Musical Girijavalam - Girijashankar Sundaresan


Musical Girijavalam


A friend had posted about a concert she enjoyed and trusting her judgment, I decided to check out this vocalist Girijashankar Sundaresan

There I was at Sivagami Petachi on the afternoon of 23rd December this season to hear him sing. He started the concert with a varnam composed by Fiddle Ponnuswamy in Ragam Khamboji set to Adi thalam ‘Taruni Ninnu Pasi Talaledura’. 
When one is a student of a maestro like Chitravina Ravikiran, it’s a given that every aspect of music is perfected. 

His next song was Saint Thyagaraja’s composition ‘Orajupu Chuchedi Nyayama O Raghutama’ in Ragam Kaanada Gowlai set to Adi thalam. Every one of Thyagaraja’s compositions has a different mood in the inner layers, though outwardly it may appear as if he is just obsessed about Lord Rama and he does nothing but to blindly praise him. 
What should be noticed is the ‘relationship’ between him & Rama. Rama is not just a God but has several roles to play in Thyagaraja’s mind. Rama was his friend, teacher and many such relationships and like our relationships they have between them happiness, sorrow, bliss, desire, pining, missing, fondness, indulgence, grievances and many others. Of course, it’s all vocalised by only one of them, and the other one in the relationship is Rama who does not directly express himself but doesn’t the very thought of Rama bring forth so much from Thyagaraja. And thoughts are coming from within and what flows from there is an act of Rama, so he has a part to play for Thyagaraja to do or say whatever it is. 
In this song, he asks Rama as to why the Lord is giving him sneering glances. Why is the Lord behaving in a manner which is not befitting him. He questions Rama’s inconsistency towards his devotees.  
This song needs to be sung after understanding the lyrics and I think both Ravikiran and Girijashankar have taken care of this. 

Next song was Patnam Subramani Iyer’s composition ‘Marivere Dikkevaru Ramayya’ in Ragam Lathangi. This song will give one a feeling of it resonating with Thyagaraja’s sentiment about Rama, like asking Rama to save him and stating that only Rama was his refuge. It’s on record that Patnam Subramani Iyer was born much after Thyagaraja. Probably he was inspired by Thyagaraja, after all they are all from the same geographical belt! 

Girijashankar 
went on to sing Muthuswamy Dikshitar’s ‘Akshaya Linga’ in Ragam Shankarabharanam, which he sang effortlessly. That is when I thought this was a ‘Girijavalam’. His next song was Ambujam Krishna’s ‘Ododi Vanden Kanna’ in Dharmavati Ragam set to Adi thalam. The lyrics in this song is simple and endearing. Such as ‘Naan Unakkum Ennakumulla Uravinru Arindhu .. Ododi Vanden Kanna’. Now this is the genre of songs the you would be reminded of someone like Unnikrishnan who excelled in such songs. Listening to Girijashankar, I felt he could fill the void left by Unni. Very few singers can do this and Girijashankar can well be an alternative to Unni with his mellifluous voice. His voice has a quality which can be gentle & endearing that can melt a hardened person and rare in this power driven world, whether it is Music or Yoga. Everyone wants Power Yoga and not a holistic enhancement. 



He ended the concert with a lovely thillana in Rageswari composed by the inimitable Lalgudi Jayaraman. As I am getting older, my interest and knowledge in music is no more shallow and it is for my soul not for my ears. It is now that I am able to appreciate the beauty of such compositions which makes Lalgudi Jayaraman the legend he was! 

Girijashankar’s earnestness was very evident and it would be so encouraging for aspiring musicians if they had a sizeable audience. It’s like this, when I put some effort into cooking at home and have laid out the table but there is none who come to eat, I certainly feel disappointed. It could be demotivating too but I don’t succumb to it and keep on cooking whether people eat or not ... I must be sounding insane, a problem among my generation of women, I think!


Girijashankar has a lot to offer and eager to deliver and is hoping people will receive it! 

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.) 

Bale Muralikrishna - Kunnakudi Balamuralikrishna


Bale Muralikrishna


Years ago, when I heard that there was this young person called Kunnakudi M.Balamuralikrishna who had entered the Carnatic Music arena, I felt it was an interesting hybrid name and wondered if he had any connection to either Dr.M.Balamuralikrishna or Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan. I did the most obvious which is turning to Google and found that he was not related to either of them. 

Somehow, I have never had an opportunity to sit through a whole concert of his, though I have been observing his steady growth. 
This year I heard him at the Music Academy at the coveted 6.45 slot. 

There was an impressive crowd and he started the concert with a rarely sung varnam ‘Intha Kopamelara O’Rama’ which was a Ragamalika composed by Veena Kuppaiyer set in Adi thalam. He sang 9 Ragams if I had counted right ! The Ragams were Natai, Gowla, Varali, Arabhi, Sri, Narayanagowla, Reetigowla, Nataikurinji and Kedaram ... Poruma?.....making this the richest of the rich varnams

After that thunderous beginning, he decided to calm the excited crowd with a Andal Thirupaavai in Arabhi ‘Ongi Ulagalantha’. He essayed this so beautifully that I am sure Andal Nachiyar and Sri Ranganatha Swamy were as pleased as the audience. 

