Sakhiye Snehithiye - Janani Narayanan


Sakhiye Snehithiye

All dance occurs in the three dimensions of space and the fourth of time — but it can be a beautiful experience to feel the invigorating intensity with which Bharatnatyam brings all those dimensions to life. On Friday evening at 5.30pm, in R.K. Swamy Auditorium, it was Janani Narayanan, presenting her own ‘Sakhiye’ to an eager audience. 

Sakhiye the confidante ! we all as women, have that one special friend who knows all about you and your deepest secrets, intimate desires. Who would do anything for you, or sometimes wouldn't do keeping your welfare in mind, a friend who guides you, teaches you a thing or two about life and friendship. She is who you would call a ‘Sakhi’. She would be ever available to listen to you, who is anguished when you cry, joining in when you laugh or understanding when your mind is troubled and confused, often sometimes being a source of clarity.
In today’s language ... she is your go-to person, your Confidante!
It can be a different friend at different points of your life . This does not necessarily imply any betrayal or a break up in the friendship, it’s just that as we go through life’s journey there are different people who play significant roles in our lives. Their contribution is often immeasurable and they remain in our hearts. For example, when in school, I had two very best friends Lakshmi & Kalpana. Then I had some close friends in college, Uma & Kousar Jahan. Then at work there was Sujatha who shared her secrets & lunch with me. Marriage took me to Chennai and with my new life came new friends Sita, Payal, Girija, Vinita, Banu and Sathya who have rejoiced in my happy times and cried along with me in my sorrow. We as women form great bonding with our own gender and it is from such personal relationships that Janani herself has 
drawn inspirations. Also from famous friendships from our mythology no it is become friendship that blossomed in to teenage friendship and much more of MS amma and Bala Amma from our Carnatic and Bharathanatyam fields, Ace tennis players Martina Navaratilova and Chris Everett, American Female Revolutionaries Susan B Antony and Elizabeth Staton and more…… Janani has taken inspiration from stories of these people, her friends and herself to depict the various aspects of friendship. Her choreography for this production encompasses stories from mythology, of historical figures and personal experiences to highlight the evolution of friendship in different stages of our lives. Through her choreography Janani educates her audience, especially the younger generation on different mythological and historical stories. One example of that can be seen in the Varnam she presented, where Janani had integrated stories in her jathis, which are abstract dance routines. 
Janani Narayanan is an accomplished dancer trained under Bengaluru based couple Guru Kiran Subramanyam and Smt.Sandhya Kiran. And later under Guru Smt.Vidhya Subramanian from Cupertino, California. She has been performing since 2000 and has created a name for herself. 

Her Varnam was titled ‘The Confidante’. This Varnam ‘Saamiye Vara solladi’ set in Ragam Purvikalyani and Adi thalam. 
It is a well known composition of Natyacharya Sri Dandayudhapani Pillai. 
In this central item, the heroine, who met her beloved lord and fell in love at first sight is anxiously waiting to meet him as promised. When he doesn’t show up at the specified time, she reaches out to her best friend and requests her to go and bring him. She says,’ Don’t you know that you are my best friend, the one who knows all my secrets. He is that handsome Lord Kumara, one who resides in his 6 abodes.” Intentionally the Sakhi asks her back “Are you sure he is the one for you? - the one who rides on his peacock, the one who is praised by all in this world, the beloved son of Goddess Sivagami. With trees showering flowers, birds tweeting melodiously, young boys looking up to him as a hero, young damsels shying away, women taking off the evil eye and wise men praising him and blessing him, you want me bring That Lord?” The heroine admits it’s him and asks her friend not to delay any further, to describe how the romantic space and time is fading away, and in the bright moon evening, scented flowers have blossomed spreading their fragrance in air intoxicating and deepening her desires to meet him. She further expresses “The lord of love - Cupid or Kama - is also showering his arrows and tormenting her”. The friend responds to her saying that Kama has no other job other than looking for young damsels who are love struck and showering arrows on them. 
The heroine further convinces her by narrating how she yearns for him every day. Understanding her plight the friend decides to help, but takes her time. The helpless heroine asks her friend if her heart is like a rock. Nevertheless, the heroine convinces her friend by sharing one of her dreams with her Lord. Finally her Sakhi decides to help the heroine. 

Janani Narayanan, an accomplished Bharathanatyam dancer from the Bay Area California brought this theme to us which 
premiered earlier in October 2019, she worked with leading Bay Area musicans for orchestration support for the performance. Couple of the items had been specially composed and written for this presentation.

One other remarkable presentation of hers, was ‘Parama Purusham’ in Ragam Hamsanadam set to Adi thalam. She referred to this composition of Sri Narayana Theerthar, as ‘Young Companions’ Here young heroine, or Nayika is all decked up and goes along with her friends to see the young Prince’s arrival. She hears from her friends about the handsome prince, the one with sharp chiselled features, who is the most benevolent one and is easily approachable by all. He enjoys the music of young women and plays the flute to mesmerize all. Now, there is no prizes for guessing who is this prince ...,,It is Lord Krishna !! Now hearing that the young prince is none other than Krishna, the heroine is eager to meet him. Their eyes meet…..and rest is an inevitable romance. 
This dance was precedend by a traditional Nrittanjali set to Kanda Triputa thalam. showcasing various stages of Sakhis in a woman’s lifetime.
                                                            
What was special is that the lyrics that reflects Janani’s personal journey in life and the role her female friends have played in that. Janani and her vocalist Asha Ramesh worked on the lyrics together making it relatable. 

