynote address by Dr. Carla Sinopoli, Director, Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan. Dr. Anila Verghese, Principal, Sophia College, Mumbai, showed the profundity of her scholarship with scholarly lectures on both days, on the Art, Archaeology and Heritage of Hampi-Vijayanagara, and on the Deities, Cults and Kings in Vijayanagara. Similarly, Dr. Anna Dallapiccola, a professor in the University of Edinburgh, UK, amazed the audience with her in-depth knowledge of the Vijayanagara era, by shedding light on the sculptures of the period as well as on the South Indian paintings of Mysore. Other subjects that were elucidated were: Power Relationships, as seen through Vijayanagara Temple Inscriptions (Dr. Alexandra Mack, Anthropologist), Kings of Mysore and Carnatic Music (Dr. M. S. Nataraja, Technical Expert, NRC, Washington, DC), The Forgotten Game of Mysore Chada Ganjifa (Ms. Geetha Rao, President, Art Umbrella, Bangalore), The Living and the Dead: Vijayanagara Protected and Transformed (Dr. Michael Tomlan, Professor, Cornell University, Ithaca), Dasara in Mysore and Vijayanagara: Interconnections and Implications (Dr. Nalini Rao, Professor of World Art, SOKA University, CA). Dr. Nataraja’s delightful presentation touched upon the creative genius of the musician-king, Jayachamaraja Wodeyar and his contribution of 94 krutis to Carnatic music, and Neela Chakravarthy’s superb rendition of the Maand composition, Brahmaanda Valaye, on the goddess Devi, further enhanced the lecture. Dr. Tomlan evinced both his scholarship and a sense of humor in his presentation, while Ms. Geetha Rao and Dr. Nalini Rao brought to life certain social and cultural aspects of life in a bygone era. In all cases, the visual images certainly helped the audience understand better the contents of the presentations, all of which showed extensive research and erudition on the part of the various speakers. The invited speakers and dignitaries were honored at the banquet held at Mayuri Indian restaurant on Saturday evening. Special mention must be made of the extraordinarily beautiful, artistic and thematic decorations made by Geetha Rama Rau for the evening.

“Dolls of Dasara”, an exhibition which opened at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday in the museum lobby, was a visual presentation of how Dasara is celebrated in every household in Karnataka. Carefully selected dolls were thematically arranged in nine rows representing the nine nights of Dasara, Navarathri. The seminar ended with a lively, colorful and eye-catching Dasara Parade, ably emceed by Anu Udpa.

←Singing traditional songs in front of the dolls

Kannada Vrinda published and released a souvenir to commemorate this seminar. Titled “Jaya Vijaya,” the souvenir has a collection of excellent educational articles.

The fact that the seminar was dedicated to a particular historical period of the Karnataka State did not, in any way, mitigate its quality or content. The Vijayanagara empire spanned parts of the current Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh regions also, which made it an interesting meeting of sub-cultures and cultural practices during that time. Though not from Karnataka, this reporter had no problem in either enjoying or being enriched by the prodigiously knowledgeable speakers on both days. It is a pity that such excellent programs do not attract larger audiences and the exposure they so richly deserve. Yet there are believers in Kannada Vrinda, and supporters of such projects like the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the University of Houston’s Foundation for India Studies, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences and the Office of International Programs, the Asia Society, Houston Community College’s Office of International Initiatives, and the Meru Education Foundation, based in Boston, Massachusetts. It is seminars like this that bridge cultural gaps and bring about greater understanding between the East and the West. Kudos to Kannada Vrinda for providing yet another extraordinary learning experience. Knowing the brain behind the whole event, it is safe to expect another brilliant one in the very near future.

Dr. Rathna Kumar (Director, Anjali Center for Performing Arts, is a dancer, teacher, choreographer, and freelance writer)

This event was supported from Mysore by

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