Song of Surrender

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Overwhelming nayanam

Oli Chamber Concerts
Vyasarpadi Kothandaraman and party

By TT Narendran

The effort made by Oli  to provide the pleasure of listening to Carnatic music sans mikes has indeed, been laudable. Over the last couple of months, a violin concert and three vocal concerts have happened. The next was to be a nagaswaram recital, they said. “Nagaswaram in a chamber?” Well, not quite. Oli found the ambience that suits this majestic instrument. An open air setting in the compound of the late Chandralekha’s house in Besant Nagar, bang on the beach road and yet, largely free from the noise of vehicles on the road (alas! not so lucky with a couple of aircraft that flew above!).

I walked into the venue, listening to strains of Gambhira Nata (probably a mallari) and an adroit spell of tavil-playing in misra jati triputa tala. Tyagaraja’s Marukelara (Jayantasri) prepared the listener for a melodic outpouring. The piece de resistance was Bhairavi. Kothandaraman’s alapana was truly out of the world! Such gamaka-laden exposition, such dignity, majesty, melody, fertile imagination!.  Sunil Gavaskar, in the commentator’s box, said of Sourav Ganguly’s innings (he scored 183) in the 1999 World Cup match against Sri Lanka at Taunton, “I am blessed to have witnessed this match.” Similar thoughts ran in the mind as the alapana progressed and was followed by Syama Sastri’s immortal swarajati (Kamakshi). It was not Kothandaraman alone who held the show. There was Kongampattu A.G. Murugayyan who lifted the swarajati to cloud nine with his sensitive handling of the tavil. We know of mridanga artists who relate(d) brilliantly to the composition they play(ed) for. Here was a tavil vidwan who showed how much he could do with the tavil to enhance the rendition of a song. It took me a while to come out of this overwhelming experience and tune in to listen to the next raga, Natakurinji, in which Kothandaraman also showed his ability to play tanam, a rarity in nagaswaram. There was a pallavi in Adi tala, executed well with all the variations of speed, swaras and tani avartanam. One cannot fault the artist for not rising to the incredibly high standard he set in the Bhairavi piece! There was just one tukkada, a well-known ragamalika, Aarabhi manam vaithu and mangalam. The long applause by the 50-60 crowd that had gathered was richly deserved by the artists.

Did Kothandaraman remind me of any yester year artist? The name that came to my mind was (the late) Vedaranyam Vedamurthi whose playing was soaked in melody.

Oli will go from here, from strength to strength, but what can the music/sabha fraternity do to provide hope to artists of such calibre? Carnatic music will survive, but the two instruments, nagaswaram and veena, which produce the finest nuances of the music, seem to be heading towards oblivion, if the dwindling numbers of audiences and of learners are any indicators.

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