Her next piece was called ‘The Close Associate’ which was a 
Kshetreya Padam ‘Evvade Evvade’ in Ragam Shankarabharanam set to Mishra Chapu Talam, 
choreographed by Guru Bragha Bessel . The Padam explains a true friend knows you so well, that no matter what you try to hide, they can see through it. In this padam, the heroine tries to trick her best friend. Having spent the night in secrecy with her beloved, she plans to send him away at dawn. However, her friend happens to see this. To avoid being judged by her friend, the heroine pretends that she doesn’t know her lover and says “Who is that guy? Do you know him? He came into my house at night like Cupid’s arrows and caused mayhem. The other time, one hot summer afternoon, he entered my house like a thief, asked for water and when offered he hugged and kissed me. But I must say he was handsome and he confessed he was none other than Lord Krishna. Is that true?” 
Haven’t all of us tried to hide our early affairs or infatuation initially and much later share them with our dearest friend. 

Janani ardently addressed the air above her; next the floor below her; and also the space’s various diagonals and horizontals.
Thus her body filled the surrounding box of empty space with energy, all while maintaining a full-bodied flow of pulsating rhythm to a score featuring percussive vocal syllables. These are among the most basic pleasures of Bharatanatyam, but by any standards they are extraordinary. Janani delivers them and much more complex aspects with terrific skill. 

Then came a piece that she called as ‘The Unconditional Supporter ‘ a composition by Akka Mahadevi ‘kelavva Naanu ondu kanasa Kande’ in Ragamalika also a Talamalika. 

Akka Mahadevi a 11th century female mystic saint, who the Lingayat community revere. Her story is similar to that of the more popular Mirabai. Akka Mahadevi believes that Lord Shiv’s is her husband and beloved from a very young age, so her marriage to King Kaushika was almost contractual, since she laid down some conditions to marry him. One of them being freedom to pursue her spiritual path and uninterrupted time with Lord Shiva. So just as Mirabai’s songs has love towards Krishna as the premise and Mira considers herself as a lover of Krishna, so also Akka Mahadevi thinks she belongs totally to Lord Shiva. In this composition she narrates to her dear friend about her dream with her beloved Chenna Mallikarjuna (Shiva). One night in her dream he appeared as a mendicant. As he moved away she ran behind him and held his hand - he was her charming Chenna Mallikarjuna, just as she had imagined him to be ! She describes how her Lord enamoured her and accepted her happiness, love and devotion and she wants to be with no one but him. Her friend though initially upset and shocked at hearing the heroine’s intentions provides her support and helps her to reject family life and worldly attachment and be one with her beloved Chenna Mallikarjuna.   
A lovely sentiment depicted in a lovely manner by Janani. 
I was particularly impressed by her choice of Akka Mahadevi, who I feel is hardly known except by the Lingayat community. Maybe because Kannada still is not so wide spread as Tamil or Hindi. 
Hope I am not starting a controversy by this observation. In any case, I am fast learning that controversy is the sure path to get eyeballs ! 
The last piece was a Thillana which she called ‘An Ode to friendship’ in Ragam Rasikapriya, set to Adi Talam, composed by was Asha Ramesh.
The joyous finale to the recital, the thillana is a fast paced number composed of a mixture of nritta and natya aspects. The words describe the celebration of friendship. The one who makes you laugh, enjoy your company, the friend who shares your happiness sorrows and worries, one who is understanding and encourages and finally the one is none other the reflection of Me. It ends hoping that the frienship will last forever ! 

Janani’s performance made me feel and understand that while the exquisite footwork of Bharatanatyam is beyond my grasp, the ways in which form and communication connect are infinitely subtle, and my knowledge Bharatanatyam is slight; but the sensuous beauty of these arts draw me deep in. It’s a good way to feel, as a spectator submerging into a vast realm of unknown beauty.


About the Author:

Sandhya Shankar belongs to a well respected business family in Chennai. She is a Life Skills & Corporate Trainer by profession. She is an avid reader and a natural writer, who has written several poems and articles. She even presented her poems as a reading at the British council. She has keen interest in all art forms  and has explored many different forms of painting like stained glass and Tanjore being among them. 

Music being her first passion, she had her formal training under Terakotti Chandrasekharaiah at Bangalore and later briefly under Mrs Champa Kumar. She is a regular visitor of concerts, theatre and other live performances. Her witty reviews have gained a loyal and interactive readership for their sound technical commentary and relevance for every kind of melophile, from the casual-goer to the ragam expert, frequenting Chennai’s rich music scene.

(*The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily those of Music of Madras.) 

Abhangamala - Sivasri Skandaprasad


Abhangamala


During the 2019 - 2020 Margazhi month, there was one particular video which was going viral on WhatsApp. It was not anything remotely like the ‘Kolaveri’ or ‘Jhimki Kammal’ songs. It was of a young girl called Sivasri, among a group of people going around Mada Veedhi of Kapaleeshwar Temple in Mylapore, singing Namasankeertanam! 

Instantly, she became a rage among the Kutchery going crowd. It was evident that the girl had immense talent and was trained in Carnatic Music. Obviously, the sensation was limited to a certain segment of people, for it's meant for those who are interested in this genre. Well, I being one of them, when I heard that she is performing at a private residence, on Feb 8th, I rushed straight from Bangalore into the host’s house, looking tired with disheveled hair and crumpled clothes. My entry, of course got the unintended attention, momentarily distracting everyone from Sivasri. 

She started with a Namavalli ‘Narayana Narayana Jai Jai’ and it was evident that it was an evening well begun. Our country has always glorified parents and teachers, therefore in line with that sentiment came Sant Eknath’s Abhang ‘Guru Mata, Guru Pitha’ in Hamsadhwani Ragam. Sivasri herself follows the sentiment of this Abhang, and we saw her mother singing on the stage with her and her father too has a huge role in her progress.

