Saturday, 28 May 2016

A saga retold

Ranjana Gauhar in conversation with Shrinkhla Sahai

The story of Nala and Damayanti was presented in an absorbing and novel format by Delhi-based dancer-choreographer Ranjana Gauhar in her latest production, which premiered in Delhi. Blending animation with the Odissi and Chhau dance forms, the production presents the age-old tale as a dance-drama for the younger audience. The Odissi exponent collaborated with her animator-film-maker son, Sidharth Daniels, to create a visual treat that integrates with the classical dance vocabulary to capture a unique mode of story-telling. The dancers interact with the visuals in a computer-generated ambience, accompanied by the script in English, and instrumental music to match each scene and mood. The role of Damayanti was elegantly portrayed by Ranjana Gauhar’s disciple, Vrinda Chadha, while Rakesh Sai Babu as Nala, skilfully moulded his Chhau repertoire to depict the righteous king. 

What inspired you to work on this combination of visual art and performance?

There are certain limitations in live presentation, especially when the story is so complex, and realistic description is difficult. I was discussing this with my son (Sidharth Daniels) who is an animator and that is how the idea originated. I also realised that this might turn out to be an important medium to connect with youth. Today, young people are so techno-savvy, classical dance becomes more exciting for them when there is a medium that they connect with. I wanted to explore this way of contemporising the story and the form. The classical arts are called ‘classical’ because they are constantly reinventing themselves. The project we undertook was extremely expensive and difficult, but it is important to explore new ways of telling stories.

How did you find working with your son?

It was such a lovely experience! During the production I gained more insight into his thought process. I realised that you never truly understand your children till you see their work. 

Why did you choose this theme for the production?

This timeless fable has hardly been performed in classical dance. Though in Kathakali it is not an uncommon theme, in other forms it is quite a rare story. I find it a very beautiful love story where two people come together in a true union of the souls, and are separated by the force of circumstances, to be reunited later because of their undying love and devotion. The story was told by an old sage to Yudhishthira when he lost the game of dice. Like Yudhishthira, King Nala was also an honest and kind ruler, but was overwhelmed by momentary temptation and lost his kingdom. This is quite relevant in today’s world where we are bombarded by so many distractions and temptations and we have to make choices.  I hope the story will touch a chord with the audience, awaken the inner consciousness of the common man, and make all of us more aware about the choices we make in life.

How was the process of choreographing with two forms?

Mayurbhanj Chhau and Odissi both originate from Odisha and have a common essence. Even though Chhau is primarily a martial art form, it has a lot of lasyanga. The body language of the dance form is very powerful and I felt it would be able to depict the movements of animals, and the masculine aspect in certain scenes very well. 

What are the important aspects of choreography in a piece like this?

Choreography is very instinctive and you cannot plan this. I work by responding to the mood and situation of a particular scene. For instance, in the rehearsal I just sense it when the scene is not coming out right. I take my answers from within, I don’t find solutions outside.

Choreography is primarily a Western concept. Do you think it truly melds into the Indian classical genre?

Actually Indian classical dancers work with much heavy choreography right from the beginning, in terms of space, time, design. It is handed down from generation to generation. You inherit it in many ways. It is a Western word, but for an Indian classical dancer, choreography is a natural thing. 

You are also trained in other dance forms like Chhau, Kathak and Manipuri.  How does that affect your work?

I learnt all those forms when I was very young, when I was still searching for the art I could make my own. I went through this process of searching, trying, moving on, and when I came to Odissi I knew it was my purpose, my passion and devotion. I also dabbled in theatre for a few years and the training has been a great asset to me. Maybe it is my theatre training that draws me to story-telling. I try to bring in aspects of theatre in dance and I find it very exciting to take up different characters and delve deeper into the shades of the plot. This inspires me to do something different.

Did the music and animation come later after the choreography or was it a parallel process?

The music has been composed by acharya Bankim Sethi. The music and animation were initiated with the first draft of the script. I had already visualised most of the piece, and the medium and methodology came in much later. A lot of the process was trial and error. The set, design, costume, visuals and movement, all had to blend harmoniously. We hope we have been able to provide an enthralling experience to the audience.