His main piece was what people were sitting there for because this is where he has an opportunity to show his strength & prowess in singing and this is where he gets to display his talent, skill and depth of knowledge. By whichever yardstick it maybe he was not only flawless but he made everyone’s hair stand up and left them wondering what hit them. Remarkable energy combined with sound knowledge, it was as if he was possessed and gave it all from the bottom of his heart ! 
I just realised that I haven’t even mentioned the song and only have been gushing praises. Well that was the impact ! 

Coming to the song it was a Saint Thyagaraja’s composition in Ragam Reetigowla ‘Seetha Nayaka’ set to Misrachapu Thalam. Usually the song is mentioned followed by how the artiste sang, if it’s reverse in this post then that should explain which takes precedence. This kind of abundant talent had to come from somewhere, so I did some more sleuthing and found out that this amazing musician was distantly related to Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan. 
No wonder that spontaneity and raw energy while performing was evident. Looks like Google doesn’t know everything after all ....😜

The next song for the evening was Muthuswamy Dikshitar’s composition in Ragam Kalyani ‘Kamalamba Bhajare’ and needless to say it was a wonderful rendering. By this time he had the audience completely with him and I wonder if anyone was even looking at their phones or thinking of leaving. 

What followed was not the common RTP but a STP (in his words). It was Vandemataram as a Shlokam and followed by a mind blowing Thanam and the Pallavi which went as ‘Palinchu Bangaru Kamakshi, Pavani Papashamani’ in Ragam Vasantha Bhairavi set to Chatusra Jampai (Khanda Nadai) thalam. 
Frankly it did not matter anymore if it was RTP, STP, KTP, BTP or even DTP 😜.... he was simply rocking it !!Whatever he sang we were ready to accept it ..... isn’t that what is a KING in making ?

His next song was Patnam Subramani Iyer’s ‘Mariyada Teliyakane’ in Ragam Suruti and set to Rupakam Thalam. This composition is more commonly used as a Javali for Bharatanatyam Dance performances. A Javali is slightly faster than a Padam and usually a theme where a girl is pining for her beloved. 

He moved in from there to sing the mandatory Tamil song in Ragam Hindustani Gandhari ‘Thamarai Pootha Thadagamadi’ composed by Trichy G. Thyagarajan set to Adi Thalam. If I go on to say how he sang and line up adjectives, this post will take longer to finish ! 

He ended the concert with a brilliant Thillana in Ragam Pahadi set to Misra Chapu Thalam which was composed by the brilliant violinist Lalgudi G. Jayaraman. I still can’t understand how Lalgudi Jayaraman never got the much spoken about Sangita Kalanidhi. 
Having said all this, the field of Carnatic Music is very dynamic and one needs to have consistency & perseverance to make an ascent to the top or atleast remain where they are !

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.) 

Prosaic Prasanna Venkataraman - Prasanna Venkataraman


Prosaic Prasanna Venkataraman


There is so much hype about getting a chance to perform in the Music Academy during the Marghazhi Season and the most coveted slot being the evening 6.45pm. For decades it’s been an accepted thing that if an artiste performs in this slot, then he or she will have to be extremely good. Only the BEST get to perform during that time or the least is that he or she has to be a crowd puller. 

I attended 2 concerts back to back at The Music Academy on the 20th December, with a quick coffee in between. It’s going to be another post about the first concert but this review about second concert can’t wait.

It was Prasanna Venkataraman who was a student of T.R. Balamani, T.K. Govind Rao and who I heard was now learning under Sanjay Subramanyam. This was enough for me to check him out. The queue in the canteen delayed me and made me miss his varnam, for which I am now thankful. In my earnestness to present facts, I tried checking people sit next to me which varnam he sang and they seemed clueless. So much for a good start !

He then sang ‘Aazhi Mazhai Kanna’ from Andaal’s Tirupavai in Varali Ragam. It was soulless and I doubt if Andaal or Sri Ranganathan Swamy would have been pleased with the rendering. One thing was evident the audience weren’t pleased as we could see several of them moving towards the exit. And it was only the second song.

But I am made of tougher stuff and don’t give up easily and I stayed on to listen to the next song which was Dikshitar’s ‘Dhandayudhapanim’ in Ragam Ananda Bhairavi. If Andaal would have been displeased with the earlier Tirupavai, then with this song, Dikshitar would have been distressed. At this point more people got to up to leave and it wasn’t even Thani Avartanam. Who knows maybe that would have been better ! 

By this time, my mind was asking some questions, which I would appreciate if anyone can answer. What are the parameters that determine the slots allotment? Is it the artiste’s age, experience, talent, skill, confidence or ability to entertain or keep the audience engaged ? Or your pedigree, who your teacher or parent is ? Otherwise it baffles me when something so obvious as quality is ignored and rasikas are led to believe that what they are offered is the best available !

