Melbourne’s First Nandhikeswara Festival

On a spring day, weather Gods blessed Melbourne with sunshine and warmth. Music enthusiasts came together to witness a grand celebration of rhythm and dance at the Nandhikeshwar Uthsav in Melbourne, Australia.

The festival was launched in London by mridangam maestro, Guru Karaikkudi Mani in May this year.

Curated by Guru Karaikkudi Mani and presented by the Sruthi Laya Kendra Australia Inc, the six-hour musical spectacle, held at the Rowville College Performing Arts Theatre on 24 September, enthralled music lovers and aspiring young musicians alike.

Dedicated to goddess Mridanga Saileshwari, the Australia chapter of the festival opened with a grand ensemble performance by local and international senior artistes, and next generation artistes.

Speaking on his inspiration for the festival, Guru Karaikkudi Mani said he had often wondered why, while there was a temple for all gods, even dance, there is none for music or rhythm. He noted that the only exception to this is in Kerala where a temple dedicated to Mridanga Saileshwari exists.

The maestro further explained that as per Hindu mythology, it is believed that the devas (celestial angels) had “rolled down” a mridangam to earth and that the divine instrument had landed in the present location of the temple. An aerial view of the temple has, in recent times the maestro said, indicated a strong resemblance to the musical instrument, adding to the temple’s reverence.

Setting the tone for the musical afternoon was the ensemble’s beautiful rendition of songs selected specifically in praise of Lord Nandhikeshwara. This segment was co-ordinated effectively by Shobha Sekhar with the support of many Melbourne-based senior music teachers. This ensemble would not have been a musically complete effort if not for the invaluable contributions of Stage Manager Athavan Wijey, and Audio Technical Director Charles Walker.

An enchanting collaborative piece of Jazz and  Carnatic music was presented by Melbourne Polytechnic and Sruthi Laya Kendra senior artistes and directed by Adrian Sherriff. This included the first live performance of a piece from“Cosmic Waves’’, a 2012 collaboration between Sandy Evans of Sydney and Guru Kaaraikkudi Mani.

Dr Lisa Young, a long time student of Ravi M Ravichandhira OAM, Narmatha Ravichandhira as well as Karaikkudi Mani recited Konnakkol, incorporating Indian and African elements in her work.

Showcasing the strong Carnatic music was a series of creative cameo instrumental performances presented by senior gurus and instrumentalists.

 

Mridangam senior Gurus’ Ensemble performed by Senior Mridangam Gurus Balasri Rasiah, Ravi M Ravichandhira and Sridhar Chari  was crisp,  melody-laden and it closely adhered to their respective sangeetha parampara (musical lineage)  and sangeetha sampradaya (music tradition). The emphasis, rightly, was on artistry, modulations and clarity.  Each senior guru exhibited innovative passages in Thisra , Misra and Ganda gathis respectively.

 

The violin-trio of Suresh Babu, Murali Kumar and Narmatha Ravichandhira performed for the first time and surprised the audience.  All three come from different musical lineages. They played two compositions of Tyagaraja “Naa Jeevadhara” in Raga Bilahari and a Thillana in Raga Behag composed by Violin Maestro Lalgudi Jayaraman. The learnt version of Lalgudi’s sangathis for Naa Jeevadhara was superbly rendered,  and the stamp of the Lalgudi bani  was imminent in the highly melodious renditions of the three violinists.  Senthuran Jogaratnam on the mridangam followed the piece in Raga Bilahari with multiple sangathis.

Senior Mridangam ensembles by Sai-Sarangan Ravichandhira, Hari Balasri, Satheepan Elankumaran and Bala Sankar Sastri, as senior students,  showcased the styles of two distinct schools of percussion, i.e. Palghat Rajamani and Kaaraikudi Mani. The percussionists showed a great level of understanding, cooperation and mutual support while exhibiting the unique styles of their respective schools of percussion.

