It was the month of January, and the weather of Chennai was pleasant. At 8 a.m, I was walking along the Besant Nagar road in Adyar, to reach Kalakshetra. Roads were clear, and I enjoyed watching the busy temples.
Cheerful women were selling flowers, their oiled hair adorned with fresh jasmine buds. A coconut seller sitting at the junction looked welcoming and I bought a fresh one, on an instant, and continued walking the narrow lanes of Besant Nagar to reach my destination.
In few more minutes, I reached Kalakshetra Foundation for arts and culture set in an expanse of about a hundred acres, established by Rukmini Devi Arundale in 1936. I was in time for my heritage tour starting at 8.30 am.
This place looked like a sanctuary of artists from the inside. Morning prayers were chanted by the students in this open-air campus, under a massive banyan tree. The experience of being a part of the morning prayers at Kalakshetra was soulful.
As I walked around the heritage acreage, I was greeted by the sounds of different ragas that emerged from young disciples practicing Carnatic music with their Guru in learning halls.
Dancers tapped to the feet of mridangam in groups performing different abhinayas of Bharatnatyam. With expressive eyes and body postures resembling temple sculptures, the dancers looked divine in half -saree specially enrobed for the practice!
For the next two hours, I toured along the expanse of Kalakshetra, watching young hands curating Kalamkari natural dye printing and dancers staging the rehearsals of an upcoming dance and music festival at the Kalakshetra theatre.
I also saw students, from all over the world, being trained in Bharatnatyam and Carnatic music under the gurukul system of Kalakshetra, reciting Sanskrit texts, clad in traditional South Indian attire. They happily accustomed themselves to the rules of the institution, following a strict vegetarian diet and embracing a simple way of life!
My heritage tour soon ended, but I decided I would keep coming back here, every time I visit Chennai.
#Five reasons to take a heritage tour of Kalakshetra
1. The Story of Kalakshetra’s rich historical past will fascinate you!
I feel Kalakshetra bottles the essence of the rich cultural history of Chennai city.
Rukmini Devi, the founder of Kalakshetra was a theosophist and dedicated her life to the cause of reviving the dance form of Bharatnatyam, which earlier was only practiced by the temple Devadasis. She brought together eminent dancers of the time for setting up the Kalakshetra cultural academy within the campus of the theosophical society in Adyar, which was once under the leadership of Annie Besant during the colonial period in India. In later times, Kalakshetra moved to a new campus in Besant Nagar.
Rukmini Devi was one of the earliest women, who had a deep influence on Indian society and went on to become the first woman in Indian history to become a Rajya Sabha member.
Today, Kalakshetra foundation is regarded as an ‘Institute of National Importance’ by the Parliament of India and sprawls in that corner of the city where the Indian freedom struggle movement was once very active.
2. This heritage tour is the best way to rekindle your relationship with the Indian Culture
If you opt for a tour of Kalakshetra, you will be guided by an expert member of the institution who will introduce you to Indian culture like never before. You will be enthralled by the stories of eminent performers who have trained there as you walk through the places of importance inside the campus.You will feel spiritually elevated by the positive vibes the tour gives you as you visit different spaces on the campus dedicated to Art and Culture. You can also plan your visit during the Kalakshetra festival where performers all over the country participate in the staged plays, and you witness performances that are choreographed with accomplished mentors.
Must visit: the Rukminidevi Museum and the Koothambalam (Kalakshetra theatre) inside!
3. You may discover your soul calling and take up learning at Kalakshetra
Some of the courses taught at Kalakshetra include learning Bharatnatyam in the Kalakshetra style, courses in Carnatic music, visual arts, learning Sanskrit language and reading Sanskrit texts, learning about temple architecture and sculptures, kalamkari dye printing, weaving, block-printing, and many full-time and part-time courses that you can opt for. Kalakshetra provides hostel facilities for in- house students enrolled for full-time courses. Research in the fields of art and cultural conservation efforts are extensively carried out by scholars at the Kalakshetra foundation.
This heritage tour is likely to flare up the inner creativity in you and I have known people who further pursued their interests in Kalakshetra after their visit…
4. You will explore the finest collection of Art and Handloom
In the craft center, I saw the Srikalahasti tradition of Kalamkari art where narratives were based on Hindu mythology inspired by the great Indian epics.
I also saw the Masulipatinam tradition where hand-carved blocks were used to outline and border while the details were painted by hand. I shopped for a few Kalamkari bedspreads for gifting and added a silk saree and handloom collection from Kalakshetra to my wardrobe. I saw many beautiful stoles, fabrics, and dhoti up for sale.
I connected deeply with the products I brought here because I knew the dedication of skilled hands that worked for hours to produce it.
5. You will contribute to a Cultural Conservation cause
Imagine having clothes that tell a story. Our usual clothes may only speak about a visit to the mall and back. How about buying clothes and art pieces that revive the memories of the places you purchased them from? Reminding you of the local craftsmen whose faces beamed with joy when you praised their art?
You will contribute to the upliftment of traditional handicrafts and encourage local artists with your visit, strengthening their survival.
Who thought a heritage tour could have so much to offer?
PS: Don’t forget to treat yourself to a cup of Kumbakonam coffee on your way back near the Besant Nagar junction