Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Sruti App launch a colourful event

By Samudri

A packed auditorium greeted the speakers and performers at the launch of the Sruti App on 15th March at Rukmini Arangam, Kalakshetra, Tiruvanmiyur. 

Off to a cheerful start through a group presentation by the young students of Bharatnatyam guru Roja Kannan, the proceedings of the evening included a welcome speech by V Ramnarayan, editor-in-chief, Sruti, and a presidential address by filmmaker and cinematographer Rajiv Menon, who formally launched the App. 

Sruti Foundation Trustee Sukanya Sankar made a presentation highlighting the key features of the App. Sand artist Rahul Arya thrilled the audience with a brilliant display tracing the story of Sruti magazine. The principal entertainment for the evening was in the form of Yashodhara, a dance theatre performance by JustUs Repertory, featuring Mythili Prakash (dance), Amritha Murali (vocal) and Gowri Ramnarayan (script, direction, music and narration).

Two music concerts were staged on Sunday, 16 March—the first a Hindustani music recital by Anupama Bhagwat (sitar) accompanied by Rahul Pophali (tabla), and the second a Carnatic vocal cutcheri by Sikkil Gurucharan, accompanied by V Sanjeev (violin), Umayalpuram K Sivaraman (mridangam) and B Shree Sundarkumar (khanjira). Sruti executive editor S Janaki compered the event on both days.

A new website

Vocalist Sikkil Gurucharan, violinist V Sanjeev and mridanga vidwan Patri Satishkumar are launching a website www.sraavyam.com, which aims to create a transparent forum for registered artistes to sell their musical content. 

According to the musicians behind the venture, "It will be a small step to ensure responsible sharing of musical content between the musicians and their audiences all over the world. "

Visit Gallery for more photos.

Yogesh Samsi: In perfect rhythm

By Shuchita Rao

“The most intense and beautiful aspect of rhythm can be experienced when you are in perfect rhythm with yourself”– Pandit Yogesh Samsi

Son of the renowned Gwalior/Agra gharana vocalist and composer,the late Dinkar Kaikini, tabla maestro Yogesh Samsi sports no rock star image. The soft-spoken, bespectacled artist still wins crowds over with his solid knowledge, talent and commitment to the art of playing the tabla. Adept at giving tabla solos as well as in accompanying top-notch Hindustani musicians, Samsi has among his many accomplishments the distinction of having performed a jugalbandi alongside the celebrated Zakir Hussain.

Starting his journey at the tender age of four with tabla lessons from Taranath Rao, Yogesh Samsi went on to become a ganda-bandh shagird or disciple of the eminent Alla Rakha Khan, the doyen of the Punjab gharana. Having spent over two decades under his guidance, the talented and soft spoken young maestro carries forward the precious legacy handed to him—with quiet determination and an unwavering sense of purpose.

During a recent concert tour of the USA, Yogesh Samsi enthralled audiences with a tabla solo as well as with supportive accompaniment provided to his older sister, the well-known vocalist Aditi Upadhyay at a baithak concert organised by the Learn Quest Academy in Boston, Massachusetts.

He spoke to Sruti’s USA correspondent, Shuchita Rao, after the concert.

You grew up in a home of reputed Hindustani vocalists. When and how did you decide to pursue a career as a tabla artist?

My late father, Pandit Dinkar Kaikini, initiated me into music, specifically into playing the tabla. As a young child, I learned from Ustad Alla Rakha Khan along with many other students.  At that time, the thought of taking tabla as a full time career did not cross my mind. I concentrated on learning to play the tabla, to practise and to accompany my father at home. I also started getting opportunities to accompany the renowned vocalist, Pandit K. G. Gindeji and that led to requests from other musicians for tabla accompaniment. Perhaps, the conscious decision to pursue a career as a table artist came when I was around 21 years of age. It was then that a voice from within told me that I would not be happy doing anything else but devoting my time to playing the table on a full-time basis.

For over several centuries, tabla players have been expected to play a somewhat subdued role when it comes to accompanying main performers. Would you say that this holds true even in the present times?

