One of the unique features of the festival were the young Turks – Gayatri Girish, Shankara Narayanan, Sikkil Gurucharan, Abhishek Raghuram and Smt. Ranjani/Gayatri who performed to and exceeded all expectations.
Sanjay Subrahmanyan and Unnikrishnan were brilliant without raising the bar any higher, whilst Chitravina Ravikiran and Smt. Sowmya made significant contributions at the Macro level.
Smt. Gayatri Girish, is a young vocalist who has made her mark on the global stage of Carnatic Music. Sri Vagal Gnanaskandan has been her guru since she was a child and she is currently under the guidance of Madurai T.N. Seshagopalan, a doyen amongst respected carnatic musicians.
Gayatri Girish introduced the theme of her concert as “Shanmatham”, the six different forms of worship as ordained by Adi Shankara.
She started with a prayer Sri Maha Ganapathi by Muthuswami Dikshatar (this is Ganapathyam as a form of worship) and followed it up with Thyagaraja’s “Dinamani Vamsa” in Raga Harikamboji (this is Vaishnavam).
The item was followed by “Ivasudha Neevanti” by Thyagaraja in Raga Sahana (this is Saivam). She sang Syama Sastri’s “Brovavamma” in Raga Manji (this is Saaktham) and raised the tempo in Muthiah Bhagavathar’s “ Saravana Bhava” in Raga Pasupatipriya and almost went like a runaway train (this is Kaumaaram).
Finally Sudhananda Bharati’s “Vaanamengum” in a viruttham in ragamaalika in praise of Lord Surya (this is Sauram).
In the interim she sang a detailed Ragam, Neraval and Swaram in Papanaasam Sivan’s “Ksheera Saagara Shaayee” in Raga Poorvi Kalyani. The delivery was crisp and the neraval was high class.
She also gave a glimpse of her super talent when she concluded with a Shiva Panchaksharam which was sung in Ragas Kalyani and Shivaranjani. Her accompaniments were BU Ganesh Prasad on violin and Poongulam Subramanian on Mridangam and they did themselves credit. The Mridangam was loud at times and not easy on the ears.
The early afternoon concert was assigned to Sikkil Gurucharan, another disciple of Sri Vaigal Gnanaskandan and the grandson of Smt. Sikkil Kunjumani. He was initiated into carnatic music at a very tender age and has made the most of the opportunities and his musical genes. He chose Lord Muruga as the theme of his concert
His concert turned out to be one of the classiest performances of the Festival. In particular, his rendering of “Ka Guha Shanmukha Neeye Gati” in Raga Kosalam and “Sivagurunaadanai” in Raga Mukhari was exceptional. This was the only way to describe his Raga Alaapanai, Neraval and Manodharma swarams.
Among other attractions, “Vara siki vahana” in Raga Supradeepam, “Shadananey sakalam” in Raga Khamas and the Thillana in Behag were bonuses of Gurucharan’s concert.
Sikkil Gurucharan is already a name to reckon with and before long he will be sought after on the global stage.
V. Shankara Narayanan is a young and successful musician who won the national talent scholarship recipient for 13 years back to back. He has learnt his craft from many top level artistes and is currently receiving tutelage from Prof. T. R. Subramanian.
Shankara Narayanan is currently the President of Music Circle in Singapore where he is based, but travels frequently throughout South Asia. His style of presentation is quite traditional although he lifts the tempo more often due to the youthful exuberance.
He commenced with Charukesi Varnam, followed by Thyagaraja krithi, Seethamma Mayamma in Raga Vasantha. He followed with another Thyagaraja creation “Vandanamu Raghunandana” in Raga Sahana.
Highlight of his concert was his singing of Papanasam Sivan’s “Pirava Varam Tharum” in Raga Lathangi. It started with a viruttham, then Ragam, Niraval and Swaram all of which were of a consistently high standard. The other major Raga was Thodi and he sang the Shyama Sastri krithi, “Ninne Nammi”. The promise of this concert is bound to bring in hordes of music enthusiasts whenever he visits Sydney.
Most music lovers would not know that Abhishek Raghuram is a professional level player of Mridangam and Kanjira. It is no coincidence, since he is the grandson of the legendary Palghat Raghu.
He is currently a disciple of Sri P.S. Narayana Swamy. His dedication and willingness to learn have given him a deep insight into the nuances of carnatic music. It would not be out of place to mention that this concert of his ranked above all else at this festival.
He had not only his audience spellbound, but he inspired his accompaniments to raise their performance levels a few notches. His confidence and command appeared to be divine blessing for someone who is only in his mid-twenties and he backed up his concert theme of “Rama Bhakthi” with spectacular manodharma swaras.
