Friday, 31 August 2012

Musician to watch

Rithvik Raja

“This youngster, among a few that have taken music as their profession, has been rising steadily over the last couple of years,” wrote TT Narendran in The Hindu during the last December season. “Here and elsewhere that I heard him, he sang Todi and Varali impressively at different concerts. He sings niraval well and excels in ragam-tanam-pallavi. What he needs are better presentation skills, poise and a little more power while finishing off fast paced niravals or swaras.”

The subject of this review was Rithvik Raja, a prominent disciple of senior vocalist TM Krishna. Young Rithvik has made steady progress over the years to establish himself as one of the leading young vocalists in the junior category of musicians. With a solid support system at home, he has plunged into a full-time career in music, taking the risk of not pursuing academics to a logical conclusion in today’s competitive environment. Rithvik has also sacrificed his other passion, cricket, in the process, after playing the game with great enthusiasm in his school years at Vidya Mandir, Chennai.

Rithvik’s sincerity and devotion to his art are evident not only in his diligent approach to performance, but also his regular presence in the audience at concerts throughout the year. In his own concerts, he shows the results of a praiseworthy level of effort and internalization of the ragas he and the lyrics essays, and adherence to his pathantara as well as the traditional values he has imbibed from his mentors. His mother Sudha Raja initiated Rithvik into Carnatic music even as a child. He  studied for
a couple of years with the late Sulochana Pattabhiraman before he came to Krishna in 2003. 

Rithvik has won numerous awards and prizes, including some for rendering best the kritis of composers as varied as the Trinity, Annamacharya, Swati Tirunal, and Purandara Dasa, besides winning such events as pallavi competitions. His participation in all these events has been as total and uninhibited as his singing style, which bears the TMK stamp down to hand gestures and body language. Watching him in action over the years, we have no doubt that he will do all it takes to improve the quality of his somewhat recalcitrant voice.

Even in the choice of music as his profession, Rithvik has been wholehearted, with his serious involvement in activities that aim to enhance the welfare and security of young musicians. He is the current president of YACM and has been a founder member of Svanubhava, which has taken music and other performing arts far and wide to young audiences.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Musician to watch

Shreya Devnath

Confidence is the most remarkable trait in this rare solo violinist of the current generation from one of the great  schools of Carnatic music. Shreya Devnath who has made impressive strides on the concert circuit in the last few years is emerging as a worthy disciple of Lalgudi Jayaraman. At 21, she has displayed the maturity and skill to prove that she is ready to rub shoulders with her seniors in the field.

Shreya has been praised by critics for the saukhyam of her music, her fondness for songs of slower pace, her obvious appreciation and enjoyment of the lyrics, her swarasthana suddham, her creative explorations of ragas, and the clear traces of the Lalgudi bani of violin playing in her music. Her mastery of the instrument and her adherence to her pathantara in kriti rendering have drawn praise from veteran commentators. These words of V Balasubramaniam of The Hindu are a tribute to her stage presence and equanimity: “Shreya Devnath proved a worthy disciple (of Lalgudi) in her violin solo concert...The erect posture indicated poise and Shreya showed visranti that belied her age.”

Starting with her debut at Sri Krishna Sabha in 2007, which was declared the best junior concert of the season, Shreya has already won several prizes and awards in her fledgling career. These complement her creditable run of success in her academic life, featured by prizes for scholastics as well as co-curricular activities like creative writing, essay writing and elocution. With a bachelor’s degree with distinction in economics, she is now pursuing her masters in the same subject.

At a time when many talented violinists find it difficult to break into the solo concert space, Shreya’s has so far been a commendable journey, in which her parents DP Devnath and Lakshmi Devnath have played a key role as mentors and guides.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Musician to watch

Vijay Natesan

Mridangam artist Vijay Natesan is one of the promising young Carnatic musicians to have migrated to Chennai in recent years from Mumbai, by all accounts an excellent nursery of such talent.

Born in 1981, Vijay has been a disciple of T S Nandakumar, an A Grade artist of All India Radio and a teacher of decades’ standing who hails from the nagaswaram family of the Ambalapuzha Brothers.

Vijay showed very early signs of his talent and started performing at the age of seven, easily merging into the percussion ensembles led by his guru. At present receiving advanced instruction from mridangam maestro TV Gopalakrishnan, he is a dependable accompanist fast establishing himself in the concert circuit, having accompanied such senior artists as TN Krishnan, TV Gopalakrishnan, OS Thyagarajan, GS Mani, Kanyakumari, and Sowmya.

An ‘A’ grade artiste of AIR since the age of 22, the young percussionist has earned numerous awards and prizes.

When he was nine, he received a rolling trophy for the best in the age group 6-16 from Swar Sadhana Samiti. He stood first in the All India Radio Music Competition in 1997 and has been a recipient of the Government of India cultural talent scholarship. Awarded the title Taal Mani by Sur Singar Samsad, Mumbai, he also won the first prize in a national competition to perform at the Pandit Jasraj Auditorium in New York.

Vijay, who has played the mridangam for the musical tracks of the singer Adnan Sami and in the film Bhool Bhulaiya, is a member of the fusion band Samarpan of Mumbai.

Vijay was seen in a TV serial featuring tabla ustad Zakir Hussain and singer Shankar Mahadevan, and has provided percussion support in the HMV Saregama instrumental album Silver Lining. He also played a part in a three-volume audio-cassette series Jewels of Rhythm, which his guru produced.

Though steeped in tradition, Vijay Natesan, like many of his generation, has eclectic tastes in music—counting Hindustani, ghazals, bhajans and jazz among his favourite listening.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Musician to watch

Charulatha Ramanujam

Among the more talented violinists in the Carnatic music circuit today, Charulatha Ramanujam, whose manodharma during her solo turns is as exquisite as her support of the main artist is faithful and restrained, has somehow managed to achieve this delicate balancing act with assurance and finesse.

In an era fast evolving into one of regular teams representing the preferred choice of the vocalist, here is one violinist who seems to be the favourite of many a front ranking lead musician.

Born in a family steeped in classical music, Charulatha Ramanujam was initiated into music by her late father K. Rangaswamy, a vocalist of merit. With support from her mother Komalavalli, Charulatha proved a meticulous student, who later learnt from Anoor S. Ramakrishna of Bangalore, and Pudukottai R Ramanathan, a disciple of Kumbakonam Rajamanickam Pillai.

Charulatha’s unmistakable violin pedigree has received further polishing in the form of guidance from her current guru, Sangita Kalanidhi RK Srikantan, the nonagenarian who continues to enthral audiences with his magnificent voice.

An  'A' grade violinist in All India Radio, Charulatha is a regular in the in South Zone hook-up of AIR and Doordarshan, and has been featured in Doordarshan’s National Programme of Music.

Charulatha has won prizes in major competitions including the first prize in the Senior Violin competition of Gayana Samaja, Bangalore, and the best violin accompanist award in the senior concerts of Indian Fine Arts, Chennai. Her other honours include prizes at the junior level at The Music Academy, Chennai, the Ambujam Krishna award, Ananya Yuva Puraskara and the Kalki Krishnamurthy Award. Charulatha has travelled extensively in India and abroad as both soloist and accompanist.

Concert etiquette prescribed by

A quietly tasteful initiative towards covering Chennai’s culture scene has been the portal, sponsored by Sarangi, a boutique specializing in Kanjivaram silks, located at Rasvihar, a renovated, redesigned house on Sterling Avenue, Nungambakkam, Chennai, which used to belong to the late Olympian and bureaucrat Eric Prabhakar. Among the interesting programmes sponsored by Rasvihar have been some of the OLI series of chamber concerts. Rasvihar owns the Sarangi brand, and here’s what Sarangi has to say about

Margazhi is an online platform created to bring together the culturally conscious – by integrating information, news, views and updates related to the Performing Arts such as Indian Music & Dance. It is a sponsored initiative of Sarangi and it began its existence with coverage of the Margazhi festival 2011-12 in Chennai.

