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Vision-Aid’s 2019 Annual Celebration Brings Joy To Boston Audiences

Shuchita Rao

A grand 15th anniversary celebration of Massachusetts based award-winning, non-profit organization Vision-Aid’s dedicated service to the visually disadvantaged community was held at Littleton High School on the evening of Sunday, July 21. The program started with Vision-Aid’s founder and Executive Director Shri Ram Raju, his wife, Vision-Aid’s co-founder and Vice President, Smt. Revathy Ramakrishna, along with Vision-Aid’s President, Syed Ali Rizvi, extending a warm welcome to the audience, to the evening’s chief guests Raj and Nalini Sharma, to donors, event sponsors, parents and volunteers. A short documentary film highlighting Vision-Aid’s ongoing work was shown to the audience. Vision-Aid’s chair of the advisory board, Shri Puran Dang released a resource center model designed to be implemented at scale to expand the resource center network.

Starting with one center in Vizag in 2004, Vision-Aid has expanded to ten centers over a period of 15 years. These centers help the visually disadvantaged in various ways. They offer, for instance, innovative adaptive and assistive devices, instruction in technology, coaching in Spoken English, Python programming. The chief guests, the nationally recognized Boston based Wealth Management advisor Shri Raj Sharma and his wife Nalini who serves as an advisory board member to several local non-profits were eloquent in their address. They generously praised Vision-Aid’s efforts in facilitating collective philanthropy towards empowering the visually disadvantaged to become independent, positive, contributing members of the society. Urging the members in the audience to donate generously to Vision-Aid’s charitable cause, the chief guests along with two anonymous donors came together to pledge matching of all donations to Vision-Aid starting on the evening of July 21 for a period of 24 hours upto a maximum of $55,000. A live art auction with donations of beautiful paintings by talented local artists and a raffle with a grand prize of a Turkish airline travel voucher were also held at the event.

The much anticipated Broadway style two hour long dance drama “Invincible Spear: The Legend of Skanda” featuring classical and folk dance by over 50 local dance teachers and students followed as the cultural offering of the evening. The concept, choreography, music and direction were by the acclaimed multi-faceted Chennai based artist Shri Madurai R. Muralidaran.  The legend of Skanda was essentially themed on the victory of good over evil where the notorious Asura, King Soorpadman, an ardent devotee of Shiva is defeated by Skanda, the son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathy. In the act of granting salvation, Lord Skanda turns one half of the defeated king Soorpadman’s body into a peacock and the other half into a rooster. A visually striking program brochure designed by Sarvanan Meyyappan of Kolam Media Creations gave summary descriptions of ten scenes in the dance-drama, profiles of participating artists along with photographs and descriptions of the work accomplished in 2018 by Vision-Aid and its partners.

Amidst much cheer from supporters in the packed auditorium of Littleton High School, the dance-drama began with video introductions of Shri Madurai R. Muralidaran and over 50 local participants along with a mention of names of musicians, stage crew and several other artists who contributed to the production.  Enacted in a total of ten scenes, the dance-drama featured ten major characters, Lord Skanda (also known as Murugan, Subrahmanya, Karthikeya, Shanmugha, Saravanaa, Velavaa….), Asura King Soorpadman, Lord Bramha, Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu, Sage Narada, Goddess Parvathy, Manmadha, Rathi, Ganesha and Princess Valli. More than 40 dancers participated in numerous group dance sequences presented in the dance-drama.

The multi-faceted choreographer and producer of the dance-drama, Shri Madurai R. Muralidaran is a performing dancer. For the past several years, under the aegis of Vision-Aid, Shri Muralidaran has been presenting multi-media, Broadway style dance-drama productions revolving around stories from great Indian epics for the Boston audiences. He started learning Bharatanatyam at the tender of age of seven years from Vidushi Smt. Chamundeeshwari, the first disciple of Padmashri Dhandyuthapani Pillai. He also learned Mridangam for 11 years years under Vidwaan Madurai T. Srinivasan and Carnatic vocal music for ten years under Vidwaan Madurai T. Sethuraman. “I am very particular about all my compositions, the ragas and the rhythms I choose for my productions.” said Shri Muralidaran.

From the very beginning, swift moving dance sequences utilized stage space efficiently with attractive geometric formations such as straight lines, semi-circles and circles. The dialogues and songs were in the Tamil language but the English subtitles projected on a large backdrop helped the audience members, especially those unfamiliar with Tamil language to follow the story. Stunning animated visual images projected on a large screen behind the stage, high quality, professionally recorded musical score, rich sound effects, bright costumes and accessories, attractive props, animated acting and expert choreography of dance sequences made the dance-drama an immersive experience for the attendees.

