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Superheroes share stage with Hindu gods

December 30, 2016

The Star


IT WAS a remarkable fusion of Indian culture and modern narration as 160 children from Sugam Karnatica performed Guardians of the Galaxy at the Jeffrey Cheah Auditorium, taking cultural stage shows to a new level.

Widely recognised as a non-profit organisation that spreads love of art and culture among children, Sugam Karnatica has been organising Samarpanam, an annual school holiday musical programme for the past 29 years.

This year, deriving inspiration from Marvel and DC Comics to learn about superheroes in Indian culture, the three-hour show told the ancient tale of Hindu gods and goddesses from a contemporary perspective.

The audience joined the spectacular journey of five children smitten by modern superheroes, namely Batman, Superman, Spiderman, Iron Man and Wonder Woman, as they travelled across space and time to learn about the powers of Lord Muruga, Lord Krishna, Goddess Durga, Lord Narasimha and Lord Shiva through song, dance and drama.

“Our aim is to instil a love for culture in the next generation and we use this platform to reach out to them,” said Sugam Karnatica co-founder and communications director Sumitra Jayaseelan.

Having founded the academy along with her two sisters, Sujitra and Subatra, she said it served to educate the country’s ever-evolving new generation about arts and culture.

During the two-week preparation, the children were supervised and trained by Sugam Karnatica’s older students aged between 13 and 17.

Apart from coaching the children on acting, the teenage facilitators also provided vocal guidance and helped the little ones recite the Vedic verses in the script.

The training by professional choreographers saw the children delivering a performance full of grace and poise, leaving the audience awe-struck.

At the end of the show, Sugam Karnatica presented Dr Muraly Arumugam the Sugam Samarpanam Award 2016, an award introduced in 2009 to recognise the contributions of individuals in making a difference in lives.

Having spent six years in prison for his involvement in a gang, the high school dropout turned over a new leaf and formed the Tamil Uthavum Karangkal in 1999, an organisation that mobilises youngsters to carry wheelchair-bound persons up Batu Caves to perform prayers.

“With a membership of 700, we have been carrying out this seemingly simple but extremely meaningful activity for the past 17 years,” said Muraly, who was conferred an honorary doctorate in social works this year by the Dayspring Theological University in the US.

The philanthropist said it was imperative that youngsters learn about their culture and heritage, and that it was never too late for anyone to change for the better and contribute positively to society.

Youths perform musical themed "Back to the Future"

December 18, 2015

Non-profit art and culture organisation, Sugam Karnatica, held a school holiday musical on Saturday. The fun-filled show featured drama, songs and dance by 180 children.

Shaping the future of Carnatic music

June 23, 2014

The Star


The second Malaysian Young Carnatic Stars project organised by Vijayaratnam Foundation recently saw the emergence of 46 talented and promising young local Carnatic singers.


Held at the Temple of Fine Arts auditorium, the young performers enthralled an audience of 300 with their mesmerising choir presentation for about 90 minutes.


Vidhwan Shri O.S. Arun was specially engaged by the foundation to train and prepare the children to perform at the concert for young Carnatic music enthusiasts in Malaysia.


Carnatic Stars is a project that involves children aged 10 to 17, who were selected by the foundation and given four months of training, including an intensive week-long stint with O.S Arun on a diverse range of varnams, kritis, bhajans and thillanas.


Arun, better known as “The Prince Charming of Carnatic Music”, described the young performers as having a great future in Carnatic music.


“While I was mesmerised by the young choir last year, the children this year have shown greater strength in their rendition and with proper nurturing, they represent the future of Carnatic vocalists in Malaysia.


“I am also pleased to note that they are all very promising and if nurtured further, can go on to next level of stage performance,” he said.


Meanwhile, Vijayaratnam Foundation chairman Datin Sri Umayal Eswaran hoped a new generation of young performers will rediscover the beauty of Carnatic classical music.


”We hope with this unique experience of the Carnatic Stars project and inspiration from the maestro OS Arun as a role model, more and more young Malaysians can be educated and trained to appreciate this classical music.


“I would like to urge all parents not to stop here, but continue to push and encourage your children to pursue this art year after year. We want the younger generation to appreciate and be proud of their culture and tradition,” she added.