Sivasri chose to sing Pithukuli Murugadas’s composition ‘Cholla Cholla Thithikume’ in Ragam Kamaas. Pithukuli Murugadas was famous for his songs on Muruga and hence his Guru Ramdas gave him this name. A freedom fighter who lost an eye during the Salt Sathyagraha, he was a popular singer. 

Sivasri has come from a family which has been strongly steeped in namasankeertanam & singing. She sang a song in Ragamalika written by her paternal grandfather Seerkazhi R.Jayaraman. Is music and this deep involvement with God, a genetic thing? As if to answer my question, Sivasri moved to singing her father Seerkazhi.J.Skandaprasad’s composition ‘Karunarasa Paripooorna’ in Ragam Desh, in the most wonderful way. 

Sivasri is not only a competent singer, but also a confident performer with an extremely expressive personality, which could be an asset since age is in her favour and she being a Bharatnatyam dancer. 

She has the intelligence to strike a balance between the Namasankeertanam style & Kutcheri style. For example, she sang a Virutham from Meenakshi stotram followed by Papanasam Sivan’s ‘Devi Neeye Thunai’ in Ragam Keeravani. It was a well thought out Virutham which was appropriate for a song which was based on Goddess Meenakshi of Madurai. Such maturity must have come with the guidance of her teacher and father, who have a pivotal role to play in her life. I guess, years will display the same maturity when hopefully she will be her own person. 

Her next choice was a composition of Bhadrachalam Ramadas, ‘Janaki Ramana’ in Ragam Sri. This was ably delivered, though what followed as a Purandaradasa’s krithi ‘Jagadhodharana’ in Ragam Dhanakaapi, had its shortcomings in the diction and the doubtful lyrics. Probably my childhood music lessons in Bangalore under a well known Kannada teacher is making my mind accept only what I was used to listening & singing. 

One more Kannada song followed this in Ragam Maand ‘Bega Baaro’ a Vysaraya Krithi. 
Sivasri holds much promise with very good stage presence and pleasing demeanour. 

Much appreciation for the meticulous song list planning by Sivasri or whoever planned it for her. They had included Bhadrachalam Ramdas from Andhra, Eknath from Maharashtra, Purandaradasa from Karnataka, Swathi Tirunal from Kerala, Papanasam Sivan and few more from Tamilnadu. Indeed a National Integration Programme!!

Like it was, ‘Aaye Giridhar’ composed by Swathi Tirunal in Ragam Pooryadhanashree, followed by ‘Maadu Meikkum Kanne’ a popular composition of Oothukkadu Venkatakavi which is basically a folk song. 

One more Abhang ‘Pandharicha Raya’ followed in a folk tune. Admittedly, she sang it very beautifully & energetically but before we could recover, it was yet another Abhang, 
‘Namacha Bazar‘, composed by Palak Das in Ragam Misra Bilawal. Soon after, it was ‘Santancha Dindi’ a folk song, getting me to wonder if it was primarily an Abhang programme and then the next song almost convinced me.. it was 
‘Majhe Maher Pandhari’, an Abhang composed by Sant Eknath in Ragam (should I say Raag and not Ragam) Yamankalyaan. Then comes the most popular Abhang ‘Teertha Vitthala’ by Namdev in Ragam Ahir Bhairav.. Now this was surely an overkill. But it was not over. Here comes another Abhang ! ‘Vrundavani Venu’ composed by Bhanudas in Ragam Bhimpalas. 

No doubt, Abhangs are now almost as mandatory in a Namasankeertanam or a Carnatic concert, as much as cake cutting on birthdays or even Paneer Butter Masala in any dinner but it could be in decent proportion. I have not heard any Hindustani Concert where a Kavadi Chindu or Tirupugazh being sung, have you?? 

About the Author:

Sandhya Shankar belongs to a well respected business family in Chennai. She is a Life Skills & Corporate Trainer by profession. She is an avid reader and a natural writer, who has written several poems and articles. She even presented her poems as a reading at the British council. She has keen interest in all art forms  and has explored many different forms of painting like stained glass and Tanjore being among them. 

Music being her first passion, she had her formal training under Terakotti Chandrasekharaiah at Bangalore and later briefly under Mrs Champa Kumar. She is a regular visitor of concerts, theatre and other live performances. Her witty reviews have gained a loyal and interactive readership for their sound technical commentary and relevance for every kind of melophile, from the casual-goer to the ragam expert, frequenting Chennai’s rich music scene.

(*The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily those of Music of Madras.) 

Trinity by Madras Players


Trinity by Madras Players



Remember Aamir Khan's film 'Lagaan' which was a big hit ? While we can attribute it to good film making, one of the reasons was that it had all the right ingredients like 'Cricket' and the 'Freedom Movement' !

Now these two as a combo with the right treatment is bound to be appealing. Likewise, the English play 'Trinity' by Madras Players had the right mixture in right proportion of Carnatic music & good storytelling. I had first seen it in 2018 at Museum Theatre and recently I saw their ‘extended’ version of the play, during the rehearsals before their US tour. I was particularly curious about the fact that the original 90 minute play had been extended by another 30 minutes at the behest of the US organisers.

In an era where everything is becoming smaller and having a shorter life span, this is surprising. Like 5 day Test Cricket became ODI and then came T20 and there is some talk about 100 ball cricket, or how Idlis became mini idlis, samosas became mini samosas and the worst being the mandatory filter coffee becoming mini coffee !

Nobody has patience for anything lengthy. And here was a play which instead of getting edited was getting elongated !! Apparently, it seems that the hosts in Canada and the US felt that audience there are used to 2 hours plus of any entertainment and also they need to travel long to reach wherever it is, so they must to receive more. Yeh Dil Maange MORE !!

