Saturday, 31 January 2015

A Workshop on the Mohamana Varnam

Paramparai Foundation will take a small group of dancers, teachers and students of dance to Tirupugalur, a village in Tiruvarur district.  Over ten days in March/April they will explore the dance text, its choreography and especially the world from where this famous the padavarnam emerged. 

Tiruvarur town, the Kamalalaya temple tank and huge chariot, the many shrines in the Tyagarajaswami temple, its daily and festival worship - form living sources for abhinaya. In performance, dancers evoke these images for the audience.  To see and walk through such manodharma in real time and real space would provide an unique experience and inspiration.

This experiment, curated by Saskia Kersenboom, attempts to contextualise the traditional dance repertoire in today’s continuous past. It will draw on related works in poetry, painting, sculpture, music and dance that are seen today in urban venues as well as in temple ritual.  Fieldwork will lead to six  other Tyagaraja shrines in Tiruvarur district. They form part of local legends on the Tyagaraja cult. During the Pankuni Uttiram festival, Lord Tyagaraja dances his famous ’Ajapa Natanam’. That night he celebrates his reunion with goddess Kamalambika, offering darsan of his left foot: his ‘sakti pada’.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Shekhar Sen is new Chairman of Sangeet Natak Akademi

By S. Janaki
Shekhar Sen has been appointed Chairman of the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi (SNA) for a term of five years. Fifty three-year old Sen (b. 16 February 1961) hails from a musical Bengali family settled in Raipur, Chhattisgarh. He is an accomplished singer, music composer, lyricist and actor.

He moved to Mumbai and started his career as a music composer. He subsequently started writing and composing devotional music. He has written, composed and rendered many bhajan albums. As a playwright, he has created and presented several mono-act musicals like Tulsi, Kabeer, Vivekanand, Sanmati, Saahab and Soordas. He has done considerable research on historical and literary themes and produced musicals like Dushyant ne Kaha tha, Madhya Yugeen Kavya, Pakistan ka Hindi Kavya, Meera se Mahadevi tak.

Sen has performed to wide acclaim in India and abroad. He has presented his musicals in the U.S.A., the U.K., Belgium, Singapore, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Surinam, South Africa, UAE, Mauritius and Trinidad. His mono-acting musicals – Kabeer which he performed in the Lok Sabha in May 2005, Vivekanand at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in April 2013, and Soordas premiered at NCPA, Mumbai in June 2013, were well appreciated.

He served as expert committee member of the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Govt. of India for two years, and as member of the Central Board of Film Certification for four years. Sen has also dabbled in colours and his traditional yet modern paintings stand out for their vibrant flat tones.

Among the many honours conferred on him, are the Padma Shri from the Government of India (2015), the V. Shantaram Samman by the Maharashtra Rajya Hindi Sahitya Academy (2008) and the Safdar Hashmi Puraskar by the State Sangeet Natak Academy of Uttar Pradesh (2001).

For more information visit:

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Thursday, 29 January 2015

A sammelan to savour

By Sakuntala Narasimhan

Move over, Chennai. Your place as a hub for an annual music extravaganza is likely to be  usurped  by  Kolkata, where the ITC Sangeet Research Academy’s annual   sammelan in December   2014 set  benchmarks that other organisers could aim for.

First, the highlights of the sammelan (5th to 7th, December 2014) before I make my points about lessons that can be learned (by performers as well as organisers). All three days of the sammelan were all night sessions, beginning in the evening  around 6 and going on till 7 AM or beyond. (On the last day, the sessions began even earlier, around 3 pm, in order to accommodate an extra session on dhrupad that was not originally in the schedule). The  sizeable audience sat through it all, despite the wintry weather and the open air shamiana, every day, all night, till well past daybreak.

This SRA annual sammelan is anticipated by music aficionados and genuine rasikas, we are told, because of the quality fare that SRA promises, the selection of the performers  not on the basis of their “crowd pulling” reputations but for their musical abilities, and the extra transport arrangements at the end of each session in the early hours, to cover multiple destinations, but more than anything else, the quality of the music.

This year’s sammelan focused on SRA’s younger generation of scholar-trainees, selected by a panel to receive scholarships for intensive training under leading gurus. These gurus--each with an enviable reputation as an eminent performer-teacher--are provided with bungalows  on campus, with freedom to fashion their  one-on-one teaching regimen to suit individual apprentices. The emphasis is on classicism, and  the scholars who  had a platform to showcase their  guru’s training and their  own talent, made full use of the opportunity to establish themselves as soon-to-be leading lights on the concert stage. In fact, some of them were so good that they could qualify for ustad status right away.

The opening item  was a display of rhythmic competence by tabla scholars, of whom  the youngest was five years old; most of the group of 13 (including one girl) were not yet ten. Instead of having the conventional lehra (melody repeated on a stringed  instrument, to keep track of the tala cycles while the tabla improvises) guru Samar Saha used  a tabla tarang  by the kids themselves, providing a melodic  reference cycle  (using tablas tuned to different notes) while individual participants took off on improvised rhythmic variations.  This was a novel experiment. Some of the tiny tot tabalchis were barely visible over the top of the tablas they were handling – but their  talent was astounding . This was a tribute to the calibre of teaching as well as the rigorous process of  choosing scholars with innate talent and  unmistakable promise. Some of these kids will soon join the likes of Zakir Hussain as popular  icons of percussion, I am sure.

