Thursday, 3 June 2021

FROM THE EDITOR


The June issue of Sruti is a bouquet of profiles big and small, of personalities who have left their imprints on the artistic canvas. On the occasion of the late violin maestro M.S. Goplakrishnan’s birthday on 10 June, an old friend and rasika recalls the man and his extraordinary music in our Readers Write section.

The cover story focuses on the famous duo in Hindustani music—Rajan and Sajan Misra, who have been among the most popular singers in the past two decades. Representatives of the Banaras gharana and champions of khayal gayaki, they have earned a name for themselves for their  mature music embellished by bhava,  special thought  applied to lyrics and enunciation, their vast repertoire, as also for their religious music. I heard them often on the radio and television in the 1970s – 80s, but got an opportunity to listen to them live in 1980-81 at the RIMPA festival organised by sitar maestro Ravi Shankar in Varanasi. The brothers seemed to have an uncanny understanding of each other’s thought process and the way the cascading  alternate rounds of taans came in quick succession—Rajan’s sargam taan followed by Sajan’s akaar taan—was especially amazing. As a part-time music student of the Banaras Hindu University,
I even managed to get an autograph from Rajan Misra. Its now become a cherished memory with his succumbing to Covid in Delhi on 25 April 2021.  Writer Shailaja Khanna and eminent musicians have paid tribute to this versatile duo in this issue
of Sruti.

In continuation of our special feature on Lord Siva-Nataraja, veteran Bharatanatyam exponent and guru  Sudharani Raghupathy shares with us  her ‘vision of Nataraja’ gained over a lifetime dedicated to the arts. Scholar Sudha Seshayyan’s article on the ‘Sapta tandava’ provides rare insights into minute details.

We are delighted to bring to you small profiles of artists who have helped to popularise Indian culture abroad. Chatur Lal was a progressive tabla player who toured with sitar maestro Ravi Shankar in the mid 1950s and 60s and was among the first to participate in talavadya ensembles and successful percussion fusion experiments. Myrta Barvie was a ballet dancer who studied in Kalakshetra and returned to her homeland to become a pioneer in performing and propagating  Indian classical dances in South America. Famous natyacharya V.P. Dhananjayan has paid an endearing tribute to a collaborator Jacques D’ Amboise – a ballet dancer and master choreographer who, through his mammoth collaborations, taught and shared the joy of dancing with children belonging to underprivileged communities across the world.

The list of those snatched by the cruel hands of Fate grows longer by the day. Veteran sitar maestro and academician Debu Chaudhuri (85) and his son Prateek Chaudhuri (49) succumbed to the deadly Covid  within a week of each other. The demise of octogenarian writer Laxminarayan Garg, Editor of the long-running Hindi monthly Sangeet, on 30 April is a loss to arts journalism in Hindi. The passing away of the much respected veteran composer and musician Tanjavur Sankara Iyer has left a void in Carnatic music. The field of Bharatanatyam has lost a fine exponent, teacher and choreographer in the death of  B. Bhanumathi in Bengaluru on 24 May. She was a disciple of greats like natyacharya K.N. Dandayudhapani Pillai, Kadur Venkatalakshamma and Kalanidhi Narayanan. Sruti
fondly recalls her participation as a representative of the ‘Dandayudhapani school’  in the National Seminar on Bharatanatyam Traditions held in Chennai in December 1989.

To end on a positive note, the pandemic has seen several musicians and dancers rising  to the occasion and coming forward in traditional and innovative ways to contribute towards the welfare of artists and society. May the spirit of
caring and giving grow.

S. JANAKI

Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Music video spills out powerful message on water resources

Priya Subramanian

Rivers of India - Music Video Launch (ICCW)

The symbolism of rivers has been used abundantly in poetry, music and story-telling. Rivers depict the entire circle of life and are revered as nature’s wonders. In the Indian context, they are worshipped and humanised to tell moving stories of civilizations. However, through the generations,  excessive use of these water bodies has led to their erosion and contamination. Today, we are faced with the colossal task of restoring them and sustaining them for future generations. This is the quintessential and compelling message of the recently released music video, Rivers of India.

Premiered on Earth Day, 22 April 2021, Rivers of India was conceptualised and composed by Kanniks Kannikeswaran, famous Indian-American music composer, in collaboration with The Center for Clean Water (ICCW), an initiative of IIT Madras, of which he is a distinguished alumnus (2019 awardee). The 6.5 minute-long video is a breathtaking salutation to India’s rivers, with a prayer to preserve them. Not only is the video a feast for the eyes, but also pools in leading Indian classical musicians Bombay Jayashri and Kaushiki Chakraborty and their sons, who are emerging artists.

To those familiar with his work, Kanniks is a firm believer in the sovereignty of ragas to bring people and causes together. His efforts in building global choirs and musical communities have brought him a flood of accolades. As a member of one his regional choirs in the US and also a miniscule part of the choral arrangement in the Rivers of India video, I feel privileged to share the story behind this musical video, which includes the names of 51 rivers from all over India.

In February 2020, a little before the global pandemic hit, Kanniks visited The Woodlands, TX (the choir chapter I am part of) and College Station, TX. It was while working with a group of 30 amateur singers in College Station, singing his composition Gange from his flagship production, Shanti, that the idea of creating something simple, featuring the names of rivers such as Ganga and Yamuna struck him. “I immediately found myself singing the first line of the composition, finding joy just in the names of the rivers. The manner in which they fit into a seven-beat Misra chapu tala and the addition of the prefix Sri to the river Saraswati, was something that naturally fell in place”, recalls Kanniks. He completed this inspiring piece of work on his way back to his home in Cincinnati.