And why not, after all it would be a smart idea to maximise wonderful singers such as Vijay Siva and Gayatri Venkataraghavan. Pay for a play and get a concert also.... ‘Buy one get one free’ offer !
While on the subject, I am quite sure many people find my posts too long and give it a miss ! And imagine if I further elongate them ...

This play is a sure winner... after all it's all stories related to the three stalwarts of Carnatic music, presented not in their native tongue but in English which makes it relatable to all. And the icing on the cake is that we have real Carnatic exponents playing the parts of Sri Thygaraja Swamy, Muthuswamy Dikshitar and Shyama Sastry’s wife Lalita .. an absolute treat for both the music and the theatre lover.

Mr P.C. Ramakrishna a well known name in Chennai theatre circles both as an actor & director, has brought the best of all elements that is needed to make a powerful production. It is the famous Kalki Krishnamurthy’s granddaughter Seeta Ravi, who has done a wonderful job with the script. It’s not an easy task to bring three individual stories together without letting them overshadow each other, also not letting it sag at any point.

At the outset, it was not three biopics (for that would have been too long) but an inspiration from all three lives and the gems that were brought forth by this inspiration. It was the first time I was seeing a blend of so many factors. Be it the setting or the costumes, they were so authentic and relevant to the period.



It opens with S.Ram entering as a Sutradhar which I feel was a very important role since it proved to be a link between the three stories. He starts with an interesting explanation of the power of the magic number 3 in other words why ‘TRINITY.’ He puts it across in a very simple way.. how everything that is meaningful comes in threesome. For example it is birth, life and death, the beginning, middle and the end, and Brahma, Vishnu & Maheshwara.

My own observations are that surely there must be a reason that, we have been advised to do 3 Pradakshinas (Parikrama) and both the Shaivism and Vaishnavism symbols on the forehead are three lines. The number 3 is supposed to create a balance & harmony... Just like how a tripod gives stability during photography. I have a question ...Why else would a bar stool be on three legs, used by people who are possibly unsteady & often lack balance? These stools don’t have arms or a backrest and people are perched on them while having a drink(s). It’s pure geometry that these stools are designed on 3 legs, the reason being 3 points form a plane, these will not wobble even if it’s placed on an uneven surface. So, that’s my Magic 3 for you ! Actually, this very thought is echoed in the best selling book ‘Eat, Pray & Love’ by Elizabeth Gilbert which was later made into a successful film starring Julia Roberts.

Vijay Siva as Dikshitar was totally in his character and sang wonderful compositions like 'Mayuranathan' in Dhanyasi and ‘Parimala Ranganathan' in Amir Kalyani. The music was soulful with only a tampura as an instrument. What has been included was a ‘Nottuswaram’ which was a sample of Dikshitar’s brilliance. Nottuswaras are a set of 39 compositions, which gave simple Scottish & Irish tunes. They are all composed in Sanskrit lyrics in Western C Major scale. We have a scene in the old film ‘Thillana Mohanambal’, where Sivaji Ganesan is a famed Nadaswaram player Shanmuga Sundaram, who demonstrates the same on his instrument thereby retrieving the defecting crowds. It’s indeed a fine example of the versatility of Carnatic Music.



Also, Dikshitar's students who sing snippets from his compositions in a wide range of Ragams such as Amrithvarshini, Brindavana Saranga, Attana, Kedaram, Shanmugapriya, Kalyani, Mohanam, Yaman Kalyan & Kamalamanohari. All this only makes this play a ‘must watch'.

There is no debate about Vijay Siva’s musical strength and he was ideal for the part, which is evident in his depiction of the character. He shows us his brilliance in a scene while singing in the Hindustani style. It has to be mentioned that it wasn't just Vijay Siva as Dikshitar but all those who acted as his disciples, sang so very well. It was clear that they had formal training in Carnatic music. Victor Paulraj creates magic on the stage, and in 2018, it was a full fledged Sleeping Ranganathar in a temple setting. In such a short time it is impossible to enact three life stories. In Muthuswamy Dikshitar's portion, it focussed on how he got inspired to write so many songs and how he became an inspiration to others. It explains how he travels to different temples & places and his style was patented by mentioning both the Ragam in the lyrics of the song and also mentioning the deity of the particular temple during his travel or should we say it was a pilgrimage or maybe his personal spiritual journey ! After all, nothing but devotion could have brought about such rich music.

Next was Shyama Sastry’s life, where the Director P C Ramakrishna had beautifully devised it, so that the narrative was from the perspective of Shyama Sastry's wife Lalita enacted by another wonderful singer Gayatri Venkataraghavan. To have an artiste of Gayathri's calibre and not use her singing talent is stupidity, considering her name is quite a draw. To confess, I also was drawn to watch the play, (as if I need any strong reasons) partly because I was curious to see what Gayatri could do, since the TRINITY is an ALL MEN group. Hope Trupti Desai and other so called feminists and activists don't take this as a gender bias and rush to the Supreme Court seeking justice !!

Anyway, it was such a joy to hear Gayatri sing a Swarajathi in Yadhukula Khamboji composed by Shyama Sastry and ‘Himachala Thanye’ in Ananda Bhairavi. Her portrayal of Lalita was so sincere that she merges with the tampura as she explains her multidimensional role in Shyama Sastry’s life.



There is an interesting scene where it is elicited why & how Shyama Sastry used the term ‘Shyama Krishna Sodari’ when referring to Goddess Kamakshi. To go into the details will be playing spoil sport and giving away all of it. It has to be seen on the stage with all the attention it deserves.

