Saint Thiagaraja – the musical play

Every day we hear stories – either from within India or outside – of
how Indian civilisation, heritage and Hindu values and traditions are
being attacked. We fulminate; sign petitions and these achieve results
on occasions and do not, on other occasions.

But, the groundswell remains intact. We need to take heart from that.
Today, I experienced one such positive experience.

I woke up at 5:30 in the morning in Singapore on February 1 to get ready to catch a flight to Chennai that left at 9:00 AM. AIR INDIA left ahead of time and reached Chennai ahead of time. Smooth and comfortable ride.

A casual phone call to my good friend ‘Bombay’ Jayashri revealed two
irresistible programmes lined up for the day: the singing of
Pancharathna Kritis of Saint Thiagaraja followed by the Tamil Play on
Saint Thiagaraja for which she had composed music.

She was insistent – almost adamant – that I attended both. Attending
the group rendition was relatively easy. I had no clash of
appointments. But, I had a meeting at 6:30 PM.

So, at 4:00 PM, my friend Kapil and I went for the group rendition of
Pancharatna Kritis. An impressive assembly of artists was there –
Bombay Jayashri herself, Embar Kannan, B.V. Balasai on the flute,
Kunnakudi M. Balamuralikrishna, the evergreen maestro Umayalpuram
Shri. Sivaraman Sir (he has just turned 80), Shertalai Shri Ranganatha
Sharma, Aswath Narayan, Vignesh Easwar.

All these artists had sung or played for the musical-play to follow.

They began with Shri Ganapatini Sevimparare in Saurashtram, followed by
Gurulekha Etuvanti in Gowri Manohari (I think). Then, it was followed
by the rendering of the Pancharatna kritis. It all ended by 5:40 PM
with a Aarati for Lord Rama and the Trinity of Carnatic music.

I left for my meeting despite my friend insisting that I come up with
creative and imaginative excuses to postpone my meeting to tomorrow
and attend the musical play fully.

The meeting was good and productive. I did not rush. I returned to the
Narada Gaana Sabha at 7:52 PM. The play had gone on for about 60 to 65

I reached during the scene where Shri. Thiagaraja refused to sing in
praise of the king and his brother orders him out of the house. As he
was leaving the house, I was entering the hall.

Intermission followed for five minutes. Then, I watched the rest of
the play. It was not so much the play – i.e., the acting or the
dialogues (they were good) that moved you. You are moved, nonetheless.
As ‘Jayashri’ put it later, that is the power of the Saint and his

As he loses the Rama statue that he worships every day, he goes to
many Kshetrams and temples and sings in praise of Shri. Ranganathan in
Srirangam (O Ranga Sayee), Tirumala (thera theeyaga raadaa).

The audience was clapping for every scene spontaneously and there was
standing ovation in the end. The play ended with Shri. Thiagaraja
attaining sainthood and giving up his body to the rendition of ‘Bhaja
Govindam’ and ‘Punarapi Jananam, punarapi maranam’, in particular.

It was the atmosphere, the enthusiasm and the bhakti of the audience
and the ambience that made me feel so moved. Later, I heard that I was
not the only one who felt this way.

Seeing a full house on a MOnday evening that stayed until 9:20 PM with
great enthusiasm was a revelation. The show was not ticketed thanks to
generous sponsorship. But, still, people had to go back home late.
Most of Chennai still sleeps relatively early.

They gave Sweet Pongal and Sundal as Prasadams. I had one in the
evening after the rendition of Pancharatna kritis and again was given
another at the end of the play.

There was more surprise to follow. I jumped into an autorickshaw who
asked for Rupees 150.00 to drop me at the hotel in Egmore. It felt
high but I agreed considering that my day began very early and I was
keen to get to the hotel.

On reaching the hotel, the autorickshaw driver insisted on taking only
Rupees 120.00! He refused to accept 150 Rupees!

Thus ended a wonderful evening.

Endaro Mahaanubhavulu, Andariki Vandanamulu!

Warm regards and best wishes,

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