When Kanniks resumed online lessons with us, we were indeed delighted to be amongst the first of all his choral groups to learn the Rivers of India composition from him on Zoom soon after lockdowns were imposed. During one of our sessions, he expressed his vision to see this song performed by prominent singers in India, along the lines of the iconic Mile sur mera tumhara. Little did we know then that some of our voices would trickle into this meaningful presentation a year later alongside celebrity musicians.

Moving along with his drift of thoughts, Kanniks reached out to his 1984 batchmate E. Nandakumar (CEO – International Center for Clean Water IIT Madras), with whom he discussed the idea of a music video. This was in continuation of a conversation they had in January 2020 during the  35th reunion of IIT Madras, where Kanniks had proposed creating a large-scale stage performance on campus, with the goal of promoting awareness about water resources. Given the changed circumstances around Covid-19, Nandakumar and Professor T. Pradeep, Director of ICCW, readily agreed to support an online production with the same theme.

The lockdowns of 2020 eroded a good part of the year, however Kanniks was determined to tide over them and make the video a reality. He reached out to Sai Shravanam, music producer/ace audio engineer in Chennai, with whom he had worked together on other projects. The two plunged into the project and came up with a deluge of ideas, from reaching out to artists, to recording and producing the music. It was an epiphany on Sai’s front that led the team to pursue the mother-son duos of Bombay Jayashri and Amruth Ramnath (Chennai), and Kaushiki Chakraborty and Rishith Desikan (Kolkata). Supporting singers Mayur Davay and Savitha Sai were added, much like the many tributaries featured in the video. The song was arranged and produced by Sai Shravanam with several layers of percussion and special effects.

Kanniks says he was excited at the prospect of working with leading artists as well as uniting the Carnatic and Hindustani streams together in one video. According to him, both Jayashri and Kaushiki perceived and internalised the central emotion of the song in its entirety - the flow and swathe of the rivers.

To be featured in the same video as such stalwarts was a thrilling prospect for all of us. Although spread out in different parts of the world, the 50 of us became uniformly immersed in the tune. We each sang the lone choral line, dressed in shades of blue, and shared our individual audio and video tracks with Kanniks, who programmed them into the video. Concluding recordings and edits were done by Bharat Vikram (a successful producer of several musical videos), and a trailer was released 22 March of this year. The final video was released formally on 22 April in a virtual ceremony hosted by IIT Madras.

If one were to dive deep into the composition, it can be best described as a “song that just flows”, as Kanniks states. Written in the beautiful raga Yamuna Kalyani, the piece is complete with a pallavi, anupallavi and a chorus, with the curves in the melody representing the flow of the rivers. The seven-beat cycle stands for the sapta-sindhavah (seven bodies of water revered in the Rig Veda). Yamuna Kalyani vibes with the name Yamuna that appears in the very first line. The tribute also indirectly salutes Muthuswami Dikshitar whose kriti, Jambupate in the same raga, reveres Siva’s manifestation in the form of ‘water’. The anupallavi is rich in swaraksharas; the lines rhyme with each other with alliterative alankaras such as antyakshara prasam. The Sanskrit equivalent names of rivers such as Sutlej easily glide with the tune, as do names such as Vaigai and Hooghly!

This music is not just about adulating the rivers of India. After the introductory celebration, the song makes a distinct transition into the raga Keeravani, with intense alaaps and percussive layers. At this juncture, the camera moves away from the singers and vistas of pristine waterscapes to scenes of human-induced pollution and the resultant devastation of water resources. Kanniks reiterates that he did not want the song to end in this gloom and therefore introduced a momentary pause, after which a surge of hope gushes in, with the well-known Tamil phrase from the Silappadikaram - nadanthai vazhi, juxtaposed with the Sanskrit phrase Jale asmin sannidim kuru. (You walked this land; may you be blessed; O rivers, please emerge in the water in front of me).  There is an immediate change in key and a dramatic emergence of the virtual global chorus of singers, splashes across the screen. The song comes to a climactic conclusion with images of the Center for Clean Water, the work done by them and an invitation to be part of the Clean Water initiative.

The video is nearing one lakh views within a month, and makes a statement that, the online audio-visual medium of expression is here to stay. The end result is as captivating as it is influential, in spurting out an indomitable message to preserve these invaluable resources. Lastly, intergenerational projects have a large impact. “These rivers are ours and this story needs to be told”, Kanniks pours his heart out passionately, “This is an attempt to call the rivers out by name. Knowing of their existence is a first step in creating awareness about water resources”, he expresses.

The entire project brings back for him, the memories of The Blue Jewel, a production from 1996 which he collaborated with the University of Cincinnati. “I am blown away by the relevance of the shocker images used then;  masked humans are now walking the globe – while at that time, we projected the reality of our disregard for the environment resulting in patients being treated with masks in hospitals”, he observes.  “Surely, what the world is going through is largely a result of our own callousness towards our precious resources”, he adds. The Blue Jewel touched only a few thousand people in Cincinnati, but in today’s digital world, Rivers of India is garnering a fast-growing viewership. Kanniks is soaked with gratitude for social media and complements online platforms for providing much-needed respite and sanity to music lovers in today’s turbulent times.

Talking to Kanniks is always an invigorating experience. Just like the lush waterfalls portrayed in the Rivers of India video, his mind is always overflowing with creative ideas and message-oriented themes waiting to be produced. He is particularly overjoyed to have been able to include the names of all hostels on the IIT Madras campus in this song (they are named after Indian rivers), transporting him back to his student days there. While for us, the members of his global choir, this mesmerising production has been instrumental in delivering a spate of important lessons - from water conservation, to adapting to online presentations, and finally, the names of Indian rivers.