Vijayaratnam Foundation, the QI Group’s global corporate social responsibility arm in Malaysia, organised the Carnatic Stars concert in collaboration with Sugam Karnatica, a non-profit arts and culture school, for the sole purpose of boosting the Carnatic music presence in Malaysia, in line with the Foundation’s mission to promote and support Arts & Culture in Malaysia.

Unique portrayal of the nine emotions

May 27, 2014

The Star




MALAYSIAN singing trio Swaraa will perform at a Carnatic music concert, titledNavarasa, to raise funds for an organisation called Orange Harvest.


The money channelled to the organisation will provide international best practices in special music education, music therapy and music medicine for the development of Orange Harvest’s special children.


Swaraa — comprising sisters Sujitra, Sumitra and Subatra Jayaseelan — hopes to achieve overwhelming response for the concert at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Art Centre (KLPAC) on July 12 and 13.


Sujitra said she was expecting some 1,000 people at the two-day concert, which will start at 8pm. “We are expecting full house so that the objective of the concert can be achieved,” she added. The sisters said the concert this year would be different compared to the previous one called Gem.


“The meaning of Navarasa is nine emotions. So we will sing nine songs during the two-hour concert; each song represents different emotions.


“It’s very challenging for us as the Navarasa is normally expressed through dance movements. “But in our concert, the nine emotions will be delivered through music,” Sumitra said during a press conference on the concert in Petaling Jaya recently.


She added that the theme Navarasa was chosen as they wanted something unique in their concert. “We want to deliver something different for our audience,” added Sumitra


The concert will also feature great talents from among local musicians, with the music to be conducted by music director Mohd Faizal Mohd Fauzi.


As established performers, Swaraa was awarded the Best Vocal Group by the US Global Music Awards in 2011.


Tickets for Navarasa, priced at RM83, RM123, RM163 and RM203 for the bronze, silver, gold and platinum, respectively, can be purchased via

Concert delivers Carnatic stars of tomorrow

June 16, 2013

New Straits Times


Sugam Karnatica is proud to be the implementing partner for this first-time-ever Carnatic Stars 2013 programme, organised by the Vijayaratnam Foundation.


The programme constituted the auditioning and selection of 20 young talents to undergo a 6-month intensive training programme in carnatic vocals under the renowned Vidhwan Sri O.S Arun from India. This was followed by the training sessions held during school holiday breaks in the first half of the year. These 20 children, who range between ages 9 and 17, mastered five krithis and a varnam during this short span.


The uniqueness of this Carnatic Stars programme is that the children performed in a ‘choir’ style, standing and singing harmonies in soprano and alto without breaking the rules and boundaries of carnatic music. It was a refreshing show, taught meticulously by the great Vidhwan and performed flawlessly by the children.


The Vijayaratnam Foundation has committed in doing this again in 2014, and we at Sugam Karnatica are hopeful that it becomes an annual event to benefit many more youngsters in our country. The programme fits aptly in Sugam Karnatica’s goals of creating holistic and well-rounded individuals

Passion burns bright

January 11, 2013

The Star




LAST month, we were bunkered at the base of non-profit Indian arts organisation Sugam Karnatica in Petaling Jaya, Selangor just before the Mayan end-of-days “prophecy”, which predictably didn’t materialise.


Funnily enough, it was an apt subject matter with the Jayaseelan sisters, Sujitra, Sumitra and Subatra, since the centrepiece of the organisation’s calendar of programmes was called Samarpanam (Offering), the annual December show helmed by 150 children (after attending a two-week camp by Sugam Karnatica).


Last year’s theme, incidentally, was Apocalypse. The vedic version of Apocalypse at the Temple of Fine Arts in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur on Dec 16 drew a bumper crowd to the auditorium.


“We had people standing along the aisles and sitting at the side of the steps. We have had these numbers for the past (few) shows,” said Sujitra, the project director of Sugam Karnatica, which has already started to plan for its 2013 programme (and camp) for Samarpanam.


The trio founded Sugam Karnatica a decade ago to assist “the development of children by using the components of performing arts and the deep Indian cultural science of wisdom.”


