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.) 


  1. Superb read Sandhya.
    Good review of Palaghat Ramprasad , with so many informative nuggets and a wonderful tribute to Saint Thyagaraja interspersed with satire.

  2. Very nice Mrs sandhya Sankar. Not only details of the concert but also about composers and their works.

  3. Thank you Ms. Sandhya Shankar for the lovely comments interspersed with technical details, wit and history. I learnt about Saint Thyagaraja's musical plays, something I wasn't aware of like the fact that great Sahana composition 'Vandhanamu . . .' was part of it.


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