(The author is a freelance writer and also a member of the Rivers of India choir)

Tuesday, 11 May 2021

TALENT SHOWCASE

Masters of tomorrow

Shailaja Khanna

In every generation, there come one or two superlative musicians who dominate the musical landscape during their time. In north Indian classical music, in the generations preceding ours – in the field of sarod, it was Amjad Ali Khan in the 1980s and 90s, indeed till today; before him it was Ali Akbar Khan from the 50s to the 70s. In vocal music, till the 1940s it was Fayyaz Khan, followed a decade later by Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Kesar Bai, then Amir Khan and Kumar Gandharva, followed by Bhimsen Joshi, and lately, Kishori Amonkar and Jasraj.

In the world of tabla, the golden trinity -- Samta Prasad, Alla Rakha and Kishan Maharaj gave way to Zakir Hussain. Amongst sitariyas, Vilayat Khan and  Ravi Shankar  were followed by Shahid Parvez and Shujaat Khan; this cycle continues.

Today, with the advent of social media platforms for the dissemination of classical music, to discern who is going to rule the concert platforms in the next few years is harder to ascertain. There are also many more practitioners whose art is available to music lovers. Despite this, one can perhaps predict some from the younger generation of musicians, who will emphatically come into their own in the following decade.

Manjusha Patil (born 1971), is already amongst the top ten Hindustani  vocalists today. Acknowledged as a talent to look out for, she was awarded the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi Yuva Puraskar in 2012, and the coveted  Kumar Gandharva award in 2016, among other accolades. A self-made singer, who has had three gurus, Manjusha has a well-honed,  highly-practised voice that soars with ease in three octaves; an ever expanding repertoire, an ability to move between vocal forms with seamless ease -- her abhangs are as polished as her vilambit khayal or emotive thumri.                         

Manjusha’s journey started in her pre-teens. Born in the rich musical town of Sangli, Maharashtra, her talent was quickly spotted even as a child, and she was sent to the best singer in Sangli, Chintubua Mhaiskar. She started performing at a very young age, and was noticed on stage by her next guru, D.V. Kanebua, who lived in the nearby town of Icchalkaranji. She would spend the weekends with her guru, and would practise what she was taught during the week, after school. This continued for twelve long years.

Kanebua was an unusually erudite singer -- initially trained in the Gwalior gharana gayaki, he had also learnt in the Agra style from Vilayat Hussain Khan. His prowess in natya sangeet was well-known. He laid a solid music foundation for Manjusha, from which she could soar, taking guidance from other seniors like Shubhada Paradkar, Vikas Kashalkar and finally his star brother,  Ulhas Kashalkar from whom Manjusha continues to learn. Her innate interest in thumri led her also to pursue the craft from Narendra Kanekar. She is equally popular for her abhangs, which she honed under Kanebua who had learnt from none other than the great Bal Gandharva himself. 

Manjusha realises that this decade is an important one; she shared that in 2015, after she had the honour to be accompanied on the tabla by Zakir Hussain. It was a golden moment for her, and intensified her focus.               

Satyajit Talwalkar is hailed as one of the finest tabla players of his generation. Born in 1978, he has been playing solo and accompanying concerts for the last 25 years. Son and disciple of  Suresh Talwalkar and acclaimed vocalist Padma Talwalkar, Satyajit started his musical training as a toddler and impressively played his first solo concert at the age of nine.

Today, creditably he has accompanied several musicians of an earlier generation including Amjad Ali Khan, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Shiv Kumar Sharma and Jasraj. He was awarded the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi Yuva Puraskar in 2011 as a recognition of his undoubtable mastery on the tabla. Today Satyajit is a much sought after accompanist. His musical approach in accompaniment is no doubt a result of his training under his vocalist mother, but father  Suresh Talwalkar too has always included vocal music very prominently in his solo acts, making it a part of the presentation. In fact, having the voice accompany the tabla is an innovation derived from his acknowledgement that laya is incomplete without swara. His solos are thrilling, innovative and executed with a crisp mastery that is breathtaking, and one expects to hear much more of Satyajit in the coming years.

Like other percussionists of his generation, Satyajit too has dabbled in experimental music with percussionists from other genres, and jazz musicians.   

Sitariya Shakir Khan (born 1982) is an eighth generation practitioner of the sitar; in his family, in his generation he is the only concert playing “sitariya”. He is the son of sitar maestro Shahid Parvez, great grandson of the surbahar playing Wahid Khan and great great grandson of  Imdad Khan, the founder of the gharana. Regarded as the premier sitar playing gharana of India, the Imdadkhani gharana, has, in the last 100 years produced the finest sitariyas in each generation, from Imdad Khan, Inayat Khan, Vilayat Khan and Shakir’s own father,  Shahid Parvez Khan. Shakir played his first concert at the age of eleven. As yet his undeniable talent is relatively unacknowledged, with very few awards to his credit, but his popularity and credibility as a performer are there for all to see. His recitals are polished, redolent with expertly executed movements. Holding a masters degree in music, Shakir is following in his father’s footsteps in keeping his family’s tradition alive, and teaches in the gurukul system at their ashram called Swara Setu in Pune, which has around 100 students. 

What stands out in Shakir is his openness as a musician; most younger musicians hesitate to communicate with other older artists on stage.  Laudably, Shakir has played jugalbandis with north Indian vocalists and instrumentalists, including Mewati gharana vocalist  Sanjeev Abhyankar.


Abhishek Lahiri (born 1983) is fast emerging as a sarodiya to watch out for. With a training combining the three major schools of sarod playing, Abhishek perhaps has an edge over his contemporaries. His father  Alok Lahiri has received musical training from the Senia Maihar gharana (with  Shyam Ganguly, disciple of Baba Allaudin Khan), Senia Gwalior gharana (from Amjad Ali Khan) and Senia Shahjahanpur gharana (from   Budhadev Ganguly). Each school has its specialisation and it is to Abhishek’s credit that he has seamlessly integrated the different approaches assimilated by his father, while of course remaining primarily a Maihar gharana sarodiya. His integrity to raga is matched by a correctly taught unfolding of the raga, combining lyricism with the sarod baaj. 