 

The veena string-quartet  by  the Iyer brothers ,  Shobha Shekhar and Hari Sivanesan were a  unique treat  for Melbourne audiences who have not witnessed the trio ever before. They captivated the audience with their performance in the “thanam” style through their expositions of the ragas Kapi, Rasikapriya, Sindhubhairavi and Poorvikalyani, followed by the popular Tamil composition “Anandha Nadamaduvar”. The vainikas were able to bring out the unique musical quality of the instrument by fully exploring its tonal quality.  Sai-Nivaeithan Ravichandhira on the mridangam and Thabotharan Mohankumar on the Ghatam accentuated the nuances at the appropriate lines  and enhanced the performance.

It was crisp, melody-laden and it closely adhered to their respective sangeetha parampara (musical lineage) and sangeetha sampradaya (music tradition). The emphasis, rightly, was on artistry, modulations and clarity.  Each senior guru exhibited innovative passages in Thisra , Misra and Ganda gathis respectively.

The flute duet performed by Sridhar Chari and Suresh Thiagarajan focused on a brief pallavi composed in misra chapu tala by Sridhar Chari and well performed by both the flutists. The raga alapana. and swara kalpana that ensued after the exposition of the pallavi in three kalas (slow, medium and fast tempo) was a melodious and rhythmic treat to the audiences.  Venkat Ramakrishnan provided good mridangam support.

The show stealer was a captivating 45-minute performance by
Mridangam maestro Guru Sri Kaaraikkudi Mani, with Ghatam exponent Giridhar Udupa. The maestro thrilled audiences with a set of new and innovative compositions which had breathtaking landings on beats, taking the audience on an invigorating journey of rhythm with modulations and scintillating nadham. The rhythmic reduction essay with Giridhar in Kanda gathi and the crescendo were unique and  breathtaking.

The fitting finale to the event was Rajeswari Sainath’s perfectly crafted and scintillating dance ballet, Lalitha Vaibhavam. Choreographed by Rajeswari Sainath, who also performs as a devotee in the ballet, the key role of goddess Lalitha was essayed by her daughter Vyshnavie Sainath.   The dance ballet comprised specially flown in talented women dancers from India who displayed their skill splendidly.

The talented Vyshnavie, stays true to the essence of the part through the ballet. Successful in taking the audience on a journey as goddess Lalitha moves from nama vaibhavam, roopa vaibhavam, leela vaibhavam and tatva vaibhavam, she is captivating as goddess Lalitha in her performance.

Notable in the choreography coupled with appropriate acro-yoga poses was the impeccably performed dashavataram and battle with the demon bhandasura. Rajkumar Bharathi’s music to Sama Vedam Shanmukha Sarama and Kaaraikkudi Mani’s unique jathis played effectively by Nagai Narayanan provided impeccable dimensions to this production.

Audiences were spellbound by the closing act on the spectacular visual of goddess Lalitha seated in her temple position invoking the divine aura.  Vocals by Gomathi Nayagam, Violin by Kalaiarasan, Flute by Devarajan, Tabla and special sound effects by Srikanth and brilliant Nattuvangam by Karra Srinivasa Rao were extraordinary in their respective renditions. Their music were woven skillfully and seamlessly into the passages of Lalitha Sahasranamam.

For those who enjoyed this ballet, Rajeswari Sainath had some good news – the mother-daughter duo is now working on a ballet exploring the Vishnu Sahasranamam as well in the days and months ahead to be staged at the Chennai Music and Dance season in December..

The artistic director of the Festival, Ravi M Ravichandhira OAM, advised that Nandhikeshwara Festival will be ongoing and will be celebrated annually. Due to logistic reasons, Guru Mani requested artists of Australia that it be coupled  with the Melbourne Trinity cum Tyagaraja Festival  on Days 2 or Day 3 with opening songs in praise of Nandhikeshwara.

Jill Morgan CE of Multicultural Arts Victoria who presided over the Festival announced that she is committed to working with the festival to seek a venue in Melbourne City to stage parts of this Festival next year.

Please mark in your diary the dates of this grand combo festival in 2018 which will be held over 18-20 May 2018