Traditional classical music has not changed much over the years. However different performers have different musical temperaments. A standard style of accompaniment does not work with every performing musician. A tabla player needs to observe the strengths of the vocalist/instrumentalist, gauge his/her temperament and adapt to his/her style. Sensitivity is all about understanding the music that you are accompanying and trying to be a supportive partner rather than projecting yourself as a soloist at every available opportunity.

One does get to hear tabla solos sometimes, even though it is still an instrument for providing accompaniment. Do you prefer accompanying on the tabla to tabla solos?

I love doing both. They are two separate art forms and have their unique beauties and challenges. As I said before, providing sangat or accompaniment demands stepping back a little, being patient, observing, analysing and supporting the main performer’s style and then mouldingyourself to the demands of the situation. The great tabla maestro Pandit Samta Prasad used to say “Sangataisikalaahaikiitnisaaricheezein bajaane ki ichchaa hoti hai pur dil pe patthar rakh ke chalna padtaa hai” (Accompaniment is such an art – even though you feel like playing so many different things, you must walk the road by placing a stone on your heart’s desire). You need to sacrifice personal desire in favour of the larger good. You must not feel bad but consciously develop generosity of spirit while making such a sacrifice. Having said that, at the end of the day, there are far more opportunities for accompanying musicians than there are for tabla solos. Lately, trends are changing and tabla solos have slowly been gaining popularity in India and many other parts of the world.  The subject of tabla solo performance is deep and profound and as people are gradually becoming aware of its potential, they are requesting for tabla solo performances.

How would you describe your personality?

I am most definitely not a movie, dinner, party type of person. I like the social life but prefer being left alone, thinking about my music and practising for the majority of the time. I enjoy engaging with my family and teaching the art of playing tabla to my students (including my older son Shravan who loves to play the tabla.) When I see my students perform, I see a reflection of my interest being carried forward and that makes me happy.

We come across players who experiment with instruments other than the tabla, such as western drums. Some even make varied sounds with the mouth and tongue to provide rhythm. Have you ever felt the urge to explore other mediums of percussion?

Certain genres of music actually sound better with instruments other than the tabla. For instance, Bhajan/Keertan sounds wonderful with Pakhawaj and Laavani sounds best with Dholki accompaniment.I did study the pakhawaj style of playing from my Ustad. It is an extremely demanding style and requires a lot of sustained practice. Since the study of tabla engulfed me completely and I was so immersed in it, I never felt a serious urge to explore a different percussion instrument. I enjoy listening to other percussion instruments but given my interest, talent and progress with tabla, I derive complete satisfaction from a study of the table instrument.

As a performer, there may be ample times when you get high praise and accolades for your success at concerts. At other times, there may be a complete lull in activity or a quiet period. How do you balance the ups and downs of a life as a performer?

My philosophy is that as long as you are fully immersed in the study of any subject, it does not matter whether you get to perform or don’t. When I am not performing, I prefer to sit back and work on the finer aspects of my art form by just thinking deeply about the subject. I am working towards two important goals. One is to revive the Punjab gharana – a tradition that was partitioned off to Pakistan post-independence. There is no competent representation of the Punjab gharana in Pakistan today. I interact with intellectuals and research into what the Punjab gharana may have been 100-150 years ago. I want to restore and revive the tradition to what it was in its yester-years. The other desire is to nurture and nourish our next generation of tabla players and take them forward to a level where they can contribute to the gharaana. If I can do that, I feel that I will make my Ustad’s soul happy.

What do you feel has been your main contribution to the world of percussion?

I am really not the one to answer this. The world will give you the answer to this question. I perform and also teach actively in India, the UK and the USA, South Africa and Japan. Right now, I am working on structuring a syllabus for tabla students born and raised in foreign countries like the UK and USA. They need a different approach from what I normally use with students in India. In India, if a student walked into my door with a desire to learn tabla, I would listen to him play for a little bit, get his pulse and decide what to teach him right on the spot. In foreign countries, young talent does not have the needed exposure to the art of tabla playing. They need a structured syllabus and they need to be slowly eased into the practice. I design small modules of instruction for laya/taal exercises, for listening, playing and for padhant, which is recitation. The accents and phonetics for instance, often need fine tuning and adjustment. Teaching gives me great satisfaction and I am proud to say that many of my students are playing at the professional level.

