Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The Deep Splendoured Pool

By Vivadi

Oli Chamber Concert 6
Oli chamber concerts are certainly lucky in their choice of venues. If the open air space in Besant Nagar proved perfect for the last nagaswaram cutcheri (21 April), Ras Vihar-Sarangi’s old world mansion in Nungambakkam provided a gracious and acoustically sound place for Nisha Rajagopalan’s concert (29 April). Bhamini Gopalakrishnan’s taamarai kolam, flanked by kuthuvilakkus, added to the tranquil enchantment of the performance space.

The Oli team had to be on its toes as the committed audience members take their ‘please be on time’ plea seriously. They maintain the silence essential for mikeless music, and are with the artistes every step of the way. Rarely does anyone leave before the mangalam.

This audience discipline was fully rewarded by the young artistes of the day. Nisha gave of her best and so did her supportive partners - Padma Shankar (violin) and Shertalai Ananthakrishnan (mridangam).

A theme like Taamarai (lotus) is demanding – as this polyvalent symbol means a thousand things (see note), in both the terrestrial and extra-terrestrial worlds. Nisha’s planning was impeccable. Her ‘taamarai’ unfurled many kinds of petals. If Ritigowla (En mana taamarai mel) made the kairava (white lotus) bloom at moonrise, the opening chatusruti rishabham of Saundararajam asraye (Brindavana Saranga) welcomed the dawn above the swelling waves, for the red lotus (ambuja) to blush into bloom. And how brilliantly Nisha deployed her voice in the three octaves, mandara, madhya and tara, to make Dikshitar’s magnificence manifest!

The Pantuvarali segment focussed on moods more wistful than ripe. The alapana, replete with panchama-varja prayogas and nishada-centric sancharas painted the pathos of the wistful neeraja at nightfall. However, the singer’s unhindered akaram and swarasthana precision saved it from sentimentality.

Padma Shankar’s reply echoed the same bhava with Hindustani-esque prayogas elongating the dhaivatam. Sarasaksha expanded the theme of the day convincingly. Shertalai Ananthakrishnan’s niraval accompaniment in Bhamini (Sarasaksha) and Ambujasanadi (Saundararajam) were simply superb.

The majestic Kambhoji alapana made the audience expect an even grander kriti. So how could Muttuswami Dikshitar’s Kamalambikayai (the 4th Kamalamba navavarana krti) not make us nod in contentment? Nisha’s treatment of the profusion of classicist sangatis filled the room with a different kind of fragrance. Her voice was so resonant, and her rendering of every nuance so crystal clear, that you almost forgot that the concert was mikeless. The kalapramana was managed adroitly. Not only was the slow tempo never allowed to turn sluggish, it was used to highlight the might of the composition. Padma proved a perfect assistant in this process of exploration and discovery, adding hues and tints to her alapana.

Time constraints made Nisha taper off the Kambhoji swaraprastara somewhat abruptly. But Ananthakrishnan’s deft fingers and intelligent mind used the tani to round off the suite. To listeners attuned to Adi and Rupaka beats, his tani in Khandajati ata talam brought new scents. With crisp timing, he made intricate laya patterns fall easily on the ears.

Nisha’s lotus bloomed in the bhakti pool. If you looked for post-tani taamarai romance, no, you didn’t get it! However, there was rich poetic imagery as she wrapped up her concert with a lovely Tamil viruttam mainly in Ranjani, imaging the five great Tamil epics (Jivakachintamani, Kundalakesi, Manimekhalai, Valayapati, Silappadhikaram) as goddess Saraswati herself, followed by Dandapani Desikar’s Taamarai pootha tadaagam in the quaintly named Hindustan Gandhari, and Bharatiyar’s Vellai taamarai in Karnataka Devagandhari.

