Garga Sudha Rasa - Sunil R.Gargyan


Garga Sudha Rasa



The nice thing about watching concerts online is that I have managed to listen to a few artistes whose name I have been hearing but have been unable to go for their kutcheris. 
One such person is a youngster Sunil Gargyan, who has learnt music from Nagai S. Bashyam and P. B. Shrirangachari initially and later from none other than P.S. Narayanaswamy.
I listened to him recently during the online kutchery series by Mani Krishnaswamy Academy and what I saw a young lad with a sweet disposition & a sweeter voice ! 

He started the concert with a shlokam which was a thaniyan about 46th Jeeyar of Ahobila Mutt. Thaniyan is an invocatory verse of glorification to an Acharya which is usually composed or submitted by a sishya. Having made an auspicious beginning he commenced the concert with a Thyagaraja krithi in Ragam Mayamalavagowla ‘Tulsi Dalamulache’ set to Rupaka Thalam. I had first heard this sung by the legendary M. S. Subbulakshmi. 
Both Thyagaraja Swamy & M.S. Subbulakshmi were and continue to be legends of ALL time .....atleast the world thinks so. Ofcourse some individuals like Kamalahasan & T.M. Krishna may have other views. 
In this song Thyagaraja Swamy says : I shall ever be worshiping with joy the Transcendental Lord, the personification of righteousness, the prince of Ayodhya, with tender tulasi, which are sacred basil leaves. I shall garland Him with fragrant flowers like the lotus, punnaga, champaka, jasmine & lily. The Lord also is happy with just a leaf offered with complete devotion. Even in the Bhagavadgita Gita this is expressed by the Lord himself. Such a song has to be sung with devotion and Sunil lent his best to give that effect. 
The next was a Kanakadasa composition in Ragam Begada set to Rupakam thalam ‘Lokabharithano’. Now, if Purandasa’s compositions are rarely sung in concerts then Kanakadas’s compositions are hardly sung, so it was pleasant to see Sunil sing this. 

Kanakadasa (1509-1609) whose original name was Thimmappa Nayaka was a Haridasa, a renowned composer and philosopher. He is known more for his Ugabhoga along with his keerthanas where he used simple Kannada language and native metrical forms for his compositions.
There are many stories associated with Kanakadasa but the most famous one was a happening at Udupi. Following the instructions of his Guru Vyasaraya Swamiji he had come to Udupi. But it was an era when discrimination on the basis of caste was at its peak and the Brahmin priests would not let him enter the temple as he was from a lower caste, inspite of Vyaasaraaya Swamiji asked them to let Kanakadaasa into the temple. Though upset, Kanakadaasa sat outside the backside of the temple meditating & singing songs in praise of Lord Krishna. Those who have visited Udupi would notice that the deity faces the west. It is believed that when Kanakadasa was outside the temple for days waiting to be allowed to go into the temple and see God, a spectacular incident took place. They say, he was pining & singing kirthanas when miraculously the deity turned around to face the west side wall which was the backside of the temple where Kanakadasa was and the outer wall cracked and he was able to see his Lord. This left the orthodox community flabbergasted and realising that the Lord will reach out to only pure devotion and ever since, Sri Krishna's deity has been facing west, though the main entrance is east-facing. Today that window (commonly called ’ Kanakana Kidiki’ ) stands as a tribute to Kanakadaasa. Devotees who visit the temple, try to have a darshan of Lord Krishna through this small window seeking to re-live the ecstasy where Kanakadaasa had when having the divine ‘darshan’. It is also testimony to the eclectic Hindu belief that devotion, poetry, and sainthood are above caste and creed.
Sadly this kind of stupid & rigid mindset hasn’t changed in so many centuries...... we still have the Guruvayur Devasom not allowing Yesudas inside the temple. Isn’t Udupi Krishna and Guruvayurappan one and the same ? Haven’t they heard of this story of Kanakadasa ? 
There was a request from the listeners’ end which was rendered most confidently by Sunil. The request was Thyagaraja Swamy’s composition in Ragam Shubhapantuvarali ‘Ennalu Oorake’, set to Misra Chapu thalam. Here Thyagaraja taunts his Lord Rama, asking him ‘How long are you going remain unconcerned about your Thyagaraja?‘ 
The beauty of this kind of Bhakti or devotion is not slavery but a variety of relationships rolled together. 
This song was also Sunil’s main piece where his hard work and the advantage of acquiring good teachers was displayed. 
Then came one of my favourite songs ‘Saagavaram Arulvai’ in Ragam Varamu composed by Subramanya Bharati. 
This particular song is a tribute to Lord Rama. Bharatiyar asked the lord for immortality in physical form. But he got it in spirit that lasts forever for generations to come.