Finally, what to you is the essence of rhythm?

Rhythm has many expressions. When I perform, I paint landscapes of rhythm around me. To express yourself in the best possible manner, you need to experience your own rhythm.  Finding that rhythm is important not just for a musician but for every individual. I strive to find a balance by connecting to my internal rhythm, that which resides inside me (as in the rhythm of thoughts and ideas and saadhana) with the rhythm of the external world.  Discovering this balance gives me inner strength and makes me feel ONE within. This is the essence of rhythm and this is what I learned from my father, and my Ustad.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Brilliant konnakol duet (part II)

By B.S. Purushotham

I wanted to present something ‘novel’ to the Chennai audience, a rare example of laya vinyasam, so I organised a konnakol duet as the second part of the programme on 25 December 2013 at Raga Sudha hall, following the earlier percussion duet by Anantha R. Krishnan and Shreesundar Kumar. The idea was to give a dying art form a well-deserved boost.

The duet was by B.R. Somasekhar Jois and R. Karthik, both from Bangalore. This was their very first performance in Chennai and the only konnakol duet programme in the December season.

They both started with patterns of ta, dhi, tom, nam, the very first lessons in mridangam or any other Carnatic percussion instrument. Then Somasekhar Jois in his first round started reciting the chaturasra solkattus in different speeds. The most interesting patterns emerged now, for example the gumkis in mridangam, khanjira and ghatam, which Jois recited in considerable variety.

The chapu tones of the mridangam, which sound like plam, plam that Somasekhar recited made listening to this unique konnakol more interesting.

In his round, R. Karthik recited with amazing clarity and the duo complemented each other so well.

The rendering of words like Hari, Om, Harisankara, and Harikitataka, and later a sloka in Sanskrit on Ganesa and from there going into khanda nadai [5] added excitement to the whole recital.

After an exchange of short and crisp ideas in kuraippu, both vidwans came together for the crescendo, which was like a magical garland of rhythmic beauty. It is not at all easy to recite konnakol for 40 to 45 minutes, but the musicians came up with a new concept in each and every round.

We rarely listen to this great form in exclusive demonstrations. Before a percussionist learns to play his instrument, he is first taught sollu or nadai or other percussive patterns orally, which forms the basics of konnakol. But why then is this art form not taken up seriously and not given its due?

Apart from the great vidwan Trichy Thayumanavan, there are very few today to explore konnakol. Many artists must come forward to recite konnakol, especially in talavadya concerts. In fact, going a step further, I suggest that percussionists recite one or two rounds of konnakol during their tani in each concert. The audience, thus acquainted with the percussive language, can enjoy the tani even more. Perhaps fewer listeners will get up and leave the auditorium during the tani avartanam!

As Chitravina N. Ravikiran said at the end of the concert, Somasekhar Jois and Karthik have made a sincere effort to study the dynamics of south Indian percussion instruments and showcase that learning in their konnakol recitals. I am confident that they will very soon be seen all over Chennai and also at many music festivals elsewhere, taking this art form everywhere, bringing the konnakol back to the limelight.

(The author is a well known khanjira artist)

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Niranjana Srinivasan

Young voices
(Conversations with emerging artists)

By Sushma Somasekharan

Niranjana Srinivasan hails from the revered D.K. Pattammal school of music. Her parents initiated her into Carnatic music at the age of ten. What started as a chore eventually turned out into the passion of her life, and she is now a full-time musician. She attributes this magical turn of events in her life to her current guru Lalita Sivakumar. Her guru is the daughter of the late Palghat Mani Iyer and daughter-in-law of the late D.K. Pattammal. Niranjana recently spoke to Sruti.

Tell us about your musical journey with Lalita Sivakumar.

