New Sounds, Old Tales

Where is it that I heard it is the name of the artist that sells tickets not the name of the organisation. This is perhaps the precise reasons why many upcoming musicians who are equipped talented and hard working find it difficult to carve a niche for themselves.

The Trio from India, Gayathri Venkataraghavan on vocals, Akkarai Subbulakshmi on Violin and Manoj Siva on Mridangam are humble musicians who are doing the hard yarn, quietly. Kudos to Pallavi for recognizing this and taking the plunge bringing these upcoming carnatic musicians to Sydney.

Gayathri Venkataraghavan’s melodious voice and approach to her music is meditative and introspective devoid of any gimmickry and drama, it has a soft and special feel about it. Her training and her back ground association with the Ramakrishna Mission, world over, reflects her philosophy of Bhakti in her music. Akkarai Subbulakshmi’s surprising musicianship for one so young was a crowd winner and Manoj Siva thoughtful mridangam accompaniment was enjoyed last weekend at the new venue organised by Pallavi.

Not only was the venue new to regular Pallavi goers, the artists were quite extraordinary. Gayathri Venkataraghavan’s concert highlights were her approach to a languishing Reethigowlai which she commenced with a Slokam “Mukthathim Dhendhu Mani Maya Makutam”, followed by the popular composition of Subbaraya Shaastri in Janani Ninnu Vina set to Mishra Chapu thalam. This was followed by a Bilahari in Enthakanna Nanda Memi. Akkarai Subbulakshmi’s violin made the concert a wholesome experience as she set about balancing her position on stage both as a complimenting accompaniment yet showing nuances of each raga beautifully in its instrumental style.

After the inevitable Thodi, the artists moved onto the highlight in the concert in rendering a Ragam Thanam Pallavi in Ragam Gowri Manohari  to the words “Guruvaay Arulvaay Guhane, Pazhinimalar Kandha Ni” set to 5 fractions in a beat cycle of six. The artists moved from one raga into another with ease in a ragamalika, with some recognisable ragas as Vasantha, Varamu and others. The songs that followed were made up of a good choice some notable as “Bhavayami Gopalabalam” and the thillana composition  “Dheem tha Kuniku thaka” of Swathi Thirunal thrown in towards the end.

The next days lecture demonstration at Macquarie University, courtesy its Arts Faculty was mainly attended by students and teachers of this style of music.  The three musicians shared the stage at the demonstration each presenting one aspect of Shyama Shastri’s compositions, life and times. Shyama Shastri, one of the three trinities,  compositions have remained more popular out side concert platforms than on it for some unknown reason.

They explored his life and times and his composition after rendering a composition of his Son  “Paahimam Sri Raja Rajeshwari”  in thishra Adhi Thalam, set to ragam Janaranjani. Shyama Shastri was a devotee of the Goddess Devi, and thus his relationship with the Goddess was as that of a child to that of his mother. While the languages he composed in were Tamil, Telugu and Sanskrit, the language of mother love is universal.

So it is said that he would sometimes, scold his mother, tease her, beg for her forgiveness, draw her beauty in his compositons and thus we travelled through the times of Shyama Shastri rapt and in awe.

The trio examined the manner in which the lyrics of a song and the swaras of the ragam came together in a sandhi. This was demonstrated in detail. Akkarai Subbulakshmi at several points, stopped playing her violin to sing in a voice that is equally beautiful.

Shyama Shastri’s compositions were not limited to kritis, they said, he also composed the following:

  • Geethams in Ragams Saveri, Paras, Madhyamavathi.
  • Swarajathis were discussed and demonstrated in detail drawing attention to Shyama Shastri ability to simplify a complicated rhythmic pattern and show a simple pattern in a extremely complex way. The swarajathis touched upon were Bhairavi, Thodi but he also composed in Yadukula Kambhoji;
  • Varnams were in Begada, Sourashtam which was demonstrated, Kalyani and Bhairavi. The Anubhandham in Ragam Bhairavi was also presented.

His rare composition called an Eka composition denoting there is only one composition in this ragam and that is Ragam Chintamani whose words were “Devi Brova Samayami De” . The ARoha and Avaroha of Chintamani is SRPmPDNS; SNDPmRGS. This rare raga was sung briefly.

To summarise, they talked about the two types of devotion he extended to his Goddess, one that of Markata Kishoram, like a Monkey’s love for his mother as he clings to her as she jumps from branch to branch; and the other is that of Manjala Kishoram, that of the kitten that hangs from the  bite of its mother.

They ended the demonstration with Ragam Ahiri in the song Mayamma, exquisite before talking about the nine Madhurakrithis he composed when he visited the Meenakshi Amman Temple in nine different ragams. Do you know these kritis ?

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