My Guru, Dr. C.G. Balachandran

By Sunil Kunnakkat

Bad news comes in threes, they say. My paternal grandmother passed away in 2014.  Then my maternal grandmother in 2015.  It had been a difficult couple of years, what with my parents, especially my mother, going back and forth to India and all.

Then came last Thursday.

"Oh, no." said my father.  That's never a good sign, for he only says it if something bad has happened.

I turned around, and he looked distraught--in retrospect more for me than himself.  

"Sad news, Sunu," he said, using my nickname.  "Sreenadh uncle (of just sent an email saying Dr. Balachandran has passed away."

I didn't react at first. I didn't want to. Dr. Balachandran was a hero to me in ways I wouldn't come to grips with until the forthcoming days. In hindsight, he was relentlessly selfless, a quality that came with being a teacher. He carried no ego, nor elaborated on his qualifications as a highly respected acoustics engineer. He was a Ph.D after all.

I never thought of my Guru’s age; rather I always thought of him as young and vigorous, not someone of my grandparents' age.  I would learn that Dr. Chetlur G. Balachandran was born in 1931, the same year and almost the exact date as my paternal grandmother. At times like this, one tends to look back, as I did about the decade or so that I spent at his feet. 

When I was a child, my parents took me to Carnatic music concerts, mainly because my sister was working her way up as a classically trained dancer and singer. During one of the shows I saw a musician with a barrel drum, hands moving rapidly, producing rhythms and notes that sent my head spinning. I asked my dad what it was, and he said it was a mridangam and asked if I wanted to learn how to play it. The answer was a swift yes.

Within days I was in the apartment of Dr. Balachandran, who became my first and only mridangam teacher. I was seven  years old. I saw him almost every Sunday morning until the end of high school.

My guru wasn't just a mridangam teacher. He taught me life lessons, unspoken by the way he carried himself, and the way he made me feel, like my drive was worth something. I am in large part the person I am because of my Guru. I was also learning about the intricacies of Carnatic music, the stalwarts of the genre (KVN and T.K. Govinda Rao, to name just two) with whom my guru played, and so on. More than that, I could talk with him about anything. As a kid we would discuss politics (our distaste for the Iraq war). We would watch tennis games together (he was a huge fan of Roger Federer). I loved trying to make him laugh and see the familiar twinkle in his eyes. Sometimes my guru’s son, Murali Balachandran, would join us and play the mridangam, or ghatam, or khanjira. Those days were a blast.

We were more than teacher-student; more often than not, I felt he and I were great friends despite the age difference, and that he was essentially raising me on those Sundays. He was the reason I developed an innate confidence when it came to playing drums of any kind. And then that expanded to the violin, and then piano, and now guitar. He could make me think, he could make me laugh, and he could make me practise until my hands were calloused and my lower body was numb. He is the most important teacher I have ever had, or ever will have. No one has come close and no one ever will.

He stressed listening to tons of music, to understand the meaning of the words and structure, analyze pitch and rhythm, and connect to the song until I was lost in it. I loved the legendary Palghat Mani Iyer but he would temper my fascinations, explaining that it was not just about having the most elaborate solos, but creating a backbeat for the song as well. I still unknowingly bite my lip the way my guru did when I perform. I can now close my eyes and see the patterns like puzzle pieces, where to place the hits and where to let the beat breathe. I didn’t think whether I was good enough or whether I could play or if this would lead to anything. I just did. There were no existential worries, only fun. His ability to instil confidence in me is what has struck me the most. I hope to write music for a career, and to this day I still get conflicted over what I am capable of. These doubts never surfaced when I was with my guru. He must've seen that I had something, or maybe he chose to believe in me. Now I'll never be sure what it was.

Sunil, at age 11, with his Guru in 2004
There is one memory that sticks with me the most. When we played together, I would have to replicate his "riffs" or fills. One time he pulled something out of his hat that was impossible for me to replicate at the time. I was quite young but didn’t want to fail, and tried as hard as I could to recreate it. My hands went stiff, and after relentless attempts I started to cry. I was so frustrated that I was failing, but I remember his entire demeanor changed. He went from playful and energetic, to sympathetic and caring. He knew how to shift his persona to let me know it was OK if I didn’t quite get it, and that I wasn't any less of a player because of it.

If I remember correctly, he gave me some water and time to relax, and we tried it again. I don't think I got it that day, but I wasn't mad anymore. Within a few weeks, after practicing with him and on my own time, I got it down. 