The artistic development quest, no matter how difficult the task, will continue for these sisters (and the volunteers) at Sugam Karnatica.


As we learn, this year-end performance was an annual family affair at home until the sisters formed Sugam Karnatica and unveiled Samarpanam to the wider public in 2003. The inaugural event was held at the Women’s Institute of Management hall in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur and fronted by 30 participants from their school.


Subatra, the master trainer for last year’s Samarpanam camp, said that the facilitators may not be great dancers or singers but they have to be mentors or guides and motivators to the children as well as initiators. During the exercises, the facilitators were instructed in the modules to be taught to the children and also underwent leadership and first aid training.

“The children were divided into five groups. Each group had at least two facilitators, who helped them with their (dance) items,” said Subatra.


Last year, Sugam Karnatica collaborated with Aswara (Akademi Seni, Budaya Dan Warisan Kebangsaan or the National Academy of Arts, Culture and Heritage) for Samarpanam.


The organisation’s progress was also recognised last September when Sugam Karnatica was honoured by the EU-Malaysian Chamber of Commerce and Industry with the Europa Sustainability Awards 2012 in the culture category.


“In the last five years, we had the support of some corporate organisations, one of which is the Vijayaratnam Foundation. We receive contributions from parents but there is still shortage (of funds to continue to run Samarpanam). We cannot sustain it for much longer just relying on contributions from parents, which are based on (a) pay-as-you-wish (basis),” said Sumitra.


Sujitra, the eldest sister, stressed the importance of producing individuals with a strong cultural background.

“The corporations out there need to re-angle their (corporate social responsibility) programmes. They need to also look at (the importance of) holistic education. Like when they attend these kinds of camps: what do they learn in two weeks? What did the children learn apart from what you see on stage? Children learn better movement and coordination. They also learn a sense of responsibility and how to work in a team,” said Sujitra.


“We also had some projects that cater for the community at the camp. These are the kind of things that you can’t teach via textbooks … you just have to learn. The Samarpanam camp is experiential learning,” she added.


Apart from the camp, Sugam Karnatica organises a weekly Sugam Sunday School where the sisters are assisted by another batch of volunteers, made up of mainly mothers, who come over to make drinks, wash dishes and teach 120 kids – between four and 16 years of age – yoga, vedic studies and Thirumurai from 8.30am to 11.30am. In spite of being another project that depends on the benevolent contributions of parents and others, they have a waiting list of at least 50 for the classes after the registration was closed last November.


The year has started much earlier for Sugam Karnatica as they pool their resources for a debut project, Carnatic Stars. Thirty children, between the age of 10 and 14, will be selected by the group to be trained by carnatic (classical music of south India) singer O.S. Arun during the three school holiday breaks.


A total of 150 hours of tutoring – spanning 15 days – will culminate in a concert by the child vocalists in June.

This programme is fully funded by the Vijayaratnam Foundation and, in keeping with their aim of educating and developing the young in the arts and culture, will be accessible to children without any foundation in classical music.

Cultural camp ends with a musical paying homage to elephants

December 16, 2011

The Star


THE Sugam Karnatica, a musical programme involving children, is back again bigger and better.


To be held today at the Kuala Lumpur Craft Complex at 3pm, this time around the focus of the musical play themed ‘Larger Than Life’ will be on elephants.


“Imposing, impressive and standing out from the crowd – these are thoughts that come to mind when we hear the phrase ‘Larger Than Life’”, said Samarpanam creative director Sumitra Jayaseelan.


Larger Than Life highlights the glory, the magnificence as well as the plight of elephants in the past, present and future.


“Elephants are respected by many communities and many religions show reverence to elephants. Among the symbolic significance which the elephant carries includes royalty, power, wisdom, fertility, longevity, strength, honour, stability and patience which are also qualities we would like the students to have”, said Sumitra.


“However, despite the symbolic meaning which it carries, elephants are in great danger of extinction as conservationist claims that they just have 15 more years if they are not protected.” “The main reason for this is because of poaching and the medicinal values which the elephants ‘tusks carry.’”


She said they wanted to instil this thought and knowledge in the younger generation so they could help make a difference.

