R. Vedavalli and her group’s rendition of ‘Prabhandam’ was pleasing and educative.
It was not pure recitation and rendition like the ‘Nalayira divya prabhandam’; the nomenclature is somewhat confusing to those who are not familiar with Telugu prabhandam, a genre in literary writings which is structured to a metrical form which relates stories of heroic exploits, tinged with romance in verse format. The language uses many embellishments like alliteration, metrical rhyme, and so on. The Prabhandam was a very highly developed form of Telugu literature, not necessarily by virtue of the language employed but more for the style of writing.
Gowri Sankara Pallaki Seva Prabhandam penned by a Maratha king Shahaji (17-18thC) is a Telugu dramatic composition in verse more set to be enacted with music and dance. But R. Vedavalli chose to stage as a musical group rendition by her disciples, set to Carnatic ragas that were sung as well as recited as slokas (viruttam). It wasn’t a musical ‘opera’ in the strict sense of the term as there was no dialogue or drama; just musical rendition, rather group singing where the participants sing in twos or threes or in unison. Though there were male singers, they hardly had an equal participation except lending their voice for the ‘heccharika’ songs. Despite the miniscule participation, their rendition was confident, full-throated and compelling. And many in the audience looked expectantly at them, waiting for them to take turns, which of course did not occur.
Not to say, the women singers were any less. They had a good grip over the sruti and raga, gave a preface to the sequence of events that usually culminated in a song, which was indeed educative. The description of Lord Shiva in his abode (Koluvai unmade), Parvathi’s yearning for her beloved (Kamalayatakshi) , her hand-maidens’ journey to Kailash to beseech Shiva through his accompanists like the Nandi, the cobra, the Ganga, the deer (Vinnavincha ve maa chinni mrigama), the moon (maruvaka chanda mama), the awakening of His grace (melukovayya chakkanayya), the plea to come to Parvathi (vinu, vinu shikadevara), finally, the palanquin carrying Shiva to Parvathi’s abode (kadalimpaku royi pallaki), the cajoling (entha veduka laali), the harathi to the Lord (Nigamagochadeppudu..), the praise of Shiva (neeve daiva shikamani), treating the Lord to festive meal (aaragimpa vayya) and the final Laali vrishabhaturanga), sum up the story of Lord Shiva journeying in a palanquin to unite with his divine consort Gouri. Though sung to classical ragas, these ragas were repetitive (Shankarabaranam, Saurashtra, Punnagavarali, etc.). The flow and continuity in this thematic presentation was dented by the hesitant attitude displayed by the women singers who were not quick on the uptake. The pauses were too long and a sense of vacancy prevailed before one of them took up.
Arun Prakash on the mridangam and Guru Prasad on the ghatam were perfect as was Sri Ram on the violin. Kalaimamani Ramani on the veena could have been a little more audible. The briefing to this Prabhandam by Pappu Venugopal and Ramanachary was enlightening.