In that one session with him, there were at least three life lessons: 
  1. Practise 
  2. Don't be hard on yourself, and 
  3. Don't give up. 

He would impart these sorts of lessons for over ten years. The more I think about our times together, the more I regain my confidence pursuing what I love, and the more grateful I become. After I went off to college, I saw him only twice.  I always regretted that I didn't reach out to him in recent years, but work or something else always got in the way. What I wouldn’t give to spend more time with him, exchanging riffs back and forth like the sparring partners we were. 

I saw my master one last time at the viewing. It was then that I fully realized I would never see the twinkle in his eyes again, and the emotions I had been repressing this whole time began to bubble up. I wanted to feel numb but couldn’t. I sat down with my dad and watched a photo slideshow of my guru over the years, and suddenly I saw a familiar face on the screen.

There I was, probably 8-10 years old, with my master behind me, his hand on my shoulder. We were both smiling, at a party with a bunch of kids, but somehow I made it into the slideshow. I don’t know why, and while I am sure I was not the deciding factor in choosing that picture, I took it as some sort of sign. I was grateful that it was up there. It summarized everything. In a sea of people, through whatever gigs I did or whomever I met, there was my master and I, and he was always looking out for me. When I got back into the car, I finally cried.

Though I've been avoiding it since the announcement of his passing, perhaps I will sit down and play my mridangam, this time with no partner in crime, and try to practise without my eyes welling up as it has so many times over the past few days.  Maybe through going back to where it all started, I will find the answers that I need.

Rest in peace, Guru. And one more time, thank you for everything.

Friday, 27 May 2016

CTU celebrates 40th annual music festival

Chicago Tyagaraja Utsavam (CTU) celebrates its 40th anniversary from 28 May  to 5 June 2016. The mission of CTU is to pass on the heritage of Carnatic music to the younger generation of immigrants from India. Accordingly, over 300 children and youth in groups and individually, will perform major compositions of Tyagaraja and other composers.

Around 18 programmes including concerts, dances, lectures, skits and a Student Music Competition are scheduled during these nine days.  Programmes include Carnatic vocal recitals by Gayathri Venkataraghavan, V. Sankaranarayanan,  R. Suryaprakash, Abhishek Raghuram and Toronto Brothers,  upanyasam by Madurai T.N. Seshagopalan, violin solo by Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi and a 'sastriya sangeet' duet by Pravin Godkhindi (flute) and Ratish Tagde (violin). Three skits on Tyagaraja are to be presented in different languages.

Prof. Emeritus William Jackson (Indiana-Purdue University) and Prof. Vasudha Narayanan (University of Florida) will deliver lectures on Tyagaraja and India's cultural heritage.

The dance aspect is represented by two Bharatanatyam performances by Illinois-based schools Bharatam and Nrityanjali, Kuchipudi by Ananda Dance Theater, Chicago, and Odissi by Sangita Rangala and Ipsita Satpathy.

Most of the events will be held at the Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago, Lemont, Illinois. Details available at

Tuesday, 24 May 2016


It is a common adage – catch them young. Whenever we want to inculcate values or expose children to certain areas of interest we form groups usually in schools. Many of us remember with nostalgia a trip with the Scouts, a cleaning drive as a project of the NSS, or a march past organized by the NCC. International organizations like the Lions or Rotary have clubs in schools. 

Today the classical music scenario has so many young and bright performers who are taking it up as a career and yet, paradoxically there are fewer and fewer youngsters to listen to and appreciate music. Yuva rasika is an initiative by the Music Forum and Music Academy to bring together school and college students interested in classical music under one umbrella and to mould them as future rasikas. 

The launch of this project is happening at the Music Academy on the 25th of June. The Music Forum which is joining hands with the Music Academy for this project is all set to launch and implement the project on a large scale. Its Dr. Sunder’s dream to see this happen as a movement where in concert halls would be have young and vibrant rasikas enjoying and appreciating our music. Many schools have music clubs and the Forum is already in touch with a number of schools to join the Yuva rasika movement and the response is very encouraging. 

