In the spring of 2007, an ad hoc group of Malayalee amateur artists, one as young as 7years, came together under the leadership of Sri Ajikumar Bhaskaran to perform Chenda Melam, an ensemble of Kerala drums, at a local Chenda Melam Competition. Sri Ajikumar Bhaskaran’s group went on to win that competition and a few more in the subsequent years.
His group performed Chenda Melam at the 2011 Ayyappa Utsava Sattram at Siva-Vishnu Temple, Lanham, Maryland, KHNA convention, Washington DC, at the Chicago Tyagaraja Utsava celebrations at the Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago (HTGC), Lemont, IL, at the inauguration of Mata Amritanandamayi Center, Elburn, IL, and at several other venues including routinely performing at key puja events at the HTGC, Lemont, IL.
Besides the Chenda Melam, the group took on the arduous task of teaching themselves Panchavadyam, an ensemble of five instruments traditionally played at Hindu temples in Kerala, India. Somewhere along the way, a seed was planted in the hearts of key members of this team to form an organization that will nurture these ancient but precious temple art forms of Kerala that is so integral part of the Hindu way of living there amongst like-minded enthusiasts as well as to the next generation of youths.
For the past year or so, an informal group under a Chicago Kalakshetra banner started to perform at various functions under the leadership of Sri Ajikumar Bhaskaran. Earlier in February 2013, an organization named “Chicago Kalakshetra, Inc.” was officially registered with the State of Illinois as a Hindu religious not-for-profit organization with the following mission statement:
“Chicago Kalakshetra, Inc. is a not for profit organization based out of Chicago to foster the traditional Hindu temple art forms of Kerala, India to the people of Kerala origin living in the United States of America, nurture goodwill and understanding among people of India and the United States of America through education and cultural exchanges.”