By Aravinda Hebbar
South Canara, in the west coast of Karnataka is a land of Yakshagana. Classical music did not flourish here the number of Carnatic music performers on AIR Mangalore in 1988-89 was barely a dozen. Udupi perhaps boasted only a couple of Carnatic musicians, while of Hindustani musicians, there were none!. We were importing artistes from above the Western Ghats. The remuneration and the travelling expenses would swell to a grand sum and few organizers could invite and look after such artistes. The people here had no folk art except Yakshagana. They were busy in banking, or agriculture or fetching good marks in examinations so that they could earn a good fortune. Classical artistes, if at all they existed, flew away over the Ghats, learnt, and without competing with anybody found solace to their souls and found comfort elsewhere. They did not dare to settle in their hometown, as it never catered to their interests. Hundreds of years passed by in this manner. There were no teachers who would dash to field a student ‘upstream’! The west coast of Karnataka was a veritable ‘wasteland’for classical music.
Raga Dhana identified this ‘genetic syndrome’ and started working on it with all genuine efforts in 1989. It started with a pigmy scheme called Griha Sangeetha. It invited those who aspired to render music on the stage, with or without a mike. It started to rear such talents by giving them opportunities and reviewing their performances through local newspapers like Udayavani, with blow-ups of the musicians. A. Ishwarayya, then Editor-in-chief of the magazine section of that paper came forward to do this squirrel-seva to artistes. The executive committee members of Raga Dhana toiled to promote art in the right direction. The Griha Sangeetha stage spread confidence among our local artistes. They started listening to the concerts of other artistes, with the objective of improving. But the improvement was not easy. There was no shortcut, no substitute for hard work. How to do hard work? Who would guide them? Music training camps, lec-dems, and workshops that Raga Dhana and other organizations arranged in different parts of the districts of our west coast, by renowned senior vidwans, from beyond the Ghats enabled them to learn our music, through intense ‘sadhaka’. A few opted to go to Bangalore, or Chennai or Trivandrum in search of gurus who would impart genuine training. Electronic gadgets and equipment accelerated the growth in our music. Most of the artists came home and started training their younger cousins.
After 25 years of Raga Dhana we witness talented musicians from the two districts of Mangalore and Udupi showing promise of carrying forward our music in a competitive milieu. Though Raga Dhana may have to struggle very hard to sustain this newly achieved enterprise in this district, it hopes to achieve this with the continuous cooperation of music lovers and ardent listeners.
Raga Dhana has put in genuine efforts to improve the quality of our music. In an atmosphere of reality shows, noise pollution and fusion music, Raga Dhana struggles hard to build pure practitioners of traditional music unsullied by such distractions. It has not been easy.
Raga Dhana has conducted more than 2000 concerts over the years. It has arranged a number of Griha sangeeths, workshops, lec-dems, and Trinity festivals. It has been bringing out Ragadhanashree, a monthly journal in Kannada since 2008, and conducting Kathana Kutoohala a programme of storytelling by musicians about their life in music. It has not approached a non-music loving member of the corporate world for funding its programmes. It is an organization of the music lovers, by music lovers, for music lovers. Only music lovers sponsor the concerts or other programmes. This has induced intimacy, total involvement and supreme love to listen or practice pure music. It doesn’t compromise with the quality of pure music, as only the genuine rasikas are invited or counselled to sponsor such programmes.