The project will look at congregating school students of Chennai to start with and periodically expose them to music appreciation sessions by eminent musicians. The students will be given YUVA RASIKA identity badges and these students will be given free entry to attend other regular concerts as well. By the forthcoming December Music Season, it is a distinct possibility that the musicians will be performing to an audience of a whole new group of youngsters.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

D.K. Pattammal’s Ragam Tanam Pallavi in Jaganmohini raga: An observation

By Poorna Vaidhyanathan

Part-time Ph.D scholar from S.V. University, Tirupati.

This paper is aimed at bringing out some exclusive elements unique to the music of Carnatic vocalist D.K. Pattammal. This is part of an analysis of DKP's manodharma or creative singing. The author is working on the topic ‘Style in the music of D.K. Pattammal’ – for her Doctorate thesis. In this connection she has undertaken an in-depth analysis on the rendering of an RTP by DKP in Jaganmohini raga and Tisra gati - Chatusra jati - Triputa tala (commonly known as Tisra Adi tala). This paper comprises the observations made on listening to the personal recording of the RTP rendered by DKP. In the chosen recording, D.K. Pattammal was given vocal support by her younger brother D.K. Jayaraman, with Tiruparkadal Veeraraghavan on the violin and Palghat Mani Iyer on the mridangam.

D.K. Pattammal, or DKP, stormed the Carnatic music world when it was predominantly a male bastion. With an illustrious career that spanned over 80 years, she is known for her rich repertoire of compositions of various composers, patriotic songs and manodharma sangeeta.

Manodharma (creativity) is just yet another aspect where D.K. Patttammal proved her individuality, richly nurtured by her introspection of the raga from the angles of swara, bhava and tempo of the raga. She had specially contributed to the several dimensions of manodharma sangeeta like raga-alapana, niraval, kalpanaswara, viruttam or sloka singing and of course the most challenging Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi (RTP) singing. Rendition of RTP encompasses all forms of manodharma. An analysis of D.K. Pattammal’s rendition of RTP will give us a detailed idea of her strengths and uniqueness. During her RTP rendition, nowhere was her individuality lost. Her innovations were based on pure tradition.

Firstly, the selection of ragas for RTP rendering can be considered. Normally RTPs are sung in ghana ragas and very traditional ragas like Bhairavi, Kalyani, Todi, Kharaharapriya or Begada and other ragas which are phrase-oriented ragas known as rakti ragas. The reason for this being, that such ragas provide scope for extensive alapana and tanam rendition. D.K. Pattammal’s adherence to tradition and classicism in view of manodharma, began at this stage itself. Apart from handling these common traditional ragas, Pattammal also handled with great ease and brilliance a deceptively simple raga like Jaganmohini. This raga, Jaganmohini – seems simple because of the straight notes that occur in sequential order. She explored this raga and took it to the status of the other traditional ragas mentioned above. A very simple and pleasant Mohanam would also be placed on par with these ragas as the complexity of the Pallavi to be rendered would be one of a highly intricate variety or the handling of tanam and swara kalpana were simply mind-blowing and brilliant.

Going into the depths of alapana rendition – she had no ambiguity or confusion at any given point. The very opening phrases would themselves indicate the identity of the raga which would be further brought out well with all the essential sangatis placed in fine order and not haphazard. Each raga had a very beautiful and graceful form filled with all the vital factors. The order of sangatis was given high importance. Minimal usage of brigas and fast phrases were interspersed judiciously which gave life to the raga. She took great care to avoid repetition of sangatis. If the raga demanded the repetition of a particular phrase only then would it be repeated. Otherwise the occurrence of any sangati more than the required number of times was avoided. It is of interest to note that the identity of the raga was brought out so well that her rendition naturally showcased the general technicalities like graha swaras, nyasa swaras, etc. While proceeding further one could perceive the exploration of the raga without going beyond the boundaries. There were intentional efforts not to shout or go beyond the range that her voice would permit – this made for great listening pleasure delighting the rasikas and making them crave for more. Strictly adhering to the traditional portrayal of the raga in its full splendour was probably the reason why she did not indulge in swara or graha bheda while developing the raga.