The Oli Chamber Concerts at Rasvihar have been models of good taste, as can be gauged from the Margazhi dangler/ bookmark on concert etiquette we are happy to display here.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Who’s who of Indian classical music

By V Ramnarayan

Papanasam Sivan (1890-1973)

Tamizh Tyagayya! To be compared to the incomparable Tyagaraja is the highest reward a vaggeyakara can aspire to in Carnatic music, and Papanasam Sivan earned the honour with his extraordinary oeuvre of bhakti-soaked lyrics in Tamil, Sanskrit and Telugu.

With several hundred songs in a variety of ragas and in three languages to his credit, Polagam Ramaiya often performed his own songs on the stage, even acted in films and sang in them songs he composed. He also taught music at Kalakshetra, at the invitation of its founder Rukmini Devi Arundale; he was one of the galaxy of great music and dance gurus she gathered around her. His simple lyrics were pregnant with bhakti. Some of the songs he composed for films (like Maa Ramanan) are today rendered on the Carnatic music Carnatic stage.

Born at Polagam village in Tanjavur district to Yogambal and Ramamrita Iyer, Ramiah moved to Tiruvanantapuram where his mother took him and his siblings after his father’s death in 1897, when the boy was barely seven. Her brother-in-law was a priest at the Padmanabha Swamy temple there. Ramaiya learned Malayalam and Sanskrit and graduated in grammar.

He played an active role in the devotional music sessions at the home of Neelakantha Sivan at Tiruvanantapuram. He sang the bhajana songs he learnt there at temples during his travels.

Learning music first from Noorani Mahadeva Bhagavatar, he later became an ardent follower of Konerirajapuram Vaidyanatha Iyer, blooming into an accomplished musician over time.

For seven long years Sivan listened to Konerirajapuram regularly, and his singing was greatly influenced by his style. Neelakantha Sivan and Konerirajapuram were the main influences on Sivan the composer.

Ramaiya came to be known as Papanasam Sivan ostensibly because he frequented the temple at Papanasam during his wanderings from temple to temple soon after his mother’s death when he was 20, singing devotional verses, covering himself in the sacred ash of vibhuti, symbolic of Siva.

Sivan regularly attended temple festivals at Kumbakonam, Nagapatnam, Tiruvarur, Tiruvaiyaru and Mylapore, Madras. For 48 consecutive years, he led the bhajana in the Saptasthanam festival at Tiruvaiyaru, and from 1921 to 1972, the Markazhi bhajana team around the Kapali temple, leading them along the four mada streets at the break of dawn.

Living near Kutcheri Road, Santhome, on a street that has now been named after him, Sivan taught S Rajam, S Balachander and the other children of Sundaram Iyer. Rajam was his first student. Sivan made his film debut composing music for the film, `Seeta Kalyanam’, whose cast included the Sundaram Iyer family.

Sivan was a simple soul untouched by fame. The great scholar Rangaramanuja Iyengar had Sivan’s compositions published in 1934 as Kirtanamalai. Sivan’s signature Ramadasa was said to be born of his admiration of Bhadrachala Ramadasa. He was equally devoted to the compositions of Gopalakrishna Bharati, whose pathos, humility and bhakti, as in Tiruvadi saranam found reflection in Sivan’s work as well. Muthu Tandavar and Arunachala Kavi were other Tamil composers he admired.

Papanasam Sivan received the President’s Award in 1962 and the Sangita Kalanidhi award of the Madras Music Academy in 1971.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Sruti sponsors Malladi Brothers concert

By V Ramnarayan

Attending the Malladi Brothers concert on 18 August and the Dr Sripada Pinakapani documentary the next morning was a memorable experience for the Sruti team that participated in the events at Unnati Centre, Bengaluru. Unfortunately, while the concert—an excellent one with the brothers in great voice and the accompanists, especially the subtly supportive mridanga vidwan KV Prasad, in very good form—was very well attended, the Sruti presentation and the Pinakapani tributes on 19 August drew only a small number of visitors.

The enthusiasm and concert intelligence of the Malladi Brothers made them a joy to behold and hear. Here are two splendid voices that do credit to the best vocal traditions of Carnatic music. So powerful are their voices that it is easy to imagine that the siblings can be clearly heard in a microphone-less space. There was much exuberance in the concert which was marked by firm adherence to the traditional underpinnings of the Pinakapani-Nedunuri school, also represented in the audience by Malladi Suribabu, the singers’ father and ‘associate’ guru.  What was perhaps less evident in the busy first half was the quietude typical of a Nedunuri performance, the saukhyam the brothers are no doubt capable of, though the padam-javali segment offered much mellow relief.  The occasional gentle touch can enhance the depth of the brothers' indubitable feeling for melody and lyric, and they will certainly transport listeners to even greater listening pleasure.

The organizers, the SGBS Trust, have done yeoman service to Carnatic music for over three decades in their (once) quiet corner of the garden city, and even more admirable deeds in providing top class engineering and management education to the underprivileged at their top class facility at Unnati Centre, and have succeeded in gathering full houses for their concerts of the established and emerging stars of Carnatic music. Their missionary zeal is evident in the care they take over every little detail and they are great hosts, as we found out (Sruti plans to do a feature story on Unnati soon). Yet, a couple of aspects of the organization, perhaps an imitation of established practice at Chennai, spoil the total impact somewhat.

The first problem was the inescapable gaudiness of stage backdrops and banners proclaiming the event and its sponsors. I was shocked to see Sruti’s own banner staring at me when the curtains went up. All over the world, the best music concerts and dance performances banish this kind of advertisement to other parts of the concert hall, and it is time for us to follow suit. We can do without such loudness and poor taste.

The second irritant endemic to our concerts is the habit of speechmaking interrupting the concert. Both Mala Mohan who made the documentary film—a moving tribute to Pinakapani—and Ramesh Swamy of SGBS Trust proved to be skilful speakers and true sahrdayas judging by their eloquence and appreciation of the music, but it is time again to put an end to the practice of speechmakers coming between the artists and the audience.  It is quite simply bad manners!

Friday, 24 August 2012

Musicians to watch

Trivandrum V Balaji

38-year-old mridanga vidwan Trivandrum Balaji hails from a musical family. His great grandfathers were both well known names: Kodivayal Venkatrama Iyer was a Harikatha and konnakol exponent, while SV Iyer was an accomplished mridanga vidwan.

Balaji’s early gurus were B. Doraiswamy, K. Krishna Iyengar  and R. Vaidyanathan, all of them of Tiruvanantapuram. He later received a national talent scholarship to study under Sangita Kalanidhi Palghat Raghu in true gurukulavasam.

With his nuanced percussion skills and empathy for the main musician, Balaji has been a popular and successful accompanist to most of the major musicians today. Many off them have appreciated his command over the instrument and his dextrous fingering.

An ‘A’ Grade artist of All India Radio, Chennai, Balaji is also a much sought-after mridangist in films, counting famous music directors like Vidyasagar, Deva, and Harris Jayaraj.

A recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi Yuva Puraskar in 2009, Balaji has several awards and prizes to his credit. One distinction that gives him particular pleasure has been being appointed as asthana vidwan of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham.

Much travelled Balaji has been a frequent visitor to North America on concert tours. A good teacher, he has also trained a number of competent sishyas.

