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MITHAS Tuurns 25

George Ruckert


Twenty-five years ago this month MIT’s Heritage of the Arts of South Asia  (MITHAS) was officially born with the concert of North India’s premier vocalist, Rashid Khan.  Now, with more than 300 concerts of the most distinguished artists from the Hindustani and Carnatic traditions under its belt, the 25th season will get under way with a program of several of the greatest performers in these ages-old musical traditions born on the Indian sub-continent.  Highlighting the coming Spring season will be a performance at MIT’s Kresge Auditorium on May 19 by khyal vocalist Pandit Jasraj, whom many consider to be at the very pinnacle of the North Indian list of masters.  Kaushiki Chakraborty, the sensational young vocalist from Kolkata, and Rajan & Sajan Mishra, the senior brothers vocal duo from Delhi round out the Hindustani concerts this season.

The South Indian artists this spring are of equally stellar reputations. On March 30, in collaboration with the Learnquest Festival at Regis College, senior vocalist and Padmabhushan (India’s top artistic award) T.V. Sankaranarayanan will perform on the same evening as Kaushiki Chakraborty.  Ramakrishnan Murthy (May 6 in MIT’s Wong Auditorium), grew up in the US, and having completed college in Los Angeles, moved back to India in 2011 to devote himself to Carnatic vocal music with notable success.  Ganesh and Kumaresh are a violin DUO in the Carnatic tradition that have toured the US many times to rave reviews. 

In short, this 25th anniversary year of MITHAS promises to be a crown season in what has been a long and outstanding parade of sensational classical music.  Having arrived at MIT to teach music in 1991, MITHAS artistic advisor George Ruckert recalls getting a call from MIT alumnus Moez Rawji of Belmont.  “I am very gratified that MIT has finally brought in an Indian specialist to the music program,” Rawji said, and offered his support IN building the program of presenting performing artists.  His participation included donations and assembling a Board of Directors of the organization that became known as “MITHAS,” both an acronym for MIT’s Heritage of the Arts of South Asia as well as the word for “sweetness” in the Hindi language.  Serving on the Board have been Puran Dang, whose presence in the Boston MIT Indian community is legendary, Donald Chand of the Bentley College business school, Edwin Richard, from Brandeis' biological research program, Deepti Nijhawan, currently with BU, Venkat Srinivasan, and so many other important supporting members both from the Indian community and outside it who have recognized the value, academically, spiritually, musically, and culturally, of presenting high quality classical music to the Boston community at large.

Currently MITHAS is led by Anuradha Palakurthi and her husband Prashanth, whose foundation has led the way in supporting the concerts through donations, allowing all students, from elementary school through graduate school, to attend all programs for free. The current presidents of MITHAS are Dr. Hari Arthanari of MIT and Harvard’s medical programs and Vikram Krishnamachari, a student at Tufts University. They have worked tirelessly to advance the organization, from publicizing and organizing programs (i.e., contacting artists and sponsors and coordinating their visits to MIT), to carrying rugs at programs and setting the superior sound production. In this area they are associated with Sreekanth Sampathkumaran of Acton, who has made the presentation of excellent amplification a work of long and selfless art.  Although MITHAS has been based at MIT as a function of the Music Program, and is thus blessed with the use of halls for concert venues, it is an independent institution which runs entirely on funds raised by its donors and board members as wells as concert revenues.

“When I look back at the work of MITHAS,” continued Ruckert, “I am amazed at how many people have come together to present so many of South Asia’s finest artists in concerts and lectures.”  The log of artists includes many famous names, such as Ali Akbar Khan, Zakir Hussain, Buddhadev Das Gupta, Kushal Das, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Gundecha Brothers, Veena Sahasrabuddhe, Prabha Atre, Pandit Jasraj,  Swapan Chaudhuri, and so many others in the Hindustani (North Indian) tradition. M. Balamuralikrishna, T.N. Krishnan, T.Viswanathan, V.V. Subrahmanyam, Sanjay Subrahmanyan, T.M. Krishna, Chitraveena Ravikiran, R.K. Srikantan, Suguna Varadhachari, Trichy Shankaran, have been some of the outstanding Carnatic artists.  MITHAS has also been a platform for several western artists who have distinguished themselves in Indian music, namely, Warren Senders, Phil Scarff, Allyn Miner, Bruce Hamm, Peter van Gelder, Steve Gorn, Peter Row, George Ruckert, and others. 

Although it has been difficult to sponsor Indian classical dance programs, for lack of suitable venues at MIT, Chitresh Das, Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, Gretchen Hayden, Priyadarshini Govind, Alarmel Valli, Sadanam Balakrishnan, and dance companies such as Kala Chhaya and Chhandika have also been presented. 

MITHAS has collaborated with other organizations in the Boston area to present programs, notably Learnquest, Chinmaya Mission, and Shadaj. It has also sponsored several visual art presentations at local museums.  May the next 25 years and beyond bring further glory to these deep, refined, and highly respected artistic traditions.



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