My earliest recollection of feeling really fascinated by Carnatic music was when I was listening to Nithya Akka (noted vocalist Nithyashree Mahadevan). Her music inspired me so much that I decided then that I would learn music only from her or her guru. With the support and encouragement of my family, I started my tutelage under Nithya Akka’s mother and my current guru Lalita Sivakumar.

I recall that Sivakumar Mama was apprehensive about mami taking me under her wing. He expressed concern that I had a long way to go and this would not be an easy journey. As he rightly pointed out, it was a difficult journey, both literally and metaphorically. My mother and I used to travel to Chennai by train every weekend and during all my holidays to learn from Mami. I also had trouble adapting to Mami’s pathantara as it is one that requires strenuous effort and ardent practice.

It is Mami’s affection and encouragement that completely transformed me into the musician I am today. She would ask me to enter all the competitions that the various sabhas conducted. It helped me believe in myself as a capable musician.

What made you want to pursue a master’s in music?

Upon completion of my under-graduate studies in Commerce, I realised that I would need to dedicate a full day’s worth of time to practise and listen to music if I wanted to reach a concert performing level. It also did not seem feasible to travel every weekend. That prompted me to take up music in university, as I knew the theory would help enhance my practical knowledge. I was very fortunate to have Dr. M.A. Bhageerathi (Head of the Department of Music, Queen Mary’s College) as my Ph.D mentor. She is a walking music encyclopaedia.

I have always admired Muthuswami Dikshitar’s kritis. His kritis are very technical, and it is no walk in the park to learn and perform them. Therefore, I decided to take up that challenge. My thesis was in Gaulantya ragas with special reference to the Neelotpalambal vibhakti kritis of Muthuswami Dikshitar.

The process of getting through my doctorate was an arduous journey. It involved reading many books on musicology, identifying all the Gaulantya ragas which are rarely showcased in today’s concert platforms, visiting the Tiruvarur temple. Through this I gained so much theoretical experience that expresses the composer’s intention and bhava through notation.

How important do you think it is for music learners to attend lecdem sessions?

I have been a part of many lecdem sessions conducted by Dr. Bhageerathi. Based on my personal experience, I think it is important for music learners and students to attend lecdems to gain the best knowledge on a particular topic. Many a time, we overlook some musical aspects without realising their importance. These sessions help give those aspects context, thereby enabling the listener to incorporate that into his or her music — for example why composers have chosen vilamba kala for their kritis or how holding a specific swara a certain way can bring out the raga lakshana immediately.

Do you teach music? How has teaching improved your music?

Yes I do, I have a few students now. Teaching definitely improves one’s performance. Everytime I teach a kriti, even if it is one that I have performed several times before, I discover a new element which I would not have noticed before. Moreover, I believe teaching has helped me in sruti alignment. I can now hold notes without falling flat or going sharp.I enjoy teaching as it brings me memories of my classes with Mami. I recall all the funny anecdotes that transpired when I learnt a particular kriti from Mami.

What are some of the practice routines that you suggest for your students?

Sadhakam involves aspects like
  • generic practice of the old songs which one would have learnt
  • learning a new kriti or varnam or even
  • listening to a ragam or neraval performed by someone else
Apart from that, one should also do akaara practice on a regular basis. Akaaram involves practising janta varisai, alankarams and daattu varisais in different ragas. Any raga with the same ascending and descending scales can be used for akaara practice. These practices help you improve your grip on the swarasthanas.

Varnams can be practised in akaaram. This improves breath control and helps you to transit effortlessly from one swara to another. In my opinion, these practices are essential. Even the most gifted voice needs to be honed by sadhakam.

What is your fondest memory of D.K. Pattammal?

