A symbol of cultural synthesis
Shanmukhananda Hall in Mumbai completes 50 years tomorrow. V. GANGADHAR traces the history of the largest auditorium in Asia.
The renovated Shanmukhananda Hall all set to celebrate its Golden Jubilee.
ON A recent muggy, monsoon evening in Mumbai, actor Dilip Kumar and music director Naushad saab were among those who listened enchanted as Srikkanth Narayan, a leading singer of the `Keep Alive' music group, committed to preserve and popularise the melodious Hindi film music of the 1950s and 1960s belted out a meaningful number Insaf ka mandir hain, bhagwan ka ghar hain. The song, from the 1950s film ``Amar," produced and directed by the late Mehboob Khan and pictured on Dilip Kumar, had lyrics by Sahir saab, its music composed by Naushad saab and the songs sung by Mohammad Rafi. It was appropriate that the noble sentiments of the song stressing communal unity, national integration and equality before God found an immediate echo among the packed audience at Mumbai's Shanmukhananda Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Auditorium which completes 50 years tomorrow (August 31).
"Shanmukhananda stands for national integration and cultural synthesis," explains former State Minister, V. Subramaniam, who recently retired after a 27-year stint as the president of the Sabha. Adds V. Shankar, his successor, ``The sabha is a national institute of fine arts and the golden jubilee celebration only stresses its rightful place in the world of culture." After renovation, the capacity of the hall was reduced from 3,012 to 2,787, but it is still the largest auditorium "this side of the Suez."
As the temple of music came into being on August 22, 1963, a sanctum was constructed for Lord Shanmukhananda and on June 5, 1966, the artistic abode of the Nadabrahmam was consecrated with full religious fervour.
The statue of Lord Shanmukha sculpted by L. Somanatha Stapathi of Tiruchi under the guidance of Ganapati Stapathi, Head of School of Sculpture, Tamil Nadu, was unveiled on June 3, 1970. The redesigned and renovated auditorium after the disastrous fire on February 28, 1990, presents a picture of luxury, aesthetic beauty and comfort. The stage offers all modern amenities for the performers.
What is the spirit of the hall and what are the factors that have contributed to its success? According to Mr. Subramaniam, the sabha has contributed to human development, literary pursuits and public affairs. It was named after the Kanchi seer, explains Mr. Shankar, because he was acknowledged by none other than Dalai Lama as truly secular divinity manifested in himself. The sabha had been able to project India's unique unity in diversity theme.
Take a look at the programmes planned during the golden jubilee year. Almost all Indian dance forms, North-South fusion featuring jugalbandhis of artistes like Pt. Bhimsen Joshi and Balamurali Krishna, Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia and N. Ramani, while leading North Indian classical musicians are featured in the "Hum Hindustani" section. Adding international flavour are the Russian ballet and the Vienna Opera. As part of the celebrations, the sabha has instituted a `National Eminence Award' (prize money of Rs. 1 lakh, a silver lamp, citation and a bronze icon of Lord Shanmukha) and three `Shanmukha Shree Awards' carrying a prize money of Rs. 25,000 each. An unexpected bonus to the sabha was the permission granted by Mumbai University to start degree courses in vocal music at its Sangeet Vidyalaya. Mr. Shankar is keen to point out that the institution is much more than a cultural organisation. The Medical Centre started in 1974 is going strong.
Human spirit, co-operation and efficient management have contributed to the sabha's success, says Mr. Subramaniam. When Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, at a meeting in Bombay in the early 1950s, lamented the absence of a large auditorium in the city, a group of Matunga citizens decided to build a hall that could accommodate more than 3,000 people. Matunga music lovers including T. V. Ramanujam, R. S. Mani, S. R. Kasturi, S. Seshadri had three local cultural organisations merged and collected money through donations, loans and cultural shows. The sabha, started in 1952, had the building ready in August 1963 at a cost of Rs. 27 lakhs.
Hailed as a premier cultural institution in the country, the sabha was almost razed to the ground by a disastrous, freak fire in 1990. Unfazed, Mr. Subramaniam and his men launched on Operation Rebuild which has so far cost Rs. 14 lakhs.
``Governments, institutions and individuals all contributed," explains Mr. Subramaniam. The sabha elicited patronage from all political parties that regarded it as a shining cultural symbol of Maharashtra.
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