The vocalist and instrumentalist scholars took over next and each one of them was an ustad-in-the-making. There was no playing to the gallery – every young scholar performed with the finesse, poise, and confidence of a veteran, showcasing the training of the  gurus. Given one hour each, they did full credit to their apprenticeship and their own musical capabilities. Young vocalist Arshad Ali Khan, with his  astounding, super fast taans, promises to be another Rashid Khan,  today’s  leading  Hindustani vocalist with an international following (Rashid was himself inducted as a scholar  at SRA at age 11, for gurukul apprenticeship under Ustad Nissar Hussain Khan of the Rampur gharana, the legendary “tarana samrat” who passed away in 1996 after 17 years as a guru at ITC-SRA. Rashid  lived  with the guru, and imbibed  the finer  points of the gharana before acquiring a reputation as the youngest ustad of all time)

The sarod and sarangi have very few exponents today among the younger generation (especially the sarangi, which is a difficult instrument) but young Mallar Rakshit   and Abir Hossain (sarod) and Sarwar Hussain (sarangi)  restored our faith in the future of these traditional instruments in the hands of  Gen-Next.

Every one of the vocalist scholars, both girls and boys, sang with a ”khula awaz” (full throated, open voice) especially in the upper octave, which was a treat, testifying to the strict standards that the gurus insist on (no false voice, no short cuts). Anyone can teach the intricacies. Only a senior guru can insist on uncompromising standards in basics like voice production. Every vocalist scholar also stuck to “sureelapan” (sounding  aesthetically melodious ) especially in holding the top shadja, while instrumentalists like Saket Sahu who played the violin, displayed a maturity and skill that marked them as front ranking artistes, despite their age. That was a testimony to their training under SRA’s gurus as well as the scholars’ innate  musical talent. Even if I am only mentioning a few names, all of the participants were awesome; there was not a false note, not one recital that was below par,  in all the three days  of extended sessions.

Each day’s schedule included  also a recital by a senior guru. The first day saw Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar, one of today’s leading vocalists and one of the most popular gurus at SRA, treat the audience through the night,  before signing off with the morning raga Bibhas (at 7 AM) and the popular thumri  Jamuna ke teer in  raga Bhairavi (by popular demand) while the last day had  octogenarian Girija Devi  perform with incredible verve and stamina, assisted by two of her understudy scholars. In over half a century of attending music conferences and sammelans, I have never seen one that had participants ranging from a gifted five year old to an 87 year old, both equally spell binding.

Uday Bhawalkar, a young guru at SRA, took the stage on the last day, to present  a very impressive dhrupad in raga Adbhut Kalyan. He announced that this raga which eschews both the madhyama and the panchama, is known as  Nirosh in the south but I could find neither Adbhut Kalyan nor Nirosh in any of the comprehensive lists of ragas that I have access to (including Ranga Ramanuja Iyengar’s compendium, Bhatkhande’s books,  and the 500 raga listing published by  Dr Lakshminarayan Garg of Hathras who brings out a comprehensive monthly magazine called Sangeet in Hindi). 

Using just sa, ri , ga,  dha and ni, (of Bilawal or Sankarabharanam scale) Bhawalkar spun out the item for a full  hour, accompanied by a young pakhawaj artiste (again, another instrument that has very few practitioners, due to the decline of the dhrupad form itself). And he made it sound melodious too, not just a tight rope circus  item despite the absence of both ma and pa. It was a musical  feat. Notwithstanding the esoteric  form and  the rare raga, the audience heard him out with interest ,respect and appreciation.

How does one commend an audience too – for providing the right ambience for listening, without any show, or distraction ? There were no ‘page 3’ personalities, or VIPs, flaunting new shades of an exclusively woven sari, or diamonds, or gossip. At one point, when the stage was being reset for the next item, there was complete silence in the audience for several minutes. I have never seen anything like this before. The bane of many a performer today, is the distraction of an indifferent audience. A keen  and receptive one draws out the best in a performer and lets him/her rise to greater heights. This is what a sammelan should be like, I caught myself saying. We all stayed awake through the night, for three consecutive days, for a  veritable feast of good, unadulterated, high class music. Including the recitals by the youngsters, mostly teenagers, including t he daughter of Pandit Suresh Talwalkar of Mumbai  who matched her distinguished father stroke for stroke on the tabla.

Entry to the sammelan sessions was free, and though the first two rows of seats in the audience were reserved for gurus and parents of scholars, I saw no “press enclosure”, unlike in other prestigious sammelans. SRA is an ITC entity,  part of a corporate  set-up, but where the  music  sammelan was concerned, there was no pandering to the press by the organisers or to the gallery by the performers,  no advertisements, no hoardings, no banners, no flaunting of products (even  ITC ‘s own  brands like Ashirwad or Sunfeast). Just music, good classical music, and more music, from beginning to end, whether it was a teenage scholar performing, or a veteran guru.

Last year an Italian sitar player, Fulvio Koren,  was  at SRA for training, and this year there is a Japanese girl,  Eri Yamaguchi, a south American (who sat  onstage behind Girija Devi, helping with the tanpura)  and a Pakistani girl  Maham Suhail, from Lahore. 

