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Weaving Hindustani music, dance into Singapore culture

TFA is not a business venture, some projects are sponsored by the Singapore government.

Prashanthi, along with her son Jagannath, takes tabla lessons at Temple of Fine Arts. Prashanthi, along with her son Jagannath, takes tabla lessons at Temple of Fine Arts.

There is a group of first to third generation Singapore residents with roots in India that is trying to get people out of their homes and offices to “mix music into material” of Singapore. While Singaporean youth are exposed to global music and dance to the tunes of Yo Yo Honey Singh at night clubs, there is an emerging trend of Singaporeans taking to Indian classical music and dance.

Over 150 volunteers with Indian roots are helping make this happen under the banner of Temple of Fine Arts (TFA), an NGO started by Swami Shantanand Saraswati in 1982. Many Singaporeans, enamoured by Indian mythology, are enrolling themselves for an eight-year course offered by the TFA.

S Satish, third generation Singaporean, has no musical background but looks after the administration of TFA. His wife Rugmani looks after the restaurant. Their daughter Chitra Poornima, who graduated from TFA, is a singer with Bombay Jaysri in Chennai and their other daughter Swathi is a Bharatanatyam teacher here.

Satish’s sister-in-law Lakshmi Krishnan, a Bharatnatyam dance teacher, says: “Of the 250 students of Bharatnatyam, over 60 per cent are indigenous Singaporeans who have no idea of Indian culture and mythology. We visit schools to show our programmes and are enthused with response. Working professionals also find time to learn music and dance here.”

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TFA president Vijaylakshmi Menon, a third generation Singaporean with Indian roots, has been associated with TFA since 1982 and is driven by “purpose to serve for a good cause”.

TFA has eminent faculty members such as disciples of Kathak maestro Birju Maharaj and Hindustani vocalist Kalyani Atul Puranuk. Sitar maestro Ustaad Usman Khan from Pune helps the TFA get some of its best teachers from India.

Tabla player Nawaz Mirajkar from Pune, who is grandson of Ustad Mehboob Khan, has been teaching students here since 1996. Nawaz, who received the Young Artists Award in 2011, says: “I have six-seven classes daily. I observed that Singaporeans without Indian roots are more focussed.” As Nawaz says this, he lets mother-son duo from India — Prashanthi and Jagannath (10) engage in a bit of competition on the tabla. Prashanti says: “I am a CA and now work with an NGO. I came here twice, first in 2004 and now again because I did not get the sort of tabla lessons I got here elsewhere.”

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While TFA is not a business venture, some projects are sponsored by the Singapore government.

First published on: 18-11-2014 at 02:56:44 am
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