What followed was a Telugu composition ‘Dhannyudevaddo Dasharathe’ by Patnam Subramanya Iyer in Ragam Malayamarutham set to Adi thalam. 
Patnam Subramanya Iyer (1845 - 31st July 1902) left behind almost 100 compositions.
Subramaniya Iyer was born in Thiruvaiyaru in Thanjavur district but moved to Chennapatnam, today’s Chennai. This gave Subramaniya Iyer the prefix to his name. Many of his students such as Mysore Vasudevachar, Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar, Bhairavi Kempegowda and Tiger Varadachari became famous composers and vocalists.
Two of his famous compositions are ‘Raghuvamsha Sudha’ in Ragam Kadana Kuthuhalam and Evari Bodhanna in Ragam Abhogi. It is said the Ragam Kadana Kuthuhalam which has western notes, is invented by Patnam Subramanya Iyer.

Sunil’s next song was Dikshitar’s ‘Sri Mathrubootham’ in the Ragam Kannada set to Misra Chapu thalam. This again was rendered very sincerely by Sunil. This song was about the Thayumanavar temple in Trichy and most people are aware of the story that goes with this temple....How Lord Shiva himself came in the form of a pregnant girl’s mother and helped during the delivery since the mother could not arrive on time ! 

Another not so often heard Dikshitar composition was ‘MayeTvam’ in Ragam Tarangini set to Adi thalam. This is a rare Sanskrit krithi by the genius composer, was a special song in D.K. Pattammal’s repertoire deserves mention for rich ‘Sahityam’ which is rich in both poetic beauty & philosophical content. The song is addressed to Goddess Maya or the illusionary force, which causes human suffering, which keeps us bound to the material world and emotional entanglements, as result proving to be a hurdle in our spiritual enlightenment ! Dikshitar asks ‘Maya’ to go away and not trouble him further. Each of the 3 Charanams are unique in their own way.... the 1st Charanam for every word rhymes with one and another, the 2nd Charanam for its musical arrangements of the syllables using ‘goppucha yati’(meaning like a cow’s tail ... broad to start with then gradually tapering). The 3rd Charanam has the Rāga Mudra and the Vaggeyakara Mudra and also reaches the highest note at ‘guruguhodaye’, making it a remarkable composition if well delivered.... which Sunil did ! 

He went on to sing an Ugabhoga set in ragamalika as a Viruttam, in the Ragams Shanmukhapriya, Kaapi, and Hamir Kalyani this was very wonderful and continuing with a Vijayadasa’s composition in Hamir Kalyani ‘Guru Purandaradasare’ set to Misrachapu thalam. 
It was pleasant that Sunil chose Vijayadasa’s krithi because singers often don’t choose beyond the compositions of the Trinity.

Sri Vijaya Dasaru (1682 AD – 1755AD) holds a very revered status among the Madhwas. Sri Purandara Dasaru had composed 4,75,000 Devaranamas and he had ordained his youngest son to be reborn as Vijaya Dasa and compose the balance 25000 Devaranamas, to complete 5,00,000 dasa padhagalu. These numbers are astounding leaving one wondering if the likes of Purandara did anything besides composing & singing ! 
All his devarunamas and other compositions carried the signature ‘Vijaya Vittala’. 
Having sung almost all composers barring Shyama Sastri, he next choice was a Swathi Tirunal’s composition in Ragam Neelambari 
‘Kanthanodu Chennu’ set to Rupaka thalam. 
This song is a Padam in Malayalam, which expresses the sorrow that pervades the heart of a young damsel, who is in love with Lord Krishna. She thought her beloved would come and stay with her. Not having that pleasure she sends a young friend of hers as a messenger to go and convey her misery to her beloved.  She wants her friend to convey the message ‘gently and sweetly’ so that her beloved won’t be offended. The love affair is all in her mind which she thinks is real and this makes her miserable.
These emotions were well conveyed by Sunil, ofcourse Ragam Neelambari by itself has that effect.

Towards the end before the ‘Mangalam’ Sunil sang ‘Vandematram’ in the best suited Ragam Desh.
On the whole the concert was satisfactory almost as good as a live concert sans accompaniments. What is to be seen is the consistency and skill improvement from Sunil’s side.... after all he has an advantage of being young !

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.) 