The sammelan has also established a collaboration with  the Bangladesh Foundation, for cultural exchange . Perhaps SRA could become a hub for south Asian networking, a kind of cultural SAARC, since we share musical roots and heritage. Last year, ITC-SRA  collaborated in holding a music festival in Dhaka where the audience was reportedly over 31,000 strong. Leading flutist Hari Prasad Chaurasia echoed my sentiments when he commented that he felt “jealous” of SRA’s scholars, since they “get everything”. Quite.

Along with music, the gurus  also impart  related  cultural lifestyle ethics – there is much “touching of feet” (not just one’s own guru’s,  but those of all the elders who teach at SRA) as a mark of respect for  mentors. At the same time,  once the disciple takes the stage, he/she is trained to perform with great self-assurance and aplomb (after paying  the ritual obeisance to the guru). There is camaraderie, rather than jostling for primacy, among the scholars, who encourage  and appreciate  each other in a spirit that sidelines everything except  musical scholarship. SRA’s initiative for training future generations of eminent musicians is a unique revival of the traditional gurukul, with disciples having access 24X7 to their mentors and gurus. The  green  and spacious campus ambience adds to the enriching atmosphere that scholars are fortunate to live and learn  in. The team of gurus at SRA includes centenarian Ustad Abdul Rashid Khan who still turns up to attend sammelan sessions.

In addition, SRA ensures that there is minimal interference in the process of  learning, with rules interpreted  to suit each individual prodigy,  backed by an administrative and executive team that ensures that the annual sammelan is something all connoisseurs eagerly  look forward to.

An Educator with a Mission

A centenary tribute to VV Sadagopan
By TK Venkatasubramanian

The two Vishnus (Paluskar and Bhatkhande) provided the foundation to the credo that learning-and-performing music is not contradictory to thinking and theorizing about it.

A major concern among educators and researchers is how to enhance the understanding of Indian performing arts in general, but music in particular, as a field of analytical, university-based study.

For a student, who pursues music as a university discipline, both knowledge in music and knowledge about music are essential. In other words, music education requires a basic training in music followed by performance experience of decades and guidance to produce quality research in various sub-disciplines of music. Training enables one to acquire the skill to perform, while knowledge about it points to gaining an academic understanding.

The final goal of a university system is research, where the student is trained to understand the subject individually all by himself and put it to collective scrutiny by standard university disciplines.

The moot question is whether the universities are supposed to produce concert artists or quality researchers. Concert artists have emerged rather than are produced, but researchers can be moulded and guided. Serious research in music departments is a desideratum.

The life and achievements of Professor VV Sadagopan, whose centenary year this is, gives us an idea of the emergence of an artist and an educator who wanted music for all!

A comparison of the career graphs of GNB and VVS reveal  similarities as well as differences between two brilliant youngsters who followed two different paths to excellence.

GNB’s graph shows a brilliant student phase (1931), recognition by the Music Academy (1937), entry into the tinsel world (1940), conferment of the Sangita Kalanidhi title (1958) and finally appointment as the Principal of the Swathi Tirunal College, Trivandrum in 1964.

VVS’s career began with a triple First class in BA (1934), migration to Chennai with an ICS dream (1935), accidental entry into films as a singing star in Navayuvan, Adhrishtam and Madanakamarajan, a reasonably successful concert career in the 40s and 50s, directorship of music studies at Gandhigram (1956-59) and finally a professorship in Delhi University during 1959-75.

Both GNB and VVS must have gone through the twenties triangle of the times (Quarter-Life Crisis as against Mid-life crisis), with the three questions- Who am I? What do I want? How am I to achieve it?

Both entered music field, when sampradaya was being recast in a post-industrial  modern world, through an effort to put in the authentic form of the real music of the country, driven by nationalism. The social milieu and performance had changed, new patrons were in place of the old, new sensibilities informed the ‘reception’ and ‘representation’ of music and a middle class elite of Madras constituted the modern canon of sampradaya. Concert etiquette was typified by Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar.

While examining the Carnatic tradition, Sadagopan realised the importance of devonational music. The tradition, in both  the South and North, bequeathed the rich legacy of Bhagavata music. In its main form, it was musical worship of a high order. There was enough space for the most gifted musician, the less gifted as well as the layman. Besides a variety of musical forms, it had place for drama as well.  The Dasa tradition gave us the distilled essence of ragas, bhavas and talas. The Trinity gave us kritis, and the post Trinity generation transmitted the tradition in a scholarly manner.

Sadagopan’s ideas on sampradaya and change are reflected in his appreciation of Ariyakudi.
“The significant contribution of Ramanuja Iyengar to Karnatak Music, was to demonstrate that Sampradaya in its best sense was something organic and dynamic, which had its roots firmly in the soil of the musical wisdom of the past, but stretched out to receive all new ideas that could happily blend with the old. He was  a great living link in the continuing and vibrant tradition of Karnatak Music. Not only did he adapt himself to the times, but also left his impress on the era. He was a great reconciler, reconciling the past and the present, tradition and innovation, abandon and deliberation. In sastraic terms, he was a Bhavukottama.”  Iyengar reconciled the contradictions between sastra and sampradaya of the early 20th century music field.

VVS felt the impact of the role of publishing manuscripts and treatises. In fact the main difference between Gurukula and Institutionalised teaching, was this, at that stage. He noticed that neither the concert environment nor the universities offered a forum for resolving contradictions between theory and practice or aesthetic perception (Lakshya) and intellectual abstraction (Lakshana).