An average regular rasika would know the complicated process one had to go through to merely get tickets at the Academy, forget getting membership that’s like get admission in one of the IIMs. And after all the drama, fact is that the halls are not always full as we are informed. So, is someone just buying tickets in bulk and letting it go waste ? 

Inspite of all these challenges, you manage to attend these concerts, and you feel cheated if the line up is nothing exciting. If the Sabhas are on a high horse in restricting membership then the least they need to do is some ‘Quality Control.’

I have always tried to remain positive and when facing adverse situations, believed that things will improve and often it’s proved true. Being the optimist that I am, I sat there hoping for better singing. 

And what came was Saint Thyagaraja’s composition in Ragam Saraswati Manohari ‘Enta Vedukonda O Raghava.’ This song’s meaning goes as such : 
O Raghava ! How often, how long have I solicited your grace? And why are you so obstinate in relenting even though you live in my inner soul ? I solemnly believe and hope whenever you choose to relent, there will be no greater bliss ! 

Saint Thygaraja may have had hope but I had lost all mine. Realising that I have failed the ‘Endurance Test’ it helped me decide that I was in control of my time and it’s upto me to put an end to my suffering and so I made my way towards the exit !!

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.) 

Sakethram - Saketharaman


Sakethram


It’s not easy to grow up in the shadow of a talented, famous and successful sibling where it’s inevitable that constant comparisons are made. I am not talking about Sakethram who has a super successful sister Vishaka but about myself and my gorgeously beautiful elder sister who was also a well behaved child while I was this ugly duckling of the family or rather ugly monkey who was far too mischievous. It’s all about me and my sister not about Sakethram & Vishaka. Do I sound like Sowcar Janaki in K.B’s film ‘Iru Kodugal’ where that famous wordplay of life & file is used ? 

Having made my point, I am sharing my experience at Sakethram’s kutcheri for Kartik Fine Arts at Narada Gana Sabha on 5th December. 

He started the concert not with a customary varnam but instead a composition of Ambujam Krishna in Ragam Hamsanandi set in Aadi thalam, ‘Punnagai Ondre Podhume.’
It was an earnest attempt on his part to impact the audience and it did take a while for him to settle down, which was only during his next song . This was Muthuswamy Dikshitar’s ‘Ranganayakam Bhavaye’ in a Ragam Nayaki (trust Dikshitar to make that choice) set to Aadi thalam. Dikshitar was a university by himself, and in this song he shows how this ragam needs to be handled. If one masters this song, they can never get confused between the two ragams Nayaki & Darbaar. This song is one of the ‘Shriranga Pancharatna Krithis’, so If we just say Pancharatna krithi it is one of Saint Thyagaraja’s compositions. Both these composers lived in the same period, here Dikshitar was born after Thyagaraja and died before him. They even lived within the same orbit and yet there is no recorded rivalry and animosity. Guess if it’s Bhakti and their mission is seeking the Almighty and not to promote themselves, then there is no insecurity and jealousy. If one wrote Pancharatna Krithis then the other wrote Shriranga Pancharatna Krithis . No fighting for logos or trademarks yet a small difference is enough to distinguish their work. I would like to believe that they respected each other or were not bothered each other. The proof being that neither of their works have been destroyed unlike nowadays where there is vandalism for often ridiculous reasons. These legends must have followed their own paths. In a lighter vein, similar to our Kamalahasan & Rajinikanth who decided to mind their own careers and not work together. 
Another well known krithi of these Shriranga Pancharatna Krithis is ‘Shrirangapura Vihara’ in Ragam Brindavana Saaranga, which was patented by M.S. Subbulakshmi and nobody has come close to challenging that. Anyway, coming back to Ragam Nayaki, it’s a very gentle Ragam where just the Pallavi of this song if sung properly can melt anyone’s heart. Here Sakethram has a long way to go but he is surely working towards it. 

As if he heard my mind voice, Sakethram rose to magnificently sing a Saint Thyagaraja’s krithi ‘Emani Pogadudura’ in Ragam Varunapriya which incidentally in Dikshitar’s school of music is called Ragam ViraVasantha. I know, I just extolled how each of them never stepped on each other’s toes so one may wonder why different names for the same ragam. My own explanation for this would be that just like we call the same God by different names, like Krishna is also Gopala and Vinayaka can be Ganesha so also different names for the same ragam. Just like I call my children by whatever I wish to depending my mood, and it’s rarely by the name their passports reveal. It’s another matter that my kids don’t respond to any name I may choose to call. Sakethram suddenly became more confident and aggressive, from then on there was no stopping him. 

His next song was a Tamil composition by Papanasam Sivan in Ragam Kamboji ‘Aadum Deivam Nee Arulvai Idadu Padam Tukki’ set to Aadi thalam and this was his main piece. He was wonderful and sang as if something had transformed him in the last one hour. 

He chose a song by Madurai T. Srinivasan ‘Mantrabalam Adaithan Mantralayam’ in Ragam Hamsanadam where he had the audience completely with him. 
After a thillana in a ragam I could not be sure to state, he concluded the concert with a soulful rendering of Papanasam Sivan’s ‘Karpagame Kann Parai’ in Ragam Madhyamavati. He ended the concert on a high note with the audience giving a (deserving?) standing ovation ! 
Anyway, he is certainly coming out of the shadows.....