Abhishek has played in venues across the world, including at the European Parliament at Strasbourg. His albums have been nominated twice by GIMA (Global Indian Music awards) and he is already an A-grade artist with All India Radio. Described as the ‘wonder child of sarod’ in 2008, Abhishek is fast living up to expectations. He share: “I have tried to develop my own style of playing, not trying to copy anyone blindly. I feel that maintaining the integrity of the ragas is very important, and cannot be compromised. As I am an instrumentalist, I must show the special techniques of the sarod, the sarod baaj. It is not enough to only play with lyrics, where the specialities of my instrument are not exhibited. My performance should be 60 percent physical riyaaz and 40 percent thinking and introspective riyaaz. If I attempt to play exactly like a maestro of the 1960s or 1970s, I will not be able to attract a younger audience who can  listen to the greats on record.”

The coming decades promise to be interesting musically for north Indian classical music, with such talented musicians maturing into the masters of tomorrow.

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Wednesday, 5 May 2021

CENTENARY TRIBUTE

 Lingering memories of our Guru Pichumani Iyer

Ramnath Iyer and Gopinath Iyer



For eight years, the routine was the same. We would traipse through the noisy streets of Mylapore to our guru Pichumani Iyer’s house, veena picks and oil box gripped in one hand and meticulously copied notation notebook in the other. 

And even now, thirty-six years later, the memories of each class linger in our minds—our guru’s kind yet firm words, his watchful eyes following the fingers dancing on the strings, the echoes of the veena pulsing through the room. 

Born in Nagapattinam on 18 May 1920, Pichumani Iyer hailed from a family of musicians. As a boy he learnt vocal music from “Jalar” Gopala Iyer of Tiruchi. He later took to the veena and learnt from Tiruchi Kupanna.  He was fifteen by this time and had already established his talents by winning the prestigious award of the National College, Tiruchi in a Carnatic vocal music contest. He studied up to S.S.L.C. in the National College School before joining the Annamalai University. At the University he received the Sangeeta Bhooshanam for veena in 1942 after completing the four-year course under the tutelage of Tiger Varadachariar, K.S.  Narayanaswamy and Gomathi Sankara Iyer.

Soon after graduation, he relocated to Madras to join AVM Studios in their music troupe. He was a key veena player in the orchestra for over 16 years and his veena music in many film songs was highly acclaimed during that time when classical music ruled the roost in cinema. His veena playing for the films Penn, Sampoorna Ramayanam, and the hit songs Maalai pozhuthin mayakkathile, Veenai kodiyudaya vendaney and Indru poi naalai va, speak volumes of his talent. In 1959 he quit his job at the AVM Studios and started his career as a full-time vainika, teaching and performing concerts.

He was conferred several titles and awards by organisations and institutions—including the TTK award from the Music Academy, Madras, the Kalaimamani award from the State Government of Tamil Nadu and the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi award. He performed all over India and undertook his maiden trip overseas to Australia in 1999 at our invitation. He published a number of audio recordings;  some of  his early gramophone records brought out between the 1950s  and the 1970s were popular and regularly broadcast by All India Radio. He was a top-grade artist of All India Radio and Doordarshan. Pichumani Iyer was a composer of merit too, with a few swarajatis, varnam and tillanas to his credit. One of his tillanas is in the raga of his own creation called Vasanta Kaisiki.

Pichumani Iyer trained a number of students, many of whom are notable veena players in their own right. To name a few performing disciples: Vasantha Krishnamurthy, P. Vasanthkumar, R.S. Jayalakshmi, B. Kannan, Revathi Krishna, R. Raman,  Thayapari Niranjan (Singapore), Sastry Vedham, Shriram (U.S.A.) and the two of us called Iyer Brothers (Australia).

It is always difficult to capture the power of music in words. This reflection, however, from a press review by the highly respected music critic the late N.M.  Narayanan (The Hindu, Friday, 14 June 1991), encapsulates Pichumani Iyer’s impact. “It is a problem of discovering a point where the practical and the idealistic meet. It is a point from which the classical music that flows is practical without being over-practical and profane, and idealistic without being lost in useless and unproductive idealism. The modern kutcheri pioneers showed the way of sustaining classical music with dignity on this middle path… R. Pichumani has fashioned a method for himself. It is a method by which veena music retains character and is made entertaining at the same time.”

Any rasika who has attended his kutcheris can attest to the high calibre of performance. His supple fingering, unique attention to detail, and rich rendering of traditional compositions made each concert moving in its own way. 

Tracing the career of Pichumani Iyer demands reflection not only on his success as a professional veena vidwan but also celebration of the personal impact he had on the lives of his many students as a guru. Even when our IT jobs eventually took us out of Chennai, our lessons with him were a highlight of our annual trips to India. “Vadhyar”, as we fondly referred to him, gave us so much. Each class would go on for at least two hours, three times a week. It was like a gurukulam! Beyond the classroom, Vadhyar and Mami (his wife) treated us like their own sons; bequeathing us with the duty of getting ‘Kumbakonam vettalai’ and ‘vaasanai seeval’ from their favourite shop in Mylapore’s East Mada street before each class.

Every class was more than just a lesson on the veena. Without a tape recorder in the early learning years, Vadhyar would make us repeat the sangatis incessantly to ensure the music was etched in our memory. He also inculcated in us the discipline of notating songs promptly at the conclusion of each class. In this way, we absorbed a sense of discipline, responsibility and attention to detail that we try to apply in our lives.