The entire narrative about Shyama Sastry was shown through his wife Lalita’s eyes. This was interesting because first we have Dikshitar’s characterisation seen through the eyes of his students, where it was the Guru - Sishya relationship that was highlighted and it’s justified because his students Ponnaiah, Vadivelu, Chinnaiah and Ananda accompanied him all through, enduring the life he had chosen for himself. To gain the admiration & devotion of one’s students and also be their inspiration is the life of a great teacher. And such teachers leave behind a part of themselves in their students !
Here we have Shyama Sastry’s character brought to life as seen through the eyes of his spouse Lalita. In this era, where we are constantly fighting for gender equality and women vocally demand recognition & attention... this story line is going to make Shyama Sastry’s wife Lalita appear as if she was a doormat and an ignored wife who is relegated to live behind the curtains and only noticed by her husband when convenient. But on the other hand, you find Gayatri Venkataraghavan's portrayal showing Lalita as a cheerful and energetic lady with a mind of her own (as she doesn’t get influenced by a well meaning Dharma Akka, who tries her best to get Lalita to complain about her husband) and not wallowing in self pity. It’s so natural to see the equation between Lalita & the friendly yet inquisitive Dharma Akka trying hard to drive Lalita to tears (reminding me of Oprah Winfrey Show or our Indian alternative Rendezvous with Simi Garewal who wants everyone to bear their private secrets, fears and life in public). Shyama Sastry’s wife is shown as an involved and understanding wife who appreciates his creativity & respects his obsession for Goddess Bangaru Kamakshi. She revels and prides herself to be known as his wife while understanding that his creativity comes with certain eccentricities.



There is a scene where she shares the achievements of her husband and him winning over other musicians in the king’s court with great pride. The script is justified to have given the character Lalita the main role, for if she had been a nagging and demanding wife, who needed him 24*7, probably we would not be enjoying the great compositions of Shyama Sastry. This part of the play brings to us the relationship between a loving couple and how Lalita complements Shyama Sastry & respects his work.

The last was excerpts from Sri Thyagaraja Swamy’s life and his relationship with Lord Rama and also with his own daughter Seethamma ! Sri Thyagaraja Swamy is shown as an affectionate father and all this is from Seethamma's perspective.

So refreshing to see young girls in Pavadai Dhavani or half saree as it's called and with long plaits with kunjalam. The whole play was so colourful and visually pleasing, taking us back in time without losing the interest of today’s audience. The whole team needs to be appreciated.



I became nostalgic when Seethamma and her friend sang 'Ramininchuvaaravura Raghuthama Ninuvina,’ remembering my sons singing this when they were really tiny and for me this song nobody can sing better than them. I share this anecdote in order to elicit, that just as I found my children adorable, Thyagaraja Swamy finds his daughter very lovable and is concerned about her future. The world knows him as Lord Rama's devotee yet as a parent he is no different from me ! Seethamma is in awe of her father and shares his devotion towards Sri Rama. This part of the play shows the relationship between a father & his daughter. Thyagaraja explains with great humility, the reason behind him putting his signature in every one of his composition. You must watch the play to understand the significance.



Dr. Sunder acted as Sri Thyagaraja in a heartfelt manner and in any case Thyagaraja Swamy was famous for his devotion and lyrics, not for his voice or his singing !

During the first show in 2018 there was a personal moment for me, and that was to hear my mother sing along with Saint Thyagaraja’s 'Balakanaka Maya' set in Ragam Attana and I instantly knew without her telling that it was my father who came to both our minds, Attana being his favourite Ragam.

The whole 120 minutes journey of these great lives culminating in a grand finale, where the entire cast came: the flow was as if Dikshitar and Lalita were joining the singing with Thyagaraja. This was very deftly handled and how it was brought to life on the stage is for you to see. It was an interesting touch of the director to blend all three lives...... a scene worth waiting for towards the end of a delightful play!

About the Author:

Sandhya Shankar belongs to a well respected business family in Chennai. She is a Life Skills & Corporate Trainer by profession. She is an avid reader and a natural writer, who has written several poems and articles. She even presented her poems as a reading at the British council. She has keen interest in all art forms  and has explored many different forms of painting like stained glass and Tanjore being among them. 

Music being her first passion, she had her formal training under Terakotti Chandrasekharaiah at Bangalore and later briefly under Mrs. Champa Kumar. She is a regular visitor of concerts, theatre and other live performances. Her witty reviews have gained a loyal and interactive readership for their sound technical commentary and relevance for every kind of melophile, from the casual-goer to the ragam expert, frequenting Chennai’s rich music scene.

(*The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily those of Music of Madras.) 


'YUVA' Namasankeertanam - Ganapriya School of Music


 'YUVA' Namasankeertanam


This program was one of its kind, where the students of the music school ‘Ganapriya’ presented an evening of Namasankeertanam, on January 12th 2020 at Sringeri Mutt Hall, R.A.Puram. 

One would wonder what a group of teenagers or even younger Children would have to do with Namasankeertanam... infact I can’t think of my kids at that age (or even now) sitting among the audience let alone perform in such an event. 

Hey, just incase anyone has a doubt that they are atheists or agnostic, I need to clarify that it is not so, it’s just a matter of interest or choice!
And here I see a bunch of kids all appropriately dressed sitting and delivering 2 hours of melodious and Bhakti filled Namasankeertanam. 

I think the credit must go to their teacher Bhagyalakshmi Suresh, whose own experience with Bhakti has brought her to train her students not just in Carnatic music but also launch them in a field rarely chosen by children. This way more of her students get to perform in public and also they learn the art of Sampradaya Bhajan singing. 