The duration of the raga also had a good proportion with respect to the complexity and duration of the pallavi to be rendered. Sometimes it was very lengthy – for example in the very famous Jaganmohini RTP she had sung an alapana for almost 12 minutes. In the process, traditional values and aesthetics were not lost, on the contrary, they were well preserved. While trying not to over-do the alapana portion for a RTP, the tempo of the raga rendered was also given priority. The very fact that D.K. Pattammal would not render too many fast phrases and maintained raga bhava, is proof enough that she would harmoniously blend fast, medium and slow sangatis in alapana. One would never feel the overdose of any aspect in Pattammal’s music.

D.K. Pattammal’s tanam singing was very well articulated with the syllables like ‘ananta’, ‘nomta’, and the way she would finish it – by way of interspersing of raga alapana bits. Most of the times, it would evidently be a continuation of the alapana. That is, she would never finish the alapana the way it is done when rendered as a prefix to a kriti. After raga alapana she seamlessly moved into tanam singing. Typical rhythm of the tanam was felt and at the same time she would give the effect of a relaxed rendition too. The tanam was very much shorter in duration compared to the alapana. It would roughly be one fourths or one fifths of the alapana duration. She developed the tanam in not more than three stages, that is, sanchara (experimenting varieties of phrases) around one note in the madhya sthayi, then a few sancharas in the tara sthayi (upper octave) shadja and then as a finale, she would sing again around a note above in the tara sthayi shadja and come back to the lower octave to finish. She would definitely sing the alapana bit and finish – tanam sans the rhythmic effect.

Now coming to the actual pallavi (the line with the sahitya that is created and taken up for elaboration, and embellishing it in a variety of rhythmic patterns) rendition, DKP was foremost amongst the very few women of her times who included RTPs in their concerts. In pallavi singing, DKP left no stone unturned. The pallavis were themselves quite complicated and she added to the intricacies by rendering trikalam, tisram, anulomam and pratilomam and completely dealt with all the possibilities of presenting the pallavi. She would reserve sufficient time in a concert for the ragam tanam pallavi – hence there was never a dull moment nor lack of time, thus making sure full justice was done to the RTP rendering.

As an example, let us study the RTP in Jaganmohini that DKP made famous. This has been chosen as it is technically a tricky one and a real thriller to the listener.

As one listens to her rendition of the raga alapana – the first segment of RTP – one is amazed by the brilliance, the clarity and lustre of presentation in spite of the apparent simplicity of the sancharas. It makes one realise that true tastefulness lies in simplicity. That was the uniqueness of D.K. Pattammal. Each phrase that she sang was so confident and there was no element of ambiguity whatsoever. Some of the bold sangatis or sancharas were typically DKP – what we call ‘azhuttham’ in Tamil. It refers to weighty classicism. All these put together, we could call it the ‘DKP’ element.

In the Jaganmohini RTP, DKP’s alapana is in a very relaxed tempo in the beginning. Depth is felt in the handling of the gamakas in the phrase “ma pa ni ma pa” – the link from the notes ni to ma – all gamakas are limited to the identity of the raga only. She begins the alapana in medium pace in the middle octave. Sancharas rendered are around the note pa for some time before moving on to sa in the upper octave. The pace is not at all hurried. She strictly adheres to the characteristics of the raga. She has not attempted any brigas or flashy phrases. Only after an elaborate rendition she has rendered a few fast phrases, that too very limited and in the upper octave note sa. Even beyond that she sings full-throatedly. The strength with which she has rendered the notes ma and ga as suddha swaras (plain notes) is very typically Jaganmohini. Only occasionally has she touched the note pa in the upper octave; this gives the listener a comfortable feeling and there is no threat of slips or off notes. She has rendered the alapana in two portions – and in the second half, in madhya sthayi (or mid-octave), she has sung a few more fast phrases. She winds up the alapana in the lower octave sa reaching the note pa in the mandra sthayi (lower octave) just once.

Tanam singing

In the tanam – the second segment of the RTP – she again starts from pa of the middle octave. The proportion of raga alapana and tanam are balanced. The tempo matches the speed of the alapana. D.K. Pattammal’s rendition of the tanam is short and there are crisp phrases with generous occurrence of jantai (twin) swaras in phrases like pa ma ma pa ma ma pa, ma ni pa pa ma ga, ga ri ri sa ni pa. The rhythm that is typical of the tanam singing is palpable. In the upper octave she has sung with gradual increase in speed compared to the tempo in which she started the tanam rendition. She has rendered just a couple of brigas which is noteworthy because she completely avoided brigas in the alapana. The structure of tanam singing adopted by D.K. Pattammal is a grammatically strict rendition of the tanam. She has not gone beyond ga in the upper octave.While winding up she has sung a short phrase of alapana and finished in lower octave sa.