Sruti has been following Balaji’s progress with keen interest and expects him to achieve greater laurels in the years to come.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Todi and Tyagaraja (part II)

A study in two parts

By R Vedavalli

(Continued from blogpost dated 22 August 2012) 

 (Edited excerpts from a lecture-demonstration for the Saraswati Vaggeyakara Trust)

Now we return to Todi and look at the unsurpassed beauty of some of its aspects. It is more pertinent to look at the growth of this raga in the past two centuries into a major raga in Carnatic music rather than go into proving its antiquity. To repeat the obvious, Todi is a vast raga with such infinite scope that all the aspects of raga vistara can be achieved comfortably in it. How is this achieved? There are many ragas based on phrases or prayogas and improvising a raga alapana means elaborating and expanding these phrases. But Todi is very unique in that every swara is a jiva swara or life note and nyasa swara or ending note. It allows for elaboration of every gamaka and every note. The gandhara, for instance, has innumerable hues and myriad shades. It can be moved in so many different ways and it yields to different types of gamakas.

It is said that the great musician Konerirajapuram Vaidyanatha Iyer, while elaborating on Todi, could move the gandhara in a particular way and fashion an entire gamut of sangatis around that one movement. Then he would move on to another variation of the gandhara and again build an entirely new set of sangatis to complement that gamaka. It was no wonder that his concerts lasted many hours. Todi Sitaramayya, a predecessor of Konerirajapuram, gained the title ‘Todi’ because of the intense and creative Todi experience he consistently crafted.

The many hues of the Todi Ga have been well documented in Balaswami Dikshitar’s chittaswaram in the kriti Gajavadana of Kumara Ettendra. This unparalleled chittaswaram is a veritable archive of not merely the different gamakas of the Todi Ga, but also minute variations in such aspects as frequency and length possible in the same gamaka thus producing subtly diverse effects.

A special feature of Todi is the varja prayoga or phrases where notes are skipped. This, in Todi in particular, enhances the beauty and rakti of the raga. In the fourth charana chittaswaram of the Todi varnam Eranapai, we see the aspect of varja prayoga brought out beautifully where the whole chittaswaram is panchama varja. Almost all composers including the Trinity, pre-Trinity and post-Trinity composers down to Papanasam Sivan and later composers, have been captivated by this ocean of aesthetic possibilities called Todi. Todi lends itself to many compositional forms such as chauka and tana varnams, padams, gitams, kritis and kirtanams. Among these, two of the most unique are the swarajati by Syama Sastri and the swarasthana varna of Ramaswami Dikshitar. This swarasthana varnam is entirely in swarakshara, each syllable of the lyric being the same as its corresponding note. Only Todi yields itself to such creativity.

Among the composers Tyagaraja perhaps has the most prolific collection of compositions in Todi. His compositions illustrate most of the aspects of the raga.

As though to illustrate the point that every note in Todi is significant and hence compositions may commence in ‘any note in any register, Tyagaraja has composed kritis beginning in swaras ranging from the mandra sthayi dhaivata to the tara sthayi shadja.
  1. Dasarathi - mandra dhaivata
  2. Varidhi Niku - mandra dhaivata
  3. Gatinivani - madhya shadja
  4. Rajuvedala - madhya shadja
  5. Ninnuvina - madhya shadja
  6. Endu daginado - madhya shadja
  7. Aragimpave - madhya shadja
  8. Karunajudavamma - madhya gandhara
  9. Hariyanuvari - madhya gandhara
  10. Kaddanuvariki - madhya madhyama
  11. Chesinadella - madhya panchama
  12. Brindavanalola - madhya panchama
  13. Dacukovalana - madhya dhaivata
  14. Koti nadulu - madhya dhaivata
  15. Emi jesitenemi - madhya dhaivata
  16. Munnu ravana - madhya dhaivata
  17. Enduku dayaradu - madhya dhaivata
  18. Ni daya ravale - madhya nishada
  19. Koluvamaregada - tara shadja
  20. Emani matladitivo - tara shadja
  21. Tappi bratiki - tara shadja
  22. Kada terarada - madhya shadja
  23. Poddu poyyeni - madhya shadja
  24. Re manasa - madhya gandhara
The kritis also capture precisely the raga vistara possibilities in all the registers, thus laying out a map of the raga vistara paddhati, complete with sangatis and intensive gamaka prayogas. Also illustrated in these kritis is the fact that in Todi every swara can be considered a graha swara (an important note in the raga from which the alapana is begun).

The special appeal of mandra dhaivata in Todi is brought home by all three of the Trinity in their compositions Varidhi niku (Tyagaraja), Dakshayani (Muttusvami Dikshitar) and Rave Himagiri (Syama Sastri), all of which begin from that note.

Tyagaraja’s compositions in Todi vary as widely in their talas as in their kalapramana. His compositions have numerous sangatis that beautifully encapsulate the raga vistara paddhati. Many concepts like the development of the raga, kalapramana and use of sthayi are well delineated in Tyagaraja’s compositions especially through the layers of sangatis, apt examples of which are Endu daginado and Varidhi, The sangatis in these kritis also serve as lessons in effectively combining speeds while Singing raga phrases.

Todi cannot be said to represent any particular rasa or bhava. Although it is normally assigned the label of karuna rasa, I believe that Todi is too prolific to be restricted to a particular rasa or bhava. Tyagaraja’s kritis themselves clarify this point. The range of sentiments he has expressed in his Todi kritis is so wide as to cover several if not all the rasas and bhava, For instance in Emani matladitivo he is struck by wonder (adbhuta) at hew adept Rama is in talking to such a wide variety of people from kings to commoners. While Cesina della and Varidhi are steeped in karuna rasa, Emi jesitenemi and Kaddanuvariki are in the mode of upadesa where the composer views the world with a sense of equanimity.

Tyagaraja has proved to be a pioneer in popularising Todi. He has certainly made a significant contribution to giving Todi a certain form as well as a certain stature because of the sheer volume and quality of compositions he has composed in it. One could go a bit further and claim for Tyagaraja the credit for endowing Todi with a special pearl-like lustre by delving into its ocean-like depths.

(The lec-dem was held at the Narada Gana Sabha on 21 December 2003)


Musician to watch

Bharathi Ramasubban

One of the quietly accomplished young vocalists in the Carnatic music circuit yet to hit the “big time” is Bharathi Ramasubban, a disciple of vidwan PS Narayanaswamy for the last 15 years.

Bharathi had her early lessons in vocal music from her mother Sankari Ramasubban and her grandmother Sarada Krishnan, a direct disciple of Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar.

Some of the sabhas and organisations for which Bharathi has performed in India are the Music Academy, Narada Gana Sabha and Naada Inbam in Chennai, Shanmukhananda Fine Arts (Mumbai), India International Centre (New Delhi), and Rasika Ranjana Sabha (Kolkata). She has also performed in the USA and Canada.

A direct ‘B-High’ grade artiste of the All India Radio, Bharathi was a recipient of the Best Female Vocalist Award for 2007 in the Spirit of Youth festival of the Music Academy, as well as the Government of India CCRT scholarship for vocal music during 1996-2004.

An active member of YACM (Youth Association for Classical Music), Bharathi has been the editor of its newsletter ‘Dhwani’. An alumna of P S Senior Secondary School and Stella Maris College, and a gold medallist in her Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry, Bharathi went on to pursue a research project in Bio-Organic Chemistry at the Center for Biotechnology, Anna University, Chennai, and her Masters in Biotechnological Law & Ethics from the School of Law, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK.