Pattammal Paati was already old when I started learning from Mami. Paati always sat out on the porch in the evenings and I saw her whenever I had classes in the evenings. My fondest memory with Paati was when Mami asked me to sing a song for her. I sang Manasa etulo and thought to myself how fortunate I must be to have this opportunity. She blessed me and told me that I had a good voice and that I would reach great heights with more learning and practice.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Boston Dheem

By Karishma B. Desai

© Photos by : Nirupama V.
With Indian classical dance seeming to lose its appeal amongst mainstream generations on a global scale, there has been a rather recent and revolutionary movement to revive the dance style in the most unexpected of places – US university campuses. College campuses all over the US are emerging with competitive classical Indian dance teams that typically focus on Bharatanatyam, yet fuse elements from all Classical Indian dance styles.

One such team that pioneered the first inter-collegiate classical Indian dance competition in the US East Coast – named Laasya – with the help of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Natya, was Boston University Dheem in 2010. Since then, other annually-held competitions and showcases have evolved as a way for college-based teams to meet and help preserve fading traditions. Today, BU Dheem continues to attend competitions and even produces its own semi-annual dance concerts. At University of Maryland-College Park’s 2013 competition, BU Dheem placed second for its piece portraying the story of the Narasimha avatar and Prahlada’s unassuming devotion. 

Much like the spirit of Boston, the ladies of BU Dheem are always up for a challenge. They decided to take a completely different direction by portraying the Greek myth of Pandora’s Box during their recent annual fall show titled Mahila. Pandora’s Box is the story that helps explain how the world’s troubles started from a damsel named Pandora who opened a box full of “evils”, disobeying commands given otherwise from Zeus (the Greek King of Gods).

While the very attempt to portray such a dark yet realistic theme carries high risk, BU Dheem captain Samantha Venkatesh said this about the team’s unique storyline: “Our main goal in enacting this piece in particular was to bridge the gap between the east and the west by depicting the universality of emotions. The emotions associated with the story could still be understood and appreciated through Indian classical dance.” More than just desiring to portray such an abhinaya-intensive piece with a refreshing twist, Venkatesh elaborated that she wanted “audience members to glean the moral of the story, an ubiquitous human sentiment – that even in the darkest of times, hope would always act as a beacon of light.” 

However, while teams like BU Dheem are multiplying in areas outside of the East Coast and continue to adapt with contemporary themes there is still a noticeable and detrimental difference between the appreciation of classical Indian dance teams versus and enthusiasm for fusion and Bollywood-based teams. While the team keeps close relationships with its fusion Indian dance team counterparts on BU’s campus, its members admit that it is harder, in turn, to receive the same sort of support from the general student body on campus. BU Dheem President Aisha Rawji reasoned, “Indian classical dance is really rare and has more meaning behind it. So it is harder for people to really understand what we’re doing.”

Nevertheless, NRIs have to be willing to embrace their authentic cultural roots and value India’s rich artistic history, apart from Bollywood movies and chai lattes. BU Dheem wants all of India’s various facets to be promoted whether it be Bollywood, Bhangra, or Bharatanatyam, but most important, wants to be that voice for classical Indian dance, so that NRIs can know the true roots of our culture and create awareness among other communities.

As I have been a fresh transplant from Raleigh, North Carolina, myself, joining the team not only was a way for me to meet other students studying in Boston, but helped me connect with fellow dancers passionate about Bharatanatyam. Even for the Boston locals on BU Dheem, dancing with the classical Indian-based team is a way to also form that special bond from rigorous rehearsals to performing under the stage lights. Agreeing with my own sentiments, Emily Ghosh, a returning teammate cited that she liked “being in a community of other Indian girls with the same interest and love of dance while educating the public about the beauty of Indian classical dance.” Fellow newcomer, Pooja Kalapurakkel added, “Working on a team helps you to understand that people are not that different from each other – as dancers, we all want to perform well, and as Indian classical dancers, we want to become the characters that we are playing.”

While Boston is renowned as a hub for the arts, especially that of the prestigious Boston Ballet, it seems teams such as BU Dheem are putting Boston on the map for Bharatanatyam as well. BU Dheem includes Aisha Rawji, Samantha Venkatesh, Emily Ghosh, Shruthi Rengarajan, Karishma Desai, and Pooja Kalapurakkel and hopes to grow and generate interest, as well as increase awareness. Those who know dancers or dance connoisseurs in the Boston-area, are invited to spread the word and to “like” the team’s Facebook page. Like the resonant sound of their dancing bells, these Bharatnatyam-dancing belles are not fading out anytime soon and hope to revive the classical grace of the art form, all while promoting contemporary-based issues and stories to audiences all over America.