Iyer Brothers with their guru at a practice session

We remember Vadhyar for his gentility and soft-spoken nature. Many of his musical peers were his close friends. The noted composer Tanjavur Sankara Iyer and veteran vocalist Calcutta K.S. Krishnamurthy were his classmates from Annamalai University. Tanjavur Sankara Iyer would visit him often and engage in musical discussions. We have watched and eagerly enjoyed some of these interactions during our class, relishing the lively back and forth between vidwans. Veena
S. Balachander and Chitti Babu were also close friends of our guru.

Vadhyar used to remark about the conversations with Veena Balachander, who would occasionally visit his house late in the night and take him to the Marina beach where they would relentlessly chat for hours! Balachander was very keen to understand how Vadhyar had such a fine “meetu” (plucking) technique without the plucking noise. Other musicians such as Seergazhi Govindarajan, Vellore Ramabhadran, Umayalpuram Sivaraman, Lalgudi Jayaraman, N. Ramani were also his good friends. Vadhyar teamed up with Seergazhi Govindarajan to conduct the Tyagaraja Aradhana at Tiruvaiyaru for a few years.

On the completion of the centenary of his birth, we celebrate our guru, Pichumani Iyer for his multitudinous achievements in Carnatic music. We can still recall his vibrant, gamaka-oriented playing and respectful adherence to the vocal style. Melodious rich tone, soft plucking and sensitive playing were the unique hallmarks of Pichumani Iyer’s style. Beyond this, we also remember his generous spirit, his humility despite countless accolades, and his genuine passion as a teacher.

We are blessed to have been his sishyas, and will be forever grateful for the lessons he taught us not only in music, but in life.


(The authors are well known vainikas and music teachers based in Melbourne, Australia)

http://iyerbrothersveena.com/

Friday, 30 April 2021

FROM THE EDITOR

Everything seems to have come full circle once again.  This time, last year so many of us were confused, cautiously trying to cope with the situation of lockdown, retrenchment, work-from-home,  living in  fear of the deadly virus, and rarely venturing out from home. Live cultural programmes, teaching-learning classes, had grinded to a halt throwing things out of gear for members of the arts fraternity; there was so much uncertainty all around. It was a totally new experience for all.

Things eased a bit and since the summer of 2020, the digital space started buzzing with online cultural activity as artists and social media commentators explored every avenue to give vent to their creativity.  The online music and dance season was a success and a morale booster for  many.  The scenario improved further in the new year 2021, and in January-February it was heartening to see sabhas opening their halls to live performances with Covid protocols in place.  The launch of the Covid vaccination drive ushered in hope that things would look up in the coming months. But the euphoria was shortlived.

Since March-April the second Corona wave has been more virulent.  The situation everywhere has turned grim with vaccines, life-saving  medicines and oxygen in short supply and Covid positive cases and deaths shooting up. As a consequence, curfew, lockdown and restrictions on gatherings and cultural activities have been clamped down once again. No respite, we are back to square one! Often we get news of deaths and bereavement in the artistic fraternity. Sruti extends it’s heartfelt condolences to the affected families.

It has become a time for introspection,   to draw on our inner reserves for strength  and sustenance.  A time to contemplate on a Higher Being for Hope; and what better subject than to dwell on Siva-Nataraja whose eternal, cosmic Dance is the embodiment of the activities of srishti, sthiti, samhara, tirodhana and anugraha. It is probably time for Siva-Neelakantha to once again come to the rescue of humanity and cleanse the poison pervading the environment. The cover story in the May issue of Sruti is devoted to Siva-Nataraja. We are indeed privileged to bring to our readers very insightful articles written by eminent personalities Padma Subrahmanyam and Sudha Seshayyan. And we hope to offer our readers some more in the coming issues.

In the News & Notes section too, we have reports on the natyanjalis held during  Sivaratri. We also have write-ups about Tyagaraja aradhana –  our way of  paying homage to the vaggeyakara whose jayanti is usually celebrated in May. The Iyer Brothers, renowned vainikas, have penned a sincere and moving tribute to their guru the late Pichumani Iyer whose centenary celebrations conclude in May. The birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore – famous for his Gitanjali, Rabindra Sangeet and Rabindra Nritya – is also celebrated in May. We bring to you a report on an interesting seminar (held in 2020) on Rabindra Nritya  which is now about 100 years old.

Our correspondent K.K. Gopalakrishnan has penned an obituary tribute to the veteran Kathakali doyen Chemmencherry Kunhiraman Nair who passed away recently at the ripe old age of 104. I got an opportunity to watch the centenarian— with an endearing smile and twinkling eyes—perform the navarasa at a felicitation function organised at BIFAC in Chennai a few years ago. He was amazing even at that age.

Even as we go to print we are shocked to hear about the sad demise of the famous Hindustani vocalist Rajan Mishra who succumbed to Covid. In this grim situation, we can do our bit by wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, sanitising and remaining safe at home as much as possible. Let’s listen to music, watch dance – online of course! And read a lot too!

S. JANAKI

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

J. VAIDHYANATHAN

Immersed in his rhythm                                                                                   Lakshmi Anand

Senior mridangist J. Vaidhyanathan believes his commitment to accompaniment begins right from arriving well on time for the concert. “A concert is like a yagna, a lot of effort—we should not cause any consternation to either the organiser or the artists—rather, we should ensure that we do whatever we can to keep them calm, thus ensuring the best output from the artists. Also, regardless of who the artist is or his/her seniority levels, everyone should be treated on an equal footing on stage,” says Vaidhyanathan.

The youngest of three children, Vaidhyanathan was born to Sangita Kalanidhi D.K. Jayaraman and his wife J. Jayalakshmi on 22 April 1965 in Damal, near Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu. The family moved to Chennai a few years after his birth. His aunt Sangita Kalanidhi D.K. Pattammal, a colossus in Carnatic music, was already in Chennai. Music, thus, was the most  natural foray for Vaidhyanathan.

