A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE : Introduction of indian music and dance in Mauritius

This year is an important milestone in the annals of Indian Music and Dance.  Fifty years ago, in 1964, to be precise Indian Classical Music and Dance was introduced in Mauritius thanks to an agreement between the Government of India and that of Mauritius.  
This is an occasion for introspection and for taking a journey down memory lane to reach the source and to pay a humble tribute to the pioneers who, in no small measure, have contributed their share to enable Indian Music and Dance to rest on solid foundations and to have the aura which characterises it today.  
The first Mauritian who went to pursue studies in Indian Classical Music was Ishawarduth Nundlall.  He was awarded the first scholarship offered by the Government of India in the late 1950’s.  He joined the National Academy of Lucknow where he studied Hindustani Vocal and Instrumental Music for a span of eight years.  On his return to Mauritius, Dr Ishawarduth Nundlall started the propagation of Indian Classical Music through his teachings and stage performances in Mauritius.  To him goes the credit of creating awareness in and arousing interest among the Mauritian population in Indian Classical Music.
Soon after, Indian artistes started visiting Mauritius for performances in classical, semi-classical, folk and light music and dance.  
The First School of Indian Music and Dance
The first School of Indian Music and Dance was set up on 11th April 1964.  It was an initiative of Sir Veerasamy Ringadoo, then Minister of Education, Arts and Culture along with Sir Kher Jagatsingh, Dr Ishwarduth Nundlall and Dr L P Ramyead.  Indian expatriates, namely Mr and Mrs Nandkishore, were called upon to help run the courses in Indian Music and Dance.   Initially, the school was situated at Shand Street, Beau Bassin, prior to moving to Vandermeersch Street in the same locality.  
The School of Indian Music and Dance was inaugurated by Lady Rennie, wife of Governor, Sir John Shaw Rennie.  
The dedicated efforts of Mr and Mrs Nandkishore created a profound interest in their students.  Bharati Ramyead, Ramesh Nundoo, Indurduth Deerpaul, Rajmun Bhuruth, Meera Ramyead, Damayantee Aubeeluck (now Algoo) and Gian Sobhee are some of the names that emerge from their first batch of students.  Besides teaching Indian Classical Music and Dance, Mr and Mrs Nandkishore staged dance ballets and encouraged creativity in their students.  The Ramayana, Bharata Milap, Panchavati, Shakuntala, Meghadoota, Chitrangada, Chandalika and Web of Existence are some of their major productions. The onus of music composition, choreography, costume design, stage decors fell on them.
Scholarships by the Government of India
Under the guidance of Mr Nandkishore and Mrs Kamal Nandkishore, many students received their training in Hindustani Vocal Music and Indian Classical Dance, Kathak and Bharata Natyam.   Bharati Ramyead was the first to get a Government of India scholarship to learn Bharata Natyam from the world renowned, Kalakshetra of Rukmini Devi Arundale.  She studied from 1965 to 1970 and, on her return, worked at the Queen Elizabeth College and the then Teachers’ Training College from 1971 to 1975.  After her marriage to Krishna Vayaboury, she settled in Reunion Island where she continued the dissemination of the art form she had mastered.    
Mr Indurduth Deerpaul was the next person to be awarded the Cultural Scholarship of the Government of India in 1967.  He joined the M.S University, Baroda, where he studied under the tutelage of Late Shri Sudhir Kumar Saxena, disciple of Late Ustad Habibuddin Khan of the Ajarada Gharana of Tabla playing.  He returned to Mauritius in 1971 along with his wife, Shrimati Rekha Deerpaul, who also studied Bharata Natyam at the same University.  
Thereafter, Nirmala Nundoo (now Gobin) and Ramesh Nundoo, brother and sister, were awarded the Government of India and the ICCR scholarships respectively to pursue studies in Kathak from the Kathak Kendra where they had, so to say, the good fortune to study, Kahtak at the feet of the renowned exponent, Shri Birju Maharaj.  On his return, Mr Ramesh Nundoo joined the School of Indian Music and Dance at Vandermeersch Street to teach Kathak and provide assistance to Mrs Kamal Nandkishore.
The Indian High Commission played a vital role by providing full support to those who wished to study Indian Classical Music and Dance at higher level.
Other Mauritians who studied Music and Dance
Many Mauritians travelled to India on their own initiative.  They are Gyanapragassen Tirvengadum, Damayantee Aubeeluck, Tara Bhima, Nundcoomar Ramdin and Premchand Mungur.
Damayantee Aubeeluck followed her training in Manipuri dance at Shantiniketan from 1968 till 1972 and joined the Mahatma Gandhi Institute in 1975 on her return.  
