D.K. Pattammal

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Sumitra Vasudev’s concert glows quietly

By Vivadi

Oli Chamber Concert 3

The Theme: Manikkam Vairam

Jewels and gems have been vital images in legend, folklore, literature and history. No wonder our own GNB, Palghat Mani Iyer, Palani Subramaniam Pillai and Rajamanickam Pillai were collectively nicknamed Mummaniyum manikkamum!

Many composers have painted dazzling visuals of their ishta devatas as marakatavarna (emerald-hued), ratnabharanadhara (bedecked in jewels), manimantapasthita (enshrined in a bejewelled mantapa). We see sheer magnificence in Hiranmanyim lakshmim. Our minds are filled with grandeur and beauty when we hear Papanasam Sivan’s description of the majestic Adhikara-nandi (Kana kankodi) or Bharatiyar’s reference to stars adorning Kannamma’s inky blue sari (Suttum vizhichudar), or the little Krishna’s cradle decorated with diamond trinkets (Manikkam katti).

Sumitra Vasudev’s Oli chamber concert explored this celestial splendour enshrined in classical Carnatic music.

That Deep Inner Glow

As I entered Rasvihar-Sarangi (Nungambakkam), routine dragged my feet to the stairs that would take me to their lovely silk sari collection. But I was here for an entirely different purpose. The furniture in one of the inner rooms on the lower level was being re-arranged to accommodate an audience of about 40 persons (finally 60 persons turned up!). Most of the rasikas arrived much before the artistes for the evening, and taught the Oli Team yet another lesson in concert organizing: make sure the artistes get tuned in well on time.

Soon leaflets were distributed, lost listeners circumambulating Loyola College found their way to the hall, wires tripped on, missing speech notes recovered, mobile phones switched off and prayer sung (what else but a tevaram about Oli!) and Sumitra Vasudev began her concert. What I believed until now to be merely a pleasant space turned out to be acoustically sound as well.

First up was a veritable tongue twister of alliterative prose (Jayatu jayatu), which Sumitra sang with consummate ease. In this churnika, Tyagarajasvami, with almost breathless awe, describes Narada’s vision of Vaikuntha with all its opulence. The beautiful sahitya caressed by the lilting notes of Arabhi, Mohanam and Varali made for a piquant opener.

It was all emerald and gold in quick succession with Marakatamanivarna and Hiranmayim lakshmim. Then, unfolding layer after layer of Anandabhairavi (with a viruttam Valliyai uyirtta on Sita) Sumitra moved seamlessly onto an imposing Kedaragoulai and Saveri, all of which were gems themselves. Despite the fact that the voice betrayed some tiredness, especially in higher sancharas, it was obvious that the vocalist had steeped herself in a tradition where gnanabalam reinforced bhavasukham, sahityam enhanced sangitam, and tenderness matched strength.

The viruttam brought to the fore Kamban’s striking image. A bashful bride-to-be, Sita walks towards the golden wedding mantapa. The lustrous floor of the mantapa, reflecting Sita’s emerald-studded anklets, transforms into a bed of grass put forth by Bhoomi devi for her beloved daughter, lest her feet should hurt walking on this cold, hard albeit golden floor. Arunachala Kavi, inspired by Kamban, incorporates the same imagery into his song Annai janaki (Saveri). And Sumitra in her turn sought to evoke some deep inner glow with her iridescent classicism.

The audience was visibly excited when Kambhoji was launched, as though well aware of the treat they were in for. Sumitra had allotted herself a substantial amount of time to do justice to both raga and the kriti (Kana kankodi vendum). I felt a little cheated when she plunged straight into svara-exchanges, eschewing niraval at the grand ‘manikkam vairam’ line. But my brooding was short-lived since Sumitra made up by opening the floodgates of svaraprastara, not only alternating between manikkam and vairam, but also creating unexpected glides, odukkal and tempo patterns.

Mahakavi Bharatiyar’s Suttum vizhichudar is perhaps one of the most flattering expositions of love a nayika could ever ask for. This ode to that celestial beauty, Kannamma, sung as a ragamalika viruttam where the vocalist showed her feel for poetry by playing on the words which enabled her to melodise in haunting ways.

The end of the concert came all too abruptly. K V Gopalakrishnan was all geared up to play a final flourish before he could rush for his bus to Madurai but Sumitra, for reasons we may never know, chose to end with a slokam in Surati.

M Rajeev and KV Gopalakrishnan did their best to accommodate themselves to a different flow of imagination and choice of items where they had less to do.


The Artistes

Sumitra Vasudev, a foremost disciple of Vidushi R Vedavalli, is known for her thought-provoking music steeped in classicism. Her music, a perfect blend of proficiency and aesthetics, only gains more flavor from her passion for Tamil and Sanksrit literature and poetry.

M Rajeev, a pupil of Vidushi A Kanyakumari, is a much sought after accompanist. His agile bowing and deft fingering techniques showcase his bani.

K V Gopalakrishnan is adept at playing both the mrdangam and kanjira. A disciple of Vidvan T K Murthy, he is known for his sensitive and skilled accompaniment.

Concert list

Ajnana timirandhasya (Slokam) – Nata
Jayatu jayatu – Arabhi, Mohanam, Varali
Marakatamanivarna – Varali – Adi – Tyagaraja
Hiranmayim – Lalita – Rupakam – Muttusvami Dikshitar
Viruttam – Anandabhairavi, Kedaragoulai, Saveri
Annai janaki – Saveri – Adi – Arunachala Kavi
Sri Rukmini – Manirangu – Adi – Misu Krishaniyer
Kana kankodi vendum – Kambhoji – Adi – Papanasam Sivan
Maniye (Viruttam from Abhirami andadi) – Sindhubhairavi
Manikkam katti – Nilambari – Adi – Periyazhwar
Viruttam (Suttum vizhichudar)– Surati


Oli, a yearlong project (Feb 2012-Feb 2013), revives the tradition of intense participatory listening, the life-giving matrix of Indian classical music, with two chamber concerts every month.

OLI chamber concerts are mike-less in order to preserve the tonal integrity of voice and instrument.

Ras Vihar/ Sarangi sponsored Sumitra Vasudev’s concert.


  1. For folks who are not based in Chennai would like to listen to this concert, could the audio be uploaded?

  2. Do please up-load the tracks.

  3. Please make this concert recording available.

  4. Thank you for uploading.