The actual pallavi line has been sung three times before the violinist plays it once independently. This gives the clear structure of the pallavi – its calculations, the poorvangam (fore section) and uttarangam (second section) and the sahityam. The pallavi is in tisra gati (a sub-division of the beats in the tala). After rendering the line four times, DKP immediately starts the niraval. The notation for the pallavi line is given below:

Jaganmohini RTP – Tisra gati (2 kalai) Adi tala

The pallavi taken up is Nenje ninai anbe tudi neri nin Guruparan mel, Anjaadiru nam paavangal panjaai parandidum aagaiyaal (nenje). The original line in tisra gati is given in Table (1) and the variation in chatusra gati is given in Table (2). The table shows each cell representing a kriya of the tala in order. The first half gives the laghu (one beat and counting of fingers) and the second half is 2 dhrutams (one beat and turning of the palm is one dhrutam). From the following notation it is evident that the pallavi line starts after the tala starts – in the case of tisra gati, it is after 8 counts and in case of chatusra gati after 6 counts. Table (3) shows the shifting of chatusra gati back to tisra gati.

Table (1)

; ; ; ; g, m,
p, ; m, g,    p, m,
je– Ni  nai  An  - 
g, ;  r,  s,   g,  r, 
be- Tu di  Ne ri 
s, ;  ņ, s, g,  m,          |
Nin Gu ru pa ran

p, ; ; ;  ś, ;
 mel - - An- 
ś, ; ŕ,  ś,  ś, ; |
jaa di ru Nam
śn p, p, m,     p, n, 
Paa - vangal Pan –
ś, n,   p, m,   np m,    ||
jaai – Pa ran di dum  

g , ; r,    s,
Aa-gai  yaal (nenje…)

Table (2)

; ; ;  g m
p ; m g,    p  m
je– Ni  nai  An  - 
g ;   r   s,   g   r 
be- Tu di   Ne ri 
s ;  n  s,  g  m            |
Nin Gu ru pa ran

p, ;  ;     s,
 mel - - An- 
s ;   s  s,   s,      |
aa   di  ru   Nam
sn p  p     pm   p n 
Paa– van gal   Pan
snp  p pm   p m         ||
jaai – Pa ran di  dum  
g ;  r     s,    

Table (3)

; ; ;  g m
p ; m g,    p  m
je– Ni  nai  An  - 
g ;   r   s,   g   r 
be- Tu di   Ne ri 
s ;  n  s,  g  m            |
Nin Gu ru pa ran

p, ;  ;     s,
 mel - - An- 
s ;   s  s,   s,      |
aa   di  ru   Nam
sn p  p     pm   p n 
Paa– van gal   Pan
snp  p pm   p m         ||
jaai – Pa ran di  dum  

g , ; r,    s,
Aa-gai  yaal (nenje…)

Niraval Singing

Niraval is singing the chosen line several times without disturbing the laya element and carefully retaining the raga identity, attempting different melodic phrases of the raga. The variation comes in the combination of phrases. With very limited medium tempo niraval, DKP has rendered the second speed niraval in the upper sthayi or octave. The entire RTP has been rendered without much stress on the lower octave. Instead, only madhya sthayi and tara sthayi (middle and upper octaves) have been focused upon.

Handling of Tri-kalam

Next comes the scholarly section of rendering the tri-kalam in which the pallavi line is sung in varying speeds, and where possible, clever handling of a different gait or gati. This has been rendered by D.K. Pattammal in the following order:
# Original tempo
# Slow speed
# Original tempo
# Second speed

Here the original speed is referred to as first speed, slow speed is half of the first speed – which means what is sung in one cycle of a tala is spread out (proportionately) to two cycles of the same tala. The second speed is double speed – faster. Hence, what is sung in one cycle of a tala, is sung twice to the same tala. In case of a different tala, a tisram portion will also appear wherein, the pallavi line will be sung thrice to one cycle of the tala. Here again a first and second speed could occur.