Classical PR .......Palghat Ramprasad


Classical PR


I don’t want to be one more person to whine about the impact of Corona, or profess some knowledge about when the scientists across the globe are going to find the cure or vaccine whichever comes first ! Nor am I sure how this economic crisis the world is going through will play out. I can’t claim that I have discovered any hidden talent within me or that all my relationships are improving and blossoming ! One thing I can state confidently is that, this is the first time in my life, I have seen the entire world come to a standstill. It’s brought the world to its knees and for several people it’s been not just a career changing but life changing experience. Everybody is exhibiting their talent and skills on the social media.... it certainly proved one thing and that is Man is very quick to adapt to any given circumstance ! 
Here, when I use the term ‘Man’, it’s not a gender bias, it’s universal (need to clarify this before all the women activists shout hoarse.... but then they are busy with the issue of the homeless migrants)
Talking about adapting, the Carnatic music fraternity was quick to adapt and kept the connectivity with the music lovers alive by performing online. One of them has been the Mani Krishnaswamy Academy, who has been bringing a lot of good music to our homes. 
On this platform, I happened to listen to Palghat Ramprasad and the first thought that came to my mind was one of regret ... regret that I had not heard him before ! 
I need to admit that last year during the music season, quite a few people had recommended that I go for one of his programmes and also write about it but somehow running between overlapping concerts, I missed going for his... clearly my loss ! 
The morning concert on the FB sans accompaniments or any superior audio system was in a way enjoyable to listen. It was just music without the frills and easier to focus on the voice quality. 
In Palghat Ramprasad, it was a combination of good voice, swarasthanam and bhavam. Being the grandson of the much acclaimed mridangam maestro Palghat Mani Iyer and with a family full of musicians, it’s quite natural that music is a way of life for him. 
His concert started with Muthuswami Dikshitar‘s composition in Ragam Vasantha ‘Margadhalingam Chintayeham’. Dikshitar had his own method in composing songs. He used to visit various temples, and get inspired by the deity there and compose spontaneously on the deity. This particular krithi, is on Lord Maragatheshwar is the presiding deity of the temple in Tiruengoimalai, a place near Trichy. As the name suggests it is on a hilltop which has a serene & meditative atmosphere. There is belief that Parvathi worshipped Shiva here, so it is also known as ShivaShakti malai. The lingam in this temple is said to be transparent and also is said to throw a green shadow when camphor is burnt in front of it, during Arati .... it is referred to as emerald lingam or Maragadhalingam 

It needed me to only listen to the first song to realise that Ramprasad was a musician who doesn’t compromise on the grammar and all other aspects of pure music. 

Ramprasad next chose to sing a Purandaradasa krithi, ‘Devaki Kandha’ set to Ragam Hamsanadham which immediately struck a chord with me. Maybe I am biased, since I am from Bangalore and had learnt several Devaranamas by Purandaradasa and I used to always feel the lack of his compositions in most concerts. 
I had myself learnt this song in Ragam Piloo, which has a Hindustani base to it, and listening to him sing this in Ragam Hamsanadham was different. After all, (wo)man is a creature of habit ! 
Very often Purandaradasa krithis are sung in different ragams because there is no documented notations by him, unlike the Trinity. Apparently Ramprasad had set this song in Hamsanadham and I later came to understand that he has taken it as a project, to give Dasarapadas or Devaranamas a status of being among the main songs which are sung during concerts. Till now they have been relegated to being among the thukkudas, which are sung towards end of the concert, where you see most of the audience exiting. People have spent time setting to tune, contemporary works such as Perumal Murugan and others but no one has taken the same effort for the compositions of the Father of Carnatic. I look forward to other singers taking this up in the future. His initiative is available as ‘Vittala Pravaham’ online, though personally I would prefer them as a solo rendering and not group singing ( he with his students) because it somehow felt like bhajanasampradaya, which again defeats the purpose ! 

Next came a Oothukaadu Venkatkavi’s composition in Ragam Dhanyasi ‘Balakrishnan Pada Malar.’ The essence of the song is that, those who take refuge in Lord Krishna, will know no sorrow and this bhavam of complete surrender was well conveyed by Ramprasad. 

This not being a concert where the artiste can face the audience was a deterrent yet Ramprasad did not let it cloud his singing. He chose to sing Saint Thyagaraja’s composition ‘Adugu Varamula’ in Ragam Aarabhi.

This song is not a standalone composition but a part of a musical play composed by the Saint Thyagaraja called ‘Prahlada Bhakta Vijayam’. The Walajapet manuscript, ‘Sri Tyagaraja Swami Charithram’ makes a special mention about the time and occasion of the composition of the two musical plays he composed, ‘Nowka Charithram’ and ‘Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam’. 

It says that a young boy with a flute appeared before Tyagaraja after the composer had performed his daughter’s marriage and requested the bard to compose songs on him. Thus emerged the Nowka Charitram or Boat Story and the very next day was created the Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam or the victory of Prahlada’s devotion. These plays are a blend of literary & musical excellence and where conversations employ both direct and indirect speech. The composer’s mudra (signature) figures in every song, and (thank god for that lest someone should start a controversy about its authorship) and one finds a repetition of ragams not uncommon in such compositional forms.