Maintaining a fine balance and variety in her choice of ragas, languages, composers, the gait of the compositions, emotive content and evocative imagery, Nisha Rajagopalan’s concert with Padma Shankar and Shertalai Ananthakrishnan, shaped itself into as much a visual as an aural treat.
The concert

En mana taamarai mel – Ritigaula – Adi – G N Balasubramaniam
Sarasaksha paripalaya – Pantuvarali – Adi – Maharaja Swati Tirunal
Saundararajam ashraye – Brndavana Saranga – Rupakam – Muttuswami Dikshitar
Rama ninne nammi nanu – Huseni – Adi – Tyagaraja
Kamalambikayai – Kambhoji – Khanda Ata – Muttuswami Dikshitar Viruttam
Taamarai pootha – Hindustan Gandhari – Adi – M M Dandapani Desikar
Vellai Taamarai – Karnataka Devagandhari – Adi – Mahakavi Bharatiyar
The artistes

Nisha Rajagopalan is one of the emerging stars of the current generation of Carnatic musicians. An accomplished vocalist, Nisha has trained under veteran gurus like TRS, PSN and Suguna Varadachari, under whose tutelage she has gained an in-depth understanding of the laya and bhava aspects of Carnatic music. Her concerts exhibit a fine balance of verve and substance. Nisha’s resonant voice, with its firm grip on classicism, heightens the emotive appeal of both sahitya and sangita.

Padma Shankar is an upholder of the Lalgudi bani. The initial seed of her musical journey being sown by her vainika mother, Lakshmi Narayanan, Padma’s music is full of depth and classical flavour. Her bhava-soaked playing and sensitive accompaniment are testament to her tutelage under the maestro Lalgudi Jayaraman.

Sherthalai Anantakrishnan, a disciple of Karaikkudi Mani, is a much sought after mridangam artiste. A sound foundation in vocal music, laid by his mother (Lalitha Ramachandran), is reflected only too well in his knowledgeable and perceptive support in lifting the mood of a concert.


In Columbus, Ohio, instead of lawns, the Bank of America created lotus pools around its huge building. And guess what? Business boomed. And the bank became one of the sights of the city.

No, it does not surprise us. Indian tradition has it that there are only three objects in the world that we never tire of looking at: the elephant, the moon, and the lotus.

And today, as we enjoy the beauty and fragrance of the taamarai poo in the musical pageant that awaits us, may we remind ourselves of the symbolic dimensions of this exquisite flower, associated with divinities, and believed to be divine in itself.

Part of the symbolism and art of the three great religions born in India, Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, and the official national flower of modern India, the lotus represents values for both the earthly life, and life hereafter. It brings honour, good fortune, prosperity, the promise of long life and fertility, as it can survive years of drought to regerminate. It signals victory - doesn’t it struggle through earthy sludge and water, to bloom in the air, warmed by the sun?

In all Asian cultures, the lotus indicates cosmic rejuvenation and primordial radiance. Nourished by the four elements, the padma signals the ultimate state beyond them. Yogis venerate it as the sahasrara chakra, while the Buddha visualized it in his dharma chakra. To the Jains it is spiritual elevation. Confucian thought admires its unsullied purity. In Japan it spells truth and immortality. The Bhagavad Gita images the lotus, growing in water but untouched by it, as the detached stithaprajna.

So, when an Indian artist carves a lotus, he doesn’t have to put it in the hands of a God to signify transcendence. When an Indian poet speaks of karakamala, padapadma, mukhaaravinda, sarasijanabha, vanaajasana or neerajakshi, he is thinking of spiritual magnetism.

In all this bhakti and mukti, let us not forget that the lotus also spells heady romance. Remember lovelorn Sakuntala tossing and turning on a bed of lotuses? Her love letter scratched on a lotus leaf?

We leave you with a tender Chinese metaphor: the lotus represents family bonds, because countless separate threads are lovingly meshed in the stalk that bears the fragrant bloom!

1 comment:

  1. Great review. Nisha is an impressive artiste having heard her a few times! Padma Shankar in my opinion really needs more patronage. Such bhaavam and naadham in her playing. I have heard her duets with Vittal Ramamurthy and her pakkavadyam and she is very impressive.

    PS: My two cents about the description of theme: the connection between BoA and lotus blooms is a stretch. ;)