He advocated that sastras were to be studied in original, with a caution that sastras incorporated changes with changing times. His friendship with Dr Premalata Sharma of Benares University is the best example of his professed faith in the fundamental research of sastras. He went on to classify sastrakaras as those who handled high art themselves, those who perceived it from secondary and tertiary sources, and compilers who were bhasha gnanis. Raga, prabanda, tala, mela , swara and sruti needed to be researched comprehensively in a holistic manner and not in a piecemeal way. All these ideas landed him in his ultimate mission Tyagabharati , during 1966-80.

VVS strove to combine the finer values of gurukula with the methods of modern scholarship of the 1960s and 70s. He visited several overseas centres like Moscow (1966), Belgrade (1969) and Perth (1974) during this period. He came to the conclusion that before any instruction on forms and formalities of the particular musical culture, or sub-culture began, we should devote ourselves to the drawing out of inner joy or ananda. He once suggested we greet each by saying ''anandam'' rather than ''good morning'' or ''good evening.'' Children should grow with joy, courage and freedom and a discipline born out of these attributes. The fundamental principle is joy, suggestion must be the method, the emphasis should be on the imaginative and creative experience of music and teaching should follow a “flow-form-flow” spiral. He was clearly in favour of lakshya (aesthetic perception) over lakshana (intellectual abstraction) at school, college or university.

Joy is the natural state of any child. It is the motivation for self-expression, as well as the means. It is the subject as well as the object. Joy must be traced, tapped and used. Joy also has a base in rhythm. It has roots in the imagination of the child, which can conceive all the wonders of the world. Music as an expression should be the starting point of music education. This should be followed by an awareness of the level of musical perception.

VVS identified three broad stages as the fundamental, the functional and the professional.

For a child, rhythm and movement come first. Melody comes next, simple tunes with a dominant rhythmic element can be easily learnt. Every language has nursery rhymes, nonsense rhymes and playful jingles. Music should be introduced through story-telling and dramatics. Group singing is also important, because it gives us the joy of sharing.

In short, Thyagabharati is a mission in Integrative Music Education. Over the years, it has spread its service to reach growing children everywhere, in schools, homes and social circles. It would be appropriate to produce an extract from the writings of Professor. Dimitrje Stefanović of the Musicological Institute, Belgrade.

“Sadagopan considers children his friends and works with them, so that they all take equal part in this work which teaches them the joy of singing, playing, and dancing together” He is sure that by teaching others, we teach ourselves, that through systematic musical education, important results can be reached. This visit of a rare tireless, good, great but also modest man, who is so affectionate to music, will long remain in our memory.”

Sadagopan authored Folk Music and Dance in Tamil Nadu (1955), he edited the Indian Music Journal during the period 1964-80 and wrote under the pen name of Nandan ( A musical pariah).

His skill as a tunesmith came to the fore when he composed music and notation for Ambujam Krishna in Gitamala I. He created a few compositions like Sada enadu in Manohari, sung by Ananthalakshmi Sadagopan and Palukina matalu vinaleta in Sankarabharanam and Kandan karunai purindu in Vachaspati.

VVS tuned Kamba Ramayana songs for TKC in the pallavi-anupallavi-charanam format and gave a three- hour concert. We could count only four disciples of his, including my father the late Dr TV Kuppuswamy, KR Sundaresan, Leela Omacherry and Sri Ram Bharati. He was a guide, philospher and friend of my father and remains an inspiration to me and those who knew him well.

Dr TK Venkatasubramanaian is a historian and mridanga vidwan

Five voices for the future identified

TAG-Music Forum-Sruti Talent Hunt
By V Ramnarayan

To our great pleasure, the triad of Tag Centre, Karnatik Music Forum and Sruti succeeded in unearthing some promising vocalists at the end of our six-day long talent search in January 2015 at the TAG Centre. Out of the 18 voices shortlisted from among 70-odd applicants (by listening to their CDs), five were selected by a three-member jury of vidushis Seetha Narayanan, Vijayalakshmi Subramaniam and Jayalakshmi Sekhar.

The selection was based on the percentile method styled the BITS Pilani method by RT Chari – the founder of the TAG group – whose brainchild the whole programme ‘Five for the Future’ was. Impartiality was ensured by the complete absence of discussion among the judges as well as the organisers. The marksheets were, for instance, collected from the judges, who sat far apart, immediately after each 55-minute concert. Surprisingly, an audience poll showed very similar results.

The most delightful aspect of the results was the emergence of singers from outside Chennai as the top five voices. They were Anupam Shankar (Delhi), Harikrishnan (Ernakulam), Kruti Bhat (USA), Mahathi (Calicut), and Sivaganesh (Bengaluru).

The selected vocalists received cash awards of Rs. 5000 each and a promise that two of them would be featured in TAG’s Future Maestros series of concerts. The next eight participants will be automatically allowed to take part in next year’s Five for the Future.