Tara Bhima, the first Mauritian lady to graduate in Sitar from Punjab University in 1963, returned to Mauritius in 1964 and worked at the MBC as freelance.  Through her television performances she created an awareness for Sitar playing among the Mauritian population.  She joined the Mahatma Gandhi Institute in 1974.  
Nundcoomar Ramdin obtained his degree in Sitar from M.S University, Baroda, and later served the Mahatma Gandhi Institute.
Mrs Gurvinder Kaur Gumani, a postgraduate in Sitar from Delhi University, came to Mauritius in the aftermath of her marriage to a Mauritian and started serving the Mahatma Gandhi Institute as from 1973.
Mr Premchand Mungur pursued his studies in Indian Classical music at the M.S University, Baroda under the guidance of Shri Gangadhar Sant and Shri Kanchan Lal Shah in Violin.  He also learnt Vocal Hindustani Music.  After completing his B.Mus, he obtained further training in Hindustani Violin from Pandit D. K Datar.  On his return to Mauritius in 1974, he was accompanied by Shrimati Sandhya Mungur, his wife, who had also qualified in Bharata Natyam from the same University.  They both joined the Mahatma Gandhi Institute in 1975.  
The Mahatma Gandhi Institute
The ever growing interest and demand for the performing arts led to the foundation of the Mahatma Gandhi Institute.  The Institute was established by an act of parliament in 1970 as a joint initiative of the Governments of India and Mauritius to serve as a centre for the study of Indian culture and traditions and for the promotion of education and culture.  Dr Kissoonsingh Hazareesingh was given the responsibility as a Director of planning for the Mahatma Gandhi Institute.  
The first School of Indian Music and Dance was integrated into the Mahatma Gandhi Institute in 1975.  It was then known as the “School of Indian Music and Fine Arts”.  Professor Vishwanath Shrikande, an ITEC expert, was appointed Principal of the School.
Initially, the members of staff were Mr Indurduth Deerpaul for Tabla, Mr Gnanapragasan Tirvengadum for Carnatic Music, Mr Ramesh Nundoo and Mrs Nirmala Gobin for Kathak, Mrs Gurvinder Kaur Gumani and Mrs Tara Joynathsingh for Sitar, Mrs Damayantee Algoo for Manipuri, Mr Premchand Mungur for Vocal Hindustani and Violin and myself for Bharata Natyam.
Under the headship of Professor Vishwanath Shrikande, the School came up with structured courses in the disciplines mentioned above.  Initially, the Introductory courses leading to Certificate and Diploma courses were introduced in 1975.  The first three year full time B.A (Hons) course in Indian Music was offered at the Mahatma Gandhi Institute in collaboration with the University of Mauritius in 1978 and produced the first batch of graduates in Indian Music particularly in Vocal Hindustani and Sitar.  
We cannot forget to mention the contribution of people like Mr and Mrs Balakrishna Uppama and Mrs Renganaigee Naidu.  
Mr Balakrishna Uppama went to study Carnatic Music in 1977.  He studied at the Tamil Nadu Government Music College and obtained his Sangeeta Vidwan.  He also learnt from Shrimati D. K Pattamal, famous pioneer of Carnatic Music.  In 1982, he married Premila Diwanhalli, who was already working as Kuchipudi dance teacher at the Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan in India.  On their return, Mrs Premila Uppama was appointed at the Mahatma Gandhi Institute to initiate and teach Kuchipudi.
Mrs. Renganaigee Naidu also studied Carnatic Music at the Tamil Nadu Government Music College as from 1973 to 1977 and obtained her Sangeeta Vidwan under the able guidance of Dr. Salem Jayalakshami. Thereafter, she followed further training from Tamil Isai Kaluri and obtained her Diploma, “Isai Mani” which is recognised by the Sangeeta Nataka Academy. She joined the Mahatma Gandhi Institute in 1982 and taught Carnatic music at the Mahatma Gandhi Institute and the then Teachers’ Training College.
Remembering the Pioneers
On the occasion of the Golden Jubilee celebration of Indian Music and Dance in Mauritius, it is but appropriate to remember and recognise the contribution made by all the pioneers.  They have contributed immensely to the growth and development of Indian Music and Dance for the benefit of Mauritian population at large by virtue of their dedicated service in the field.
Today, though Mr and Mrs Nandkishore are no more, they have bequeathed a legacy of Mauritian Artistes who will continue to serve the fields they initiated fifty years back – a short span of time in history of an institution.  
It is a matter of great satisfaction that on this occasion, the Mahatma Gandhi Institute paid tribute to Late Mr and Mrs Nandkishore and honoured all the pioneers for their contribution.  We cannot afford to forget their pioneering efforts which this tribute has placed on record.  We owe it to them.  They deserve our gratitude and respect.