By Priyanka C Prakash
Narayana Teertha Aaradhana, Thirupoonthurthy, Tanjavur District
As we drove past the city of Thanjavur, the bustle of the city and the sight of hoardes of tourists outside the stunning Brihadeeshwara Temple gave way to endless paddy fields, the occasional bullock cart carrying stacks of paddy, and bright young girls with plaited hair cycling happily to school.
For a city –bred girl like me, the novelty of rustic charm had a unique appeal – I was headed to the Grand Annual Narayana Teerthar Aradhana, held every year on the Shukrashtami of the Masi month at the small village of Thirupoonthurthy, near Thanjavur, where the great composer attained Samadhi.
This is the most important function that happens at this village, and the entire village participates eagerly in the celebration. The person behind the success of the Narayana Teerthar Aradhana is vidwan TV Venkatesan. This octogenarian musician has been perseveringly holding the Aradhana for almost five decades. When he speaks about the Thirupoonthurthy Aradhana, he speaks with a passion and unflinching determination for popularizing the compositions of Narayana Teerthar and the Krishna Leela Tarangini, in both cities and villages.
It is an interesting incident how Venkatesan began this long and arduous but rewarding and fulfilling journey. In the year 1964, he sang at the Madras Music Academy. After his concert, the Secretary of the Academy, Dr V Raghavan, called him and asked him about the festival which his father, was conducting at the ‘Guruswamy Madom’. He then urged Venkatesan to continue this tradition and conduct a grand festival every year to celebrate the compositions of Narayana Teerthar.
The next year, TV Venkatesan conducted his first festival, with Dr. Raghavan inaugurating it. That year, stalwarts such as Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar and Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer performed at the festival, which was a runaway success. In the years to come, several musicians performed at the festival. Venkatesan recalls fondly how musician Madurai Somasundaram (Madurai Somu as he was known) would begin singing at 7 PM, and go on until midnight – singing to a rapt audience.
Over the years, several star musicians such as MS Subbalakshmi, DK Pattamal, ML Vasanathakumari, KV Narayanaswamy performed under its auspices, to eager audiences.
1988, in TV Venkatesan’s words, was a turning point in the activities of the Trust. MS Subbalakshmi sang at Thirupoonthurthy. This was a grand concert – people poured in from villages nearby, senior advocates came in from Thanjavur, for those who were not able to make it – All India Radio broadcast the concert live, all over the country.
“There is no musician who has not sung in our Aradhana”, says TV Venkatesan. “We are truly happy to have had such unflinching support from musicians across generations.”
My Guru, Smt. Neela Ramgopal, who was the Chief Guest for the Aradhana in 2011, says – “Performing at the festival is beautiful – we can see the vigraham of Lord Krishna in front of us, and just lose ourselves in the music”.
For me, performing at the Aradhana was truly a divine experience. As we enter Thirupoonthurthy, we are welcomed by the family, who are outstanding hosts – and are taken to the Narayana Teertha Brindavanam. We pay homage to the great composer at the Mantapam and the temple. The stage setting is stunning – behind us and on either side, are rows of endless paddy fields; in front of us, we see the idol of Lord Krishna, and the Samadhi of Narayana Teerthar. I take a moment to absorb the serenity of the moment, and then begin to sing Nandagopala krishnam, nanda akhilam, and feel that Lord Krishna is looking at us, and sending us his blessing.
Nidle Shibira, Nidle, Dakshina Karnataka
‘The children practice till 2 AM in the morning, they do not sleep until they get every sangathi right - This is truly Art for Art’s sake…….’
Thirteen years ago, violinist Vittal Ramamurthy was inspired to return to his native place, and introduce a week-long music festival that would expose students of music from neighbouring towns such as Mangalore, Sringeri, Puttur and Udipi to the best music and workshops by great musicians, an interaction which would have otherwise impossible for many. Thus the Annual Shibira was born, at his hometown of Nidle in Karnataka.
The Nidle Shibira is an initiative that is truly unique. It is exemplary. Vocalist Vijay Siva, who has conducted many workshops at the Shibira avers, “what Vittal Ramamurthy does, is indeed what every musician should do. He goes back to his roots, he gives back to his native village – it is Paropakaaram (social service, helping others), in the truest sense”.
The Nidle Shibira, held every year in May – is a week-long workshop for students of music. Over the course of the week, hundreds of students gain insights into about various aspects of music – raga & laya aspects, vocal and instrumental music, compositions of various Vaggeyakaras, and so on. It does not end there – for the entire week, Vittal Ramamurthy’s family provides accommodation, food and refreshments to students and their parents, without charging any amount for the workshop, food or accommodation.
“The inspiration for the Shibira was from my mother Krishnaveni and sister Rajeshwari Bhatt. The festival has grown in size year on year, and we are grateful to all the musicians who have participated in the Shibira in each of the thirteen years. It is the commitment of the children that motivates us to do this every year”, is what Sri Vittal Ramamurthy said when asked about what motivates him to undertake this mammoth task every year.
Given such a golden opportunity, the students of music absorb every little nuance, every sentence that is uttered during the workshops. They listen, assimilate and imbibe in rapt attention. Vocalist G Ravikiran, who conducted a workshop on the compositions of Muthusvamy Dikshithar at this year’s Shibira, says – “On the second day of the Shibira, I stayed with the children – it was truly incredible to see them practicing until 2 AM in the morning… they would not rest until they got every single sangathi correct. They were practicing not because they had a concert or a competition to prepare for – they were practicing because they loved it – this is the purest example of Art for Art’s sake.”
Vijay Siva adds, “The ambience is truly incredible – the workshop is held in Vittal Ramamurthy’s ancestral house – you are surrounded by nature, you eat organic food, it is quiet and peaceful – it takes you back and gives you a glimpse of how life must have been 150 years ago. I went to the Shibira a few years back, but the memory still remains fresh, it is one of my most cherished experiences.”
Over the past thirteen years, musicians such as Vijay Siva, TM Krishna, Bombay Jayashri, Neyveli Santhanagopalan, S Sowmya, G Ravikiran, S Saketharaman, among others, have conducted workshops at the Shibira. This year, Mridangam Legend Vidwan Umayalapuram K Sivaraman inaugurated the festival, and conduced exhaustive sessions.
A typical day at the Shibira would be – waking up in the morning, eating a wholesome natural meal, practicing until the first workshop begins, then spending the entire day in the company of great musicians learning until dinner, after which practice late into the night… Vittal Ramamurthy says, “It takes us a month to prepare for the week-long Shibira. At the end of it, we feel so refreshed and re-energized. We have a wonderful community of our family, friends and musicians. We look forward to May every year.”
The Shibira is an experience that is pure and truly amazing. Vittal Ramamurthy and his family, year after year, provide hundreds of children an opportunity to immerse in music, this is an experience that is truly, beautiful, pure and humbling.
(The author is a young vocalist from Bangalore and disciple of vidushi Neela Ramgopal)