Saturday, 30 August 2014

Tiruvarur Vaidyanathan honoured in New Jersey

By Samudri

Mridanga vidwan Tiruvarur Vaidyanathan was honoured in July 2014 with the New Jersey Assembly proclamation for promoting Carnatic music abroad.

The citation said Vaidyanathan, born in a family of percussionists, began training at the age of six from his grandfather and uncle. With his inherent sense of rhythm, disciplined practice and urge to excel in the art of playing the mridangam, he was showcased in concerts even as a high school student. He underwent rigorous training with mridangam maestro Karaikudi Mani and with dedication and hard work became a much sought after percussionist for leading musicians in India and abroad.

Vaidyanathan has performed at such major venues as Lincoln Center in New York and Kennedy Center in Washington DC. 
Vibrations, the symphonic ensemble he launched performs multiple genres of music on a global level. He promotes music through his position as Faculty Member of SIFAS in Singapore and as a mentor of young musicians who established the Tiruvarur Talavadya Vidyalaya in Chennai, the official proclamation added.

Tiruvarur Vaidyanathan was honoured by Upendra Chivukula, deputy speaker of New Jersey State Assembly. Divya Yeluri, founder director of Nrithya Madhavi School of Dance, in New Jersey, and Venu Yeluri participated in the ceremony.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Adyar Lakshman is no more

By Samudri
Chennai, 20 August 2014

Iconic octogenarian Bharatanatyam guru Adyar K Lakshman, passed away last night at Chennai. He was 80. Born on 16 December 1933 at Kuppam in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh, Lakshman and his brother Rama Rao were discovered by Rukmini Devi Arundale’s Kalakshetra when they were very young.

Lakshman was a much loved and respected guru and choreographer who gave the world of Bharatanatyam many excellent disciples. His passing will be deeply mourned by dance and music lovers everywhere.

Please read Sruti issue no. 320 of June 2011 for a profile of Adyar K Lakshman.



An aching void

By Pavithra Srinivasan

Something felt wrong today. As I walked the familiar streets back home, I felt an inexplicable ache in my heart. I couldn't make sense of it--it was just another day. 

But back home, I saw a message that my first Bharatanatyam Guru, a friend of my late grandfather's and my first window to the beautiful world of dance, had passed on. 

He was a towering pillar of the Kalakshetra school.

It makes sense now. Some bonds are beyond time, distance and this-worldly meaning. May his soul dance in Nataraja's shade, for all eternity.

Pavithra Srinivasan is a scholar at Oxford University

Jyothishmathi Sheejith

Music for Classical Dance

By Anjana Anand

Jyothishmathi Sheejith

Petite and soft spoken, Jyothishmathi Sheejith is a musician with a stamp of classicism and musical sense honed by Kalakshetra aesthetics. She has sung for leading Bharatanatyam artistes and is known for her meticulous preparation and enthusiasm even when singing for junior artistes. Married to Bharatanatyam artiste Sheejith Krishna, Jyothishmathi is the music composer for many of his productions. A firm believer in the Carnatic music tradition, her compositions reflect her innate understanding of the musical needs of the Bharatanatyam form.

How did you start learning Carnatic music?

I started vocal music when I was nine in Bellary. My teacher Subhadramma was a violin and vocal teacher. Nobody in my family is in the music field. My father is a doctor. It was my teacher who suggested to my parents that I take music seriously. She was a wonderful teacher and gave me a strong foundation.

For the first two years, I used to go to class only because of my mother’s persuasion. After that, I suddenly got interested in music myself and would in fact refuse to leave class when mother came to pick me up! After my tenth standard, I had to make a decision about academics. I decided to focus on my music. After my twelfth standard, I applied to the Mysore Music College. An uncle of mine living in Annanagar told us about Kalakshetra. Once I came and saw the college, my mind was set on joining this institution.

Tell us about your Kalakshetra experience.

After the interview, I was put into the final year class but had to complete the full four years for my Diploma. After completing six years for the post-diploma course, I was awarded a scholarship and continued for one and a half years more in Kalakshetra. I was with Vairamangalam Lakshminarayanan Sir for all the six years. I also learnt from Pasupati Sir and Rajaram Sir. I started learning music in the Mysore bani and then was exposed to the Tanjavur bani in Kalakshetra. Each has its own beauty. The Mysore bani focussed on speed. Later I learnt to slow my pace down and focus more on the emotion. In a way, my music calmed down after coming to Kalakshetra! I think that process of slowing down and actually hearing myself and what was happening between one note and another, made me understand music better.


The Kalakshetra experience was not just about learning music. It was truly a way of life. It was the first time I started seeing the interconnectedness of the arts. I was surrounded by music, dance and other fine arts. It made such an impact that I never saw myself just as a musician. This was true for every artiste in Kalakshetra. If you ask someone like Anil Kumar sir (mridangist) who has been in Kalakshetra for years, he will recite all the korvais of the Kalakshetra jatiswarms and even prompt the next hand gesture in a varnam!

What was your exposure to dance?

None till Kalakshetra! There was only one sabha in Bellary where I heard kucheris now and then. Exposure to Bharatanatyam happened very naturally in the Kalakshetra environment. I started singing for Bharatanatyam in my first year for variety shows organized by Kalakshetra. The variety shows also gave me an opportunity to present half hours of solo Carnatic music. While I was a student, Rajaram Sir started composing for the dance drama Purandaradasa and he wanted someone who knew Kannada to help him with the notations. This was my first exposure to music being set for Bharatanatyam.

In 1999, I got to go on my first US tour with Shobana (Bhalchandra?) and so had to give up my scholarship in Kalakshetra. I worked with Bharata Kalanjali for five years as a staff member there and sang for Dhananjayan Sir and Shanta Akka on many occasions.