The planning in both the seating arrangement & in giving an opportunity to each student on the stage is no small task, which Bhagyalakshmi Suresh ably delivered.  The children sang ‘Sriguru Bhodendra’ a composition  on one of the trinities of Namasankirthanam in Ragam Suruti. Ironically, for a person who has always been interested in music & it’s relevance in the Bhakti movement, I had not heard of Sri Bhodendral till I saw a play on him by none other than Bombay Gnanam. This composition was started with a virutham ‘Yasyasmarana Mathrena’ in Ragam Nattai followed Ragam Suruti for the above  song.

According to Bhajana Sampradaya, it’s mandatory to include Jayadeva’s Ashtapati. 
Maybe Bhodendral who lived during the 17th century was inspired by Jayadeva who lived in the 12th century and his poetic genius !
Bhagyalakshmi had chosen Jayadeva’s 19th Ashtapati set in Mukhari Ragam. Jayadeva like Purandaradasa has not left behind any notations or rather maybe nothing pertaining to that was discovered. These were people who were driven by Bhakti and had no ambition or care to record anything. Therefore, one has the liberty to sing it in a Ragam of their choice. But in the case of Ashtapathis, they were set to tune by Marudanallur   Sadhguru Swamigal one of the Trinities in the field of Sampradaya Bhajan. 

The students of Ganapriya followed the demands of Sampradaya Bhajan, which requires that the preshlokas of each set of Ashtapati and the post shlokas to be sung which the children followed. As the name implies each Ashtapati is a set of 8 verses, most often each verse having about 2 lines and needless to say, each Ashtapati being a gem in itself. 
So if today we are able to enjoy these gems , much credit goes to  Jayadeva, Bhodendral, Maruthanallur Swamigal and every singer who has brought it to us like the these youngsters of Ganapriya school. 

The clarity & confidence the youngsters lent to the rendering deserves mention. This could not have been possible without the encouragement of their parents & teacher who has also painstakingly taught them the nuances of a remarkable composition such as the Ashtapati. 
Another rendering was Thygaraja Swamy’s ‘Jaya Jaya Sri Raghurama’ in Ragam Mangala Kaushiki. Such a beautiful name for a beautiful Ragam, this is what our music is all about. All these names lend life to these Ragams as if they are human beings ! 

The children took turns to lead the songs, one of them being Shreepada Raya’s ‘Nanda Nandana Pahi’ in Ragam Maand.   The Virutham here was ‘Sundara Kara’ in the same Ragam. I could notice that each of the Virutham were specifically chosen for the songs. 
Now while Bhajan is very common in the North of India, here the Ganapriya students chose to sing Surdas’s composition ‘Gopi Gopala Bala’ in Ragam Gamanshramam.  
Kabir Das was not left out and his composition ‘Hari Bolo’ was the next. 

Today the Abhang has become a part of every concert. Here a rare Tukaram Abhang on Ganga Mayya and a very popular Abhang composed by Bhanudas ‘Dhanya Dhanya’ we’re presented. Bhanudas incidentally was the great grandfather of Eknath and probably Eknath’s inspiration too. 

A Sai Bhajan ‘Nacho Nacho’ was started with an apt Virutham ‘Krupa Samudram’ in Ragam Hamsanandi. 
These kids definitely need mention Priya Ashwin, Ashwin Suresh, Akshara Ashok, Ashrith Narayan and Ananya Ranganayaki. The youngsters were so good that it prompted me to find out their names, because who knows they maybe the future stars of Carnatic Music. 

About the Author:

Sandhya Shankar belongs to a well respected business family in Chennai. She is a Life Skills & Corporate Trainer by profession. She is an avid reader and a natural writer, who has written several poems and articles. She even presented her poems as a reading at the British council. She has keen interest in all art forms  and has explored many different forms of painting like stained glass and Tanjore being among them. 

Music being her first passion, she had her formal training under Terakotti Chandrasekharaiah at Bangalore and later briefly under Mrs Champa Kumar. She is a regular visitor of concerts, theatre and other live performances. Her witty reviews have gained a loyal and interactive readership for their sound technical commentary and relevance for every kind of melophile, from the casual-goer to the ragam expert, frequenting Chennai’s rich music scene.

(*The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily those of Music of Madras.) 

Pra’natana’ ti - Pranati Ram


Pra’natana’ ti


In between vocal concerts happening all over the city in the month of December, I did get to attend a few chosen Bharatanatyam dance performances. One of them happened to be Pranati Ram’s at Narada Gana Sabha on 21st December at 1.45 pm. 
I was impressed when she started her performance with a ‘Melaprapthi’. 
 In common terms  ’Melam’ means percussion and ‘Praapthi’ means prelude or opening. In the olden days, a Melaprapthi heralded the start of a temple ritual or performance. 
A Melaprapthi comprises entirely of seams of sollukattu. The Melaprapthi she chose to perform, was a traditional piece from the Vazhuvoor repertoire which was composed by Gangai Muthu Nattuvanar, and choreographed by Pranati’s Guru Rhadha.

Her second presentation was the popular Ragamalika Varnam Sami Ninne Kori Va set to Rupaka talam. This is a composition by the Tanjore Quartet.
The meaning of this Varnam is 
‘O lord Brihadishwara of Tanjavur, I desire you and only you. ‘ 
In this varnam,  Pranati depicted the huge lingam at the temple sanctum, the Nandi, the Aarathi and the beautiful procession. On hearing the procession she runs to see the lord, my heart melts and I have fallen for the lord. Pranati proved a most evocative interpreter; varying the dynamic of her footwork and with gestures flowing from reverential to beckoning, she seemed by turns virginal, coy, and sensuous.

After that lovely depiction,Pranati danced  to a composition  of Sri Marimutthu Pillai in Ragam Yadhukulakhamboji ‘Kalai thooki’ set to Adi thalam. 
The translation of this song is 
‘O Lord who dances with his foot raised, please raise your hand to reign over me’. pleads the poet ! 

