How a single man’s dream led to Kalabharati in Visakhapatnam

Kalabharati in Visakhapatnam

A single man’s dream augmented by the combined efforts of Visakhapatnam’s stalwarts, culminated in the rising of an edifice solely committed to showcasing cultural arts, the Kalabharati.

“Back then, in the 1970s, there was no proper auditorium in the city to conduct cultural programmes”
-CSN Raju

“Dedicated to promoting art and culture, the VMDA conducts a number of events and programmes on a regular basis”.
-GRK Prasad

Bent with age by almost 90 degrees at the waist, at the age of 80 years, a retired Headmaster from Guntur decided to set up a cultural institute in the city, in memory of Saint Tyagaraja. In spite of his age, Late Susarla Surya Bhagavath Sankara Sastry, an ardent devotee of the exemplar poet Tyagaraja was a tenacious and determined man. He established the Shri Tyagaraja Nilayam Trust in 1968 and decided to supplement his savings with contributions from the general public for this endeavour. Keen to involve every Vizagite, he began collecting donations from everyone.

Accepting token amounts of even a single rupee, he would issue a receipt for every coin he collected. Many of his former students, then studying in Andhra University donated about a rupee a month, for which the aged Headmaster would walk all the way from Dwarka Nagar to the University.

Eventually, by early 1980, he accumulated a princely sum of Rs. 8 lakhs, to which the then Minister for Cultural Affairs, Bhattam Srirama Murthy, a resident of Visakhapatnam, had the government sanction an additional amount of two lakhs. He approached the VUDA Chairman and bought a site of 2200 yards for a rupee per yard in Pithapuram Colony. With limited funds, the construction of a simple concert hall was initiated on the site.

It was perhaps destiny or coincidence, but around the same time, CSN Raju, was on the lookout for a sizeable parcel of land in the city. He was keen to set up an auditorium in the city exclusively to promote cultural arts like dance and music. “Back then, in the 1970s, there was no proper auditorium in the city to conduct cultural programmes”, reveals CSN Raju. Encouraged by prominent Vizagites like Late D V Subbarao, he began scouring the city for a viable site. It was then that Ch V Joga Rao, a businessman and Prof. LSR Krishna Sastry a lecturer in AU brought to his notice the fund-starved Tyagaraja Nilayam with ample land.

An understanding was worked out with Sankara Sastry and the Visakha Music and Dance Academy (VMDA), with CSN Raju as its Founder President and Susarla Gopal Sastry, a noted Civil Engineer and son of Sankara Sastry, as the Founder Secretary, was registered in 1986. This was around the time that the construction of the Vizag Steel Plant was in full swing and CSN Raju was at the helm as the Executive Director of the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant.

Even before the notion of CSR was in vogue, he convinced the many contractors and developers of the Steel Plant to contribute towards the city. Consequently, more than a crore of rupees was generated and as a result today Kalabharati stands as a testament to the combined efforts of all the city’s well-wishers, supportive leaders and eminent Vizagites.

To ensure quality at Kalabharati, an acoustics expert Prof Ramakrishna of IISC, Bangalore, corporate giants like Larson and Toubro, Phillips India, and Voltas were roped in and plans for a 1000-seater air-conditioned multi-cultural auditorium were drawn by Auro Services. Getting L&T to take up such a small project was challenging; reveals CSN Raju. But he did convince the construction giant to take it up as a social initiative.

Though Sankara Sastry passed away in March 1989, his dream was fulfilled. A two-storied air-conditioned auditorium, the Kalabharati was inaugurated by the then Governor, Krishan Kant, on May 10, 1991, with the great M S Subbalakshmi auspiciously rendering the inaugural concert. Kishori Amonkar mesmerised the audience on the second day and Dr Vempati Chinna Satyam performed a dance ballet on the third day. A temple dedicated to Saint Tyagaraja in the forefront of the compound was consecrated as a tribute to the sentiments of Late Sankara Sastry. As envisioned by the Late Headmaster, portraits of great musicians and classical dancers were put up in the gallery. The paintings commissioned by Sastry himself were skilfully painted by the famed artist based in Visakhapatnam, Prof. Nemani Krishna Murthy. Later, prints of the navarasas by Bapu were also put up in the gallery. On the premises, music and dance classes are also conducted.

The present Trustee and Secretary, GRK Prasad (Rambabu) shares that, “Dedicated to promoting art and culture, the VMDA conducts a number of events and programmes on a regular basis”. With a packed calendar, every month there are plays, dance recitals, and music concerts. Every artist who is invited to the stage is vetted to ensure that only quality performances are showcased during any of the events. Annually, the `Nadavidyabharati / Natyavidyabharati’ title with a cash award of Rs 1 lakh and a Swarna Kamalam, is conferred on a highly revered musician or dancer from either the Carnatic or Hindustani music genres. A six-day fete of Tyagaraja Aradhana is conducted on a yearly basis. The hall is rented out at very nominal rates, with a focus more on encouraging fine-arts rather than making a commercial profit. And accordingly, many cultural associations have come up in the city since then, keeping the auditorium busy almost throughout the year, says CSN Raju expressing happiness that his objective of promoting culture in the city was fruitful.

Today, managed by a private trust with no ties to the government, Kalabharati has established itself as the bastion of music and dance, the cultural seat of Visakhapatnam. Located in the narrow lanes of Pithapuram Colony, this showcase of the city’s heritage and a platform for classics stands bright as a landmark beacon of culture in the city. And we wish that this light shines on.

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