Promoting Art


“This relationship with dance has given me so much, it has changed my way of looking at the world. It has changed my perception and me as a person...”

— Malavika Sarukkai

Promoting Traditional Art Forms

Rashna Ardesher

Malavika Sarukkai performs for
the Udayachal School students under the
aegis of SPIC MACAY.

e are all aware that music and “atmosphere” go together. We might enjoy relaxing music for a quiet, romantic dinner, but may prefer something livelier while doing physical work or out socialising. Farmers play music to their animals to increase production. Recent studies have also shown that listening to fast music while driving increases the rate of car accidents. So, there is no denying that music — the tempo, rhythm, pitch, melody, harmony — can influence and affect our state of mind. But why should organised sounds affect us to such an extent that billions are spent annually on making music?

Dr. Kiran Seth, a young graduate from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur, was studying for his doctorate in Operations Research at the University of Columbia, when he chanced to attend a dhrupad (solemn style of singing) concert by Ustad Nasir Aminuddin Dagar and Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar, advertised in Village Voice, a New York newspaper. “I had the most inspiring experiences when I attended the concert,” reminisces Seth. “I found it so introspective, so meditative!” On the other hand, Seth felt a deep sense of regret that there had been nothing in his formal education that had exposed him to the beauty and grandeur of India’s traditional art forms. The experience influenced the young man so deeply that he, along with a band of like-minded students, started inviting Indian artistes to perform at the University of Columbia under the aegis of the India Club of Columbia University.

When Seth returned to India to teach at IIT, Delhi, in 1977, he involved the students in similar activities. This gave birth to an organisation called SPIC MACAY. The name may sound foreign, but SPIC MACAY actually promotes Indian culture. The name was designed to attract youngsters. It is an acronym for Society for Promotion of Indian Classical Music and Culture Amongst Youth.

The objectives of SPIC MACAY are twofold:

The nurturing and propagation of the best in Indian culture among the student

  community and youth.

To bring cultural and aesthetic awareness into the mainstream of the Indian

  educational  system.

SPIC MACAY has been concerned about the lack of cultural inputs in our education system. The concern stems from the belief that the appreciation of art, music, dance, literature and aesthetics, in general, is as important to development of human capital as are academic skills and technical expertise. According to Seth, “Art, music, dance… develop a human being. Academics only provide Par-vidya, whereas cultural inputs provide Nad-yoga — the realm of inner development.” There was also the desire to make this a voluntary movement, to which students were drawn out of their own keenness to participate. This philosophy has imparted a unique structure to the organisation. Students, teachers, volunteers and donors give willingly of their time and work with unparalleled dedication to organise over a thousand programmes every year.

A performance by Ustad Bismillah Khan (centre).

Students participate actively by organising concerts by renowned artistes, arranging local publicity (posters, word of mouth, internet), etc. It is essentially a students’ movement that has been, through slow and intense exposure of Indian culture, quietly transforming the lives of thousands of young Indians over the last two decades. Apart from being able to understand the finer aspects of the various art forms, students benefit immensely from direct interaction with the artistes. They get a peek into a world that is vastly different from theirs, as Indian music and dance forms have always been part of a spiritual quest for artistes. As they share the difficulties of rigorous training and the relentless pursuit of perfection, students are exposed to living embodiments of value systems — people of the likes of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, Pandit Birju Maharaj — that they would seldom come across in the hustle-bustle of today’s life.

The innumerable volunteers who have enthusiastically supported the movement are convinced that though the impact of their activities is difficult to assess by any known yardstick, the movement has contributed immensely to the lives of the students who have participated in it. Apart from the appreciation of Indian culture, they have been transformed in a finer sense. As any educationist would agree, being sensitised to art and the rich heritage prevalent in India, in its various forms, adds a refinement to personality that stands the youth in good stead, regardless of what their professional field of endeavour may be. Seth is quoted in The Indian Express dated 3 June, 2004: “This initiative is totally dil se (meaning, from the heart). If the respect today’s youth gives Indian culture increases, we consider ourselves rewarded.”

But the going was tough in the initial years. The activities of SPIC MACAY were originally confined to IIT, Delhi, and attendance was restricted to a handful of students. Says Seth: “We had to start somewhere, then why not start at home? After all, charity begins at home.” Of course, there were hiccups along the way: “There was a problem of acceptance, of getting money, support… But by repeated exposure to people, the impact was evident.” Soon, other schools and colleges started asking for similar activities to be initiated in their institutions. Artistes began to give of their time for a nominal honorarium — they too were convinced of the need to sensitise young men and women asking for similar activities to be initiated in their institutions. Artistes began to give of their time for a nominal honorarium — they too were convinced of the need to sensitise young men and women to our cultural heritage in the face of the rapid westernisation that was taking place in attitudes and lifestyles. The movement spread in Delhi and, over the years, across the length and breadth of India. SPIC MACAY today has 200 chapters, a number of them overseas.