His elder brother Srivatsan did not pursue music but is a knowledgeable rasika. Sister C. Sukanya is a vocalist who accompanied her father regularly and performs and continues to teach. Wife Poorna, who has a doctorate in Music, is working as a violin lecturer since 2005 at S.V. College of Music and Dance run by TTD in Tirupati. Like Vaidhyanathan’s mother, Poorna too has been a quiet pillar of support in his musical career. “She is very meticulous, especially in organising my things when I have to travel. I do not have to worry about anything and can concentrate on my mridangam playing. We also discuss a lot about music. She is an excellent teacher who has trained beginners in music to rise to the level of gold medallists,” says JV as he is popularly known.

Vaidhi, Vijay Siva, Akhila Siva and Priya in concert

As Jayaraman taught his students, he noticed the toddler Vaidhi constantly tapping to perfect tala with his fingers. Noticing the child’s affinity for rhythm, Jayaraman decided to start him on mridangam. Little Vaidhi was initiated into ‘ta dhi tom nam’ by the stalwart Sangita Kalanidhi Palghat Mani Iyer. Given his prolific travel schedules, Mani Iyer suggested to Jayaraman that the child continue to learn from his senior disciple Palghat Kunjumani. Vaidhi also learned from Srinivasan (another disciple of Palghat Mani Iyer), Dindigul Ramamurthy and Tanjavur Ramadas. While learning from Ramamurthy and Ramadas, Vaidhyanathan won the junior scholarship from the Government of India. In 1985, when it was time to apply for the senior scholarship, he enrolled with mridangam stalwart Sangita Kalanidhi T.K. Murthy, who was an A-Top grade artist.

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Saturday, 3 April 2021

ABHAI honours eminent artists

By Samudri


The 32nd annual day of the Association of Bhartanatyam Artistes of India (ABHAI), conducted on 20 March this year, was a well-attended, grand event, organised live at the Sathguru Gnanananda Hall in Chennai.

The event began on an auspicious note with a prayer by ABHAI member Ananthashree which was followed by the lighting of the kuthuvilakku by the chief guests V.P. Dhananjayan and Lakshmi Viswanathan, along with the awardees and the president of ABHAI, Roja Kannan who then delivered the welcome address. The  activities undertaken during 2019-2020 were elaborated upon in the annual report presented by the secretary Binesh Mahadevan. In keeping with one of its objectives to recognize excellence in the field, the ABHAI awards were conferred by the chief guests of the evening -- natyacharya V.P. Dhananjayan, and veteran  Bharatanatyam exponent and writer Lakshmi Viswanathan, both founding members and former office bearers of ABHAI.

The prestigious  Natya Kalanidhi award was conferred on veteran Bharatanatyam and Kathakali exponent, guru, arts administrator and Kalakshetra alumnus Prof. A.  Janardhanan. Senior violinist M.S. Kannan received the Gandharva Nipuna title. Well known Bharatanatyam dancer, teacher, organiser and founder of Kala Pradarshini -- Parvathi Ravi Ghantasala was honoured with the Nritya Perunjothi title and senior male dancer, choreographer and teacher G. Narendra with the Narthaka Nipuna title. The citations were read out by ABHAI vice-presidents Janaki Srinivasan, and Priya Murle, with committee member Nithyakalyani Vaidyanathan playing the role of an efficient emcee.


V.P. Dhananjayan delivered the presidential address which was very motivating for young and aspiring dancers and encouraging to the ABHAI team. Lakshmi Viswanathan's felicitation speech, peppered with interesting anecdotes and her personal interaction with each awardee was enjoyable. It was indeed a pleasure to listen to a great yet humble artist like Prof. A. Janardhanan as he shared his thoughts and experiences in his acceptance speech presented on behalf of all the awardees. Proposing the vote of thanks, Priya Murle expressed ABHAI’s gratitude to all  who had made the event possible, and a special thanks to the donors of the ABHAI welfare fund, which had paved the way for ABHAI to support more than 560 artists during the initial Covid-19 pandemic period when the scenario was bleak.

The second part of the evening’s presentation comprised group presentations by ABHAI members of some items learnt during the Abhivridhishalas (workshops) organised by ABHAI. It was heartening that one troupe, led by guru  Jayashree Narayanan, had come all the way from Puducherry to participate.  All the dancers won the appreciation of the audience for their well coordinated effort. The announcements were ably handled by ABHAI committee members Shanmugha Sundaram, Mahalakshmi Ashwin and Nidheesh.

Overall, a satisfying event, well organised with strict adherence to Covid protocols.

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

FROM THE EDITOR


The month of Chaitra or Chittirai is a joyous one as it ushers in the new year in different parts of India – based on their regional calendars. The beginning of Chaitra is a time to celebrate Ugadi, Gudi Padwa, Cheti Chand and Navreh. Mid- April rings in the new with Baisakhi, Tamil Putthaandu, Bohag Bihu, Pohela Baisakh and Vishu. In the cultural calendar too there is cause to celebrate as sabhas have opened their small halls and big auditoria to host live programmes. After several months of trepidation and hibernation, rasikas are making bold to venture out to attend cultural programmes. There is now a new addition to their aharya – colourful, matching masks of course. Nobody shakes hands now, no bear hugs; the elegant, traditional Namaste is in vogue!

A major live programme was ABHAI’s Annual Day, organised successfully at the Sathguru Gnanananda Hall in Chennai, while strictly following the Covid protocol  Veteran dance exponent, guru and arts administrator Prof. A. Janardhanan, was conferred the Natya Kalanidhi on the occasion. Senior violin accompanist for dance M.S. Kannan, as well as Bharatanatyam exponents and teachers Parvathi Ravi Ghantasala and G. Narendra were also honoured with titles by the Association of Bharatanatyam Artistes of India. The award ceremony was followed by presentation of several items of the Bharatanatyam repertoire by ABHAI members. Prof. Janardhanan is April-born – take a look at the Sruti birthday calendar!

