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.) 

Do Re Mi Fa Pa Da Ni Sa ! - Jayanthi Kumaresh & Anil Srinivasan


Do Re Mi Fa Pa Da Ni Sa !


Not for me, are these New Year Eve parties held in clubs, where there are unfamiliar people trying to usher in another year along with badly cooked food from last year and loud music /noise. Not for me, are these private parties where people are getting drunk on the pretext of celebrating the passing of an unproductive year. I have never understood this forced gaiety just because the calendar had flipped a page !!

It would have been any other normal day for me on January1st this year, except that not every day does one get to listen to two amazing musicians live at 9 am in the morning. It was the annual program at Kalakshetra on January1st which featured a musical genius namely Jayanti Kumaresh on the Veena and an extraordinary pianist Anil Srinivasan. 

Kalakshetra is one place in the middle of our concrete Chennai, which is reasonably unspoilt with open spaces, and no artificial Korean grass but old shady trees in very natural and rustic surroundings. The night before had rained leaving dew drops on the leaves and making the weather extremely pleasant and inviting. Imagine this canvas as we sat on the floor, while there were birds chirping outside the hall, Jayanti & Anil started with a Dikshitar’s krithi in Ragam Chakravakam ‘Gajananayutham Ganeshwaram’. It was absolutely serene and I can’t think of a better way to start this year ! 

The next song they chose to play was in Ragam Reetigowla, a composition of Saint Thyagaraja’s ‘Nannu Vidachi.’ It’s very interesting to listen to purely instrumental music because your ears and mind are not on the song or lyrics and you are able to identify songs with same tune or similar sounding Ragams. For example as they started the Reetigowla, my mind replayed the film song ‘Chinna Kannan Azhakiraan Radhayai’ sung by the one and only Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna for the film ‘Kavikuyil.’ I am not sure if this Rajinikanth starrer film was a hit but the song was & is hugely popular. 

The two artistes definitely have a great work understanding and what they delivered was pure magic. At no point of the concert they tried to overshadow each other and it was evident that they had good camaraderie between them. 

It’s understandable that the Veena, a traditional instrument of Indian origin when played by a genius like Jayanti could give a marvellous rendering of Saint Thyagaraja’s krithi ‘Manavyalakincharadate’ in Ragam Nalinikanti, which exposed the similarity to the song from the film Kalaignan ‘Yendhan Nenjil’ sung by Yesudas and Janaki. Here was Anil on his piano showing us that music has no boundaries or limitations.
When I say ‘boundaries’ it is not cricket or geographical boundaries but mental boundaries where one thinks only certain instruments can be used to play Carnatic music. Anil is a path breaker who deserves to be applauded for venturing into an area which is always under scrutiny. As far as I can remember, (atleast in my generation) he is the first to play a pure Carnatic krithi like ‘Manavyalakincharadate’ on the piano. And, if this is not being creative ... what is ? I bring forth this question because I have heard people making judgements about the authenticity or legitimacy of playing Carnatic music on instruments of non Indian origin. When we accept a saxophone, a mandolin or even the violin which definitely had its roots elsewhere but has become synonymous with Carnatic music, then why not the piano and especially from a very talented & committed pianist? The piano is probably the quintessential western instrument and great masters across the world have composed grand symphonies for this majestic instrument. The piano is an instrument where the keys play distinct notes hence not the easiest to play the gliding Carnatic style. And to even try playing classical ragams, Raga Alapanai and full krithis is no mean feat. We should stop judging and just enjoy the magic of music ! 

Both Jayanti & Anil periodically gave some inputs which helped us connect with the song. They moved on to play RTP or was it RTK (Ragam,Thanam, Krithi). While they mentioned Amritavarshini, a lot more Ragams like Revati,Shivaranjani, Hindolam, Suddhadhanyasi and Gambhira Natai were played. All the Ragams were played the pentatonic scale which means they denoted 5 notes or swaras. The lyrics for the Krithi was ‘Ananda Amrithakarshini’ and the whole thing was just beautiful ! 

They ended the concert with Bharatidasan’s ‘Thumbam Nergayil’ in Ragam Desh which was absolutely delightful. 

