S.Rajam’s (Music Appreciation notes)

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

The Melbourne Trinity Festival 2017

By Roja Kannan

The strains of  Tyagaraja's Jagadanandakaraka—the Nata raga Pancharatna kriti—came wafting on the cold evening breeze as I entered the rehearsal space of the Sruthi-Laya Kendra Aust Inc. and Academy of Indian Music Aust Inc. run by Ravi and Narmatha Ravichandhira, in the old suburb in Melbourne called Glen Waverley which has seen the celebration of the vaggeyakara's jayanti for over 30 years now. The music trinity—Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastry—is celebrated here by a committed group of rasikas, vidwans and their disciples.

The Melbourne Trinity Festival is one of the largest celebrations of the Trinity outside India. Every year, around May,  an enthusiastic group of Carnatic music rasikas meticulously plans the  grand event which showcases  an ever-increasing number of enthusiastic young performers and veteran musicians. Visiting artists from India are featured in the prime time slots which makes the festival an inclusive and holistic experience.

This year, I had the opportunity of presenting a visual dimension to some of the compositions of the Trinity, along with a group of ardent students of  leading Bharatanatyam gurus of Melbourne. It turned out to be quite an  eye- opener for me as a dancer and teacher.

Ravi M. Ravichandira of the Academy of Indian Music, Australia—an offshoot of Guru Karaikkudi Mani’s Sruthi Laya Kendra—was the leading spirit behind the entire programme. As Artistic Director of the Festival, he meticulously planned the event and approached all the performers and the teachers months ahead and coordinated the events.

The group rendering of the Pancharatna kritis was co-ordinated by vidushi Sundari Saripalle in which more than 65 performers took part including instrumentalists who played the mandolin, violin, veena, flute and the  mridangam. The group singing also included a kriti each of Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastry.

This year, for the first time, a veteran musicologist—Prof. G. Narsimhan— was honoured with the Guru Karaikudi Mani Award of 'Sruthilaya Vichitra' for his contribution to Carnatic music in Melbourne. Jill Morgan, CEO of Multi-cultural Arts, Victoria was the guest of honour. She said  she was committed to explore avenues for the event to be staged annually in Melbourne at a more central place in order to raise the profile of the festival and enable larger audiences to enjoy the rich classical music and dance.

Prof. Narsimhan, all of 93 years, gave an enlightening speech on 'The most probable ancient scale—Nagaswaravali'.

Evening performances over two days featured leading teachers and senior musicians of Melbourne—Shoba Sekhar, Jayashree Ramachandran, Sundari Saripalle, Uthara Vijay, the Iyer Brothers (Ramnath & Gopinath), Murali Kumar, Narmatha Ravichandhira, Sridhar Chari, Balasri Rasiah, Ravi M.  Ravichandhira, Adrian Sherriff and Jonathan Dimond.  

Dr. Priya Srinivasan , an exponent of  'Talking Dance' in Melbourne teamed up with Uthara Vijay and came up with an interesting multimedia feature on Bangalore Nagaratnammal—the devadasi who initiated the celebration of the Tyagaraja aradhana in Tiruvaiyaru.

The evening on day two featured what was described as "the much awaited programme featuring visiting artist from India Roja Kannan"  (myself!) along with several budding talents of Melbourne performing Tyagaraja's  Sree raga  pancharatnam. This was an original choreography of my guru     Adyar K. Lakshman from whom I learnt it in 2003. Students of Melbourne based Bharatanatyam teachers—Shanthy Rajendran, Rathika Mahadeva, Renuka Arumugaswamy, Sujatha Surendran, Ushanthini Sripathmanathan, Meena Elankumaran, Narmatha Ravichandhira and Shanthi Ramakrishnan—performed with me to widespread appreciation from the audience in the packed hall. 

This was followed by a feature on Dikshitar by the Iyer Brothers, Ramnath and Gopinath, who had collaborated with Hindustani violinist Parag Kaole. They chose to elaborate Subhapantuvarali raga which was followed by the Dikshitar kriti Sree Satyanarayanam. I danced to that and then took up the Syama Sastry kriti in Madhyamavati for exposition, weaving in the sthala puranam and the miracles associated with the Kamakshi temple in Kanchipuram, as sancharis. Narmatha and Ravi Ravichandhira provided the vocal and mridangam support respectively, with Murali Kumar playing the  violin and Janani Venkatachalam wielding the cymbals.

Altogether it was a grand spectacle on both the days with Carnatic music lovers present in large numbers to support the festival and to pay their salutations to the Trinity. The most heartening fact was the presence of several next generation artists and capable youth who gave excellent presentations and demonstrated their capacity and potential to grow to a professional level. Sai-Nivaeithan Ravichandhira, Sai-Sarangan Ravichandhira, Bhairavi Raman, Nanthesh Sivaraja, Hari Balasri, Raghu & Rangan Brothers, Lakshmi Kumaraguruparan, Balasankar, Pallavi Susarla, Keshav Ramachandran, Sakthi Ravitharan, and Sukosh stood out through their excellent presentations.

Some of the students who were encouraged and mentored to compere the festival programmes exhibited enthusiasm and professionalism.

The experience was truly an enriching one.

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