In a concert review in The Hindu, Gowri Ramnarayan said:

Bharathi’s very first piece, a Saranga varnam, was crisp but had the raga contours intact, against this natural soundscape (of the Miraj tambura on stage).

Brochevarevare (Sriranjani) established the appeal of a voice touched with a pleasing, husky timbre. Bharathi’s choice was balanced, her approach emphasised the quality of grandeur. Sentimentality that lightens the load of even regal ragas was completely absent.

Varali’s appeal was maximised by generous akaram, which, in consonance with Bharathi’s distinctive voice, assured connectivity.

When she sang Mamava Minakshi, the reason for focussing on the majesty rather than the pathos of Varali became evident, authenticated by the fine niraval imaging the warrior goddess as Digvijayapratapin’.

Bhairavi was delightful, more karvai strung, the holistic evolution missing no crucial prayoga.

These words accurately describe Bharathi Ramasubban’s chaste, tastefully rendered, nuanced vocalisation. With continued hard work and a consistent focus on her art, she can carve out a rewarding career for herself in the years to come.

Musician to watch

Bharat Sundar

Young vocalist Bharat Sundar of Jaya TV’s Carnatic Music Idol fame, has a good voice with a nice range, impressive articulation, and adherence to the specific kalapramana of the individual songs he sings. Evident in his concerts are good training, attitude and manodharma. For one so young, his music is mature.

At present a student of vidwan PS Narayanaswami, Bharat Sundar started learning Carnatic music at the age of six with Gayathri Mahesh, a senior disciple of veteran vocalist OS Thiagarajan. He continued lessons with vidushis Leelavathi Gopalakrishnan,a disciple of TS Balu, who in turn, was a sishya of GNB. Leelavathi’s son G Srikanth, a well known singer for bharata natyam, has also mentored Bharat who has received specialised instruction in pallavi singing from Trichy J.Venkatraman and Srimushnam Rajarao. Bharat is also learning percussion.

As a child, Bharat Sundar performed in over 600 concerts as a member of Ramjhi’s Issai Mazhalai, a prominent music group featuring children. He has travelled widely with the group in India and abroad. His exposure through Issai Mazhalai has been a great preparation for Bharat’s concert career.

His performances in the last couple of December seasons have provided evidence of a major prospect in the Carnatic music world. Writing in The Hindu, critic Viswanath Parasuram, praised him for his “dexterity of voice, good sense of the kriti, manodharma in raga alapana, niraval and kalpanaswaram, talakattu and concert craft”. “There is ample evidence that he has and continues to receive good guidance from his gurus,” said the critic, who advised Bharat to try to make his voice fuller, rounder and stronger in the lower registers. Viswanath advocated greater soukhyam in Bharat Sundar’s music, and we could not agree more. The introduction of that element would indeed make Bharat Sundar a more complete singer.

Bharat Sundar has been noted for the brilliance of his alapana, and his brave exploration of ragas beyond conventional phrases. He has also regularly displayed felicity and pleasant aesthetics in the way he articulates lyrics and sangatis. As we said before in Sruti, here is a bright prospect—if his head stays firmly on his shoulders.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Todi and Tyagaraja (part 1)

A study in two parts

By R Vedavalli

(Edited excerpts from a lecture-demonstration for the Saraswati Vaggeyakara Trust)

In Carnatic classical music, Todi is a major raga with ample scope for elaboration and extensive creativity. Though the exact period of its origin is not known not known, it can surely be said that through the last three or four centuries it has grown and developed so much that today it is one of the most prominent and important ragas of Carnatic music.

The evolution and establishment of Todi as a magnificent raga was largely enabled by great musicians and vaggeyakaras. Among the vaggeyakaras, the Trinity, Sri Tyagaraja in particular, have contributed immensely in embellishing the beauty and depth of this raga.

Although there are no direct references to Todi’s ancestry in many of the prevalent texts, the 17th century music scholar Venkatamakhi classified it as the eighth mela. In the nomenclature of the Kanakambari-Phenadyuti scheme it is Janatodi and in the Kanakangi-Ratnangi scheme it is Hanumatodi. Somanatha called it a ‘turuska’ raga indicating its northern origin, a widely contested notion. The idea needs considerable scrutiny as the current Hindustani Todi family (with exceptions like the allied raga Bilaskhani Todi) corresponds not to the Carnatic Todi but to the Carnatic Subhapantuvarali. Some suggest the possibility that it was prevalent in the southern regions but went by a different name. Neither is the source of the name ‘Todi’ clear nor is there any recognizable meaning that could be attributed to it, unlike Sankarabharanam or Ramapriya.

Todi is said to be the rsabha murchana of the gandhara grama, which is not in vogue today. While we have heard from learned sources of the past that the rsabha murchana raga was once called Arsabhi, it is also known to correspond to the raga Sevvazhipplalai in the Tamil pann schemata. The Oduvamurtis or the singers of centuries-old Siva hymns deny knowledge of the existence of this raga in their musical tradition, but there seems to be some memory of Todi having been used by the singers of the Divyaprabandham, the Vaishnava hymns,.

Such is the mystery that surrounds the origin of Todi. Nevertheless, for centuries, Todi has captivated the souls and imagination of generations of musicians and composers by its sheer ocean-like depth and vastness. It has spawned more than 20 janya ragas. In practice, no other raga yields itself so generously to so much improvisation as Todi does. Every part of its progression allows endless scope for elaboration. It is a common practice to elaborate Todi with varja prayoga-s (skipping of notes). This is especially popular among nagaswara vidwans.

We frequently hear musicians sing long phrases without showing the shadja and panchama, There is an opinion that when Todi is sung entirely without the panchama it is called Suddha Todi, but it is not considered an adequate reason to justify the coining of a new name for the raga.

Before we begin to appreciate Todi or any other raga, especially in the creative dimension, we need to understand the rules and stages of raga improvisation or ragavistara. Authors of musical treatises like Sarangadeva and Govinda Dikshita have laid down a scheme consisting of six parts for raga vistara.

These are akshiptika, ragavardhani, vidari, thaya or sthayi, vardhani and nyasa or muktayi. This scheme is not being followed diligently today.

Akshiptika is the initial preparatory stage of the alapana when the chosen raga is unambiguously introduced by its characteristic phrases.

Next the raga is unraveled in ragavardhani. It is this stage that yields most to elaboration in three speeds. The number of sangatis or phrases sung in different kalas need to be proportionate and utmost care needs to be taken in maintaining the intrinsic tempo or kalapramana of the raga. The lower kala sangatis include long karvais or longish extensions of notes. The sangatis do not follow each other in the order of the speeds they are sung in. They are normally rendered combining all the three speeds. However in vilamba kala, the phrases are predominantly in the lower speed and respectively so in madhyama and durita kalas.

Ragavardhani is followed by vidari which is sung in the madhya sthayi.

Then comes sthayi which is a gradual note-by-note build-up in the upper octave. In this phase the musician attempts to reach as high as it is comfortably possible in the tara sthayi, However it is not mandatory to reach the panchama. A voice that easily manoeuvres the tara sthayi is called a sthayi sarira.

Sthayi comes from the root “stha” - sthapita, to establish or to create a base. It is said that musicians of the early 20th century, when performing a pallavi would sing niraval for the pallavi, first in its original sthayi and then create a base again in the tara sthayi to elaborate it further in the upper octave. Even in tanam singing, there was a practice of using the upper shadja as a base, a sthayi, and creating numerous madhyama kala sangatis in akara around it. This practice could be seen especially among the nagasvara vidwans.

Finally we come to the muktayi, where elaboration in the mandra sthayi leads to a grand ending of the alapana.

The raga vistara paddhati serves as a guideline that gives us possibilities rather than rules. Musicians of the past have used this paddhati to great effect.