Simple kalpana swaras are rendered in first speed with just one 3x5 calculation, that is, a concluding combination of 5 notes sung thrice. A slightly elaborate and complex rhythmic combination could form a ‘korvai’ which D.K. Pattammal has not rendered in the first speed. Compared to the presentation in the first speed, the second speed swara singing has more of calculations and korvais as a suffix or climax to the rendered kalpana swara. She has rendered kuraippu in the second speed, which are crisp and not too lengthy.

Kuraippu (literally means shortening) is another technical aspect of swara singing where the artist pauses on a note at diminishing duration points of a cycle of tala. After this she has rendered chatusra gati kalpana swaras with the ending phrases in tisram. This is the most interesting section of this RTP. Singing the chatusram and tisram alternately gives colour to the performance and excitement to the listener. With the same chatusra-tisra combination, she has rendered kuraippu in the second speed. This shows tremendous command over laya and control over voice. This is followed by the second speed of tisra kuraippu. This is a portion that leaves the listener awestruck. 

Each section, be it tisram, chatusram + tisram, tisram second speed, has been ended with a seemingly very simple korvai. After a detailed rendering of kalpana swara in this manner, the next section reveals a more scholarly division – anulomam and pratilomam (inversely varying speeds of either tala or pallavi while the other will remain constant) wherein she has rendered ragamalika (chain of contrasting ragas) swaras. Rendering of anulomam and pratilomam which is a rarity these days, itself needs great command over laya. A kuraippu in this is absolute and ultimate. The choice of ragas for ragamalika swaras are – Kambhoji, Karnataka Suddhasaveri, Athana, Sama, Anandabhairavi and Mohanam.

D.K. Pattammal’s RTP singing was obviously handled with ease and comfort. The recording also is proof that from the beginning till the end she has maintained a uniform tempo, where ever she came back to the original setting of the pallavi, the listener can feel that there was no speed variation. This needs special mention because it is quite natural for any artist to gradually and involuntarily increase the speed from the original speed in which the composition/ RTP was started. Very limited brigas and absence of non-conventional approach are adhered to. RTPs are usually an opportunity for artists to expose their skills in both musical and mathematical talents. D.K. Pattammal’s values in handling these aspects, is noteworthy. All her calculations were very well set, not at all simple as they seem so. Her rendition showcases her good control over laya. As far as musical calculations are concerned they were not sequential – not stereo-typed. D.K. Pattammal’s manodharma was highlighted by flawless spontaneity.

On a concluding note, just this one RTP, is enough to infer the genius of D.K. Pattammal. In the choice between speed, thrill, wizardry, gimmickry and voice maneuvering on the one hand, and dignity, poise, clarity, depth, weight and calmness on the other, she opted for the latter path. The respect she commanded and the reputation she enjoyed amongst connoisseurs and laymen alike is a sure testimony to the fact that the talent, diligence and commitment of an artist are truly rewarding. 

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Violin Vaibhavam in Bengaluru

By M.R. Rakshith

Violin Vaibhavam, a joint initiative of the Lalgudi Trust and the Krutagnya Trust, was conceived by the Lalgudi siblings G.J.R. Krishnan and Vijayalakshmi with the twin aims of promoting diverse traditions and styles of violin-playing as also providing a platform for serious students and up-and-coming musicians alike across the country. 

The first edition of this festival, which was held at Sastry Hall, Chennai in January 2015, introduced several gifted violinists from various banis to the discerning Chennai audience. Among the young talents spotted were disciples of veteran violinists A. Kanyakumari, Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi, Anuradha Sridhar, T.K.V. Ramanujacharyulu, Lalgudi G.J.R. Krishnan, Parur M.S. Anantharaman and the Mysore brothers Nagaraj and Manjunath. 

The second edition of Violin Vaibhavam was held on 3 January 2016 at Dr. H.N. Multimedia Hall, National College, Basavanagudi, Bengaluru. Presided over by seasoned artists such as T.S. Krishnamurthy, H.K. Venkatram, Anooru Anantakrishna Sharma and Anooru Dattatreya Sharma besides Lalgudi G.J.R. Krishnan and Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi, the festival featured the following violinists: Harini and Neha (disciples of Vittal Ramamurthy), Akshay Kaushik and Madhwesh (disciples of H.K. Venkatram), Achuthan Padmanabhan (disciple of A. G.A. Gnanasundaram), Aneesh (disciple of S.R. Vidyashankar), Jeyshri Balaji (disciple of Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi), Vaibhav Ramani (disciple of Kumaresh), Tharun Ravikumar, Anirudh Chandramouli (disciple of T.S. Krishnamurthy) and Nerujan Sehasothy (disciple of Lalgudi G.J.R. Krishnan).