The Kalaimamani awards announced by the Tamil Nadu government were also presented at a well conducted event. Bharatanatyam artists Ambika Kameshwar and Parvathi Ravi Ghantasala received the Puratchi Thalaivi Dr. J. Jayalalithaa Special Kalaimamani Awards for 2019 and 2020. Veteran vocalists Vani Jayaram and S. Rajeswari are the recipients of the all-India award – the M.S. Subbulakshmi Award (Music) for 2019 and 2020 respectively. Senior Bharatanatyam exponents Alarmel Valli and Chandra Dhandayudhapani were conferred the all-India Balasaraswathi Award (Dance) for 2019.

A total of 59 personalities have received the Kalaimamani Award for 2019 and another 65 for 2020 this year, but the number of classical performing artists thus honoured is very less compared to those in the cine field. Hope this ratio will change for the better in the coming years. Sruti congratulates all the awardees.

The cover story in the April issue is a centenary tribute to the tavil maestro Valangaiman Shanmugasundaram Pillai – whose birth and death anniversaries both fall in April. We also have a dynamic younger percussionist – mridanga vidwan J. Vaidhyanathan sharing the space with the centenarian. Music runs in his blood – his famous aunt D.K. Pattammal, equally famous father D.K. Jayaraman and Vaidhyanathan are all recipients of the prestigious Central Sangeet Natak Akademi Award.

We are privileged to publish a centenary tribute to the Bhavani duo of B.V. Raman and B.V. Lakshmanan penned by eminent dancer-scholar Padma Subrahmanyam – she pays tribute to her music guru. There is an interesting analysis of nritya karanas by eminent natyacharya V.P. Dhananjayan. These should also kindle the interest of students of music and dance.

We are happy to include the Sruti Box section in this issue. The letter writing habit seems to be on the wane as youngsters are busy with Likes, emoticons and short comments on social media. The reading and writing habit has, however, improved during the lockdown period, and we hope it will take a turn for the better in future. So, Happy reading – get a copy of Sruti, either digital or in print! And don’t forget to send us your feedback letter for the Sruti Box!

S. JANAKI

Tuesday, 2 March 2021

FROM THE EDITOR

In Tiruvaiyaru, the land of the five rivers, rests Tyagaraja. The panchanada kshetra… on the bank of the river Cauvery where blows the incomparable zephyr... was certainly a source of inspiration for the prolific vaggeyakara. As the Cauvery flows sometimes gently, sometimes in spate, so too the bard-saint’s emotions ebb and flow in his innumerable compositions. None can deny the sweeping impact of the music trinity in Carnatic music, and Tyagaraja’s output of compositions is the highest among the three. His fame had spread far and wide even when he was alive. It is said that Tyagaraja’s kritis are pen-portraits of the Tanjavur region in later years of Maratha rule. He was also fond of composing in rare and unusual ragas.

Tiruvaiyaru has become a place of pilgrimage for Carnatic musicians as they converge to pay their musical homage to the great vaggeyakara at the Tyagaraja aradhana held every year on Bahula Panchami day. The festival, usually held on a grand scale, was also affected by the Covid 19 pandemic; it was restricted to a two-day event this year. As a result, the glamour and the razzmatazz which had crept into it over the years, was missing this time. Star Carnatic musician, Sudha Ragunathan, has been offering her musical tribute at the samadhi for several decades now  In this issue, she shares with us the very special experience that she had this year at Tiruvaiyaru.

Season 2020 has received wide coverage in this issue. Last month, an office bearer of the Madras Music Academy shared the experience of organising the Academy’s online season. There can be no season without artists, organizations and rasikas, but the success of Season 2020 hinged largely on the ‘tech team’ who worked round the clock to present an enjoyable experience. Kudos to them! This time, we present a peek into the effort behind the month-long Yours Truly Margazhi festival organised by the Federation of City Sabhas. The virtual season has by and large been welcomed by rasikas as it gave them the freedom to watch any number of kutcheris from the comfort of their homes, any time and any number of times! It has also been a boon for writers and critics, as they could listen to the concerts at leisure, and play them any number of times to get their facts right before submitting their reviews. At this juncture, Sruti’s Chennai correspondent C. Ramakrishnan deserves special mention as he has diligently listened to a range of artists presented by different organisations and shared his comments about them.

Apart from the regular News & Notes, we bring to you the occasional book review and a talent showcase of four young Hindustani musicians with great potential. Our Tiruvananthapuram correspondent pays tribute to Sruti’s roving critic Sunil Kothari who passed away recently. Sunilji, as we called him, was associated with Sruti almos  since its inception. He was fond of travelling and would file his reports from different parts of the world. “Visibility” was his watchword and he loved to be in the midst of artists and events. The Covid pandemic must have been a setback for the gregarious individual and he probably decided to bid goodbye to a world where personal interactions and live events had almost come to a standstill. 26 February 2021 was an important date in the Carnatic music calendar as it was the birth centenary of the\ renowned twins of Carnatic music – B.V. Raman and B.V. Lakshmanan, also known as the Bhavani duo. Sruti has published articles about them in 2005.

S. JANAKI

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Analysis of the Kharaharapriya pada varnam of vidwan M. Balamuralikrishna

P.R.K.Sastry

A pada varnam composed by vidwan M. Balamuralikrishna in the 22nd melakartha raga, Kharaharapriya has great richness in the Telugu literature and this composition  narrates the the events that happened according to the Ganesa Purana. The beauty of this particular composition is the rhyming word sequences that occur in the stanzas, and also a single word being used at multiple places for conveying different meanings. The varnam was not composed entirely at once. First Balamuralikrishna composed the pallavi, anupallavi and ettugada, later, he added chittaswara sahityam and then kept adding the charanams to it, and he rendered this during a concert in Chennai in the year 1999.