Friday, 23 January 2015

At the Tamil Isai Sangam

By BuzyBee

The Tamil Isai Sangam conducted the Pann research conference from 23 to 25  December 2014. The panns taken up for discussion were Desakiri, Malavakiri, Ariya kuchchari, Mudirnda kuchchari and Savagakkurinji. Their equivalent present day ragas were decided as Ranjani, Hindolam, Amritavarshini, Suddha Dhanyasi and Muktidayini (a janya of Vachaspati without the nishada). The researchers present were President of the Tamil Isai Sangam Justice P.R. Gokulakrishnan, Lepa Karu Ramanathan Chettiar, Dr. Ananda Nataraja Dikshitar, Dr. M.A. Bhageerathi, Dr. Sirkazhi Sivachidambaram (recipient of this season''s Isai Peraringnar title), Dr. Pushpavanam K. Kuppusamy, Tiruppanandal S. Muthukandasamy Desigar. Sirkazhi Thirugnanasambanda Oduvar,  Muthukumarasamy, Dr. Lakshmi Poduval, Dr. Thangarasu, Dr. E. Angayarkanni and Dr.S.A.K. Durga. The Pann research conference was presided over by vidwan  A.K.C. Natarajan.

Music students of Oppilal Isai Palli, below 15 years of age, presented classical music on the keyboard at the Tamil Isai Sangam during the 72nd annual music and dance festival held at Raja Annamalai Manram in December 2014. The Oppilal School for Music was started three years ago in Abhiramapuram by Seeta Chidambaram, a patron of art and culture. A number of youngsters and women attend music classes in vocal, veena, gettuvadyam and keyboard.

Thursday, 22 January 2015


Happy New Year!

We start the Oli Concert Series 2015 with a blend of voice and flute, by two extremely talented youngsters.

Welcome to this special concert to be hosted by Sri S Ravi, at his residence.


6.15pm, 24 Jan 2015
6, First Trust Main Road
Chennai 600028
Ravi: (9962523030; 044-24643015)

Art charade

An introspection

By Mythili Prakash

When one thinks of Art, one thinks of beauty, of experience, observation, transformation, discipline, and abandon. At least that is what we think we should think, when we think of “Art.” But has the word “Art” itself become mere lip service? Has it become a charade?

There are so many sides to this issue that I hardly know where to start. It almost feels like a “chicken or the egg” situation to me. Who is accountable for what has become, or what is becoming of “Art.”?

I’m reminded of a T.M. Krishna concert that I attended recently, in which he requested the audience to approach the concert as a musical experience rather than a cutcheri, a term that comes with a certain baggage and expectation.  He pushed barriers, some gently and some not, but all the while his request to us, the audience, made me aware of myself as a rasika, and reminded me of a dilemma that I frequently find myself in while in that seat. How much of me is usually in judgement? And for how much of a concert am I evaluating and re-evaluating the performance? Without even intending to, we compare the artist to other artists, or to his or her own concerts in the past, etc. How often are we actually there – present– in the moment, experiencing the concert not for what it could be or should be, but what it is. Do we gain anything by being in judgement? Or is it merely to make ourselves feel good, educated, intelligent, and make for interesting conversation after the concert? Do we see ourselves as consumers, and the concert as a commodity that must suit our expectations? If Art is truly about beauty, experience, observation, transformation, discipline, and abandon – don’t those things apply to the artist as well as the rasika?

Are we more interested in using Art and the experience of it, to inflate ourselves intellectually, or are we interested in using it as a vehicle for a deeper transformation? I am often reminded of J. Krishnamurti and an exercise that he encouraged of just observing a sunset, or any objective thing for that matter.

“Have you ever experimented with looking at an objective thing like a tree without any of the associations, any of the knowledge you have acquired about it, without any prejudice, any judgement, any words forming a screen between you and the tree and preventing you from seeing it as it actually is? Try it and see what actually takes place when you observe the tree with all your being, with the totality of your energy.” – J. Krishnamurti

Of course what he is talking about is a mindfulness, a deep investigation of the mind itself, which one may argue is a much weightier subject? But isn’t it actually the same subject? Isn’t “Art” inherently linked to the “totality of being” that he talks about? Isn’t “Art” inherently aimed at experiencing the “totality of being” that he talks about?

I feel we are losing that aim.  The arts scene, especially in India, sometimes feels like Hollywood. We, as a society, pride ourselves on having resurrected the status of “Art” from the times it was looked down upon and disrespected. It has its origin in worship, and even though it has moved from ritual to performance, we still proclaim it to be sacred. But look at the way it is talked about and perceived now. Besides the rampant politics, it is sensationalist and it is a “scene” where words like “diva” are thrown around. Constructive criticism is often replaced by sarcasm and even malice. Who is doing what? Who is performing where? Who is wearing what? Who is getting what award? Who is on their way “in” who is on their way “out”? Who pulls the most crowds?

What happens to “Art” in all this? Where is the reverence and sanctity? Is it possible to find beauty and silence in all this chatter? Is it possible to feel transformation for both the rasika and the artist, amongst all this noise?
 Til now, I’ve talked about the rasika.

What about the artist?

Why is the artist on stage? Is it a burning desire to create, express, and share something that emanates from one’s being? Or is it a burning desire to prove one’s artistic virtuosity, and to inhabit the “prestigious” slots? How often do we see artists who are lost in the “Art”? Are artists even encouraged to be lost in the “Art?” In an environment like ours, is it possible for artists to be lost in the “Art”?

Artists are frowned upon for “playing to the gallery,” but is that really in any way discouraged?

Sometimes I wonder, what are the purpose of reviews anymore? At some point last year, I stopped getting the newspaper. I lost interest in reading reviews. Why are opinions valued so much? Immediately after a performance, what is most important to the artist – how he/she felt about the experience? Or what everyone else thought?