(A newly auditioned member of BU Dheem who takes graduate classes in Scientific Journalism)

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

A dance odyssey at a gurukul

By Violaine Bhawana

It is wonderful to meet people who see the best in you and want you to achieve it. They believe in you when you yourself don’t. In order to help access the best in us, we need someone demanding, uncompromising and compassionate. I guess that is what a guru means to me. And that is exactly what I found in our teacher Ramaa Bharadvaj.

What led me to her was an interesting announcement on the web about a week-long dance intensive with the theme ‘Abhinaya & Improvisation’. It was to be held from 15 to 21 December 2013 at Chinmaya Naada Bindu (CNB), an arts ashram/gurukul in Kolwan village near Pune in India.

My journey began on a Sunday morning in December. “We are supposed to meet for tea before heading for the temple” – that is all the information I managed to get from my roommate who could not speak English but who was kind enough to wait for me to arrive in the middle of the night.

Morning dawned and it was cold. After many years in Chennai’s impossible mixture of heat, humidity and pollution, the crisp mountain air, wide-open spaces and the abundant greenery at the ashram had a purifying effect on me. I met our teacher whom we aptly named Ramaa Amma, and the other members of the dance group who were to become a wonderful team of co-explorers in the journey ahead. Our group of ten consisted of dancers from the U.S.A., Tamil Nadu (Chennai), Gujarat, Karnataka, Andhra, Mumbai and New Delhi.

We trekked up the hill to the splendid Ganesa temple, to offer prayers for the auspicious start of a week that was fittingly qualified as “intense”. Under the guidance of our expert teacher we were about to embark on a colourful exploration of new dimensions in dance, movement and meditation.

The whole group jelled really well and I was relieved that my French-alien-ness did not come in the way. Whether a foreigner can do justice to an Indian art form is a question that unfailingly pops up. At the gurukul the reaction I got was support and not suspicion. From the kitchen staff to the administrators, teachers and fellow students, I time and again saw only dedicated people, friendly, helpful and supportive.

Learning is fun

‘Learning is fun’ is what the Natya Sastra says, and one of the first things that Ramaa pointed out to us. The modern concept of ‘edutainment’ has ancient roots and that is probably one of the things that impressed me the most: learning is the ultimate fun! The impromptu dance steps performed in the dining hall and the reaction they triggered was one of the many illustrations. After watching the video discourses of Swami Chinmayananda and Swami Tejomayananda, and the non-stop laughter they generated in the audience, I realised that laughing is almost the most powerful tool in the learning and creative process. Our teacher Ramaa’s classes too followed suit. I found that diving into something as obscure as the Vedas or the traditional art forms can be fun.

It was seven hours of dancing a day! Each class commenced with prayers and slokas, and somewhere in the background, there was always music to inspire us, thanks to the music students. Every moment was precious in Ramaa’s classes. She constantly reminded us not to take anything she said for granted but to always experiment for ourselves, because only what is validated by personal experience can eventually make sense. She urged us not to fake or be apologetic about ourselves, and if there was something we disagreed with or could not understand, to speak up loud and clear. She advised us never to be satisfied with the comfort zone of our muscle memory but to reach beyond movements and expressions that have become mechanical instead of seeming natural. She asked us to use the body in a very different way, be more aware, more in control and at the same time more free. Expression is not limited to gesturing. How articulate we are with words will reflect in other mediums of communication – emotions, movements, even silence. Thus we learnt the art of developing what she called “micro-dialogues”. There were so many interesting explorative exercises for us to experience.