The Silver Jubilee festival of Raga Dhana held between 1 and 9 February 2014 was a testimony of the good work done all these years. The late nonagenarian RK Srikantan who inaugurated the festival rendered a brilliant Kambhoji to the accompaniment of HK Venkatram (violin) and Anoor Ananthakrishna Sarma (mridangam). Prarthana Sai Narasimhan with Poorna (v) and J Vaidhyanathan (m) was as confident in Nayaki as in Mohanam. Srivalsan Menon, with his mellifluous voice, rendered an expansive Sankarabharanam with Mysore V Srikanth (v) and Tumkur Ravishankar (m). Jayanti Kumaresh’s was a serene rendition of a Dharmavati ragam-tanam-pallavi. She was accompanied by Arjun Kumar (m) and Trichy Krishna (Ghatam). Vijay Siva’s ‘Bala Gopala’ and ‘Nannu brovu Lalita’ bore the stamp of the traditional DKP-DKJ bani which etched the clear rendering of every raga he chose. RK Shriramkumar and Manoj Siva added lustre to the concert. Pattabhiram Pandit and Raghunandan Panshikar gave a jugalbandi with Mattur Srinidhi (v) and HS Sudhindra (m) and Sriram Hasabnis (harmonium) and Gurumurti Vaidya (tabla). The Carnatic side suffered from an overload of kanakku and Pantuvarali being rendered just like Pooria Dhanashree. Panshikarji sang a good Bhupali, however. Shashank Subramanyam was at home with soulful presentations of Latangi and ragam-tanam-pallavi in Vagadisvari with brilliant accompaniment by BU Ganeshprasad (v) and Parupalli Phalguna (m). The Malladi Brothers with Akkarai Subhalakshmi (v) and Laxminarayanraju (m) and Udupi Sridhar (g) were at their best. Their scintillating Mukhari (Muripume) and Hamir Kalyani (Venkatasaila) were dipped in bhakti and their scholarly treatment of ragas reverberated. Maharajapuram Ramachandran reminded the listeners of his father as he chose to sing the same menu—including Nattai, Kalyani, Vanaspati, Arabhi, and Saranga Murugane. He rendered the kritis hurriedly in the AIR format. The Ranjani-Gayatri duo gave a spotless rendering of every kriti they handled. Their scholarly Ranjani ragam-tanam-pallavi was satisfying in its fullness. Young Vittal Rangan on the violin was very adept in every bit he played. Arunprakash was composed as ever lending a transporting felicity to everything rendered by the duo.
The festival featured a Hindustani recital too on 2nd Feb., by Ustad Faiz Khan-Bharath Hegade-Gurumurty Vaidya. The ragas Multani and Gavati in his reverberating voice were very absorbing. His rendering of Dasa Keertanas was very meditative and carried a telling effect of what the Dasas communicated in their lyrics.
A notable concert in the Utsav was the featuring of an extraordinary talent of a tiny duo of Udupi who were nick named the Latangi sisters by the audience, though they are not sisters. Samanvi and Archana, respectively 6th & 8th Standard students, reminded us of Ranjani Hebbar with their soulful rendering of Bhuvanesvariya (Mohana Kalyani), Kaddanuvariki (Todi), Sada enna hridayadalli (Brindavanasaranga) and Jo Jo Srikrishna (Kurinji). Equally competent was Gargi of Udupi (B.Sc. student) who with her mellifluous voice sang a memorable Sankarabharanam. An hour and half video show- Maardani-marked a heart-warming tribute to Ranjani Hebbar. An ensemble choir on raga Marva directed by Ustad Rafiq Khan, was a result of rigorous training imparted to a set of school children, was worth watching. A dance recital directed by Nandini Eshwar of Mysore featured at the end of the festival demanded more attention for making it successful.
The guests of honour in the valedictory were V. Ramnarayan, editor-in-chief of Sruti magazine, and Dr. Gowri Ramnarayan, veteran journalist and playwright. They paid tributes to the evocative music of Ranjani Hebbar and commented on the current state of Carnatic music. Captain Dr. Ganesh Karnik, an MLC with a difference, has a tender heart for pure classical music, which was evident in his speech. A. Ishwarayya, the president of Raga Dhana, Sri V. Aravinda Hebbar, Secretary, and K Sadashiva Rao, Treasurer, were on the stage painting a lucid picture of the rugged path Raga Dhana has traversed through these 25 years.