Don’t get me wrong. Of course there MUST be desire for growth, improvement, discovery, learning, guidance; in fact, that forms the very basis of the artist’s journey. But to what extent is this journey shaped by what the public thinks? How much have artists become focused on being in the public eye? How important to artists is appearing on the concert stage? Obviously it is what makes it a career….a profession. But how many would still be practicing with the same intensity irrespective of performance? Is the focus on delivering a good performance, or on being alert and sensitive to savoring the experience regardless of practice or performance? Are the externals given larger priority than the internals? Does that tilt the balance more toward “entertainment” than “Art”? Does the public nature of performing arts feed this preoccupation with public opinion? Sometimes I wonder, when a painter paints, or a poet writes,  do they think about what images will sell and create accordingly? Or do they follow the impulses that come from their artistic centers?

When I occasionally voice these frustrations, the response that I get is usually something along the lines of : “But one has to first go through the ‘externals’ before getting to the ‘internals’. That comes later.” I understand the intention in this statement, but I think that it has things a bit mixed up. When I talk about “internals”, I in NO measure overlook discipline and training. I don’t separate that from freedom. So “external” and “internal” really has no correlation with “discipline” and “freedom.” My concern is completely with intention. If, from the beginning, the “Art” is taught and practiced with the intention of it as something sacred, as deeply personal, as a “Sadhana,” then chances are – it may continue that way. One would immediately argue -  it is! Ok, agreed-  in dance we begin and end classes with the namaskaram and prayers, bowing to the feet of the Gurus, etc. But then what? Is the rest of the process and environment in keeping with this reverence? Where does competition and ambition find its way into all this? Is it through parents? Peers? Teachers? Media? Audiences?

I find that our culture has subconsciously engrained in it, the concept of order, perhaps based on the traditional Hindu idea of “ashramas” in life: first being a “student,” then a “householder,” then a “hermit,” and finally an “ascetic.” The general consensus is that there is a certain age after which Self-introspection begins. Elders seem skeptical, almost worried about people on the other side of that age who are focused on Self-introspection. In the same vein, it seems generally accepted that younger artists should be concerned with virtuosity, and internalization comes later. But shouldn’t Self-introspection in life be encouraged from the start? When it comes to “Art” and training, shouldn’t the focus be encouraged inward from the start?

If it was, would the energies of the scene be altered? Would artists perform from a different center of focus? Would audiences receive from a different center of focus?

I often wonder what would happen if, for a period of time, all “editorial” media coverage of performance was suspended: newspaper reviews, online sites, blogs, etc.

And then what if audiences put the onus upon themselves to “experience” rather than “evaluate” each concert. What if audiences members behaved less like consumers, and more like rasikas, open to experiencing the concert?

With judgement relegated to the backseat, would the quality of performance change?

Would artists remember that this is a first a journey to be experienced, and then shared?

Would we have less entertainment and more “Art?”

Would we as individuals and a society be able to move away from the sensationalism that we have created around “Art” and more towards the totality of being that “Art” is intended to stir in us?

Friday, 16 January 2015

SKGS Awards for Mangala Isai

By BuzyBee

The 'SKGS Diamond Jubilee Sangeetha Choodamani' title was conferred on nagaswara vidwan Seshampatti Sivalingam, and tavil vidwans Thiruvalaputhur T.A. Kaliyamurthy and Tanjavur T.R. Govindarajan,  during the 27th Pongal Nagaswara Isai Vizha organised by Sri Krishna Gana Sabha on 14 January 2015. Nalli Kuppuswami Chetti, President SKGS, chief guest Justice M. Karpaga Vinayagam Y. Prabhu, Gen.Secretary, SKGS, musicologist B.M. Sundaram and R.Venkateswaran.Joint Secretary are in the picture.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015


Different aspects of Siva bhakti
By Gayathri Sundaresan

The final session of the lec-dem mela organised by Sruti and Karnatic Music Forum was a well-researched presentation by Carnatic musician Gayathri Girish. She presented ‘Different Aspects of Siva Bhakti’. With Mullaivasal Chandramouli on the violin and Chidambaram Balashankar on the mridangam giving her able accompaniment, she took up songs composed by many saints to illustrate her given topic.

Gayathri began with Tyagaraja’s Deva deva Sadasiva in raga Sindhuramakriya, where he implores the lord to bless him with devotion to his lotus feet. Bhakti can be in five stages – the lowest stage – manda bhakti – is when a person turns to God only in his hour of need; the madhyama bhakti is torn between belief and doubt; the highest, uttama bhakti is total surrender to God. Viswaroopa bhakti is seeing God in everything; and the last is the state of self-realisation.

Srimad Bhagavatam tells us of the Navavidha bhakti – the nine types of devotion. The Bhagavad Gita talks of four kinds of bhaktas. Gayathri classified ten types of bhakti and demonstrated them with songs by different composers.

Adi Sankara’s sloka Karacharanamva pleads for forgiveness for misdeeds – this shows the devotee’s misery. There are many songs where the composer despairs the life he has taken and pleads for release from the cycle of birth and death.

Many are the songs that the seers sang in ecstasy, glorifying their god. Gayathri sang a number of songs by Appar, Sundarar and explained their literary beauty as well.

