Swaralaya Festival of Music 2011 – Part 1

Reviewed by Hamsa Venkat

The lyrics of the pallavi rendered on the Chitra Veena, by Ravi Kiran ‘Geetha mumurthigalalai potruvom manamara enrenrum’ on the first day aptly portrayed the spirit and motto of the Swaralaya festival this year, displayed against the backdrop of the stage” endharo mahanubhavulu, andharikki vandanamu, Enjoy the eternal bliss of music made, one may walk out of the auditorium feeling “All is right with this world”.

Ravi Kiran, the first to perform in the festival, exhibited his mastery over laya and raga as he demonstrated the intricacies of playing a rare instrument like the chitra veena. A varnam in Surutti was followed by Papanasam Sivan’s ‘ka va va’. His svara prasathanams in varali included variations in different nadai-s and a piece on Guru, Acharya followed in Reethigowlai, ‘enna punniyam seidheno’

Ravikiran took the audience with him as he played the popular Raghuvamsa Sudha in Ragam Kadhanakuthoohalam, starting at a slow pace and building energy through the song climaxing in an explosion of swarams at the end in 5 speeds. An alapanai in keeravani followed by a cascade of ragams in the tanam with Ravikiran presenting behag, nattai and ahiri and Ganesh Prasad choosing the rare Simhavahini and gowla made the audience feel fulfilled and satisfied.

Amongst whispers of “Can’t Wait…”,  “What ragam will he sing?”  preceding the excitement in the foyer Sanjay Subramanyam’s concert was definitely an adventure of unexpected surprises, beautiful twists and turns.

The concert started with the Ata thala varnam in Bhairavi where Sanjay decided to split each line into three parts and sing the three different parts in three different speeds and then in tisra nadai. Mindblowing discipline and artistry was evident from that minute on.

A rare piece in Samageetha priyan in gowlai followed where Sanjay beautifully phrased the eduppu everytime in Samageetha with the notes Sa and Ma. Beautiful expressions of Devamanohari, Asaveri, Hindolam followed culminating in a RTP in Chalanatai.

‘Jalamen seivadh azhaga guha vadivela en mel’. Instead of presenting trikalam (singing the pallavi in three speeds), Sanjay sang kalpana swarams in different speeds (slower speed, tisram and tisram fast speed) ensuring the purvangam (first half) of the pallavi finished on the arudi.

“This is similar to a technique used in Hindustani music” observed Mohan Ayyar, a senior instrumentalist and avid rasika in Sydney. A themmangu style Payum oli nee enakku lilting with love brought the audience close to the end of the concert.

Sanjay’s enthusiasm and love for music is infectious, it spreads to the accompanying artists who excel beyond expectations and to the audience who are at the edge of their seats in anticipation.

On the Second day Shri Ganesh and Shri Kumaresh, the violinist dueo gave an unusual concert, starting with Thaye Yashodha in thodi as the opening piece. An RTP in three ragams but again with a difference, alapanai in begada, thanam in hindolam and pallavi in Dharmavathi going back in reverse for the kalapana swarams.


Elaborating how people claim to bring out the Sahitya bhava in instrumental music they expressed the opinion that there can be no sahitya bhava in instrumental music, only ragabhava and manobhava. Thus in order to highlight the beauty of the instrument, the violin, they said they had composed pieces to bring out the “violin dimension” to the ragas they played.

In this context they presented their own compositions, the Ragapravaham in Gambheera Nattai, which had no lyrics but only musical notes and an elaborate piece in Nasikabhushani in a similar vein.

Though Shri Ganesh mentioned some compositions in Nasikabhushani like Maravairi Ramani by Saint Thyagaraja and Srirama Saraswathi by Muthuswami Dikshitar the composition played by them was a delineation only of the ragam in its myriad shades.

Enneramum undhan sannidhiyile naan in Devagandhari by Gopalakrishna Bharathi was very soothing.

The much awaited concert of Ranjani and Gayathri warmed up on a cold evening with the varnam in Sahana followed by Siddhi Vinayakam by Muthuswamy Dikshidhar. A breezy and beautiful composition by neelakanta sivan in misra chapu navasiddhi petralum sivabhakthi illadha narargal verum savi made the audience sway in agreement.

Gayathri explained the meaning of savi which refers to the useless portion of the paddy after it has been chaffed.

Sri chamundeswari palayamam in Bilahari with kalpana swarams picked the pace of the concert preceding Bogendra sayinam in Kuntalavarali.

The RTP in saramathi where there was a pun on the phrase mana sara- mathi ani eesan maganai dhinamum ninai…cradled the audience to catch a glimpse of the aesthetics of this artform.

No concert by Ranjani Gayatri  is complete without a vrutham and abhang. They presented a vrutham followed by Chandrasekhara eesha and a tukaram abhang bolava vittala.

The third day brought the lec-dem on Oothukadu Venkatakavi which was very enlightening and was a not to be missed event for all rasikas and students of carnatic music. The presentation brought to the forefront in Ravikiran’s words “the vast ocean that is Classical music and how even the experts have but tasted one spoonful”

Ravi Kiran very beautifully explained the concept of how there are scholarly and intellectually stimulating composers but there are very few that are poetic and can take one on flights of fantasy.

To illustrate this, a composition aadinar vilayadinar was presented where the poet Venkatakavi goes on a trip to Kailasam to witness the playtime of none other than Lord Ganesha and Muruga.

Such rare pieces including songs from the Venkatakavi Saptaratna, and one composition, the only one in the ocean of carnatic music which mentions the names of all the 63 nayanmars in one of the charanams, a true tongue twister were sung by none other than students from Sydney who had been meticulously trained by their gurus, Prema Anandakrishnan, Bhavani Govindan, Chitra Krishnamurthy,Ketheeswary Paheerathan and Uma Ayyar.

This was a perfect example of how music has no boundaries, no barriers and brings people together from all times and shores.

A composer Venkata Kavi who lived 400 years back,  a dedicated researcher in Ravi Kiran who is trying to restore to life the poet’s compositions and about 30 students of Carnatic music, very much from the 21st century in Sydney learning and presenting it on a common platform did say a lot for the power of classical music.

Given the topic Sakthi mahima, there was a lot of grace and beauty in the concert by Carnatica brothers. Beginning with the brisk rendering of Sarasiruha in natai followed by Sama gana priye in a more sedate anandhabahiravi the brothers set the tone for the concert.

Elaborations of ragams like Lalitha and Dwijavanthi alternating between the soft and strong notes brought out the intense force and beauty of devi in the songs nannu brovu lalitha and akilandeswari.

A racy sarasamukhi in Gowdamalhar preceded the majestic RTP in Ragam Shivashakthi, a composition of Chitra Veena Ravikiran which included beautiful ragams like Dhanyasi, Durga, Rasikapriya and Amrutavarshini, a reflection of the pouring rains in Sydney perhaps. The power of music can never be underestimated.

Violinists Nagai Sriram and B.U Ganesh Prasad excelled in their art and challenged the vocalist to go one notch up every time with their kalpana swarams and alapanais. Percussionists Patri Satish Kumar, Tanjre. K. Murugabhoopathi and K. V Gopalakrishnan presented so many different variations in thanis and arudhis pacing their accompaniment to perfection with the vocalist.

Very few in the audience got up to leave the auditorium to enjoy a cup of tea during the thani, which said it all.

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