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.) 

Crazy about RamanaGayatri - Gayathri Girish


Crazy about RamanaGayatri



I have always thought Crazy Mohan means laughter and spot on humour, but today I realised that there is more to this man than people associated him with. 

I attended a programme which was quite different in its flow. It was a Carnatic music concert based on Crazy Mohan's 'Ramanayana' in Tamil, a poetical biography of Bhagawan Ramana Maharishi.

Apparently Crazy Mohan read a book about Ramana Maharshi's life back to back and it impressed him so much, that it motivated him to write all through the night, this marvelous poetry or was it prose?
 
It was set to Carnatic Music by Rajkumar Bharati and the icing on the cake was Gayathri Girish and her sincere singing.
 
One could not ignore that this was not a regular concert where some popular, some rare, some racy, songs are put together keeping the audience interest in mind. This programme was not intended to get people's eyeballs or applause, but instead it was meant as a tribute to Bhagwan Ramana Maharshi and his philosophy, it was meant to strike a devotional chord among the audience and churn their emotions!!

Sadly, this program could be termed as a tribute to Crazy Mohan, whose premature death has certainly left a void in the field of creativity. Crazy Mohan, as his name suggests, is famed for his slapstick comedy and spoofs and personally I was pleasantly surprised to see this dimension to his talent. 

Ramana Maharshi's life was segmented into different Kaandams like in Ramayana, Bala Kaandam, Anbargal Kaandam and so on, intercepted with Bhagawan's teaching termed as Bhagwan Uvacha. All of this was sung beautifully by Gayathri, supported ably by N C Bharadwaj on Mrindagam, B. Ananthakrishnan on the violin and Sujith.S.Nair on the flute.

They had woven many ragams, starting with Kedaram (was reminded of the film song 'Sundari Neeyum Sundaram Nannum’ from the film 'Michael Madana Kaamraj‘, which had a brilliant screenplay by again, the same Crazy Mohan.)
 
Her Abhogi was simply lovely followed by Bilahari, SuddhaDhanyasi, SuddhaSaveri, Vachaspati as a Ragamalika.
 
It was an experience which was blissful and maybe because everything about this programme was standing on one fundamental thing - call it 'Bhakti,’ call it devotion.. it was crafted with only that, by all the people who curated this programme.
 
Thankfully Crazy Mohan was around when they first put up this show earlier this year!

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.) 

Giant (Jayant )and the Flute Stalk - J.A.Jayanth


Giant (Jayant )and the Flute Stalk 


I have been saying now for several years that it’s not fair to have instrumental concerts inserted between the vocal concerts during the Marghazhi December Season. There is so much happening as it is, with artistes, timings & venues being deciding the parameters with rasikas. Somewhere the instrumentalists do not get their share of undivided audience or attention. Probably there should be an exclusive instrumental mini season and the rasikas get to enjoy a lovely Veena, mandolin, keyboard, piano, flute or anything else without feeling bad about missing any vocal concert. There are so many accomplished instrumentalists who don’t get the crowd they deserve. 
The option of having an exclusive festival for instrumentalists should be seriously explored. 

Like for example, I went to attend a flute concert (where the theme was ‘Muruga’) on 13th December at Marghazhi Maha Utsavam at around 4.45 pm and people kept walking in at all points of the concert and it was by 5.45 pm that the venue was nearly full and the reason was Vishaka Hari being the next to perform. 

People who came early to get better seating for Vishaka, truly benefited because they got to listen to a most beautiful flute recital by Jayanth. 
Now some may wonder if I was one of the early birds who had gone for Vishaka specifically. Well I had gone there only to listen to Jayanth because I have heard his name float in the air as someone to look out for. So curiousity took me there and I was pleasantly surprised to see a youngster all of just 26 years playing ‘Vaa Muruga Vaa’ in Ragam Begada set to Rupaka thalam composed by Spencer Venugopal in an exquisite manner. That was enough for me settle down for the rest of the concert. 

I have always been fascinated with this instrument which is made from the simple bamboo and can produce such beautiful music. It is not just any instrument but also the trademark of Lord Krishna. Even if it’s mythology, that Krishna played the flute and not Veena or drums must have had a reason. Just like they say the violin sounds the closest to the human voice, I have a strong feeling that the flute has the capacity to take you to your past lives ! You just have to close your eyes and listen and it descends on you transporting you into the depths of your past ! 
There are two prerequisites to make all this possible. First is that the music should be good rather more than good it should have a quality of divinity. Second reason is the listener should be receptive & introspective like Arjuna and not just listen but let the music envelope you ! 

Jayant fulfills the first prerequisite and has magic in his fingers and breath. I closed my eyes as he played Papanasam Sivan’s ‘Sri Valli Devasenapathe’ in Ragam NataBhairavi. He displayed confidence & a natural flair as he played the swaras in Chaturshra Nadai & Khanda Nadai. 