The grand entry of King Soorpadman walking with his entourage through the auditorium brought the audience closer to the story as well as the characters in the dance-drama. The crisp recitation of jatis, melodies sung in sonorous male and female voices, a voice-over narration in English, group chants of “Sharanam Sharanam or Hara Hara Mahadev” , rich sound effects such as the sound of thunder and the call of the peacock bird made the musical score appealing. A variety of rhythmic textures from the use of instruments such as pakhawaj, mridangam, thavil, kanjeera and folk percussion instruments gave the musical a strong rhythmic foundation. Expert musical renditions on traditional instruments such as the Veena, Violin, Flute and Nagaswaram as well as modern instruments such as the synthesizer added to the beauty of the musical score. The music sometimes seemed to change rapidly and one wished that the songs dwelled just a bit longer to allow the audience to enjoy some of the songs for a longer duration of time.

Nritta, Nritya and Abhinaya came to life in the brisk movements of trained dancers, a few of them being local dance teachers and senior dance students who have completed arangetrams. Kaavya Muralidaran, daughter of Shri Madurai R. Muralidaran danced with poise and grace. She portrayed Goddess Parvathy and looked divine in a bright red dance costume with gleaming gold accessories. In the last scene of the dance-drama, in the role of Skanda’s consort Valli, Kaavya danced with verve and abandon. A dancer who portrayed Skanda in the guise of an old man wooing Valli also did a wonderful job.  The audience experienced emotions of fear, love, sympathy, anger, humor and more through the actions of the dancers and actors in the dance-drama.  

 â€œWhat I really liked about the show was how Skanda’s story came to life. I already knew the story because my mother has bought for me many Amar Chitra Katha comic books. One part was a bit confusing – like how Parvathy makes it possible for her six sons with Lord Shiva to become just one son, Skanda. Maybe, in the scenes after intermission, I will be able to understand how that happens” said Devam Moraporia who will be a sixth grade student in September.

“The integration of multi-media elements made the show unique” said the acclaimed Boston based theatre director Subrata Das who has several large scale theatre productions to his credit.

 â€œThe big elephant walking through the auditorium was the best part. It caught me by surprise” said Sharada Parameshwaran who will attend fifth grade in September. Sharada was referring to a large-sized puppet elephant that charged through the auditorium onto the stage in the second half of the show.

Five artistic directors for the dance-drama were well-known dancers and dance-teachers from the Boston area – Jeyanthi Ghatraju, Sripriya Natarajan Moorthy, Thenu Raajan, Hema Iyengar, Kalpana Balachunder. Student leadership was provided by Shilpa Narayanan (played the role of Shiva), Ananya Venkatesan and Neha Pillai. Of the fifty dancers who participated in the dance-drama, many were young students from local elementary, middle and high schools. One of them is also a PhD candidate at Northeastern University. The participants who have been studying Bharatanatyam with over 15 local dance teachers from the Boston area spent several long hours preparing for the show.

“Starting in June, my daughters spent an average of three hours on weekday evenings and six hours on the weekends. Over the past couple weeks they have practiced on every single day for this event. The practices required commitment not just from the students but also from their parents in making sure they regularly attended the practices.” said Vandana Rao whose daughters Aashna and Anushka have been studying Bharatanatyam from Guru Hema Iyengar of Nritya-Anjali school of dance.  

At the end of the dance-drama presentation, Revathy Ramakrishna, Co-Founder and Vice President of Vision-Aid thanked the participants, the volunteers and the audience and said  "Last year, like every year, all of us on the Vision-Aid Team thought that we had hit a peak, but somehow, this year, once again, the bar has been raised to a whole new level on all fronts - whether it is Ramachandran Muralidaran's spectacular production itself or the dancers on stage or the volunteers in the lobby or the outpouring of support from the community! It is a humbling experience to witness this year upon year and we are filled with gratitude."


The chief guests Raj and Nalini Sharma and Smt. Vandana Tiwari Sharma felicitated Shri Madurai R. Muarlidaran, his daughter Kaavya Muralidaran, the five artistic directors and several ambassadors including dance teachers and students who helped raised funds for Vision-Aid.


As in the past several years, this year’s Vision-Aid annual fundraiser event brought great joy to Boston audiences. Vision-Aid’s Director Dr. Aparna Raghuram summarized the factors beautifully when she said "The annual fundraiser event was a success on many fronts. First and foremost it was successful in raising funds to serve the visually impaired enabling resources and rehabilitation for them to lead and live a better quality of life. Every year we have seen growth and awareness in the Boston community that has helped us garner attention from magnanimous altruistic donors that has helped the organization reach great depths in spreading its wings in India.  The event brought together a community of dancers and dance teachers many of whom have been Vision-Aid well-wishers since its inception. The organization is forever indebted to their invaluable time in preparing towards the event and help raise funds through selling tickets for the annual event. The event also brought together Vision-Aid board members, directors and volunteers who worked together, brain stormed ideas, put countless hours of background preparation to make a challenging hot day flow as smoothly as possible.   In all we could not have asked for a better day for Vision-Aid.”


Kudos to the organizers, sponsors, donors and volunteers for a successful annual 2019 Vision-Aid event. Boston audiences are already looking forward to the 2020 annual celebration.








(Photo Credits: Anand Kavalapara and Krish Velmurugan. )

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