The young musicians were ably accompanied by senior students of well-known mridangam, ghatam and khanjira vidwans. The event not only provided the participants an opportunity to fine-tune their art and gain an insight into aspects of performance such as time management and planning a concert schedule, but also helped them establish a warm rapport with fellow violinists and accompanists across regions, languages and banis. Violin Vaibhavam served as a rousing inspiration to promising young Carnatic violinists to further raise the bar and ply their art with greater rigour and fervour.

Sahapedia an interactive heritage portal

By Leela Venkataraman

With the ongoing knowledge explosion in the contemporary world, Sahapedia – an online resource on the arts – helps you explore, engage with and rediscover the cultural heritage of India and South Asia. Launched formally at a special function at Sangeet Natak Akademi’s Meghdoot Theatre in Delhi, this portal aesthetically and intelligently designed by young knowledge seekers, is aided by Executive Director Dr. Sudha Gopalakrishnan, and is backed by a team of experienced researchers engaged in collaborative exercises with experts and institutions. The endeavour founded on the premise of working together (saha) for what is an ever-growing encyclopaedia on histories, art and cultures of the subcontinent, is the brainchild of Sudha Gopalakrishnan who was earlier heading the National Manuscripts Mission. 

The areas covered come under the categories of Knowledge Traditions (philosophy, oral traditions, healing practices), Visual and Material Arts (sculpture, cinema, textiles), Performing Arts (dance, music, puppetry, theatre), Literature and Languages (authors, works, language histories), Practices and Rituals (festivals, cuisines, life-cycle rituals), Histories (places, movements, social change), Institutions (museums, universities and cultural centres), People (artists, scholars and practitioners) and Natural Environment (ecosystems, native species, national parks). Sahapedia offers multi-media content on a variety of themes for different levels of users, “a library displaying a vast selection of previously published research journals, visual media and archival resources – all of which can be accessed.” Sharing of information through several social-media websites will be facilitated through Sahapedia. There have been exchanges with Sruti magazine too for information.

An added advantage is that the text, videos, audio, photographs and timelines, in a discussion through the “çommunities feature” will be fully reviewed by the Sahapedia expert team before being offered to the public. Less known, cultural connections are also revealed through these interactive platforms.

This not-for-profit society offers a platform for participation with registered users across the world, and interested persons can also contribute content on areas pertaining to their interest and expertise.

Whether it is Deccan’s kalamkari textile painting, or some of India’s rich rural traditions, the archives features practicing living performers. When these living repositories of an art heritage disappear from the scene, their knowledge disappears along with them. These living practices are facing greater danger with the fast spreading urbanisation and globalisation. A measure of the urgency of the situation was posed by Osama Manzar, Director Digital Empowerment Foundation, at the inaugural function during the panel discussion on Culture Futures, when he mentioned that 196 languages were in danger of extinction right under our nose. 

Utpala Desai, scholar in Gujarati folk traditions, maintained that the developed world’s interest in the Indian digital user was more as a prospective consumer than as a creator. But Sahapedia’s work done through its rigorous interactive endeavours through digital use among weavers of Nuapatna and Chanderi, and other areas, has led to a widening of knowledge among these craftsmen by helping connect all the workers in a very useful way. Through social media, 450 songs of the Manganiyars – which otherwise would have vanished with the practitioners – have been documented.

Sahepedia has worked on domains like festivals of Dassara and Eid and the kinds of narratives, rituals, performatory and celebratory aspects found among different regions and constituencies. Through text articles, images, audio visual records, maps, lineage trees, and timelines, a large part of the cultural environment which is not finding the kind of cultural space enjoyed a few decades ago, is being fully preserved as knowledge documents – revitalising cultural spaces and integrating services including research, documentation, digitisation and conservation.

This cross disciplinary platform one hopes will be fully put to use by scholars, artists, students, teachers, travellers and enthusiasts of the subcontinent's heritage.