Ramaa involved us in the creative process, showing us how a choreographer’s mind works. We were asked to comment on the performances of our classmates with positive feedback (yes, criticism can be positive). The creation of the dance to the Tamil song (a padam about tender love) was, from beginning to end, a collaborative effort. At no point in time were we told to copy and paste what we were taught. And understanding what is relevant from what is not (viveka) was one of the many challenges that she threw at us.

Ramaa told us many things about the physical body connected to the ground, the emotional body connected to the heart, and the spiritual body connected to the head and above. She gave us insights into the dynamics of energy, the intricacies of rhythm, Sanskrit texts, Tamil lyrics and much more. What she proposed was a multi-dimensional exploration of dance that is not limited to dance alone, and to my knowledge (and unfortunately, I can say I have come through a long list of dance teachers in Chennai) a unique experience in the field of Bharatanatyam. For all the participants it was a life-transforming experience, way beyond the scope of learning dance.

In addition to dancing, we revelled in music meditation mornings, watched screenings of other dancers, video documented our own experiences on abhinaya, danced in the waters at the private lake, performed Arudra Darsanam worship to Nataraja in class and attended guest lectures and concerts. We enjoyed a live performance by our teachers, lit by candles and filled with reverence for the artists who have made their art a tool to reach divine dimensions. Indeed, a world away from the ego-trip of stage performers looking for name and fame. A rarity, to say the least. The best environment, some of the best teachers: clearly, the focus was on quality. I believe being creative is what brings us closer to the Creator and this experience did much to awaken our creative selves.

It was humbling and inspiring to meet my teacher Ramaa Bharadvaj, the staff of Chinmaya Naada Bindu, and my classmates. Chinmaya Naada Bindu is dedicated to fostering classical music and dance forms of India through education, research and performance. Established as a project of the Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, it is inspired by the vision to propagate India’s Vedic heritage through the performing arts. CNB regularly conducts residential workshops and intensives in Hindustani vocal, flute and Bharatanatyam, in addition to presenting an annual performing arts festival.

The week I spent at the gurukul was an odyssey, and a landmark in a learning process that has no end but offers an endless exploration, new dimensions that are ours for the taking. Words fail me, but the blessings I received from this experience will live in me for a long time.

Violaine Bhawana hails from France but has made Chennai her home since 2009, learning Bharatanatyam, Carnatic vocal music, Yoga and Sanskrit. She is a dance teacher volunteering with slum children through Speed Trust Chennai.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Raga Dhana silver jubilee in Udupi

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.

Monday, 3 March 2014

The relaxing effect of a four-hour concert

By TT Narendran

One of the trappings of the modern age has been the undue pressure on an individual’s time; even the relaxation we seek has to be bound by the clock. Old-timers go nostalgic over the Sunday concerts of yesteryear that commenced at 4-15 or 4-25 p.m. (for a well-known superstitious reason) and spanned four hours, presenting Carnatic music in all its grandeur; they loathe the capsule form of the present day.

Sarvani Sangeetha Sabha’s venture to organize an old-style four-hour concert on a Sunday (26 February), when even driving through the roads of Chennai gives you a feeling of visranti, was laudable. Organizers would normally have to worry both about sustaining the interest of the audience and the stamina of the performing artist to last such a duration.

Neither of the fears surfaced at a recent concert by young Rithvik Raja, who was able to retain the moderate turnout at the Tattvaloka auditorium in Chennai. An artist who has managed to bring forth the promise he showed a year ago, Rithvik has matured remarkably as a vocalist in recent times. He used this occasion to render a few of the grand compositions of the Trinity with aplomb. The concert had a simple beginning with the Adi tala varnam(Chalamela) in Natakurinji. Thereafter, he kept a small element of surprise within the conventional format of a concert. Todi (Rajuvedala, Tyagaraja) was the first raga to be essayed with swaras embellishing the charana line Kaveridheeramuna. A short alapana of Sri prefaced Tyagaraja’s pancharatna kriti, Endaromahanubhavulu. His grasp of the raga was evident in the manner in which he placed the gandhara, steering clear of other allied ragas in this region of the octave. His voice glowed in the bass register and the kriti was rendered with the intended effect of the composer to the sensitive percussion accompaniment of J Vaidhyanathan (mridangam), Anirudh Athreya (khanjira) and G Chandrasekhara Sarma (ghatam). They took turns to play for the different charanas and steered clear of drowning the voice amidst a rhythmic ensemble.