Musicians to watch

Aditya Prakash

US-born Aditya Prakash is a talented young Carnatic vocalist. Starting at the age of eight, Aditya has been learning music in the US and India from Debur Srivathsa, Rose Muralikrishnan, Sugandha Kalamegham and now from P.S. Narayanaswami and Palai C.K. Ramachandran, both disciples of Semmangudi Srinivasier.

Aditya, who has a strong, deep voice, is a dedicated student of music. Though he is not a fluent speaker of Indian languages, he takes the trouble to be word-perfect on stage and his enunciation of lyrics is excellent. He has been performing solo Carnatic concerts since the age of 12 in the USA, Canada, Europe and India. He has performed at some of the best venues in the world.

Aditya received the AK Satagopan ‘Yuva Kalakar Puraskar’ award for the ‘most promising artiste’ from Sri Shanmukhananda Sabha, Mumbai, in 2009. During the Music Season in Chennai of 2008, Aditya was awarded ‘Best Junior Vocalist’ by the Tyaga Brahma Gana Sabha.

Also keenly interested in Hindustani music and fusion, Aditya has had the wonderful experience of touring, performing and working with sitar maestro Ravi Shankar. Since the age of 16, Aditya has been featured in his ‘Festival of India III’ ensemble as lead vocalist, touring the USA and Canada. Aditya has also worked and performed with Anoushka Shankar as lead vocalist in her album live tours in Europe, the USA and Canada. He has also sung and recited poetry for the Chennai-based theatre group JustUs Repertory.

Aditya Prakash, whose sister Mythili Prakash and mother Viji Prakash are accomplished bharata natyam dancers, blogs at

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Pocket guidebook to Carnatic music

The ghatam

The ghatam is a most unusual instrument, a solid one, without a membrane. A percussion instrument used as an upa-pakkavadyam in Carnatic music concerts, it hardly looks its part as a member of a classical ensemble, because it is quite simply a hollow clay pot, unadorned by any other parts. It is however constructed specifically to be played as a musical instrument, of uniform thickness, to appropriate dimensions calculated to produce a particular resonance.

Two types of ghatams are in vogue. Made of clay alone, the Madras ghatam is light, and well suited to fast playing, while the Manamadurai ghatam, more common today, is mixed with shards of brass, producing a deeper tone. The ghatam has a pre-determined sruti which changes with the size and shape of the pot.

The ghatam is played by striking, stroking or tapping it with fingers, both palms, the bases and sides of the palms and knuckles. The ghatam vidwan closes the mouth of the ghatam with his palm to produce a bass sound, sometimes rests it against his stomach, actually modulating its sound by adjusting the distance between its opening and his belly. Dramatically throwing up the ghatam in the air was often the high point of a tani avartanam until a few decades ago. This exciting custom has almost gone out of fashion with the increasing sophistication of the cutcheri of today.

Polagam Chidambara Iyer of the 19th century is said to the first concert ghatam vidwan in Carnatic music. Among the earliest ghatam vidwans to achieve any fame were the Mysore court musicians Rangarao and Samarao.

It was Palani Krishna Iyer who developed the art of ghatam-playing by creating patterns and phrases most suited to the instrument. He was the architect of solid techniques to play these patterns. Umayalapuram Kothandarama Iyer was another ghatam maestro to develop his own nuanced individual style, even tending to overshadow the mridangam in his solos. This was a clear breach of protocol, because the mridangam is the undoubted lead percussion instrument. The ghatam has to play a supporting role, with the ghatam vidwan moulding his style and creativity to follow the leader.

Hailing from an illustrious family of percussionists, and a disciple of his father Harinhara Iyer, T.H. Vinayakram is perhaps the most famous ghatam player in the history of Carnatic music. He can produce a whole range of sounds from the ghatam and captivate audiences with exciting rhythms, often playing solos in complex talas. The names of E.M. Subramaniam and the late T.V. Vasan come readily to mind in any discussion of ghatam maestros of recent vintage.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Pocket guide to Carnatic music


Carnatic music, like many other Indian art forms, formed a strong part of temple rituals. The great vaggeyakaras of Carnatic music often composed songs at temples, directly addressing the presiding deities. The nagaswaram, the grand wind instrument of Carnatic music, has a hoary past closely intertwined with that of temple rituals, with hardly any ritual complete without nagaswaram music. Today, the temple as a centre of classical music is fast vanishing, and nagaswaram music at temples is offered in a much-diluted form wherever it has not already disappeared.

The glorious art of mallari on the nagaswaram has been a prominent casualty of progress. Mallari is an old, traditional form of temple music in south India. It continues to be played at very few temples, and not necessarily in its original form. Requiring intense and extended practice for years, the original mallari was a complex art, with clear rules on what was to be played when and how. Musicologists and musicians like BM Sundaram and R Vedavalli have taken much trouble to research the history of mallari, interview veteran vidwans of the nagaswaram and tavil and record their thoughts on the art.

Worship through music was a way of life in south Indian temples in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. Music was considered one of the 16 types of offerings to God (the shodashopachara) as part of the puja at temples. The rituals start at the crack of dawn and continue all day long until the lord or devi is put to sleep at night, with appropriate music every step of the way.  Considered the loudest brass instrument in the world, the nagaswaram is, or rather was, heard all over the villages and towns surrounding temples. The sound of the nayanam (the nagaswaram accompanied by the tavil) acts as a wake-up call or announcement in the whole vicinity of the temple.

During temple festivals, nagaswara music accompanied every ritual from the abhishekam or ceremonial bathing of the deity in water, milk or other libations, through taking the deity out on a procession to putting it to sleep. Each occasion demanded a specialized mallari, played in a stately gait in the raga Gambhira Nattai, to create the effect of a procession. The raga has five notes each in the ascent and descent. Once played on the timiri or smaller nagaswaram, requiring great lung power, mallari moved on to be played on the bari or longer nagaswaram of today. In addition to the tavil, mallari also has kaittalai (a kind of cymbals) accompaniment.

Some mallaris:

The mudal or first mallari is the opening mallari in tisra, followed by the periya mallari in adi tala. Next comes the purappadu, literally the start of the deity’s journey, followed by periya mallari in chaturasra triputa or adi tala. The ter (chariot) mallari is played during the procession, in chaturasra triputa tala in khanda gati, with five syllables for every beat. The tirtha mallari accompanies the ritual bathing of the deity. This is set to misra chapu tala. Finally when food is offered to the deity as naivedyam, the taligai (culinary) mallari is played.

There are exceptions and variations according to the occasion and at different temples. The palli arai mallari is reserved in some Vaishnavite temples for the retiring deity, in the form of the beautiful laali oonjal, swinging the deity to sleep. All in all, mallari is a delightfully varied form of ritual temple music played on the nagaswaram, unfortunately on the verge of extinction as an art form.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Who’s who of Indian classical music

By V Ramnarayan

Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan (1844-1893)

His singing was often described as exquisite. Another Vaidyanathan, Soolamangalam Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar, described a Vaidyanatha Sivan concert at Tiruvaiyaru thus: “Gifted with a voice unparalleled for its beauty and grandeur, he sang Kalyani as the main raga that day and followed it up with the pallavi, Taraka Brahma svarupa. Avoiding non-euphonious phrases like ‘tarina-tarina’ and ‘adarina’, he sang the raga in the true Karnatic style.” (from CAMEOS, a collection of Bhagavatar’s writings on Carnatic musicians, Sunadham Publications).

(Vaidyanatha Iyer, for that was Sivan’s name, received the title ‘Maha’ from the pontiff of the Tiruvavaduturai Mutt during a concert at Karaikudi).

Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan was a composer, credited inter alia with creating a ragamalika song featuring the 72 melakarta ragas. He was born in the village of Viyacheri in the Tanjavur district of Tamil Nadu. His father Duraisami Iyer was a musician who trained Vaidyanatha Iyer and his brothers in Carnatic music.

Vaidyanatha Iyer continued his training with the Anai Ayya brothers, and Manambuchavadi Venkatasubbayyar, one of Tyagaraja’s disciples.

He and and his elder brother, Ramaswami Sivan, were the earliest performing duo in the history of Carnatic music.

Sivan  composed mainly in Telugu and Tamil and used the mudra Guhadasa. Some of his famous compositions are Pahimam Srirajarajeswari (Janaranjani) and Neekela dayaradu (Sarasangi).

A thrilling Saveri raga alapana by Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan at a concert at Mayavaram, followed by a pallavi in a very quick tempo in three degrees of speed, and kalpana swara in the same three degrees of speed led to such displays being labelled ‘Sivanval Mayavaram Saveri’.

Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer was admired for the beautiful expression of his face when he sang eschewing unseemly mannerisms. His singing appeared so effortless that it was said the vibhuti on his forehead remained intact at the end of his concerts.

A typical Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan concert lasted about four hours, with four or five kritis early in the programme. The alapana for the major raga was spread over an hour and a half or even two. This was then followed by a ragam-tanam-pallavi in anagatagraha, with the composition starting after the tala. The concert ended with a couple of compositions in rare ragas. It was not unusual for the alapana to go on for two hours. He performed at the courts of Mysore, Travancore, Ramnad and Pudukottai, staying for months on end sometimes.

Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan was an erudite scholar in Tamil and Sanskrit, and was honoured for his scholarship in both. He took extraordinary care to maintain the grandeur of his voice, performed pujas with great devotion and was very careful about his diet.

He and another great of his time, Patnam Subramanya Ayyar, resided near the eastern and western gates of the Pranatarthihara Swami temple at Tiruvady.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012


Jagatheeswaran, Jaga to all his friends, died shortly after this tribute appeared in Chennai Online some years ago.

By V Ramnarayan

"I'll call him Eswar in this little appreciation, because he hates publicity and would feel extremely uncomfortable if I were to use his real name. He is a rare human being, a genuine lover of music who knows how to celebrate music and musicians and has for years silently supported the music he loves. When I last visited him, he was recovering from a long and debilitating succession of illnesses. At the best of times a slightly built man, now he was skin and bones, looking frail and helpless, curled up in his bed. He was deeply depressed; his poor health had rendered him so. Just home from a long spell at a nursing home, he was convalescing, but the path to total recovery was slow and arduous.

The one thing that kept Eswar going through this period of sickness and rehabilitation was Carnatic music. There were three little cassette recorders on his bed placed at different positions, so that he could reach for one of them without exerting himself, whichever way he had turned as he tossed around restlessly. Wonderful music was flowing from one of the players on the day I visited him - a recording of a sixties cutcheri of Semmangudi Srinivasier, T N Krishnan and Palghat Mani Iyer.

Until a few months earlier, Eswar's small ground floor flat was the regular venue of chamber concerts he arranged every month. A must on his monthly calendar was a recital by P S Narayanaswami, a fine vocalist from the Semmangudi stable, and one of the most liked and sought after teachers among today's young stars as well as aspiring young musicians. At these intimate performances by 'Pichai Sir' as he is known to one and all, the audience list usually reads like a roll call of honour at the Music Academy. Regular listeners include Sanjay Subrahmanyan and his wife, Unnikrishnan, Vijay Siva, Manoj Siva, Sriramkumar, Shashank and his family, Ranjani and Gayatri and their parents, Eswar himself and a number of PSN's disciples, besides the two providing vocal accompaniment on the day.

There is much interaction between the performers and the audience, with the musicians among them sitting within handshaking distance of the artists and encouraging by gesture and voluble appreciation. Often it's a case of Listeners' Choice and the opportunity to listen to certain nuances of particular compositions or ways of improvisation unique to his school. While the whole experience is emotionally satisfying for the lay listener, for the musicians, accompanying as well as listening, it is an academic exercise as well, serving to help fine-tune certain aspects of their music.

Eswar has been organising these concerts with great love and care, often making his own requests as to the composition of the performance. Besides Pichai Sir, other musicians who regularly attend these soirees have also performed at Eswar's drawing room. I have heard memorable recitals by T M Krishna and Sanjay Subrahmanyam there for instance. The audience is usually around 25-30 in number and can on occasion fall below ten, but that has never made any difference to the quality of music at this very special venue.

Though a south Indian, Eswar was born abroad as were his parents, and shifted permanently to India only in the recent past. Hailing from a family rich in music, he is himself a trained musician and has a very sound knowledge of music theory. A professional in the service sector, he retired a few years ago following a setback in health. A frequent visitor to Madras during the music season in the years past, he decided to settle down here and could be seen regularly at concerts, before his recent illness.

I was delighted to see Eswar at a small temple concert a couple of weeks ago. He could not stay till the end as he grew very tired, but he was totally absorbed in the music while there. The day he recovers fully and goes back to his regular routine, the many musicians who like and respect him will be happy for him -- and Carnatic music."

Monday, 13 August 2012

Oli Chamber Concert 12

By Vivadi

Tribute to DKJ by Vijay Siva and team

When Gandhiji died, Kalki Krishnamurthy wrote a poem on him, and this was promptly tuned by D K Jayaraman in a string of ragas starting with Khamas. DKJ lost the lyrics and the tune, but remembered the story. Vijay Siva obtained the lyrics from Kalki’s son Rajendran and asked DKJ to teach him the song, but DKJ postponed this for years. Vijay Siva took to carrying around the lyrics of the song wherever he travelled with his guru, until one night, after a concert, in the hotel where they were staying, DKJ asked Siva, "Where is that Kalki song?"

The relationship between guru and sishya in our classical arts is much more than that of teacher and student. The word 'mentor' perhaps captures its essence better, but still fails to do complete justice. The guru is sometimes an advisor, sometimes a father and sometimes a friend. D K Jayaraman shared such a relationship with Vijay Siva, who paid tribute to it at Oli -- accompanied by R K Shriramkumar and Manoj Siva, both disciples of D K Jayaraman—by choosing compositions and ragas that had, for him, an intimate connection with his guru.

DKJ, Siva said, did not see 'chira tara sampat'—continuous, stable, wealth—until late in his life. Apparently, he only did when he learnt Dikshitar's Hiranmayeem in praise of Lakshmi. Because he wanted his students to prosper, he taught them the kriti as early as he could. D K Jayaraman's renditions of Dikshitar kritis are known to be the most soulful and most authentic, and Vijay Siva highlighted the aspect in an intriguing Saranga sangati in Arunachalanatham—one that is not found in any other composition. In the swara exchange, Shriramkumar deftly wove this sangati into a pattern, drawing a respectful "Bhale!" from both the Sivas on stage.

The Kharaharapriya alapana was the high point of the concert—it exemplified everything that makes Vijay Siva's music so enthralling. It had individualism, inventiveness, verve, energy; it had soul. It was like nothing we had heard before. Still, it was highly classical. The Senthil Aandavan that followed, a kriti that DKJ had made his own, was peppered with an endearing swara exchange between Siva and Shriramkumar, each pushing the other gently in friendly competition.

