Friday, 18 May 2012

Fine balance of kalpita and kalpana

Oli Chamber Concert 8

By Vivadi

A theme like Vanam, forest, is overt yet ambiguous. To arrive at a list of ragas and compositions to fulfil this challenge can be daunting indeed. But Prasanna Venkataraman transformed musician Savita Narasimhan’s elegant home into a dense forest of many lights and colours. The vigour and vitality of the team (Prasanna, Shertalai Sivakumar and Poongulam Subramanian) turned the performance into a cracker of a concert.

Opening with the relatively sedate piece Minakshi me mudam dehi without allowing the pace to sag was truly admirable. Niraval at the aptly chosen line, ‘Minalochani pasamochani manini kadamba vana vasini had not only bhava-soaked prayogas, but the unique fragrance of Purvikalyani (Gamakakriya, in the Dikshitar school), and the kadamba flower.

Prasanna’s Saveri alapana and niraval at Nipa vana nilaye (from Sripatimukha) were prolific like the dense foliage of a neem forest (Nipa vanam). This rare Syama Sastri kriti came like a breath of fresh air and Sherthalai Sivakumar’s accompaniment was fitting. Prasanna balanced the kalapramana of the concert with a quick Dikshitar kriti Sarasa sauvira rasanadi, in the raga Sauvira, which ended all too quickly before the audience could bat an eyelid and react to the contours of this hardly-before-heard raga. This composition is based on the kshetra ‘Pushpavanam’ near Madurai, and refers to Pushpavana-adhipate. (How lovely to imagine a forest of flowers in today’s drab world!) near Madurai.

Then came the piece de resistance. By then Prasanna was in his elementimagination unfettered and voice uninhibited – and his Kambhoji was a class apart. Apart from the grandeur and depth that we have commonly come to associate with Kambhoji, there was a certain mood of revelry in Prasanna’s handling of the raga, suggestive of the composition to follow. Sivakumar’s apt replies to Prasanna’s alapana and kalpanasvaras added gusto to the concert. A brief but beautifully rendered Sayankale vanante, the much loved shloka from Sri Krishna Karnamrtam by Leela Suka, describing Krishna and the gopis in the twilight woods as flowers bloom under the moonlight, was a fitting prelude to Swati Tirunal’s Rasa vilasa. This kriti from the KVN repertory, seems to have gone out of the concert circuit. Prasanna’s choice to sing this composition could not have been more pertinent, as it describes the merrymaking of Krishna and the gopikas of Brindavanam and the ecstasy of rasa-krida, actualised with a vibrant jati and svara. These dancing rhythms emerged so evocatively in Poongulam Subramaniam’s playful fingers, that the quick tani spurt did not seem short at all, but the conclusion of a full-fledged presentation.

Forests have been spiritual centres in several ancient civilizations. The forest has also been employed as a spiritual metaphor for inner conflict and dilemma as seen in Subramanya Bharati’s Dikku teriyada kaattil which came next. The folk motif was included in with the description of the mountain forest from Kutrala Kuravanji in Huseni, while a dvi-raga viruttam (Ponnar meniyane) became the quiet finale.

One wished that the sahitya, particularly in viruttham and tukkada, were sung more discernibly, and with a greater accent on the sahitya bhava, so that listeners could enjoy them even more. And Prasanna’s voice needs more power and clarity in the mandara, and more layering in the tara registers.

But these are easily remediable matters. What Prasanna proved on that day was that he knew that a keen sense of proportion goes a long way in ensuring the success of a Carnatic music concert. He maintained a fine balance of kalpita and manodharma sangitam which clearly showed his maturity as a performer. His improvisations matched the structure and mood of the composition to which they were aligned. Now and then, he was able to make listeners sit up with the unusual and the unexpected. And yet, though his imagination ranged free, it never went berserk. Most importantly, while the format of this performance had its own progression, it was not tangibly fragmented into opener, “sub-main” and “main”. This brought wholesomeness to the concert, commanded the same level of attentiveness in listeners and gave them a sense of immense satisfaction.


Minakshi me mudam dehi – Gamakakriya – Adi – Muttuswami Dikshitar
Sripatimukha virachita – Saveri – Adi – Syama Sastri
Sarasa sauvira – Sauviram – Adi – Mutuswami Dikshitar
Sayankale vanante (Shloka)
Rasa vilasa – Kambhoji – Adi – Swati Tirunal
Kuttrala kuravanji – Huseni – Misra Chapu
Ponnar meniyane (Viruttam) – Simhendramadhyamam & Surati


PRASANNA VENKATRAMAN (vocal) has been groomed by veteran musicians such Smt T R Balamani and Sri T K Govinda Rao. A senior disciple of Sri Sanjay Subrahmanyan, has been successful in forging a distinct identity for himself. Known for his fertile imagination coupled with clarity and classicism, Prasanna has established himself as a leading young musician of his generation.

SHERTALAI SIVAKUMAR (violin) has trained under maestros like Sri Sivanandam and Smt T Rukmini. His discerning and diligent accompanying style puts the main artiste at ease, and gives the audience much food for thought.

POONGULAM SUBRAMANIAM (mridangam) started his training under his father, Poongulam R. Sabesa Iyer, and had advanced training via gurukulavasam with Vidwan Srimushnam V. Raja Rao. He is known for his lilting and chaste style of accompaniment.


Naimisaranyam, Dandakaranyam, Kamyaka vanam, Dvaita vanam, Madhu vanam… 

These panoramic locations encircle our most loved, most lyrical, most prophetic poetry, the haunts of the legendary characters of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Could Vyasa or Valmiki have ever given voice to their vision if they had not dwelt in the forests?

Vanam hi rakshyate vyaaghrair vyaaghraanrakshati kaananam…

The Mahabharata has the wise Vidura advise the exiled Pandavas to bond with the same inseparable, mutually protective synergy as the tiger and the forest.

Modern research has proved forests indispensable to life on earth. Medical research warns of nature-deficit diseases affecting people living in treeless concrete jungles. What scientists, environmentalists and animal welfare activists demand today are values painted in prehistoric caves, resounding in Vedic hymns, carved on temple walls, imaged in poetry.

Whether Kalidasa natakam or Kuravanji koothu, our poets tirelessly describe many forests, each with its own species of trees, flowers, fruits, medicinal plants, animals, birds…They believe that wilderness is dear to the gods, the matrix of spiritual power… nature renewing creativity. When Carnatic composers sing of Siva in Badarivanam, Minakshi in Kadambavanam and Krishna in Brindavanam, don’t they see the forests as the centres of this soul force?

Dikku teriyada kaattil unnai tedi tedi ilaittene…

Yes, the forest can also be a misleading maze. But what is lost can be found. Walking through a kondrai vanam (laburnum wood) saint Sundarar (8th century) heard the cry, “Sundaram, ennai marandayo? Have you forgotten me?” Rushing to find its source he came upon a lingam in a dilapidated temple, spotlit by a sunbeam, in a shower of golden flowers.

Ponnar meniyane…milir kondrai anindavane…

Sundarar found his gold. And he has left it for us in his exquisite song. As have the other visionary composers whose voices we shall hear today. They knew that the vanam is vital to our survival in life here, and hereafter.

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