Her next choice was a Javali  ‘Nee matale Mayanura’ in Ragam Purvikalyani, which was set to Adi talam. This is a composition by Pattabhiramayya. 

In this item the khandita nayika is filled with sarcasm, and asks her beloved ‘Oh sweet lord, what happened to all the promises you made? First you promised me a mookuthi (nose pin) and then you promised me gold bangles. Yet here I am, standing empty handed, waiting for your promsies to be fulfilled. You mesmerise me with your sweet words and leave me disappointed with only empty promises. What have you given me? Promises, Promises and only empty promises !’
What a beautiful romantic song and Pranathi instilled the emotion with a potency with a knowing smile and averted to focused gaze with a modern sensibility. 
Pranati’s fluid gestures and facial expressions convey her feelings and the images in the text, while her passages of rhythmically intricate stamping create another, more abstract form of expressiveness.
This particular nuance proved powerful, unexpected, and a testament to the transformational artistry of her fluid, beautifully expressive face clearly telegraphs a character’s feelings or intent while her body easily shifts through complicated rhythms. The face of the dancer  should express concise, rich and varied emotions, adding clarity and depth to the intricate movements.
Pranati makes her desire palpable and  quaking. Storms of expectation, disappointment and fantasy pass over her.
Pranati’s  performance displayed a rigorous commitment to refining her practice, showing the difference between executing, or even mastering steps and articulating every part of the body like a flame of dignity that she lends to her Bharatanatyam style. Grace pervades her movements. Pranati’s sincerity was evident as was the conviction of purity in her art. A performance that hailed tradition. A breath of fresh air, which displayed flawless nritta and a subtle, detailed approach to abhinaya

Pranati chose to explore this piece through Bharata Natyam as a way of understanding more especially its gendered aspects, and as a way to open dialogue through demonstrating not only the similarities in the expression of lover-beloved relationships on the devotional and cultural levels, but also learning from the differences.The dancer proved how exciting good, clean nritta could be. 
Every sequence were performed with effortless ease and were received with rounds of spontaneous applause. Pranati’s bhava exhibited was a feast for the eyes.

She concluded with a Thillana in Ragam Mandari, set to Adi talam, 
This was a composition of Ponniah Pillai of the Tanjore Quartet.

Her accompanying  artists need much mention since their role was very significant to make the dance performance a wonderful experience. Nattuvangam and Choreography was Pranati’s Guru Smt. Rhadha, Vocal  support was given by Smt. Nandini Anand Sharma.On the Flute it was a very talented Sri Shrutisagar.
It is interesting to have Vijayaraghavan on the mridangam, and Sikamani on the violin because they were the same orchestral support who used to accompany Parnati’s guru Rhadha 25 years ago. 
The response after each piece was a spontaneous reaction by the appreciative audience who were mesmerized by the spiritually elevation. She is indeed a promising dancer !

About the Author:

Sandhya Shankar belongs to a well respected business family in Chennai. She is a Life Skills & Corporate Trainer by profession. She is an avid reader and a natural writer, who has written several poems and articles. She even presented her poems as a reading at the British council. She has keen interest in all art forms  and has explored many different forms of painting like stained glass and Tanjore being among them. 

Music being her first passion, she had her formal training under Terakotti Chandrasekharaiah at Bangalore and later briefly under Mrs Champa Kumar. She is a regular visitor of concerts, theatre and other live performances. Her witty reviews have gained a loyal and interactive readership for their sound technical commentary and relevance for every kind of melophile, from the casual-goer to the ragam expert, frequenting Chennai’s rich music scene.

(*The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily those of Music of Madras.) 

Yesuvarasanam - Dr.K.J.Yesudas


Yesuvarasanam


Anyone who grew up in the 1960’s would remember things like playing street cricket, when we had to behave very, very well and also study very,very well to get an ice cream or a chocolate (we had to earn anything which was not basic), like when we collected leaves & twigs for our scrap book, like our mothers wore kum kum powder on their foreheads (sticker bindis had not be devised), like we didn’t have to call people before we visited them, like listening to the Beatles, like Ameen Sayani’s voice on Binaca Geetmala on every Wednesday and Yesudas singing ‘Enna Parvai Unthan Parvai’ for the film ‘Kadhalika Neramillai’. 

Anyone who grew up during 1970’s will remember things like their black telephone instrument covered with an embroidered cloth (sometimes locked so that people didn’t misuse it), like black & white tv with Doordarshan being the only channel and programmes starting only after 6pm and ending by 9pm, like playing book cricket, buying books to read during train journeys, having pen friends, listening to ABBA and Yesudas singing ‘Athisiya Ragam’ for the film ‘Apoorva Ragangal‘ and while also making a fantastic impact in Bollywood with ‘Ka Karoon Sajni’ for the film ‘Swami’ and ‘Ghori Tera Gaon Bada Pyaraa’ for the film ‘Chitchor’.

Those who grew up in 1980s will remember India winning the World Cup under the captaincy of Kapil Dev changing the face of Indian cricket forever, when a teenager called Sachin Tendulkar took the cricket world by storm, when colour tv came to replace the black & white, when India went to space and Yesudas singing ‘Kanne Kalaimane’ for the film ‘Moondram Pirai’. 

Those who grew up in the 1990s, will remember, India becoming a nuclear power, India winning Miss World & Miss Universe, when a life changing thing called mobile phones entered our lives and Yesudas singing ‘Pramadhavanam’ for the Malayalam film ‘His Highness Abdullah’. 