Gowla was chosen for elaboration and Dikshitar’s Tyagarajapalayasumam was rendered at a pace that created the mood for peace, serenity and relaxation. Rithvik was comfortable in elaborating the raga that is not commonly chosen for this mode of improvisation. The niraval embellishment showcased his vidwat and the trademark of his guru TM Krishna’s earlier genre of concert-music. Aligning with the “pace and spin” formula of concert music, he sang Mariveredikku (Shanmukhapriya, Patnam Subramania Iyer) at a brisk pace and embellished it with swaras. He went on to sing an alapana of Yadukulakambhoji which appears to be a favourite raga of his and rendered Syama Sastry’s swarajati (Kamakshi), emulating his guru and doing him proud, too. The baton passed on to the percussion wing for the tani avartanam, which continued in the same sombre mood, yet managing to tie down most of the break-seekers to their seats!

When Rithvik resumed after the session for percussion, his voice began to sound better than before providing a lot of saukhyam when he sang Intasaukhyamanine (Kapi, Tyagaraja). A quick Bhogeendrasayinam (Kuntalavarali, Swati Tirunal) preceded the Ragam, Tanam and Pallavi in Poorvikalyani. The professionally competent execution of this centrepiece with the repetition of the pallavi in various speeds and gaits and some pleasing ragamalika swaras could simply not capture the magic created by the evocative music in the first half of the concert. 

The last phase had a portion of the dhyanasloka that precedes the Vishnu Sahasranamam. Rithvik’s aesthetic sense was evident in the ragas he chose for the viruttam. He concluded with a song in Jaunpuri (Sapasyat Kausalya) and a less-heard mangalam. Nagai Sriram provided good support on the violin. He has good control over the bow and over laya. While these are assets for an accompanying violinist, there did appear a difference in the styles and in the approaches to elaboration of ragas between the vocalist and the violinist.

To the credit of the artists, it must be said that none of them showed any sign of fatigue, nor did they let the audience feel so. It was an enjoyable experience, a luxury that may not be possible during the mad rush of the season or on a working day.

Considering that Carnatic music is largely an entertainment for the geriatric population to go by the general audience in concerts, will it be a good idea to have a break after two hours or is such an interval still taboo for our rasikas and musicians?

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Vyjayantimala honoured with Lifetime Achievement Award

By Sruti

Veteran Bharatanatyam exponent and famous actor Vyjayantimala Bali was conferred the 4th Guru Gandadhar Pradhan Lifetime Achievement Award on the concluding evening of the 29th annual Konark Dance and Music Festival 2014. The award, instituted in memory of late Odissi exponent and guru Gangadhar Pradhan by Konark Natya Mandap, carries a plaque, a citation, a shawl and a cash of one lakh rupees. The memento is a stylised image of Guru Gangadhar Pradhan (founder of the Konark festival). Gajapati Maharaja Dibyasingha Deb, the King of Puri, presented the award to Vyjayantimala Bali. Ashok Kumar Tripathy, IAS, DG-Training Coordination, also felicitated the eminent awardee. Vyjayantimala spoke in Odia, Hindi and English and floored the crowd of connoisseurs, tourists and local villagers.

Odissi Guru Gangadhar Pradhan launched the festival in 1986. Over the years, the Konark festival has gained a unique identity by featuring eminent artists of national and international repute belonging to classical, folk and tribal genres. The enchanting stage of the Natyashala at the Konark Sun Temple, and the natural ambience of cashew and casuarinas trees add a natural touch to the architectural marvel. The festival is held every year from 19th to 23rd February.

The award is presented every year to an artist of national and international repute who has played the role of a cultural ambassador for Indian classical and traditional arts. The awardees are chosen not only for their dedication and achievement, but also for their active participation and contribution in propagating and uplifting the art.