Sugam Karnatica’s annual production Samarpanam which carries the meaning ‘An offering of love’ in Tamil is a cultural camp featuring dances, songs, dramas reiterating the sense of culture and values in children.


The two-and-a-half hour show will be presented by 140 children with ages ranging from four to 16 years old who earlier took part in the cultural camp for two weeks.


The main aim of the camp was to allow the young ones to make new friends, learn good things, learn about their culture and tradition in the most fun manner, build confidence and go home enriched.


“We started this programme 24 years ago, when my sisters, cousins and I were little girls. For the last seven years, we have been presenting this programme under the banner of Sugam Karnatica to provide opportunities for more children and teenagers to join us, so that more of them will benefit from this project”,said Subatra Jayaseelan, project director for Samarpanam this year.


“This is the third time I have enrolled myself to the Samarpanam camp. It has been so much fun and I learned so much about elephants in various cultures.”


“Last year, our theme was Samudra and I learnt about the ocean and life in it”, said 10-year-old Mehthaa Vaiishnavi Chandramohan from Shah Alam.

Three sisters' labour of love

August 04, 2011

The Star


Three sisters made their transition from teachers of classical Indian music to opening up music to the masses through their school, Sugam Karnatica.


THE passion – spontaneous and complete – swells during the conversation with the sisters that make up Swaraa.

Since their breakout as the female vocalists of the hugely popular group Tulasi in 1999, Sujitra, Sumitra and Subatra Jayaseelan have set their sights on the learning and advancement of classical Indian music, arts and culture.


Their Sugam Karnatica school, a non-profit organisation, is a labour of love that is rooted in the passion that their parents, Jayaseelan and Sarojini Devi, have for music and which was passed on to their daughters.


The germination of many of Sugam Karnatica’s activities was inculcated during their adolescence and ranges from vocal to dance classes as well as key projects such as the long-running Samarpanam: An Offering Of Love, a two-week December school holiday camp, which culminates in a grand show by the participating children.


The sisters have been helming Indian classical vocal classes (sangeetham) for children since 1999 from home and, in April 2003, formed the precursor to Sugam Karnatica, Sugam Sangeeth Sabha.


Financial support from their mother allowed them to rent a bungalow in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, in May 2003 to be used as the base for the school.


In between attending university and raising funds to keep them purring along, the sisters managed to assemble a following.


They unfortunately lost a number of students as they battled against picky neighbours and relocated regularly.

However, the numbers for their classes showed signs of strong growth once they settled at the staff quarters of a temple in Petaling Jaya in 2007.


Encouraged by this development, Sugam Sangeeth Sabha went through a rebranding and change of name to reflect the inclusion of the learning of other branches of the performing arts and culture.


Mrdangam (double barreled drum native to south India) and tabla classes were introduced in mid-2003 but the teachers absconded, taking the students with them. Suitable candidates to continue with these classes have not been found. Yet these setbacks did not prevent the sisters from introducing violin classes in 2006.


This year has seen remarkable progress with classes in Western classical music, veena (plucked stringed instrument), bharatanatyam (classical dance of south India) and Tamil language made possible by the discovery of like-minded teachers.


There are over 200 students attending Sugam Karnatica’s regular classes and another 200 taking part in the school’s other programmes.


“We also have our version of Sunday school, the Vedic Sunday School, which we started early last year with 20 or so students and now it has 75 children of the Hindu faith.


“Between 8.30am and 11.30am every Sunday, children are taught yoga, Vedic studies, Thirumurai (Tamil holy scriptures) and more. The current batch of children will move up a grade and, even though we have volunteers helping us out, we will need more teachers (to cater to maturing students),” revealed Subatra, the 31-year-old principal of Sugam Karnatica.


“We are looking at young adults who are interested in teaching children to come for the Training of Trainers (TOT).

“We have prepared modules for everything and it is a structured teaching process. Right now, the children are split into three age groups and we need to double the number of people to be able to teach the new batches,” she added.

Sumitra, 32, is now working on an interactive programme called Zizu – similar to the successful American franchise Kindermusik – which is due to be launched in December.


Sujitra, 36, meanwhile, is drafting an after-school child-enrichment programme, Sastree, that would be implemented in January 2012.