Tanjavur Ponniah Pillai’s varnam Paavaai nee paaraai shows sringara bhava. Sakhyam is seen in Marimutha Pillai’s Enneramum kaalaithookki in Todi raga. The composer converses with Siva and questions the reason for lifting his foot – is it because he is tired after destroying Daksha’s yagna? Or is it that his foot is tired after kicking Yama? Or could it be that his foot is tired after the frenzied dance with Kali? Did the poison flow down to his foot from his throat? Is he dancing for the benefit of Patanjali and Vyaghrapada? The string of questions that the devotee nonchalantly throws shows his relationship with his god as an equal.

Papanasam Sivan’s Piravaavaram taarum asks for ending of the birth cycle, and for constant remembrance (maravaavaram).

Neelakantha Sivan shows yearning and impatience in Endraikku Sivakripaivarumo. Simple and innocent bhakti is shown by simple village folk. This can be seen in Manikkavachagar’s song Kaasanimingal that is also set to a lilting folk tune.

Total surrender is seen in Ramalinga Adigalar’s Tiruvarutpa. Gayathri said that every bhakta goes through the transition of various stages in his spiritual growth. She sang Tandaiyumtaayumguruvum in Surati to demonstrate this bhava.

Kavi Kalamegam makes clever play of words in his verse Mukkaalukkegaamun. The obvious meaning is that one should cultivate bhakti early in one’s life before his faculties deteriorate. But what is amazing is his use of the measures used in those times to denote the periods in one’s life.

Gayathri aptly concluded with Papanasam Sivan’s song Nambikkettavarevaraiyya, which includes many of the categories that she had listed out, and firmly reiterates that Siva bhakti will certainly, without doubt, lead a man to higher goals.

Sruti Editor-in-chief V. Ramnarayan proposed the vote of thanks. It was certainly a successful lec-dem mela with good public response to all the sessions.

LEC-DEM MELA 2014 – Part 5

Curative powers of Compositions on Siva
By Gayathri Sundaresan

The first session on the third day of the lec-dem mela was on ‘The Curative Powers of Compositions on Lord Siva’. Usha Bharadwaj of Karnatic Music Forum, introduced Dr. Sunder as one of the pioneers in propagating Carnatic music among school children through monthly workshops and lec-dem sessions organised by the forum.
A medical doctor by profession, Dr. Sunder believes in the adage “Doctors treat; the God of your faith heals you”. When a patient has faith in a doctor’s abilities to diagnose and treat his illness, his very attitude becomes conducive to healing. Such was the faith of the saints, in their utter surrender to their lord, that their words were embedded with spiritual powers that performed the magic of healing!

Sunder’s talk was cohesively strung together, laced with his customary humour, that created an easy camaraderie with the audience. Demonstration of the songs by his students (vocal by J.B. Keertana with J.B. Sruthi Sagar on the flute) was music to the ears. Mridangam accompaniment by Satyanarayanan embellished the singing. The original Panns and their corresponding prevalent raga names were announced.

Sunder aptly began by paying obeisance to Lord Vaitheeswara – the god of healing. He said that Saivite saints walked the land and spread the message of Saivism and its curative powers. In their songs, they included relevant episodes, the place where they occurred, and the characters involved. It is believed that chanting these songs could even today cure specific diseases.

The following are some of the songs and anecdotes narrated by the doctor.

A flu epidemic in Kongu Nadu was eradicated by Tirugnanasambandar’s song Avvinaikkuivvinai. The daughter of a chieftain in Tiruppaachilaachiraamam was cured of epilepsy when he sang Tunivalartingal. This song is believed to be an effective remedy for neurological disorders, diabetes, and hypertension.

In Tirumarugal, the song Sadaiyaayerumaal helped a young bridegroom to recover from snakebite. It is believed that the song clears the way for marriages delayed due to sarpadosham.

In Madurai, the chieftain Goonpandian was a follower of Jainism. His sister and minister invited Gnanasambandar hoping that the saint would be able to convert the king. The jains set fire to the ashram where Gnanasambandar stayed, but he escaped miraculously. The king was afflicted with typhoid that could not be cured. The saint applied the sacred ash (vibhooti) and the king was cured. The song, Mandiramaavaduneeru that contains both the episode and the curative aspect, was sung next. The song Vinguvinai is said to be effective in healing fractures, polio and other bone related problems.

Mattittapunnaiyankaanam tells the story of how Poompavai came to life at Mylapore. While singing the Pathigams (ten verses) it is believed that with each verse, the illness wanes in stages, and the patient is cured by the time the song ends.

Manikkavachagar’s song Poosuvadumvenneere is said to have cured the stammer of a child. Appar’s Ondrukolaam that brought back Navukkarasar’s child to life has the additional lakshana of each line starting with numbers, increasing one by one. Dr. Sunder pointed out that these songs were not only outpourings of bhakti, but were also rich in literary beauty.

Some of Sundarar’s songs were demonstrated movingly by Keertana and Sruthi Sagar. Dr. Sunder concluded the session with a song that described all the parts of the body, Talaiye nee vanangaai, the singing of which is believed to protect the entire body from ailment.

