She was invited to felicitate Aruna Sairam, who was awarded the Sangita Kalanidhi that evening.
Her is Leela's speech in full:
The Honourable Governor of Tamil Nadu, Sri Banwarilal Purohit ji, President, Sri N. Murali, Secretaries and members of the board of the Music Academy, Sangita Kalanidhi Smt Aruna Sairam, Vidvans and Vidushis on and off the stage, dear rasikas and friends –
It is a privilege for me to stand before you to honour Smt Aruna Sairam on this auspicious day – the 1st of January 2019. May I wish each of you and your families a happy, healthy and fulfilling New Year?
We are here to celebrate yet another musician who has joined the ranks of those stalwarts who have in the past years, received this award. But importantly, Arunaji will now join eleven other illustrious women who have lent their grace to this award.
In eighty-nine years since its inception, these 12 awards, so covetously won, tell many a tale of struggle, but all speak of
single-minded bhakti, the immense shraddha and the contemplated saadhana required to achieve this. In saying this, I am not for a second taking away from the glory of the male musician.
However, the determination & grit, the humiliation and triumph, the personal tribulations and resolve that these women went through is particularly noteworthy, for this is achieved in what is unmistakeably ‘a man’s world’ - one that decorates women with marriage & motherhood, but not easily with position or awards.
For a woman, the achievement is all the more precious because it is won, in spite of all the other ‘taken for granted’ duties that she has to fulfill. If these illustrious women have one thing in common, it is that regardless of the personal and professional
struggles they endured, it was their feminine grace & lustre that they brought to the stage.
As a dancer, I have always thought that it is me who is singing when I dance.
At some point ‘the other’ voice disappears. I am alone. My beloved guru, Smt Rukmini Devi taught that for a dancer, you must sing when you dance. Only then can you feel. Perhaps it is true to surmise that musicians also dance while they sing?
Male musicians might squirm at the thought. But when you think of these female singers you can hear them dance! There is cadence & movement in their spirit. For dance is the nature of the universe. The planets, the five elements, animal and plant life and the human race – all these pulsate in constant and animated motion.
It is the dance of the body - yes, but also of the senses, of feelings, of the chit - the soul. Aruna ji is, I am sure, not ashamed to be ‘dancing’ as she sings through this journey of life. Groomed as she was, by teachers of great eminence in ‘far away’ Mumbai, I
can fully understand the resistance to being accepted in Chennai as ‘one of us’.
In my case, I assume it is the accident of my birth that this is so. But I take solace from the case of Aruna ji - for she is ‘to the manor born’, and yet not!
The turning point came in 1998 in this very sabha, when Sheikh Chinna Moulana, the Sangita Kalanidhi that year, gave her high praise. The very next year, and quite late in her life, she & her family made the move to Chennai & her growth as a multi-faceted performing artist in this city, began.
Aruna Sairam was blessed with a musical home, loving parents, a supportive husband and children & these several gurus who anchored her life in music. But ultimately, it must be said that it was her innate curiosity, determination, intelligence and a positive, cheerful nature that has brought her to this prestigious platform today.
For Aruna ji, to connect with her audience is extremely important. She is known for her wide repertoire and willingness to experiment. Her choices are fashionably eclectic. She has taken Karnatic music abroad in a way that few others have. Young or old, her audiences love her.
Each one of us in the arts must know that our arts stand tall and remain the strongest statement amidst the cacophony of the politics of our time. Institutions beg for leaders who can see the larger picture of inclusion. I join you all, in paying our respects to Arunaji’s philosophy of reaching out through her music. And, for being one more exceptional female musician to receive this most prestigious award.