That Jayant was training under none other than Sangita Kalanidhi Sanjay Subramanyam should explain his expertise and what promise he offers. Why would someone like Sanjay be wasting his time on a person if he was not worth it ? 

Jayant went on to play Periyaswami Thooran’s ‘Muruga Muruga’ in Saveri. I have not heard people sing this often, so it was very pleasant to see Jayant play this krithi. And boy, he was so very good that the lyrics were running in my mind. 

His best choice for the day was ‘Thaamadham Thagaadhaya’ in Ragam Mohanakalyani, set to Adi thalam. This song was composed by V.R.Gopal Iyer and I am not sure how many know that he was a very versatile musician and the father of violin maestro Sri Lalgudi Jayaraman. I would take the liberty of digressing a bit to share about this composer Gopal Iyer. He was the strictest father & teacher anybody could have yet he would not allow his son Jayaraman to sharpen his pencils for the fear that he may hurt his fingers. Those fingers which were later going to give the world some incomparable music. Every parent dreams and aspires for their children and blessed are those whose children are able to make them come true. Jayant is out there to make his parents and teachers proud. 

After this song came Papanasam Sivan’s ‘Sharavana Bava Guhane’ next in Ragam Madhyamavati which was his main piece. His alaapane & playing with swaras was mesmerising. It was in a way soothing after attending innumerable loud vocal concerts. 

When he started Ragam Sindhu Bhairavi, it was a little bit of brainwork to guess the song. It was Tanjavur Shankar Aiyer’s composition ‘Manadirk Kughandhadhu Murugan Rupam.’
He concluded his concert with a thillana in Behaag whose composer I could not guess ! 

I left the concert not intending to stay on for Vishaka Hari not only because I had listened to her twice before but also I didn’t want anything to take away the experience of this concert !! 

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.) 

Anthara Gandhara (G3) Venkatraghavan - Gayathri Venkataraghavan


Anthara Gandhara (G3) Venkatraghavan


It’s become a rarity to come across a musician who perceives Carnatic music more as an art than as a career, or a pathway to fame. And here was one such musician who gave us a lovely evening filled with pure music and devotion. 

Her first song was a famous Pancharatna Krithi composed by Saint Thyagaraja in Ragam Arabhi ‘Sadinchine O Manasa’ set to Adi Thalam. It’s common knowledge that Thyagaraja’s Ishta Devata was Rama and almost all his compositions were revolving around him. This song starts in a playful tone about Lord Krishna where Devaki, Vasudeva and Yashoda are mentioned. There is no excess of adjectives to describe Krishna but he used metaphors & similies instead making it a rich tapestry of words. He refers to Krishna as one who is ever attractive to the Gopikas and as a contrast in the 6th charanam he refers to Rama as Raghuvamsa tilaka, one who is a brother to all women not related to him. The lyrics ‘Samayaniki Thagu Mataladene’ is so endearing where Thyagaraja refers to the Lord as one who changes his speech, behaviour according to the situation being an opportunist. It’s an affectionate mood showcasing intimacy. It has to be acknowledged that the liberty we can take with our Ishta Devata is incomparable. The phrase Ishta Devata indicates you can even customise & choose your type of God. You have songs arguing or blaming God and also songs which pamper and flatter him. The relationship is of utmost intimacy and one without fear. Gayatri did complete justice to bring in all these elements into her recital. For me, it’s a fundamental prerequisite is to not distort the emotion behind the lyrics. 

She once again displayed this in the next song ‘Shivaloka Nathanai Kandu’ composed by Gopalakrishna Bharati in Ragam Mayamalavagowla set to Rupakam thalam. This song was also featured in the Tamil film ‘Nandanar’ in the year 1942. In this film, Dhandapani Desikgar who was a trained Carnatic musician played the main role. Those days one needed to be trained in singing and dancing to be cast in good roles. The film was based on a musical drama ‘Nandanar Charitram’ composed by Gopalkrishna Bharati and went on become a big hit. This song became very popular and I remember my uncle singing this at home. Gayatri’s singing not only brought back vivid memories but also the essence of ‘Nandanar Charitram’ to life. It was not only nostalgia but it was nice to hear someone sing so soulfully. She was ably supported by Mysore Srikanth on the violin, Neyveli Skandasubramaniam on mridangam and Alathur Rajaganesh on Khanjira. What requires special mention are the tambura artistes, while one was her student the other was a 83 year old Lakshminarayana Mama. I later learnt that during his younger days, he was a vocalist & a flautist. Touching to see Gayatri treat him in a respectful manner. 