From left: SPIC MACAY volunteers Kalyan Bose and
Ashok Jain with SPIC MACAY Founder and Chairperson,
Dr. Kiran Seth.

Noted poet and film-maker Gulzar (centre) talks
to members of SPIC MACAY.

SPIC MACAY has experimented with various forms to spread the message of India’s cultural heritage among students. Over the years, a few definite instruments have emerged:

Lecture Demonstrations in Classical Music and Dance
Dance involves using energy or force to move one’s body through time and space. One can use dance as a therapeutic tool. The body movement reflects the inner state of the human and, by moving the body within a guided therapeutic setting, a healing process begins. Emerging inner conflicts and issues from the unconscious to the consciousness of the person are addressed at all levels viz. physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.

Lecture demonstrations by SPIC MACAY are held across the country in the first half of the academic year. They are informal and interactive, providing a forum for the artiste to perform as well as lecture about the various technical aspects of their art form as well as share the finer intricacies of the process of learning and creating with young students. In 2004, the students of the

Godrej-run Udayachal Primary School were fortunate to witness two of the seven Indian classical dance styles by renowned dancers Uma Dogra, who performed Kathak, and Daksha Mashruwalla, who performed the Odissi dance. Both dancers were invited by the School under the aegis of SPIC MACAY. The programme comprised performances, explanations of their dance styles, expressions, etc. The artistes interacted with the children asking them questions and even went a step further by allowing them to perform alongside on stage. Children were also introduced to the different instruments the accompanists played.

The Festival (or Concert Series)
These are held in the latter half of the academic year and are more formal presentations of classical music and dance. A unique feature of the Fests is the showcasing of young talent along with the senior artistes.

This is a festival of performances and workshops in folk and classical arts, literature, crafts, theatre and cinema, held in different educational institutions. The SPIC MACAY Virasat 2004 was held at the Udayachal School. Artiste Malavika Sarukkai performed at the School. School Principal Binaifer Chhoga says with gratitude: "Malavikaji came to perform at our School all the way from Chennai under the aegis of SPIC MACAY. She is a dancer-choreographer and has been participating in dance festivals in India and abroad. She infuses the classical dance form with contemporary energies. She has been awarded the Padma Shree, Sangeet Natak Akademi, Kaliamamani and Mrinalini Sarabhai Awards.” Small wonder, when a Mulund Plus reporter asked Malavika as to what keeps her going, she replied: “This relationship with dance has given me so much, it has changed my way of looking at the world. It has changed my perception and me as a person. It has shown me vast spaces of spirituality. What else would I want to do?”

Pheroza Godrej (right) greets artiste Malavika Sarukkai
at the Udayachal School.

These are informal chamber performances, aimed at creating the traditional upasik-rasik relationship.

Scholarships are offered once a year, which help students to stay for a month with "gurus", persons who have dedicated their lives to a larger cause, outside narrow personal benefits. These "gurus" could be from the field of literature, religion, the arts and social work.

National Conventions
Apart from State Conventions held in each State twice a year, a National Convention is held every year in June, bringing together all members of SPIC MACAY at a common forum. The 19th National Convention in June 2004 was held at IIT, Powai. Shehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan and renowned Kathak exponent Pandit Birju Maharaj were among the artistes featured. There were also performances by Maya Jadhav (Lavani dance), Shubha Mudgal (vocal), a talk by Gulzar and a screening of Shyam Benegal’s Samar. Yoga camps are also scheduled. Organisational issues such as performance of chapters, funding, accounts and the plans for the year are also discussed and finalised.

SPIC MACAY receives funds from various sources. Chief among these has been the Government, which extended grants from the Ministry of HRD. Says Seth: “With the fiscal crisis mounting every year, however, this source has become increasingly difficult to tap. Support has been received from individual as well as corporate donors such as Indian Airlines, the Oil and Natural Gas Commission, Gas Authority of India Ltd., Nuclear Thermal Power Corporation, Hotel Ashok, etc. Philanthropic foundations have also contributed to the cause. Ninety-five per cent of the funds raised are ploughed straight into the activities, and our overheads account for only 5 per cent.” Being a non-profit organisation, SPIC MACAY is registered under the Societies Act and all donations are eligible for benefit under Section 80 (G) of the Income Tax Act, 1961.

The movement is in its 27th year. The best compliment SPIC MACAY deserves is that it has been able to look beyond the traditional sources of financing its activities and yet steadfastly resist commercialisation. As Seth sums up: “That is because a group of us has been touched by the true nature of some aspects of our heritage.”