Both programmes are in response to the desires of parents, who are keen to have their toddlers learn music, and young children who need to spend their time productively.


Zizu, Sumitra explained, is for children between the ages of three and six. They are are taught finger movements, rhythms and basic skills in playing musical instruments and initiated into fables gleaned from the Indian storybook.


Zizu is very much a pre-programme that children could participate in before advancing to the other classes at Sugam Karnatica.


Sastree, said Sujitra, keeps those between the ages of seven and 12 occupied with activities related to their syllabus and school.


“I was a schoolteacher, specialising in chemistry, while Sumitra was a physics teacher. We do a lot of reading in coming up with modules and syllabus and we have a panel of qualified advisors in their respective fields that counsel us as well. We are working on getting the accreditation so that we know that what we offer is good,” said Sujitra.


This is in line with the entire operations of Sugam Karnatica and efforts have been made to apply the same structured teaching and learning process to music as well.


Sugam Karnatica has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Annamalai University in India for an affiliation programme to assist those who are keen on pursuing music as a career.


At present, Sugam Karnatica students go through seven grades, with an examination in theory and practical every April.

The tie-up with the university is aimed at allowing serious music enthusiasts to go on to do their pre-diploma certificate, diploma, degree and masters in India.


There are, however, very few who would take up that option. The attitude toward music, whether in its reception or scholarship, and the scarcity of money in the arts here makes it an afterthought.


“There is a difference between a graduate in Bachelor of Science with an arts background and her friends (who had been shuttled from tuition classes and schools).


“Her personality and build of character is different because of the exposure to the arts. And this is evident in the workplace.


“If you were a scientist or architect, your approach would be a lot more creative (than someone who hasn’t had the benefit of learning the arts). Even in your daily life, the way you make decisions and multitask will change,” argued Sumitra.

“We like to spread the message that learning creative arts is not a luxury and everyone is entitled to this education. No child should miss out. We want to create funds to sponsor children and expose them to the arts. Sugam Karnatica is not an elite organisation ... you don’t have to be of a certain class to join us and your children won’t feel like they don’t fit in the crowd here.”


Sujitra lamented that as much as they want every child – regardless of his or her status or economic background – to have access to the arts, Sugam Karnatica also needs to manage its overheads.


The sold-out Indian classical Western fusion concert, Gems, at the KL Performing Arts Centre last Sunday helped with funding but the power brokers within the establishment and private sector must realise that funding for the arts is vital for the collective development of the community.


“We are hoping that the funds (from the concert) would help us realise our vision of making arts accessible to all children. That is the greatest gift that our parents had given us and we look forward to to sharing it with others,” she said.

Boost for arts, culture and heritage

March 20, 2011

The Star




IN their efforts to support the conservation and development of arts, culture and heritage, HSBC Bank Malaysia announced its pledge of RM935,000 to 14 local organisations for its 2011 HSBC in the Arts programme.


First launched in May 2005, this year marks the sixth year of the bank’s efforts and commitment in the preservation and support of local culture, performing arts and heritage.


HSBC Bank Malaysia executive director and deputy chief executive officer Jon Addis said the programme has allowed HSBC to support the work of some great organisations in creating programmes that will develop new talents as well as nurture the Malaysian Arts industry.


“Our beneficiaries this year are organisations that promote the performing arts, dance, music and cultural heritage and our support of the arts industry is a sign of our continued commitment towards the total development of this culturally rich and diverse country.”


“The arts scene here in Malaysia has grown rapidly over the years and has begun to draw the attention of the Malaysian society to the importance of this industry.”


“HSBC will continue to be a strong supporter of the local arts community and we are positive that with the right support, the Malaysian Arts industry will explode onto the international scene as the ‘Arts destination’”,said Addis.


“The HSBC in the Arts programme is also a further extension of the bank’s contribution in the area of education as HSBC believes that education is not only confined within the classroom.”


“This programme has provided many undiscovered talents the opportunity to hone and explore their skills and interests in the arts,”Addis added.


Some of the projects under HSBC include the continuity of cultural and traditional heritage through organisations such as Dama Orchestra and the challenge of developing the local performing arts scene through organisations such as The Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre, the Jumping Jelly Beans, The Actors Studio and Five Arts Centre.