She next chose to sing ‘Kalyanarama Raghurama’ in Ragam Hamsanadam set to Adi thalam, a composition of Oothukadu Venkata Kavi. He has brilliantly composed many songs in Sanskrit, Tamil & Marathi. He is known for his compositions on Lord Krishna. If Thyagaraja’s Ishta Devata was Rama, Gopalkrishna Bharati’s was Shiva, Shyama Sastry’s was Bangaru Kamakshi, Oothukadu Venkat Kavi’s was Krishna and many such musicians where Bhakti has been the predominant factor. How else can one explain these incomparable gems in hundreds and thousands of compositions flowing as an ocean right there for us to delve and seek. Thygaraja has composed ‘Sangita Gyanamu Bhakti Vina’ in Ragam Dhanyasi stating the same . Oothukadu Venkata Kavi’s popular ‘Alaipayudhe Krishna’ in Ragam Kaanada is so alluring that it’s used in films, remixes, and even used as titles of films ! In this particular song ‘Kalyanarama Raghurama’ he has extended his Bhakti to Lord Rama. 

Then came a beautiful rendering of Muthuswamy Dikshitar’s ‘Kailasnathane’ in Kamboji set to Misra Chaap thalam. This was her ‘Main Piece’ ... a main piece is where an artiste gets to exhibit his or her proficiency and creativity at the same time. The Alaapane for this was low pitched and very good. Personally I find singing in a high pitch is far easier than going very low. She sang the neraval for the line ‘Charusharaschandra Kaladareena’ with extraordinary improvisations. Here, Gayatri elaborated the line without tampering with the bhavam of the sahityam and used all variations to explore this. 

Her RTP started in Ragam Surya set in Kandajathi Triputai thalam moving onto Ragamalika swaras in the Ragams Brindavana Saranga and Behaag. The Pallavi was a composition of T.R. Subramaniam which was ‘Saravananai Muruganai Guhanai Ninai Arul Pervai.’ It was dealt very competently & creatively by her. 

Her next choice was Bharatiyaar’s ‘Chinnachirukiliye’ which is familiar to almost every Tamilian, whether the person is a musician or not ! It never ceases to strike a chord with the audience of any age or gender. The beauty of the lyrics is appealing and is sung in a Ragamalika. Like many I also know this song but this is first time I heard more stanzas. I never knew these lyrics ‘Solum Mazhalilai Kannamma Thunmbangal Pokki Vitai’ in Ragam Neelambari. Must thank Gayatri to go beyond the normal to help an average rasika like us learn while we enjoy ! 
I have always thought and sung ending with ‘Yen Uyir 
Nindradhandro.’ Subramanya Bharathi who died in very unfortunate circumstances, lives on forever through his songs. Her choice of this song was so appropriate since it was Bharatiyaar’s birthday on the next day which was10th December. It was also the death anniversary of the one & only M.S.Subbalakshmi on the same day and it was a befitting tribute for her to sing ‘Naada Bindu Kaladhi Namo Namo’ in Ragam Chenchurti. Incase anyone is amazed with my general knowledge, I need to confess that she mentioned all this before singing. Though when she announced before she sang a Thiruvachakam ‘Jyoti Chudar’ that it being Annamalai Deepam the next day again on 10th December, I was already aware of this. After all I had spent all morning making dozens of ‘Pori Urandais’ which my children looked at disdainfully and which are still lying in a box untouched !! 

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.) 

Tamizhikkum Sanjayendru Per - Sanjay Subrahmanyan



Tamizhikkum Sanjayendru Per



There has always been a clamour for Tamil language and for it being the identity of people of Tamil Nadu by all politicians who want to use Tamizh(not Tamil) as a tool to fulfill their political aspirations. All politicians are fighting to keep Hindi from entering the borders of Tamil Nadu, in order to preserve and protect Tamizh language while their own children and grandchildren go to the most expensive & best International Schools where Tamizh is neither the medium of instruction nor is it a part of the syllabus!

For sometime now, one of our best Carnatic musicians Sanjay Subrahmanyan has this exclusive Tamizh concert where he sings only Tamizh compositions. It’s a fitting tribute to this city which has nurtured Carnatic Music and all those marvellous compositions by several well known & lesser known Tamizh poets waiting to be exhibited.
Sanjay had sung on a similar format for Shubhashree Thanikachalam’s ‘Marghazhi Maha Utsavam’ for about 18 years (which was acknowledged by him in the brochure). Later he decided to fly solo and the program ‘Tamizhum Nanum’ was conceived and to be held during the first week of December. Smart thinking because in Marghazhi Maha Utsavam he would have been a part of a series of programs. But here with Tamizhum Naanum ..... He is the program!


This year it was on both 7th & 8th December and I was there to attend it on 8th.

As usual there was anticipatory excitement inside Music Academy and people were there well ahead of time to find their highly priced seating. On the seat, we found a three fold brochure, in Sanjay’s own words both in English & Tamizh explaining his personal involvement with Tamizh music, and also the listing the details of the songs he was going to sing that evening. It was good to have both the languages on the brochure, after all you cannot have an all Tamizh program and have the brochure completely in English ! The list of songs for the evening made us relax and sit back to enjoy the concert since it saved us the labour of trying to guess the composer, ragam etc.

