Asian Music and Dance

Supriya Nagarajan – Befriending Souls 

Manasamitra, meaning soul’s best friend, has been delivering South Asian arts in Yorkshire for almost five years. Its success has been largely down to the drive and passion of Supriya Nagarajan, now the organisation’s Artistic Director. Anupama Arunkumar took a peek into her world. 

Supriya’s house is filled with Indian and Asian artifacts. Colour, dynamism and vibrancy display themselves from all corners. Few would guess that she comes from a career in accountancy and banking and it was only in 2005 that Supriya set up Manasamitra with Jayalakshmi Ganapathy.  

Initially it set out to provide an outlet for their artistic passions and interests; today Manasamitra provides opportunities to dozens of UK artists, curates classical and contempoary music and dance performances, visual art displays and other South Asian art forms.  

“Music was always what I was passionate about,” she reflects. In particular it was the derth of south Indian music in the region that drove her to create the organisation. Her training as a carnatic vocalist in Mumbai with the respected T.R. Balamani, who has performed with Bombay Jayashri and Shankar Mahadevan, has opened doors to inviting the leading lights in the world of Indian classical music. In particular, Bombay Jayashri’s concert at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in 2007 gave Manasamitra huge national recognition. 

“The trick in the trade lies in always delivering something unique with passion. They can forget what you say or do, but they can never forget what you made them feel.” Supriya cites the ‘Journey to India’ project, which presented traditional and contemporary art and gave audiences an insight into India’s cultural traditions, as one of Manasamitra’s most successful ventures. Presented at the Yorkshire Railway Museum, the concert showcased a smorgasbord of carnatic and hindustani music alongside traditional and contemporary dance. Activities on offer included henna hand-painting and rangoli designs on railway themes. 

A lot of the credit, says Supriya, goes to her artists. “Without artists, there is no organisation and synergy is what I believe in.” Just some of the names include visual artists Shameela Hussain and Vidula Shukla and santoor player, Kamaljeet Ajimal. 

Aside from performance, Supriya’s other forte is teaching. “While performance is the best way that I can express myself, it takes me to new levels; teaching gives me that joy of passing down our musical heritage and igniting new minds.” 

Currently, she is working on an academic paper on ragas, sounds and vibration of mantras. “There are no referral points for us, as nobody has done any in-depth study yet. One strand of research is fully dedicated to the effect of rhythm, sound and vibration of chants on children which is awe-inspiring.”  The research is already leading to practical benefits with a series of sessions for post-natal depression patients. “The early sessions were a bit disruptive as the kids were crying and mum’s attention was being taken away. After that it was like a miracle. The children started identifying with the sounds and the mothers were more relaxed, their attention span increased and the feedback was great.” 

With invitations and plans for concerts in Europe, things are looking up. But even though high-profile artists like Sanjay Subrahmaniam, Niladri Kumar and Talvin Singh have all been promoted by Manasamitra she is disappointed at the numbers of high-quality artists and teachers coming forward to popularise carnatic music in northern England. It’s a challenge that Supriya and Manasamitra continue to take on with passion, commitment and a steely determination.



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