In the 2000s, 2G became 3G and 3G became 4G, and Sachin has retired but what remains constant is that Yesudas is still singing. I have to state that there is none before Yesudas and none after him. Literally, Yesudas is one artiste whose kutchery is never before or after any other performer. His concerts starts at 6pm and there is no event before that and often it goes on beyond 9pm, so again no concert after that. So obviously, the audience he gets are coming there purely for him and it’s not some spill over crowd. What is interesting is that sabhas are willing to have only one concert versus two concerts which will only get them more revenue. Such is the respect he has been commanding for the more than 5 decades. 

During this December Season, I walked into Narada Gana Sabha, found myself pleasantly surprised to see an almost full hall for him, when all the younger and well known artistes were singing somewhere or the other at about the same time. The crowd at NGS was his own loyal audience and one of them was me.

This post is a tribute to this striking personality with flowing white hair and white beard. But hold on, his age stops with his completely grey hair. There is no stoop in his posture, no spectacles, no lack of enthusiasm, no loss in memory, or sharp wit and humour, and most important no change in the involved melodious rendering. 
How many people among us can sit crosslegged for more than 3 hours ? As for me, I don’t see myself making it to 80, let alone sitting upright and crosslegged ! 
I am no musical wizard to judge anyone technically, but if there goes a saying that Music transcends religions, breaks barriers, and Music can move anything or anybody then all this was achieved through his music. He is the king in emoting the sentiment in the song, and I am yet to find such a golden voice !

This particular concert for KFA was no different with a selection of lovely songs. One of them being my own favourite Purandaradasa krithi ‘Guruvina Ghulama’, which was followed by Meenakshisuthan’s composition ‘Rakshamam Sharangata’ in Ragam Nattai. This composition is on Lord Guruvayurappan and everyone knows how the temple authorities are so opposed to allowing Yesudas into the temple. I really think this is most ridiculous and I am almost tempted to go and convince the Devasom authorities to allow this person who has taken Guruvayurappan close to millions of people with his songs.
What followed was Patnam Subramani Iyer’s ‘Apradhamulanniyu’ in Lathangi Ragam. His next choice was Saint Thyagaraja’s ‘Marubalka’ in Ragam Sriranjani and this is where you must put your heart over your mind. His rendering of Mysore Vasudevacharya’s ‘Devadhi Deva Shri Vasudeva’ in Ragam SunaadaVinodhini was soulful. Then was Saint Thyagaraja’s ‘Marugelara O Raghava’, in Ragam Jayantsri. This is our family’s ‘Yaadon Ki Baraat’ song (you know the kind where all of us get lost in Mela, and this song will reunite us, because practically all of us know it.) 

Just as you are marvelling at his energy & commitment, the audience start clamouring for songs of their choice. They have waited through the first half of the programme only to hear him sing their favourite songs, which only he can sing the way in which it can melt a heart of stone ! 

The first request was ‘Thiruparkadlil Palikondaye Sriman Narayanan’ and what a response he got for it ! He didn’t refuse a single request from the audience though it was a long concert. His humour is still intact and that was visible when he narrated an interesting anecdote about him singing a Bengali song for a Kannada biopic about Swami Vivekananda & Ramakrishna Paramhamsa and it’s was his personal choice to present it to us. 

He obliged the awaiting crowd with his signature piece on Swami Ayyappan ‘Enna Varam Keppen Naane’. No concert of his can be complete without this song which continues to move people to tears. 
It was more than 3 hours but not once did he sip a drop of water and not once did he adjust his sitting position. He went on to sing a Kathakali Padam by Kottakal Madhu on Kuchela Vritham ‘Ajithare Madhava Krishna’. Towards the end he sang Sundaramurthy Nayanar’s ‘Pitha Pirai Choodi’ and there is no match for his emotive singing. 

If there are critics who are looking for technically brilliant but occasionally soulless singing...I have only one thing to say that mine is not a review but a tribute to a man who had stood the test of time !
I know how I heard him as a child and used to sing his ‘Jab Deep Jale Aana’ from Chitchor with my cousin brother and today I have lost my voice, energy and sadly that cousin too but Yesudas is there sitting before me with an attitude, enthusiasm and honey dripping singing which is beyond human comprehension. 
I say this as an example ... my mother was one of the most innovative and best cooks publicly acknowledged and accepted by all who knew her and today she is almost 80 (like Yesudas) afflicted with Parkinson’s among other things. She is unable to do as much as before, and often not even the simplest of things like a Pongal. This doesn’t take away the fact that in my opinion she remains one of the best cooks ever ! She is beyond criticism & judgement !! 

I learnt that some of his concerts after this one were cancelled due to a setback in his health and I know lots of people were disappointed and worried. Every single person who spoke on this to me had him in their prayers. And I was glad this has worked and he was to sing in Kamaraj Arangam on the Jan 15th evening. 

There is a belief that wherever Rama’s name is chanted, Hanuman is present. Maybe all of them there, like me, felt that Lord Ayyappan was going to sleep after hearing Yesudas’s Harivarasanam, like it is the case in Sabarimala every night. 

Here is what I think, one doesn’t judge legends...... You just salute them ! 


About the Author:

Sandhya Shankar belongs to a well respected business family in Chennai. She is a Life Skills & Corporate Trainer by profession. She is an avid reader and a natural writer, who has written several poems and articles. She even presented her poems as a reading at the British council. She has keen interest in all art forms  and has explored many different forms of painting like stained glass and Tanjore being among them. 

Music being her first passion, she had her formal training under Terakotti Chandrasekharaiah at Bangalore and later briefly under Mrs Champa Kumar. She is a regular visitor of concerts, theatre and other live performances. Her witty reviews have gained a loyal and interactive readership for their sound technical commentary and relevance for every kind of melophile, from the casual-goer to the ragam expert, frequenting Chennai’s rich music scene.

(*The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily those of Music of Madras.) 

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