It helps, they say, for a mridanga vidwan to know the intricacies of the composition and the music. This was in ample evidence in the rapport between the brothers Siva. Manoj had understood and internalised every sangati of Marakkaathe Maname, a Kovai Subri composition tuned by DKJ that he underscored it with the most apt sollus, pauses and phrasings. Even taking his hands off the mridangam for a drutam to allow Vijay Siva to pull off a spectacular briga with greater clarity was plotted to perfection.

Even on a normal day, a good Ahiri can be unsettling and beautiful at once, but in an emotionally charged environment, it attained greater heights. Vijay Siva told us of how his guru loved a line in Sri Kamalamba Jayati so much that he made his students sing it again and again and lost himself in that music. When the line came, Manoj Siva went silent for a second or two, just to heighten the tension around it. The effect was spellbinding.

Vijay Siva's music sparkles with such wit. that you are moved to giggle every now and then. His repartee with Shriramkumar in the main piece of the evening, Sri Raghuvara in Kambhoji—another trademark of the sampradayam—was enlightening and enlivening. The three artistes seemed to hold the mood and tempo of the kriti on such a tight leash that they never let it meander or drift, always offering an insight, an unexpected turn, or even a chuckle!

When Vijay Siva wound up with Sri Kamalambike Jayati, the Kamalamba mangalam kriti in Sri ragam, he said, casually glancing at the DKJ photo that Shriramkumar had placed in the corner of the room, that this concert was not conceptualised by him, his accompanists or the Oli Team; it was DKJ's doing.

It was DKJ's will that brought all of us together to share an extremely special evening in his company. There isn't a better way of putting what we felt that evening.

The musicians

Vijay Siva (vocal)
RK Shriram Kumar (violin)
Manoj Siva (mridangam)

The concert

Varnam                          Kedaragowlai              Adi                       Tiruvotriyur Tyagayyar
Hiranmayeem               Lalita                            Tisra Eka             Muttuswami Dikshitar
Arunachalanatham       Saranga                        Tisra Eka             Mutthuswami Dikshitar
Senthil Andavan           Kharaharapriya           Rupakam            Papanasam Sivan
Marakkathe                  Todi                               Adi                       Kovai Subri (Tune by DKJ)
Sri Kamalamba jayati  Ahiri                             Tisra eka             Muttuswami Dikshitar
Sri Raghuvara              Kambhoji                      Adi                        Tyagaraja
Karunai deivame         Sindhubhairavi            Adi                       Madurai Srinivasan
Maname kanamum     Bhimplas                       Adi                       Papanasam Sivan
Ittanai naal                   Ragamalika                  Adi                        Kalki (tune by DKJ)
Sri Kamalambike         Sri                                 Khanda eka         Muttuswami Dikshitar


Tiruvazhundur Sivakozhundu 

Translated from Kalki’s Tamil original in Ananda Vikatan (1939) by

 Gowri Ramnarayan 


(Continued from blogpost dated 11 August 2012)

‘Tambi lay in the hospital for three months. Slowly his mind cleared. He recognized me within ten days. His eyes were still bandaged. I couldn’t bring myself to inform him that he had lost his eyesight. I told the doctor to tell him about it in my absence. When he knew that he had lost his vision forever, Tambi seemed to lose his wits once again. And yet, in the midst of all these tribulations he did not forget the actress! Often he would smile to himself, and repeat her name. I didn’t feet like bringing Vanaja to see him.

‘Vanaja, however, was impatient to see him. I put her off by saying that the doctor had forbidden all visitors. Finally, unable to withstand her pestering, I took her to the hospital. We had both decided not to inform Tambi of her visit. Accordingly, she came into the sick room and stood in silence.

‘It happened as I feared. As he talked to himself Sivakozhundu called out to Manoranjitam by name and babbled endearments to her. I glanced at Vanaja with great anxiety. Ayya! Haven’t the elders said that it is impossible for men to understand the hearts of women? I realized then how true that was. I thought that Vanaja would be disgusted when she saw how Sivakozhundu was still enamoured of Manoranjitam, and lose all her love for him. But what happened was exactly the opposite. Vanaja’s feelings did not waver one bit. If anything, her affections seemed to grow deeper.

‘She demanded to be taken to the hospital every day, but without my disclosing her identity to Tambi. She insisted on sending food to him daily, and brought it herself on some days. I didn’t like any of this. True, I had wanted to give Vanaja in marriage to Sivakozhundu earlier. But was it possible now? Would her mother agree? Would this daft boy ever agree to it? After all that had happened, he had still not got over his infatuation for Manoranjitam! So what was the use in encouraging Vanaja’s feelings?

‘Even as I ruminated, I was disconcerted by something she wanted to do. “Mama! You must agree to my proposal,” was the beginning of a long speech which ended with, “I am going to change my name to Manoranjitam. You must give me your consent.”

‘At first I couldn’t make out head or tail of her request. I understood however when Vanaja said that she was going to take advantage of Tambi’s blindness and turn herself into Manoranjitam. She told me that she could talk, sing and behave like Manoranjitam, and forthwith proceeded to mimic her perfectly. Her voice and speech were carbon copies of what I had seen on the stage.

‘I was not at all in favour of cheating Tambi in this manner. I also feared that it might result in something unpleasant. But I could not withstand Vanaja’s obstinacy and tears. “Mama! I have nothing in the world but him. Since he doesn’t like Vanaja, I will transform myself into Manoranjitam. You must agree to this. Otherwise I will kill myself and you will be responsible for a woman’s death.”

‘After many days of vacillation, I finally agreed to this deception. I couldn’t bear to see the girl’s misery. Also there was still hope that if the plot succeeded, Sivakozhundu might return to his former self At the same time, I was preyed upon by fear and anxiety, First, the plot had to succeed. But how would Tambi react when the truth came out? I finally decided that there was a God in heaven, and let things take their course.

‘The next day I took Vanaja to Tambi’s house. As I wondered how to bring up the topic, by chance Vanaja’s bangles happened to tinkle, catching Tambi by surprise.

‘‘‘Who’s that, Mama?” he asked.

‘With some relief, I answered, “Tambi, Manoranjitam has come to see you from Madras.”

‘“What! Manoranjitam?” Tambi exclaimed and sat up in bed. For a minute, I was scared.

‘But Vanaja came forward at once, and placing her hands on his shoulders she made him lie down again, saying, “Yes it is me. You must rest now.”

‘Ayyo! Tambi’s look of that moment still haunts me. He stared and stared with his sightless eyes. Don’t people realize the value of things only when they lose them? Tambi must have realized the value of sight most dearly at that moment. I was pained to see the boundless anguish on his face for those eyes now irrevocably lost. I also felt ashamed for attempting to deceive him. But what was the use of feeling sorry after being persuaded by the girl to comply?

‘I told him the story Vanaja and I had concocted earlier. As if I had learnt it by rote, I said that since he had been calling out to Manoranjitam again and again when he lay unconscious in the hospital, I had written to the woman believing that he would get well only if she came to see him. That had brought her here.

‘Vanaja reiterated that she had come running when she saw the letter and that she would return only after he got well.

‘After some more talk of this kind I said, “Arnma! Sing something for Tambi.” We had planned this too in advance.

‘One of the roles played by Manoranjitam was that of Nandan. As Nandan, she would sing the arutpa “Padamudiyaadini tuyaram” as a ragamalika. Vanaja now sang the same song in the same manner. I was astounded by her exact imitation of the actress’s voice, and style of singing, and her precise reproduction of her embellishments of the melody. Tambi listened in a state of bliss. The tears flowed from his eyes.

‘We were both extremely happy that our plot had succeeded so well. Vanaja started to visit Tambi, often spending the whole day with him. Tambi had no close relatives. There was no one in the house except for the cook and the chokra boy. I had prepared them for this plan.