To listen to this varnam please click

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T887RCz58yY

The six-stanza varnam starts with the pallavi, Ninnu nera nammithi Gananayaka, nata jana vighna vinaashana. The composer says that he has a great faith on the Lord Ganesa who is always engaged in eliminating the obstacles of his devotees. The composer has inscribed his signature/mudhra in the anupallavi, and it rhymes at end of the each phrase perfectly; Muni gana pranuta, mangala charita, Murali Krishna sahodari sutha.  The composer describes Lord Ganesa as being praised by the holy sages, with an auspicious history and the son of the sister of Murali Krishna;  Goddess Parvathi,  sister of Lord Vishnu. In order to inscribe his signature, the composer describes the incarnation of Vishnu in the form of Krishna who holds flute (Murali) in his hand.

The chittaswara sahityam describes an important incident in the Ganesa Purana. The moon, which adorns the head of Lord Siva laughs at Ganesha on the sacred Chaturthi day, when Ganesa with his stomach full is unable to bow and offer his prayers to his parents Siva and Parvathi. In order to suppress his ego, Ganesa curses the moon that whoever person sees the moon will face unnecessary blames and undeserved defames. Having realised his mistake, Chandra (moon) surrenders to the feet of Ganesa. The Lord retracts the curse, but says that a person who will see the moon on the Ganesa Chaturthi without worshipping him will have to face the undeserved blames!

The ettugada pallavi continues at end of each stanza. The composer describes Lord Ganesa as Sumukhaa paavana, sritha sumukha, meaning, the lord is holy and handsome and is agreeable to his devotees. The first Sumukha refers to describe the handsomeness of the Lord and in Telugu, the word Sumukha means accept, agree or to make a nod.

In the first stanza, the composer says that he trusts the feet of the Lord. In the second stanza the composer says that Naraadi vinuta pada vaarana mukha, bhaya vaarana vara guna daana vitarana.  Lord Ganesa, with an elephant face, whose feet is worshipped by the humans, is the remover of fear, and has the noble character as he showers his blessings liberally. Once can see rhyming word at end of each phrase, and also the word Varana is being used at two places. It is used as a synonym for an elephant in the first place, and in the second place it is used as a synonym for removing/eliminating. In the third stanza, the composer feels grateful to the Lord and says that he feels blissful by reading the glorious history of Ganesa and asks him to forgive the sins committed knowingly or unknowingly and to transform him into a noble/kind hearted person.

The first three stanzas describe the qualities of Lord Ganesa and the wishes made by the composer on behalf of the devotees. The last three stanzas describe the incidents that happened according to the Ganesa Purana. In the fourth stanza, the composer says that Ganesa took the form of a bird and killed three demons that were in the form of a tree, a net and a human, thereby bringing peace and prosperity to earth. In the fifth stanza, he describes how Lord Ganesa suppressed the demon Durasara. Durasara was a greedy demon, who attempted to invade and conquer the holy city of Varanasi. At first, Ganesa took the form of a dwarf, and then expanded himself to full strength, killed the demon by crushing his head with one foot, and spread the second foot as an umbrella over the entire city of Varanasi and hence established peace. Finally, the composer says that Ninu pogada mementha – we humans are meagre people to sing in praise of you. There are continuous rhyming words that come one after the other in this stanza such as Varanasi nakraminchina durasaruni durasa nirasa gavimpa. Here, duraasa means greed, and niraasa means sorrow. There is an underlying message being conveyed that too much of greed will always lead to sorrow.

The sixth and final stanza, and the largest of all, describes how Lord Ganesa acquired the leadership of the ganas. There is a story where the ganas, the servants of Lord Siva ask him to appoint a leader for them. Then, Lord Siva calls upon his two sons Ganesa and Muruga (Karthikeya) and conducts a test that whoever goes around the entire universe and takes a dip in all the holy water bodies and returns first, will be assigned the leadership. Muruga heads out on his peacock. Ganesa, unable to move fast, recognises that the entire universe is dependent on his parents, and hence goes around them, and thus wins the test.

This composition is unique since no other varnam describes the glory of Lord Ganesa in such an elaborative manner.

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, 11 February 2021

THE TRADITION CONTINUES UNABATED DURING THE PANDEMIC

 C. Ramakrishnan

Last season, I attended more than 100 concerts live. This year, I viewed all the online concerts hosted by the Madras Music Academy, Mudhra and sporadically by other sabhas.

SRGS Mohandas

THE MUSIC ACADEMY

The Academy’s eight-day festival was inaugurated on 24 December 2020, by Roshni Nadar Malhotra, Chairperson HCL Technologies. There were 27 slots in total—15 senior slots of 90 minutes duration and 12 junior and sub senior slots of 60 minutes duration. The packaging of the concert for the contrived duration was challenging for the musicians, but over all, everyone strived to give a complete concert experience in the abridged slot.

Inaugural concert

The inaugural nagaswaram concert at the Academy was by Semponnarkoil SRGS Mohandas, supported by Mylai K. Selvam. Rameswaram T.B. Radhakrishnan and Swamimalai Gurunathan ably accompanied them on the tavil. Their Kharaharapiya (Rama nee samanamevaru) and Bahudari (Sadananda tandavam), with a series of ragamalika swaras were refreshing and the percussion artists added colour and gusto to the concert. Sree Ganapatini in Saurashtram and Annapoorne Visalakshi in Sama were rendered in the first half of the concert. While there had been criticism in earlier years that the nagaswaram artists were seated on the stage floor, this was rectified this season and the artists were seated on the erected dais.

Ranjani-Gayatri

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