First he sang the Vaishnavite prayer ‘Pallandu, Pallandu’ in a different and interesting manner. Whether hardcore Vaishnavites like Velukudi Krishnan, Karunakarachiar and Dushyant Sridhar will approve is another matter. Then he went on to sing in his own inimitable manner. The first two songs were unknown to me. I attribute my limited knowledge of Tamizh compositions to my childhood being in Bangalore. But this didn’t bother me, after all I had the brochure safely in my bag. Only after these two songs did I verify and find out that neither of them was listed in the brochure. I realised that it was ‘out of syllabus’ and there was no point in me sitting there smugly holding the leaked out answer sheet!

As per the list, he sang Tiger Varadachariyar’s Tamizh Varnam in Ragam Begada ‘Sariyo Nee Thamadam Seyyum’ where he ventured to use his creativity to please the rasikas. His expose of this ragam was full of highly energised phrases touching the various nuances of the ragam.

Sanjay moved on to sing Dhandapani Desikgar’s ‘Kadavule Marakadhai’ in Ragam Thandavam, which was again mentioned in the list. The name of this ragam could not have been more appropriate, as Sanjay literally did a ‘thandavam’ with the song. It was a scintillating experience sitting there watching him sing with utmost perfection. He was playing with swaras with confidence and aplomb.

Sanjay went on to sing Koteeshwara Iyer’s ‘Velum Mayilum’ in Ragam Sucharitra. He used this single phrase in a countless variety of sangathis. It reminded me of the song in Mani Ratnam’s film ‘Katru Veliyade’. The whole song goes on and on with the lyrics ‘Vaan Varuvan Varuvan’....or so it seems, to the extent the singers Shashaa Tirupati & Rahman sound like a stuck gramophone record. Probably at that point or time the lyricist Vairamuthu was stuck too for different reasons !! In the above song, after a point one gets tired of the repetition but in this case Sanjay was impeccable in his rendition of the sangathis that he took the audience along to a high peak. There was a flawless logical progression that encompassed the composition aspect of the krithi.

Then came Gopalakrishnan Bharati’s ‘Undan Thiruvadi Saranam Endru Inga Nambi Vanden Deva’ in Kamboji. In this song, the poet says that he is poor and has no one. He has taken refuge under the feet of Lord Shiva the master and he pleads with the Dancing God of the Golden Temple of Chidambaram to remove his suffering.
I needed to share the meaning to elicit the emotion or Bhava. Needless to say, Sanjay’s singing is very brilliant but for songs such as these, it would be appealing if it’s sung less aggressively......it doesn’t match with the sentiment behind the lyrics!

Similarly, the next song was one of my favourites from Arunachala Kavi’s ‘Ramanatakam’ which in my opinion is more understandable and relatable than Kambar’s Ramayana. Particularly I find ‘Yaaro Ivar Yaaro’ in Bhairavi Ragam from the same Ramanatakam so very romantic as it describes love at first sight! Also so many layers of emotions in ‘Ramanikku Manan Mudi’ in Ragam Hindolam making the entire Ramanatakam a masterpiece. Here in this song ‘Eppadi Thunidhadho Manam Swami’ in Ragam Huesini, it’s Sita who chides Rama as to how he has the heart to say that he will go to the forest without her. She is not stopping him from going but is upset that he didn’t include her in the decision making or the excursion, sorry exile! A woman who had her way in the end ... Isn’t it Women Empowerment?


This song requires to show how Sita made Rama go on a ‘guilt trip’ for not keeping her included and she used an endearing method rather than argue or throw a tantrum. The tone is one of love, where Sita is trying to use mind games not the scolding method. Well.... I am but an emotional person, so to expect the appropriate tone to the sentiment of the song is legitimate expectation.

Sanjay next chose to sing Bharatidasan’s composition ‘Thunbam Nergaiyil’ in Ragam Desh. Sanjay has mentioned in the brochure that it happens to be one of his favourite ragams. So what if I cannot sing like him, I have something in common with him and that is Desh Ragam happens to be one of my favourites too. Even AR Rahman has used Desh for the humming part of the popular ’Kadhal Rojave’ from the Mani Ratnam film ‘Roja’. The original Vandematram song was tuned in Desh and of course later it went through many tunes and many controversies ! Sanjay was simply wonderful in the way he handled Desh.

His RTP was a king sized platter of ragams, some of them being Shubapanturvarali, Behaag, Shivaranjani m, Sahana and Kadankuthuhulam, not necessarily in that order ... after all it’s a week since this program happened and I may have it all mixed up ! It was very enjoyable and his Pallavi was a Thirukural ‘Kuzhal Inidhu Yazhinidhum Enpadam Makkal Mazhalaichchol Kelaathavar’. What Thiruvalluvar said in two lines, Sanjay took 25 minutes to sing in different ways!


If someone thinks this post is long that is partly because his concert was also very long and went beyond the expected time. This is one concert where people didn’t want to go anywhere during the Thani Avartanam. He concluded the concert with Bharatiyaar’s ‘Kaani Nilam Vendum’ as a Ragamalika, by which time most of us had reached a saturation point.


He had done everything possible and everything impossible too ! Like his singing ‘Tu Tu Tu Tu’ or whatever is now an accepted thing as much the fact that he wears the crown firmly on his head ! Or maybe it’s the crown on the head which assures acceptance?