How are the approaches to singing for dance and a vocal concert?

The foundation that I received ensures that my music does not change and that I adhere to the musical grammar. When I sing for natyam, I am tuned to the dance. In a cutcheri, my manodharma is dictated by the Carnatic music grammar and technicalities through which the improvisation happens. In a dance performance, my imagination is shared with someone else.

How does the emotion of the lyrics affect the musicality in both forms?

I think that in both cases, we must know and understand the lyrics and bring forth the emotion from within. I don’t know whether it is the Kalakshetra background, but for me, the lyrics and the raga bhava go hand in hand. Perhaps since I am familiar with many languages, the words are never alien to me. Vairamangalam Sir would always place great emphasis on the sangatis reflecting the sahitya. The way I see it, a dancer uses her body language to express different shades of the same line. Similarly, the musician uses the raga swaroopa to communicate the emotion. Each sangati is developed gradually, increasing in complexity and presenting the full range of the raga bhava.

Who are the dancers you have worked with?

Leela Samson, Malavika Sarukkai, C.V. Chandrasekhar, Urmila Sathyanarayanan, Manjari Chandrasekhar and Sreelatha Vinod, to name a few

Which Kalakshetra dance dramas have you sung for?

Sri Purandara, Siva Geeti Mala, Andal Charitram, Krishnamari Kuravanji, Akka Mahadevi and the Ramayana series.

What do you feel are the difficulties in singing for dance?

When we choose a career path we have to be aware of the working methodology it demands. There is no point in complaining about attending rehearsals and the strain it puts on the voice because without rehearsals, how will the music and dance come together? For a show to be a success, it requires a spirit of collaboration and understanding that as dance vocalists we are not the centre of the spotlight. Each path you choose has its own demands. If I am a mainstream Carnatic vocalist, my own sadhana everyday as well as being up to date with my pathantaram are important for concerts. For a Bharatanatyam vocalist, the preparation involves learning new music all the time, finding time to notate and go for practice sessions. It’s an informed choice that we make!

Any regrets about not becoming a mainstream concert artiste?

No regrets. I am happy with my work. I have worked with some wonderful artistes and my music has only been enriched over time because of this exposure.

You have composed music for many dancers, in particular for Sheejith Krishna’s productions. Rasikas have commented on the way in which the music and the dance have come together so beautifully.

I feel composition happens from the day you start singing kalpana swaram or attempting raga alapana in training. Over time, you learn how to channel your musical imagination for a purpose. I learnt a lot about composing from Rajaram Sir as I was there when he composed music for three or four productions. I used to help with the notations and that was an invaluable experience. I remember while he was doing music for Purandaradasa, Janardhanan Sir would request for an avartanam of swaram in a particular place and Sir would try out different combinations till the right one clicked. I learnt so much by just being there during this process.

Because I had heard such great compositions, I never had the courage to try composing myself! The credit for making my start composing goes to Sheejith. He was always asking me to try composing and frankly, I had no interest in doing so! I was satisfied with the pleasure of singing, but I started working on music for his productions.

Initially, I started composing items. My first attempt was swarams and a tillana in his production Marthyan. After that I did Swapna Raag, my first full-fledged music composition for his production. Since then, I have done music for Sheejith’s Masquerade, Krishna Bharatam, Parinaamam and Pravaaha.

How do you go about composing?

If it is for dance, I like to work closely with the dancer and understand how she visualizes the scene and the mood. I then give her a few options and we discuss the choice. If the dancer is clear about what she wants, then the composing sets well. Otherwise it may not jell as well.

Any awards?

I received the best female singer award from Sri Krishna Gana Sabha.

What are your plans?

To continue singing, teaching and composing! I am also a founding member of Sahrdaya Foundation along with a few like-minded artistes who form the core group headed by Sheejith. There is a lot of exciting work happening at Sahrdaya now. We teach Bharatanatyam and Carnatic music and hope to spread the joy of the arts to young students. Our other areas of focus are outreach programmes and developing our own performance ensemble wing.

I think that in both cases, we must know and understand the lyrics and bring forth the emotion from within. I don’t know whether it is the Kalakshetra background, but for me, the lyrics and the raga bhava go hand in hand. Perhaps since I am familiar with many languages, the words are never alien to me. Vairamangalam Sir would always place great emphasis on the sangatis reflecting the sahitya. The way I see it, a dancer uses her body language to express different shades of the same line. Similarly, the musician uses the raga swaroopa to communicate the emotion. Each sangati is developed gradually, increasing in complexity and presenting the full range of the raga bhava.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Jayateerth Mevundi

By Ramdas Menon

Jayateerth Mevundi may well be the brightest star in the Kirana gharana today, of which the legendary Pandit Bhimsen Joshi was the foremost exponent. The bandish is “Jaoon Mein Tope Balihari” in Brindabani which was a favorite of the Pandit. Jayateerth just overwhelms you with his magnificent virtuosity. The taans come out one after the other with terrifying speed and blinding clarity. And the best part is that this is done with effortless ease; just watch the expression on his face. This drut piece lasts for less than 8 minutes, but leaves the impression of a lifetime. This is an absolutely electrifying performance, and Jayateerth Mevundi will surely find a place in the topmost echelons of the Hindustani pantheon.

Thanks a lot to Arvind Ranganathan for sharing this. He is a disciple of Karaikudi Mani. Arvind is an accomplished mridangist who manages a fine balance between his corporate career and his music. Why don’t you put up your recently held lec-dem conducted under the aegis of the Lalgudi trust for the benefit of us aam janta?