This past Saturday, January 24th marked the official opening of a unique space for South Asian arts and culture in Toronto. The Toronto Tabla Ensemble Centre for Indian Arts on Gerrard St. E was inaugurated on the auspicious occasion of the Hindu festival, Saraswati Puja. This new community hub will host daily tabla lessons, afterschool programs, concerts, and a range of dance and music classes, rehearsals and workshops.
The Gerrard India Bazaar provides the perfect backdrop for the centre to develop into a permanent venue for Indian music and dance, something that has not yet been available to Toronto audiences and artists. The centre’s opening will have a deeper significance to go along with its promotion of the arts; its broader impact will be in supporting cultural exchange and sharing ideas.
This was shown at the centre’s day-long opening ceremony, which began with a traditional celebration of Saraswati Puja. The priest leading the prayer did a fine job of explaining the proceedings as he went along to the diverse audience, which consisted mostly of non-Hindus. This made the event a learning experience for all of those who attended.
Speaking later in the day at the official inauguration ceremony, the Consul General of India, Akhilesh Mishra, also expressed his belief in the importance of sharing cultural experiences in order to create broader harmony. He cited the significance of this centre and similar initiatives to the country’s identity saying, “Now Canada is multicultural, very accepting of diversity, but it was not always like that.”
The day’s events concluded in the evening with a scintillating concert featuring local performers. Odissi dancer, Mukur De, sitar player, Neeraj Prem, and the Toronto Tabla Ensemble all took to the stage leaving a lasting impact on the audience and highlighting the depth of talent in the Indian arts existing in Toronto alone. The event was the first of what will be many intimate concerts to be held at the venue.
The Toronto Tabla Ensemble founder, Ritesh Das, was the visionary behind the centre and has called its opening “a dream come true”. Ever since arriving in Canada in 1985, Das has been committed to teaching the art of Tabla and promoting South Asian culture. He has opened three teaching locations in Mississauga, Scarborough, and now in Toronto on Gerrard St. where tabla lessons are available to students of all ages and at all levels.
Growing up surrounded by revered artists and studying music from a young age, Das has been able to share his rich artistic background with Toronto and continues to do so. Das’ parents opened up the first music and dance academy in Kolkata after India gained independence and his older brother was the Kathak dance legend, Pandit Chitresh Das, who established the dance form in North America in the 1970s. Carrying on the legacy of his family, Das hopes to turn the Centre for Indian Arts into a must-see attraction for anyone in Toronto.