On the morning of 25th December (Friday), my wife and I with her cousin set off fresh and early at 7:30 for Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha.
A nice breakfast of fresh idlis, Pongal, Vadai and Filter Coffee was served by ‘Mountbatten’ Mani Iyer’s canteen at the Sabha.
The lec.-dem by Dr. Pantula Rama and her violinist M.S.N. Murthy was on emotions in Raagams. Mr. Murthy fancied his voice more than he should have. His knowledge of the structure of the keertanas and the places where emphasis should be made and not, etc., made eminent sense. He said that the Chittaswara in ‘Raghuvamsa Sudha’ was the benchmark for all Chittaswarams!
After 15 minutes, he handed over the mike to Dr. Pantula Rama. She did a fabulous job of the subject, taking up many different kritis and the emotions that the composers had tried to convey.
One could get a deep understanding of and respect for the composers and their imagination, intelligence and the enormous attention they had paid to detail. Merely learning the kritis by rote and even being able to sing them with ghamakas (a technical skill that can be acquired by practice) is not enough. The emotion behind their phrases and their tonal variations need to be understood and respected. The singer has to relive the times and the context of the kriti to bring out even a fraction of what the great composers had tried to convey. She spent some time on the kriti, ‘Ksheerasagara Shayana’ in Deva Gandhari. Atana, Lalitha, and many other kritis and ragams and the emotions they conveyed were explained well. Lovely to hear that.
The lec-dem started at 8:30. At around 9:20, the crowed started swelling. By 9:30 PM, the crowd had gotten quite big, noisy and the movements were distracting. The artist got flustered and ended her lec.-dem at 9;35 – some ten minutes short.
Later I learnt that the public were streaming in for the 10:00 AM lecture by their local favourite, Visakha Hari. I was quite annoyed at this. The artist present has to be respected. The Sabha organisers should have held them back until 9:45. They were not coming to listen to Dr. Pantula Rama but to disturb her! Their parochialism was breathtaking.
I trooped off to Sivagami Pethatchi auditorium to listen to a thematic presentation by Anil Srinivasan, Lalgudi GJR Krishnan and Dhushyant Sridhar. It was nice without being spectacular. Dhushyant Sridhar spoke only briefly but he was good. I had hoped to hear more from him. He spoke about how good souls who lived a dharmic life would know when their lives would end. They would see a black circle in the sun and they would also see another image in the mirror! Of course, there was the reference to The musical presentation itself was neat and
efficient without being particularly moving.
I came to Music Academy to have lunch at the canteen with a friend! Listened to the excellent alapana of Kharaharapriya by Shreya Devnath. She outdid the vocalist, Subiksha Rangarajan.
Lunch was at the Krishna Restaurant in the Woodlands. Canteen in the Music Academy overflowed with patrons.
Came back from lunch and listened to a confident Kutcheri by Vidhya Kalyanaraman. I do not remember her kritis and the raagams but what stood out was her confident presentation.
From there, it was to Bharat Kalachar to listen to good friend V. Shankar Narayanan. His heart must have sank to see only 8 people when the curtain rose. It was abominable. Clearly, the ‘Mylapore Mafia’ had gone to listen to their favourites at the Academy and Narada Gaana Sabha. Their patronage of talent leaves a lot to be desired. Empty chairs were lucky to listen to Nirmala Rajasekhar on the veena and the same was the case today with Shankar. Chennai audience is mostly a trend-following audience rather than a trend-discovering audience.
Shankar was unfazed. He gave a delightful concert. Begada Varnam, Aparadhamula in Lathangi, Sri Varalakshmi in Sri, Main piece in Thodi. It is not just raining aqua in Chennai but raining Thodi too this season. Shankar’s accompaniments – V. Sanjeev on the violin and B. Sivaraman on the Mrdangam – gave him very good support.
It was curtains for us that day.