His “Nee Daya Radha” in Raga Vasantha Bhairavi and “Bhajare Manasa” in Raga Abheri were both outstanding for their precision and deserved full marks. Nagai Sriram’s Violin and Patri Sathish Kumar’s Mridangam accompaniment made it an inspirational effort.
Smt. Sowmya is reputed not merely as a musician, but she is a scholar with a desire to propagate music and broaden its base by linking it to history, tradition and folk lore. She has excellent credentials being a post-graduate in Chemistry and Indian Music. She is lucky to have received training from Dr. S. Ramanathan, a musicologist and highly respected musician.
She also received guidance from Smt. T. Muktha of the Brinda-Muktha duo. Smt. Sowmya introduced her theme for concert as “Nandanaar Charitram” as developed by Sri Gopala Krishna Bharati.
She admitted that she did not strictly follow the chronology of Nandanaar’s life. Nandanaar belonged to a low caste group in the field of leather tanning and finishing but was a great devotee of Lord Shiva. He fancied visiting Chidambaram, but had to face several obstacles due to the caste taboos which were prevalent in his era. That, he eventually realized his dream with the blessings of Lord Shiva himself was a historical achievement.
She started with a varnam in Raga Mohanam, “Gananatha Sharanam” and sang, “Siva loga nathanai kandu” in Raga Maya Malava Gowla. Then followed it with “Tillai Padam enru solla thodanginaar” in Raga Shyama.
All of this was from the opera written by Sri Gopala Krishna Bharati. She musically expressed the compassion for Nandanaar in a T.Muktha styled Raga Alapanai in Nattaikkurinji with “Vazhi maraitthu malai poley” signifying Nandi bull’s blocking Nandanaar’s view of the Siva idol.
Nandanaar’s persistence in visiting Chidambaram temple was portrayed nicely in “Chidambaram Darisanama” and “Paarka parka thigattum undan paada darisanam”. In true classical style she sang “Nadanam aadinaar vegu naagariga” in Raga Lalitha with Ragam and Swaram and concluded with “Aadum chidambaramo” in Raga Behag.
Sowmya deserves kudos for her attempt to create a ballad from Gopala Krishna Bharati’s work using her consummate skills as a musician and a scholar.
P. Unnikrishnan was given the last concert of the festival in a prime time slot presumably in the hope of getting a full house. He has been giving concerts on the world stage and has sung several light classical, acted and given background music for films for over 20 years.
Unnikrishnan has been receiving training from Calcutta Sri KS Krishnamurthy and several other reputed teachers like T.Brinda and Sangita Kalanidhi T.Viswanathan. He started with a varnam in Raga Thodi, followed it with “Deva Deva Kalayamithey”in Maya Malava Gowla by Swati Tirunaal.
His Ragam, Neraval and Swarams had class stamped all over it. It is surprising that he sang with his teeth almost clenched,since his audience trying to follow the saahityam are unable to decipher it. “Seshachala.
Nayagam Bhajami” by Muthuswamy Dikshatar in Raga Varali was pleasing and fluent in Neraval/Swaram. It seemed to naturally flow to the complete satisfaction of his listeners.
He did an elaborate Raga Alapanai in “Akshaya Linga Vibho” by Muthuswami Dikshatar, although it was hard to call out the raga until he was well into his alapanai as he did a ‘sancharam’ more on the fringes of the raga than the beauty and scope that Sankarabharanam offers.
However, his chosen spot for neraval in “kadari vana moolam” brought out the best of his skill and command over this medium.
His Ragam Thanam Pallavi in Raga Kalyana Vasantham was brimming with melody as did his choice of ragams Hamsanandi, Bahudari and Ranjini in his ragamalika. He capped his concert with “Pibare Rama Rasam” in Ahir Bhairav.
Artistes of the calibre of Unnikrishnan seem to undergo changes with the passage of time, as though he went over a speed breaker.
The concert overall would have measured upto everyone’s expectations, the small blemishes notwithstanding.
It was an early start for almost everyone who wanted to be present at the Aradhana and that probably explains why some of the concert artistes did not make it. “Never on a Sunday” is not on the minds of Thyagaraja devotees because there were nearly 50 on the stage led by Chitravina Ravikiran and another 100 in the auditorium.
Sri Pappu Venugopal Rao, Secretary of Music Academy, Chennai was chosen the guest of honour for this festival. Being a well known scholar and a contributor to the world of music, he opted to explain the significance of the Pancharatna Krithis to everyone.
He told his audience the reason why the five compositions in ‘ghana’ ragas – Nattai, Gowla, Aarabhi, Varali and Sri were chosen. Before each of the Pancharatna Krithis were sung he explained Saint Thyagaraja’s thoughts.
Many in the audience participated in the singing as this is the best way for Carnatic music lovers to pay their homage to the Saint.