I am not sure what this year holds for me, or where it is going to take me but one thing I know for sure is that if I am in Chennai on 1st January 2021 .... you can find me at Kalakshetra on that morning ! 


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.) 

Sthira Thala Ranganatha Sharma - Shertalai Ranganatha Sharma


Sthira Thala Ranganatha Sharma


It was Day 2 of the MadRasana festival held at Sathyam Cinemas. When I first heard about this concert series in 2016, I was very curious. Infact even skeptical about the ethos, quality & success of this concept where the ambience is of a multiplex theatre and not a sabha. Right from the idea of snacking on a popcorn along with a cold coffee versus a Keerai Vada along with a filter Coffee was somehow incongruous with me. 

This was my first year at MadRasana and I must confess the experience was not only unique but also wonderful. We had their hospitality team taking care of every single thing making it on the whole a memorable experience. 

It was Shertala Ranganatha Sharma who was to perform for an avid gathering. His first song for the morning was amusingly one starting with his own name ‘Raganathudhe’ in Ragam Saurashtram, set in Rupaka thalam which was a composition of Ponnaiah Pillai. It was in praise of Lord Ranganatha and our Ragannatha Sharma sang in a very effortless manner making a fine beginning. 

To talk about the composer Ponnaiah Pillai here would not be inappropriate even though this is a review about the vocalist because we rarely take the effort to know more about these composers (other than the Trinity) without whom Carnatic Music would be less rich. Ponnaiah Pillai belonged to the family of the Tanjavur Quartet, Chinnaih, Ponnaiah, Shivananda and Vadivelu who were the disciples of Muthuswamy Dikshitar. He learnt music from Anantharama Bhagavathar and in 1932 he was given the Sangita Kalanidhi award. He composed many swarajatis, varnams, keertanais & thillanas. And his great contribution to the field of Carnatic music wouldn’t have be possible if opportunities were denied by a certain segment of society. Ponnaiah Pillai stands testimony to the fact that merit alone matters. 

Ranganatha Sharma went on to sing Mysore Vadudevachar’s composition in Ragam Kamas ‘Brochevaravarura’ set to Adi thalam. Here is a person with a name starting with ‘Mysore’, who wrote largely in Telugu and Sanskrit back then in the early 1900s. Guess there was no language war and people were broad minded and large hearted enough to be inclusive. In this krithi, Ragannatha Sharma displays his extensive knowledge in Carnatic music as a vocalist and as one of the best teachers today. It was a flawless rendering and he had an appreciative audience. His experience shone in a quiet confident way and I was happy that the morning had begun well. 

His next song was Saint Thyagaraja’s ‘Mavaira Ramani’ in Ragam Nasikabhooshini set to Rupakam thalam which is one my favourites. It was an absolutely straightforward rendering with no gimmicks and every aspect of the song was dealt with utmost clarity. 

What followed was another Thyagaraja’s composition ‘ Nee Dayaradha’ in Ragam Vasanta Bhairavi set to Rupaka thalam. Everything about his singing met all the grammar rules of Carnatic music, be it swara prasthram, alapane, or thalam. 

His main piece for the morning was Saint Thyagaraja’s ‘Inta Soukhayamani’ in Ragam Kaapi set to Adi thalam. This is a song where Thyagaraja expresses the comfort and pleasure he gets with the very thought of Rama and his name. Thyagaraja questions, unless someone experiences this, how will they not know the bliss it gives? Sharma took his time to deliver this song in detail while he let the audience soak in the comfort & pleasure of good music asking themselves ‘Inta Soukyamani’ 

Just as I was wondering if it was a Thyagaraja thematic concert as it was already 3 Thygaraja Krithis in a row, he concluded the concert with Gopalkrishna Bharati’s composition in Ragam Behaag ‘Irakkam Varamal’ set to Rupakam thalam. As in all his compositions Gopalkrishna Bharati asks his Lord Nataraja in Chidambaram about his lack of compassion and mercy towards the poet. Shertala sang in a very Sthira or steady manner throughout the concert and what stood was his commitment to the purity of Carnatic music as pure as Shuddh Desi Ghee ! 

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.) 

Malare Mounama ?

  Malare Mounama ?   It was a humid Friday afternoon on September 25th, when my maid tells me that she is not coming to work for the next fe...