‘After a while, I began to accept concert engagements. On my return after one such trip, Sivakozhundu announced joyfully, “Mama! Manoranjitam and I are going to get married. She has decided to give up acting on the stage.”

‘I became distraught. What a trial! I had agreed to the deception only for the sake of Tambi getting well. How could I agree to this wedding! Can the truth be hidden forever from him? What would happen when he came to know it?

‘All these objections had no impact on Vanaja. “It is I who will bear the consequences. Why are you worried?” she argued. Somehow she extracted my consent with her sobs and tears. She made her mother consent as well.

‘One month later, we performed their wedding at the Tirunageswarar temple.’ With these words, Kandappa Pillai fell silent, as if sunk in deep thought.

‘What comes next?’ I asked him.

‘Well, my nephew and niece are very happy. They have two lovely little boys now.’

I was not satisfied. I felt he had left something unsaid.

‘Where are they now?’ I asked.

‘Have you heard of Mundirisolai, swami? It is on the seashore between Karaikkal and Muttupettai. The Mariamman temple in Mundirisolai is very famous. It is a beautiful village. Cashew trees and casuarinas grow all around it as far as the eye can see. On the east, beyond the groves, there is a wilderness of reeds. Beyond that, a sea full of waves. Roaring waves and soughing casuarina are perpetual sounds there.

‘Mundirisolai is my native village. I have a small house and some land there. Sivakozhundu had visited this village twice or thrice in the days of his glory. He often used to say he loved the place, and that, if ever he retired from his concert career, he would like to live there.

‘A few days after the wedding, Tambi said that he wanted my house in Mundirisolai as he wished to go and live there. I tried to dissuade him. “What does loss of sight matter? That should not make you stop performing. In the past, didn’t Sarabha Sastri play the flute though he was blind? Don’t worry that you won’t be asked to play at concerts. You will have a surfeit of them.”

‘All that was in vain. He insisted stubbornly, “We will see about all that later. I want to stay in the village for a few years. I don’t even want to touch the nagaswaram for a while.” That is how he left with Vanaja for Mundirisolai. They are there now.’

That was how Kandappa Pillai brought his story to an end for the second time. And yet I was not satisfied. I believed his account of Sivakozhundu’s unexpected loss of eyesight because I had witnessed similar unlikely events in my own life. But I simply could not find it credible that Vanaja had transformed herself into Manoranjitam convincingly enough to deceive Sivakozhundu. Was it possible to practice such deceit even on a blind man? Perhaps such deception could succeed before marriage, but was it possible to continue it afterwards?

‘So Sivakozhundu never found out that he had been tricked?’ I asked.

‘Swami! How many nights of sleeplessness do you think I endured because of just this thought? Will Tambi discover the truth? Will he fall into a rage? What will he do? I was never free from these fears. This fear and my love for the couple drew me often to Mundirisolai. I made it a point to visit them at least once in four months. But I was happy to see them leading a very happy life together.

‘Once, on such a visit, I saw Tambi’s instrument in the main room. I also saw a sruti box beside it. “Does Tambi play the nagaswaram now?” I asked. “Sometimes he plays at night. I accompany him on the drone,” Vanaja told me.

‘Fortunately I had my tavil with me. That night I insisted that he play the nagaswaram and I accompanied him on the tavil. What an experience that was! Swami, it was not music of this earth, but of the spheres. At times you choked, at times you wanted to laugh. Suddenly you were lifted somewhere high into the skies, and then plunged as if from the top of a mountain to the world below. Sometimes you felt you were swinging gently, and then you felt impelled to get up and dance in a frenzy. There were moments when I stopped playing the tavil and burst into cries of wonder.

‘When I realized that Tambi had started playing again, I began to go more frequently to Mundirisolai. As time passed, my fears diminished. I thought that he would never discover the truth after all this time.

‘Some three or four years after they had settled in Mundirisolai, on one of my visits, I absent-mindedly called my niece by her real name. I was panic-stricken.

‘“Vanaja? Who’s that, Mama!” Sivakozhundu asked.

‘“There’s no Vanaja here, I called out my niece’s name absent-mindedly. “

‘“Never mind, Mama! My wife is also your niece. If you like the sound of Vanaja, by all means call her by that name,” said he.

‘I thanked God for the respite.

‘That night Sivakozhundu played the nagaswaram as he usually did. When he played Sahana, I was so overwhelmed that I cried out the Lord’s name in ecstasy. When he finished I broke down. “Tambi! It is God who is blind. How could He gift you such genius and snatch your eyes away!”

‘That was when Sivakozhundu said with a smile, “Mama! Truly God did not snatch my eyes from me. In fact, he gave my eyes back to me. Didn’t I prefer another woman to Vanaja? Who could have been more blind?”

‘I was completely taken off my guard. “Tambi! What are you saying?” I said.

‘“Mama! You tried to trick me because I was blind. But it was I who deceived you. I knew her to be Vanaja on the very first day she came to the hospital,” he said.

‘Just then Vanaja joined us. From the smile on her face, I realized that she had colluded with him in this matter.

‘“Vanaja! Were you with him in this plot? Did you know that Tambi knew the truth even before you got married?”

‘“No, Mama! I knew it only the day after the wedding. But he made me promise that I wouldn’t tell you. It was his punishment for your trying to trick him.”

‘“So you two are together in this! I am the odd man out. What have I left to stay for? I’m leaving,” said I.

‘In reality, I was delighted. But I pretended to sulk. With great difficulty they reconciled me to the situation!

‘Once I got over my “anger”, I said, “Never mind, Tambi! But you said you recognized Vanaja from day one. How?”

‘Sivakozhundu’s answer stunned me utterly.

‘“If God takes one sense away, he sharpens another. Yes, Mama! I lost my eyes, but my ears grew very keen. As soon as I heard her bangles, I knew it was Vanaja. Besides, I knew for certain that Manoranjitam would never come. When I was breaking my oath at the Central Station, I heard her drunken laughter in the next room. I was disgusted. Would such a woman come to see me? Certainly not. The real surprise was that you tried to trick me with such a big lie. I guessed the reason for it. You mistook for passion the disgust which made me babble on and on about Manoranjitam. Any doubts I had vanished when Vanaja sang ‘Padamudiyadini tuyaram’.

‘“Mama! You call yourself a connoisseur? How could you not discern the difference between the tone of the actress and that of your niece? True, the ragam, voice and melodic embellishments were just the same. But there was no soul in Manoranjitam’s singing. It was all crooning from the throat. But your niece sang from the depths of her heart. And you couldn’t tell the difference!”

‘Well, that is how my nephew and niece made a fool of me. But I was not unhappy. I felt a burden slip away from my heart. I wanted the young people to be happy. What have I to worry about? This is the age for cultivating detachment. I have experienced the joys and sorrows of life. I have even felt the celestial bliss of Tambi’s music. I am ready to leave when the Lord calls me…’

The train came to a halt at Vizhupuram Station. Kandappa Pillai’s chokra boy got down from another compartment and came to take his unrolled bed and trunk. Patting the tavil once, Kandappa Pillai picked it up himself and got down. ‘Goodbye, Ayya! I will see you when I come into the city,’ he said and went his way.

I couldn’t sleep for the rest of that night. I pondered over the amazing events narrated by Ivampettai Kandappan. Were they true? Or figments of Kandappa Pillai’s imagination? I must enquire more into the matter when I see him next and find out the truth.

Well, whether truth or fiction, in one way the story made me feel content. For, unlike my own stories, which end in grief, hadn’t he concluded his with the auspicious ‘They lived happily ever after’?


Copyright 2012 Gowri Ramnarayan