I am sure ‘Tamizhum Naanum’ is here to stay and will create the required interest in Tamil compositions and indeed people are responding well. They are able to better relate to songs in the language they grew up with ..... do I sound like Suhasini in the K. Balachander’s film ‘Sindhu Bhairavi’ ???


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.) 


SHANTI SUTRA by Kalakshetra - Kalakshetra Foundation


SHANTI SUTRA by Kalakshetra


Last year since it was the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, Kalakshetra Foundation presented a special production called ‘Shanti Sutra’ as a tribute to not only the Mahatma but also Rukmini Arundale the founder of Kalakshetra. This year Kartik Fine Arts presented this at Narada Gana Sabha yesterday and I got an opportunity to watch it. 

Both these individuals Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Rukmini Arundale were huge influencers of their time. They were determined in their respective missions and passionate about their work. They had lofty ideas and some even wondered how realistic these ideas and they surely would have faced their share of criticism for their methodology like all leaders. If Mahatma’s dream for India’s freedom was the single purpose of his life then Rukmini Arundale’s dream of establishing or rather preserving the ethos, creativity, culture and tradition of India through art was her personal mission. 

The dance drama brought these two visionaries on one platform and drew parallels between their lives and their work. It’s ironical that these individuals never met but were influenced by each other and their common ideologies. The dance drama depicted the shared values in different languages starting with Sanskrit, Bengali, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and so on. I think the idea was to depict unity in diversity, where we all come with different backgrounds, culture and speak different languages and yet we can create a non violent movement which is appreciated by the whole world. 

Both these individuals treasured and valued Ramayana, while one held it close to his heart and maintained it as his ideal which he wished to emulate, the other made her work, her art a tool to bring conviction to this epic brought to life in her dance dramas This epic influenced both of them to practice ahimsa, show compassion, uphold truth and most important think of the larger picture at all times rather than dwell in selfishness. Ramayana taught them that a cause or an institution was above any individual. 
Ramayana was their gospel of truth and a motivation for them to pursue the path of common good despite any hurdles. 

Rukmini created her work within the anti colonial nationalism narrative of Gandhiji. A proof of this was the art of weaving of handloom fabric that she strives to promote. I remember my grandmother, a very elegant woman, who preferred to wear Kalakshetra sarees. The revival of Indian traditions took a radically new dimension under her institution Kalakshetra. 

The dance drama was a visual treat weaving the key elements that connect this two dynamic individuals across the country. Both of them believed in self esteem, had passion for education, non violence, a non consumerist view of the environment, an acceptance of all Gods as one while Rama being their favourite. 

While Gandhiji was spurred by the plight of the natives of South Africa and India, Rukmini was distressed about the disregard the handloom industry had faced after colonisation, and the disrepute ‘Sadir’( a solo dance form which was practised by Devadasis or temple dancers) it was a precursor to Bharatanatyam, that she decided to do her best to revive the art and create an environment to preserve it from further decay. 
Gandhi’s famous rhetoric was that ‘We allowed them to cultivate Indigo on our lands and we succumbed to the British. Now it’s time for us to unite. And Khadi will unite us.’ 
If there is something like Gandhism then there is a stamp of Kalakshetra on any individual who studies there long enough. The focus was their common love for hand looms. 

They used different art forms to depict all this, different dance styles, both classical and folk styles, like Bharatnatyam, Pung Cholom from Manipur and Cheraw Bamboo Stick dance from Mizoram and complemented with songs from different parts of India. Kalakshetra has certainly tried to bring their values and what they stood for to the audience in a delightful portrayal trusting that these values are relevant even as if today. While all these emotions of these two individuals were well choreographed and put together, it was frankly an overkill. Definitely some sensible editing would be welcome. 
Really how much can an ordinary and undoubtedly patriotic citizen like me take. There was this nationalist song by V Ramalingam Pillai ‘Aaduraiaatai’, addressing Gandhiji’s charkha —‘Keep spinning O’ wheel’ was a haunting refrain which ran through the production. Then there was a Bengali song by Rajinikanth Sen composed during the Swadeshi Movement ‘Mayer Deotale Mira Kapor’ which was sung in a folk tune. There was also Ramalingam Pillai’s ‘ Iyal enna ezhidiyum’ linked with ‘Jnanthile’ which is a charanam of Bharatiyaar’s ‘Paarkulle Nalla Nadaun ’. There was also ‘Vaishnav Vajanato’ and hold on there was also a Telugu folk song’ Dhandalu Dhandalu’ in Ragam Tillang which was on cow slaughter. They didn’t want to miss anything and there came Kabir Das’s ‘Bhajore Bhaiya’. I was beginning to feel as if I was attending a RSS meeting. And while I endorse handloom, preserving tradition, abolishing not just cow but animal slaughter ...it was reaching a saturation point for me, when they decided to end with the famous ‘Shanti Nilaya Vendum’ and ‘Raghupati Raghava Rajaram’.

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.) 

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...