On the 26th, we rushed to Vaani Mahal for the 10:00 AM lec-dem by Dr. B.M.Sundaram and his panelists including Suguna Varadhachari and Dr. Abirama Sundari + 1 on the origins of Raagas and their names. The title sounded interesting. But, that was the only interesting or useful thing about it. Barring repeating some catch phrases, none of them said anything of
substance. It was not clear who their target audience was – the theoretical researcher, or the musicians or the ordinary members of the public. Even if they were clear about whom they were addressing – which they were not – it is not clear that they would have benefited in any case. There was no content. I heard the words, ‘Moorchanas, Swara Graamam, Melam’ repeated by all without any attempt to move the discussion forward.
Our day at the Sabhas ended with that as familial duties beckoned.
On the 27th, it was back to the lecture circuit. A panel discussion on Aaroham-Aavrohanam featured S. Sowmya, Ravi Kiran and two others. It was interesting. Ravi Kiran stressed aural tradition before oral tradition – listening before singing and intellect before intuition. At the same time, intuition must follow tuition.
He spoke about CMCM – Common Mistakes in Carnatic Music. Apparently, some videos are available on Youtube. Ravi Kiran has a good voice and tremendous knowledge. The only problem with Ravi Kiran is that he does not let others talk. Their conclusion was that the knowledge of Aaroham-Avarohanam was not a must to understand and appreciate the Ragams.
I stayed on for the presentation titled, ‘Nava Vidha Ramayanam’ Sri Srinidhi Swamigal and Ms. Vasundhara Rajagopal – the singer. It was brilliant. The last Sunday of the year is earmarked for them at Sri Parthasarathi Swami Sabha. We should make a note of it. He described many situations from Ramayana and she sang a sloka from Valmiki
Ramayana, Arunchala Kaviraayar, Ezhuthachchan, Periyavaachchan Pillai, Giridhar Ramayana from Gujarat, the Bengali version of Ramayana, Tulsidas Ramayana, Gatyam, etc.
It was a day of Punarvasu Nakshathiram. She was very simply dressed and exuded calmness. She sang very well despite being troubled by cough. She herself described the situations in those songs rather well.
The choice of ‘Charukesi’ by Saint Thiagaraja for ‘Aadamodi Galade’ came in for particular mention. It has both Shankarabharanam and Hanumath Thodi Prayogams. The kriti does mention Hanuman. The luck that befell the ‘Paadukas’ for they sat on the throne was mentioned to suggest that we have no control over the outcomes.
It was a very satisfying event and they should be invited to Singapore, for example. I was very glad I attended it.
Lunch with a friend followed by the 90-minute concert of J.A. Jayant with the flute. I remember Saraswati Namostuthe, Sri Varalakshmi Namasthubyam, Raghuvamsa Sudha. I do not remember the main piece. While I bought ticket for the Kunnakudi Balamuralikrishna concert, I had to listen to the concert of Ganesh – Kumaresh. Whatever the concert was, it was not Carnatic Classical. The only thing that I took away from the concert was that the brothers sport pony tails now. Sound and fury signifying nothing – literally – was the memory of the
Kunnakudi M. Balamuralikrishna (KMBMK) has oodles of talent. This is a comeback year for him. He had admirable support from Akkarai Subbalakshmi on the violin and Tanjore Murugabhoopathy on the Mrdangam. I remember Deva Deva Kalayamidhe in Maayamalava Gowlam. I do not remember the main raagam in RTP.
The concert was good but I derived more satisfaction from Shankarnarayanan’s concert. Shankar’s range, voice and his unhurried singing were better on the ears and the senses than the hurried singing of KMBMK. As a knowledgeable friend put it, he lacks ‘Visranthi’. But, as his throat recovers from surgery and as he finetunes his range, he can present a wonderful alternative to other Mylapore favourites now. He is definitely exciting.
That ended a long day on 27th. 28th December was again a family get-together affair. 29-30 are busy too. I have Dec. 31 and Jan.1 to conclude my first long season of listening in five years.