Tuesday, 30 November 2021



C Ramakrishnan

Carnatic music composers from the pre-trinity period to the current period have poured their literary output out of their devotion to God and passion towards music. Among the women composers, Andal, Karaikal Ammayar, contemporary composers like D.Pattammal, Ambujam Krishna, Kalyani Varadarajan, Suguna Purushothaman and a few others have made significant contributions to the wealth of Carnatic music. But it is a bitter truth that their compositions have not received the due patronage from contemporary musicians and sangeeta rasikas. Only a few compositions have made it successfully to the concert platform and caught the attention of the rasikas.

Sundaravalli Ammal was a simple homemaker who was not formally trained in music or literature. Because of divine blessings, she composed songs on the deities she visited and wrote them in a notebook. Sundaravalli Ammal was born in 1906 in Kuzhumani village in the Tiruchirapally district. After her marriage to K.Rajam Iyengar, a school teacher at the age of fourteen, they lived in Srivilliputtur, Vellore, Srirangam, Nellore, Madurai and Coimbatore. She managed her family of six children with the income of her husband as a school teacher. Besides her household chores, she found time and inspiration to pen her outpourings which came to her spontaneously only because of her divinity and simplicity. The songs are in Tamil praise the glory of the various Gods and are written with utmost simplicity. The songs were written in a notebook, which her grandchildren have since located, and they decided to publish and popularise them.

In some songs, she has indicated the name of the raga, but most of them do not contain any indication of any specific raga or tala. She breathed her last in 1980. The compositions of Sundaravalli Ammal deserve our patronage and publicity.

The family members of the late composer published the book titled Kaanaadha Kovilkal - Kelaadha Geethankal in the year 1991, containing some of her compositions. As a sequel to that, another ten songs have been tuned and notated by mridanga vidwan Arun Prakash in the most appealing ragas. The family released the book on 29 August 2021, handing over the first copy to celebrated musician P.Unnikrishnan. The book contains the sahithyam in Tamil and English and notations in English to learn these compositions and present them in concerts. After the book release, the songs were presented to a live audience with a team of musicians led by Arun Prakash. Arun Prakash, a seasoned mridanga vidwan, and son of the illustrious music composer L.Krishnan. Arun Prakash has selected ragas matching the song's mood, chosen rakti ragas like Mayamalavagowla, Anandabhairavi, Dhanyasi, Khamboji, Kanada, Khamas, Poorvikalyani, Sama, and showed variety in the kalapramanam within the same tala.  His innate talent to use the most appropriate phrases to reveal the beautiful picture of the raga is evident in the tuning of the kritis.

The songs were rendered by singers Vignesh Easwar and Aditya Madhavan. The vocalists exhibited admirable coordination in rendering sangatis and projecting the raga bhava with clear enunciation of the sahithyam. The duo needs a special mention for internalising the songs and singing without any reference.

The instrumental ensemble enhances the beauty of the songs, never coming in the way of the enjoyment of the bhakti-laden sahithyam. The musical interludes are diligently used in between the pallavi-anupallavi or anupallavi-charanam. The orchestra consisted of K.Arun Prakash on the mridangam, Guruprasad on the ghatam, Mylai Karthikeyan on the nagaswaram, Sandeep Ramachandran, Sayi Rakshit and Madan Mohan on the violin, Sujit Naik on the flute, and Charumati Chandrasekar on the veena. Arun Prakash deserves our wholehearted appreciation for tuning the song Bhaktargalai kaathidum Kodhainayagi on Ranganayaki Thayar of Srirangam as a ragamalika comprising Khamas, Nalinakanthi and Saranga  ragas set to a lilting Tisra nadai.

The musicians presented all the songs with admirable harmony, highlighting the subtle nuances and never hearing a harsh or out of sync note in the entire presentation.  Arun Prakash and his team deserve praise for their flawless execution and extensive preparations during this difficult Covid period.

To watch the performance click here 

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