Some years ago, when the opinionated music goers were raving about this young lad who had left the USA to come to Chennai wanting to make a serious career in Carnatic music, I was initially skeptical. The reason being that I have noticed that here in India, among the TamBram community, they are very impressed with anyone who has an academic background, has lived in America, has strong Indian values, chooses to pursue Carnatic music in some form and even excels in it. For an average upper middle class TamBram, this is an irresistible combination! Another reason for my skepticism is that, they glorify somebody too soon and too much, not allowing them to go through the natural process but instead adding so much stress that it may impact their growth, also creating an unreasonable expectation from the ever demanding audience. I felt that this young man Ramakrishnan Murthy certainly had much promise but we need to be patient to ensure that the spark becomes a glow ! Time has proved that, this youngster is not a fluke or a short lived phenomenon but an undeniable winning combination of perseverance, talent & humility, all assuring him of undisputable ‘Keerthy’ !
Presenting Ramakrishnan Murthy to you!
This season, I had the pleasure of listening to two online concerts of his and the good fortune of attending two live ones! Even at the risk of being accused of writing too often about him, I didn’t want to consolidate all four concerts of his in one review, because each of them merits individual space.
The first live concert at Rajaji Vidyashram where the open air arrangement was very conducive for the rasikas who were torn between the fear of Corona & love of Carnatic music.
He started with Andal’s Thirupaavai, and being the very beginning of Marghazhi, he chose ‘Marghazhi Thingal’ in Ragam Nattai. The way he sang this first song was enough for me to realise that what we have in front of us, is the future of Carnatic Music! His ‘Marghazhi Thingal’ was so intense and complicated that what I sing will sound like a kindergarten child singing a rhyme. Seriously, how is it even fair that he gives us all a complex? While I was listening with my mouth open, I wanted to suggest to him, that he should spare simple devotion laden hymns like Thirupaavai and not show his unquestionable talent there....it kind of robs the charm of Andal’s innocent & pure poetic love for the Lord. The vision I’ve always had was of the beautiful Andal prancing around with her young girlfriends, sharing her heart’s desires to them and not some highly superior Carnatic maestro whose first hymn would have Sri Rangannathar flabbergasted and marry her the very first day! Ramakrishnan is actually trying too hard(honestly it’s not required because he is amazingly good) and maybe somethings are better to be left simple, everything doesn’t need so much of swarams, neravals, korvais, brighas, and what nots.
His next song was Swati Tirunal’s ‘Narasimham Mamava Bhagawan’ in Ragam Arabhi set to Khanda Chapu thalam. This composition has 3 charanams and I have not heard many people sing this. Ramakrishna is not one to compromise on any aspect of music, there are no shortcuts for him. He improves with every song while improvising every ‘sangathi’. In this song Swati Tirunal praises Narasimha, an avataar of Lord Vishnu. I need to mention that the other brilliant youngster Vittal Rangan the violinist is surely a highly sought after by everyone. I say this because I saw him accompanying Abhishek Raghuram at the same venue a few days ago and now Ramakrishnan Murthy. Maybe Vittal Rangan stayed at Rajaji Vidyashram all through the concert series, while all the different vocalists just came, performed & left! He looks like a schoolboy with a cute smile and his magical fingers convince me that he is someone to watch out for. He is certainly making his teacher the one & only Kanyakumari very proud!
The song that followed this Swati Tirunal composition was a Dikshitar krithi ‘Seshachala Nayakam Bhajami’ in Ragam Varali set to Rupaka thalam. This is one of the two songs Dikshitar wrote about Tirupati Venkateshwara, the Lord of seven hills. The other one being ‘Shanka Chakra Gada Panim’ in Ragam Poornachandrika, where Dikshitar in the charanam writes ‘Amrutasara Bhakshanam’ which in my opinion is the Tirupati Ladoos, he was referring to. Here in this particular Varali krithi, his mudra is a little different, where he signs off as ‘Abhinava Guruguha’. The word ‘abhinava’ means, new or young, so it could be that while writing ‘Seshachala Nayakam’, Dikshitar was in his youth.
Ramakrishnan Murthy’s main song for the evening was Sri Thyagaraja’s ‘Nama Kusumamula’ in Ragam Sri. Here Thyagaraja says that having born as a human being, we should utter God’s names which are like flowers. This song is also not sung so often but trust Ramakrishna to give you more than you expect. Just as if he heard my mind voice, he sang the familiar ‘Aadum Chidambaramo’ in Ragam Behag, a composition by Gopalkrishna Bharati in a lively and flawless manner.
After this, came the highlight of the concert, the most popular Subramaniya Bharatiyaar’s ‘Chinnajirukiliye’ in Ragamalika. Who hasn’t heard this song among Tamil music lovers? I have heard this a million times myself, I sing it too and one of my favourite memories is my brother- in-law singing this, when he came to meet my Akka for the first time, in a customary ‘Ponnupakara‘ event. As expected, she was asked to sing, and to her relief, he volunteered to sing instead of her and saved her the fear of being judged. What started in 1978 still continues, where he fulfills all that is expected of her.......A very endearing couple!!
Anyway, coming back to Ramakrishnan Murthy, he sang this as RTP and sang the complete composition, it was only then I realised that I have been singing the abridged version all these years. Remember in this same post, I mentioned that this boy doesn’t believe shortcuts. Even if it requires more research, more effort, he seeks perfection!
My Chinnajirukilye has only few Ragams, Kaapi, Mand,Vasantha, Thillang and Sivaranjani......in that order. But, Ramakrishnan had different plans...he rendered this song, in a way I have never heard before....absolutely brilliant! He sang so many verses I didn’t know in Ragam Nilambari, Shubapantuvarali and there was a trick element ...instead of pure Sivaranjani, he sang Sivaranjani in Madhyamam which becomes Ragam Neelamani, leaving us foxed! If anyone is impressed with my knowledge in music, I must confess that I needed to pick the brains of a really knowledgeable person! While we were trying to recover from this brain teaser, he concluded with another mind blowing twist....he chose to sing a verse from Thirupaavai ‘Ongi Ulagalanda’...so what is the twist? It was not in Ragam Arabhi that everyone is used to, nor in the usual way but in viruttam/ shloka format. He sang it as a Ragamalika, and if my memory is to be trusted there was a myriad of Ragams like Attana, Jonpuri, Hamir, Sindhu Bhairavi, and Surati in the end. Can one ask for more ??
Presenting Ramakrishnan Murthy to you!
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.)