Four new organisations have been added to the list of beneficiaries this year like Aswara Dance Company, Kwang Tung Dance Company, Northern Jazz Ensemble and Sugam Karnatica.

Samudra wows the crowd

January 14, 2011

The Star


The audience at Muzium Negara were swept away by an entertaining performance by Sugam Karnatica’s children recently.


Water is a significant element in our lives. It rehydrates us and cleanses our bodies. Sugam Karnatica acknowledged the importance of water in Samarpanam 2010 by making the theme for this year’s production as “Samudra” which is Sanskrit for ocean. It literally means the “Gathering together of waters”


Samudra brings to light the negative effect humans have towards the environment. From global warming to daily water wastage, water is becoming scarce as our rivers and seas get more polluted daily.


“Many people are unaware that we are on the verge of a water crisis. According to the World Water Council, a study in 2002 revealed an estimated 1.1 billion people lack access to drinking water.


“Water is also projected to be scarce in the coming years, and although we in Malaysia seem to enjoy water in abundance, we cannot be blind towards a global problem which will reach our shores sooner or later,” said project director of Samarpanam Sumitra Venu. Sumitra added: “With this production, we hope to highlight this issue.”


According to Puranic cosmography, the entire Cosmos is divided into seven concentric island continents separated by the seven encircling oceans. The seven oceans separating these continents consist of salt water, sugarcane juice, liquor, ghee, yogurt, milk and sweet water.


Just as how it is natural for us to go to the beach and be greeted by an ocean of salt water, some other worlds have got oceans of milk, ghee and sugarcane juice.


The evening show kicked off by highlighting the connection between Maha Vishnu, who lies on his thousand hooded serpent Ananta Sesa on the ocean of milk and the creation of all planets, including earth.


In earth, a dilemma is brewing as oceans, rivers and lakes are getting more polluted. Even holy rivers such as Yamuna and Ganges are filled with debris which is harmful for the animals that live in these waters, and thus the whole ecosystem.


Samudra travels back in time to connect the role played by rivers and other bodies of water in ancient Hindu scriptures.


Holy rivers such as Yamuna and Ganga are showcased and the reasons for them to be considered holy are emphasised.


Besides that, the show also accentuates current issues on ocean and water conservation and brings to light the 10 most important rivers in the world.


Samudra captivated the audience with its vast array of colours, elaborate ensembles and creatively choreographed dances and songs.


This year’s production saw as many as 100 children aged between four and 15 taking part. The four-year-olds were the crowd favourites when they sang and danced to “Circle of Life” adapted from The Little Mermaid’s famous Under the Sea.


The production is an intensive two-week cultural camp, conducted during the year-end holidays which teaches children Indian arts and culture such as Indian dances, songs and drama.


After an intensive two-week training, the children’s efforts are staged and parents and guests are invited to watch these children perform wonders.


Samarpanam is just one of many programmes offered at Sugam Karnatica. Sugam Karnatica also offers other programmes like the Sunday School, After School Enrichment Programme and lessons such as the sangeetham, mridangam, tabla and bharatha natyam.


Sugam Karnatica is a non-profit organisation dedicated to the development of children by using the components of performing arts and the Indian cultural science of wisdom.


All the committee members and facilitators at Samarpanam are volunteers who have come together to be a part of this camp. It all started during the school holidays 22 years ago, when a group of children got together and sprung up with a creative idea of putting up a show for their families comprising songs, dances and drama.


The show not only centred on Indian tradition and culture, it was also lively and entertaining. Two decades have passed since the first year and the tradition is being continued.


Along the years, more children and teenagers have joined in the fun and excitement. Samarpanam has always been a charitable programme and till today the pioneers have maintained it in that way.


“Although we are at the height of the information technology era, children in today’s modern society grow up knowing less about their culture than a decade ago.


“So, this camp not only educates children on our traditions and culture but hopes to instil honourable traits and values in each individual,” said Sumitra.


Guest of honour was the chairman of the Vijayaratnam Foundation Datin Umayal Eswaran. It is the main sponsor of the Samarpanam for the past three years.

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