S. Janaki of Sruti introduced the Guest of Honour Nandini Ramani, who in her speech touched upon a few more sthalams where the deities were believed to be healers. She quoted Kalidasa “sareeram dharma sadhanam” – it is important to maintain a healthy body in order to be able to perform our duties. With the ever-present Sivam inside each of us, Siva aradhana is sure to help in healing. She praised Dr. Sunder for a well-researched and presented lec-dem that took everyone through a beautiful journey. Nandini also commended Gayathri Girish the next presenter for her multi-media series rendered over twelve months wherein she conveyed profound ideas in simple terms.

LEC-DEM MELA 2014 Part 3

Sivanama sankeertanam
By Gayathri Sundaresan 

On 13 December 2014, the first session on the second day of the Lec-Dem Mela conducted by Sruti and the Karnatic Music forum at the Raga Sudha Hall, was by Udayalur Kalyanarama Bhagavatar. He presented Sivanama Sankeertanam under the broader theme of Sambho Mahadeva.

Bhagavatar said that in the bhajana sampradaya, Harinama sankeertanam was better known than Sivanama. He offered obeisance to the gurus who established the bhajana sampradaya. Among them, Sridhara Ayyaval was an embodiment of Siva who propagated the Sivanama siddhanta, and was himself an exalted guru.

Udayalur presented a number of songs that extolled the glory of Siva. He quoted Adi Sankara’s stotra wherein he asks for the privilege of being able to chant the Sivanama. As Tamil literature is replete with works on Siva by scholars and saints, Udayalur sang viruttams from Tiruvarutpa and Tevarams, endowing them with great emotion in his musical rendering. 

He chose songs by many composers like Suddhananda Bharati, Marimutha Pillai, Muthu Tandavar, Tirumoolar, Gopalakrishna Bharati, and Ramalinga Swamigal. He said philosophical songs by Mayuram Vedanayagam Pillai, a Christian, were included in traditional bhajanas.

In the given time, Udayalur Kalyanarama Bhagavatar successfully conveyed the essence of the rich tradition of sampradaya bhajana, the invaluable efficacy of Sivanama and the innumerable compositions that form its repertoire.

The Guest of Honour Dr. Easwar Srikumar, Member, Central Advisory Board, honoured the artists. A medical doctor by profession, he said music is a form of yoga that can take man nearer to the goal – Nada Brahmam. Nama sankeertanam helps cleanse the inner being of a person who participates in satsang.


Five for the Future
Contestants spotted

By Samudri

Eighteen vocalists have qualified for Five for the Future, opening on 12 January 2015 and concluding on 17 January at TAG Centre, Chennai 18.

Here is the schedule:

Starting time on all days 6pm, 7pm and 8pm
In order of performance
12 January
Kruthi Bhat, USA; and Karthik Iyer and Sowmya Sundar, Chennai.

13 January
Siddharth, Bharathi and Abhishek, all from Chennai.

14 January
Vasudevan, Janani Hamsini and Vikram, all from Chennai.

15 January
Deepthi, Viswanath and Swetha, all from Chennai.

16 January
Arun Shankar, Palakkad; Dhanya Dinesh, Bangalore; and Harikrishnan, Ernakulam.

17 January
Anupam Shankar, Delhi; Mahathi, Calicut; and Sivaganesh, Madurai.

Nadasangamam meet at Tennangur

Annual Music Workshop (6-8 February, 2015)

By Sumathi Krishnan

Nadasangamam, the music wing of Narada Gana Sabha has been organising residential workshops for musicians and senior students of music since 2011 at at Thennangur, situated 117 km from Chennai. This town is famous for its Panduranga temple. Dr. R. S.  Jayalakshmi is the convener and Dr. Sumathi Krishnan the coordinator for the event. 

Each year it is held either during the last week of January or early February. This year it is scheduled to be held between 6th and 8th February, 2015.  Thennangur is a unique experience as great gurus come to teach and students get the rare opportunity to interact with them closely for a few days. The routine is challenging, starting from yoga in the early hours, continuing with teaching sessions through the day and culminating in dolotsavam and bhajans at the Panduranga temple in the evening.


Age as on 1st January 2015:
Contact address:
Telephone no:
Mobile no:
Email id:
Name of Guru /Institution:
Details of training in music:
Details of training in any other art form:
Performances if any:
Educational background:
Mother tongue and languages known:
Previous music workshops attended:
Any other relevant information:

Date :                                                Signature:

(Note: Filled in Application forms to be submitted at the Narada Gana Sabha Office  between 5th and 20th  January  Contact – 24993201 or

This year the theme is Pallavi Singing. We are fortunate to have experts Sangita Kalanidhi 
R Vedavalli teach the subtle aspects of niraval in pallavi singing,  and Chitravina N Ravikiran guide students in the complex art of  constructing  a balanced pallavi.  AS Murali of Kalakshetra will take the students on a journey of swara singing and RS Jayalakshmi will anchor a session on allied ragas.

Voice training and voice culture are a very vital part of the training and shaping of a musician. Dr. Shruti Jauhari, well known Hindustani musician presently training many students and on the panel of musicians at KMMC, A.R. Rehman's conservatory of Music, will conduct a session on  training the voice.

Renjith Babu and Vijna begin each day with their session on yoga. As trained classical dancers, they are aware of the requirements of a musician and their session is particularly designed for the vocal and physical health of a musician.

Nadasangamam hopes to encourage young musicians and give them opportunities to meet and interact with senior musicians thus enriching their musical experience. Those interested in registering for the event may collect forms at the Narada Gana Sabha Office after 18th December.