 The Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam is in five acts with 45 kritis set in 28 ragas and 138 verses, in different metres in Telugu. I would think that is not an ordinary achievement. I take days to write one review and just imagine writing two musical plays and 700 songs. I wonder how he found the time.... oh but then Kamalahasan has the answer, Saint Thyagaraja didn’t have to worry about meeting expenses or making chapatis for dinner unlike me .....he had other options according to the actor ! 
Prahlad Bhakta Vijayam is a combination of musical genius and undisputed devotion. It is undoubtedly a treat to the ears and contains the potential of being staged as a delightful play. It has Telugu/Sanskrit poetry, grammatical features like kanda padyam, dvipada, utpalamala, champakamala, and dandakam.
Not adopting the same ragam for the whole play, he has used innumerable ragams except that he has used Ragam Saurashtram, for his opening and closing pieces, the influence of Yakshagana is also apparent through other devices he had adopted.

The surprise element surfaces in Act 2. Its first song is the now popular ‘Vandanamu Raghunandana’ in Ragam Sahana, sung by Prahlada, has Thyagaraja identifying Hari with Rama. He does not seem to be unduly bothered that Rama is a later avatara to Narasimha and viewed either historically or from the angle of mythology, did not exist during Prahlada’s time. In fact, strangely throughout the play there is no mention of Narasimha the saviour deity of Prahlada. Such was his single minded devotion to his Lord Rama ! The need to give these details is to elicit the apparent mindset of Saint Thyagaraja. It is unthinkable that someone with this kind of staunch devotion would use his God for any purpose which would bring dishonour to his Lord ! 

The songs from Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam are popular on the concert platform. Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer once observed that Carnatic musicians were rendering its kritis without knowing that they were from Prahlada Bhakta Vijayam. For example, I have also learnt ‘Vandanamu Raghunandana’ without knowing that it was part of a musical play.
The play opens with the kriti, ‘Sri Ganapathin’ in Ragam Saurashtram and it concludes with the famous mangalam in the same ragam, ‘Ni nama rupa mulaku.’ 
Thyagaraja has employed many rakthi ragas such as Huseni, Sahana, Punnagavarali, Pantuvarali, Kalyani, Ghanta, Nilambari, Gaulipantu, Asaveri, Ahiri and Paras.
Among the trinity, it is only Tyagaraja who has composed musical plays. He is also the first to have composed a mangalam in Saurashtram. Rare ragas like Nagagandhari and Parazu along with homely proverbs, thought-provoking similes, references to flora in these the two operas, now doesn’t it reveal a mastermind was at work, and these constitute just a fraction of his work. I hope that all this will establish his stature, while it is certain that his work & fame will outlive anyone’s celluloid fame !! 
For Thyagaraja it was his Lord’s ‘ KAMALanayana’ which mattered ! 
This song ‘Adugu Varamula’ is as if the Lord himself is having a dialogue with Prahlada. He says, ‘O child of a demon and a friend of Thyagaraja, do ask me for favours and I will grant them. I am constantly thinking of you and watching your every step and I am overjoyed with your unswerving devotion. I shall grant you gold, wealth, beautiful houses, loving wife and children because I love you my child. The Lord asks Prahlada in the song ‘Why do you endure so much because of your devotion ? I will kill all those atrocious Rakshasas (to be read as all evil in the world) And this I shall do not out of pity but with valour, and in a grand and praiseworthy manner. I shall grant you the kingdom of Brahma and Indra. I cannot wait to present you all the gems, exquisite ornaments studded with precious stones, elephants, palanquins and horse-drawn carriages and elephants, after all I am a friend of Thyagaraja. The Lord offers him all these despite the fact that Prahlada was a prince and lacked nothing. 
This reminds me of my grandmother giving an explanation for the ritual of doing naivedyam (offering to God) before she eats. When we questioned her, that if God was so great why should we symbolically offer him food ? She used to say that without that ritual it’s just ‘Sadam’ but after the ritual it becomes ‘Prasadam’ ! 

Ramprasad concluded his concert with a soulful sholkam in ragam Sindhu Bhairavi followed by Sadashiva Brahmendra’s composition ‘Sarvam Brahmamayam’ in Madhuvanti.

As for me, I am looking forward to a live concert of Palghat Ramprasad sometime in the future..... 
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.) 

Garga Sudha Rasa - Sunil R.Gargyan

Garga Sudha Rasa The nice thing about watching concerts online is that I have managed to listen to a few artistes whose name...