Pt. Venkatesh Kumar offered contrasts and an interesting mix.
In an elegant gesture to the North Indian tradition of music, The Music Academy hosts a Hindustani concert as the finale of its annual festival. This year, khayal exponent, Pt. Venkatesh Kumar was featured. He was accompanied by Pt. Vishwanath Nakod (tabla) and Pt. Ravindra Katoti (harmonium).
Venkatesh Kumar presented ragas Maru Bihag, Durga, Kaunsi Kanada and Shankara in a style that drew deeply from the Gwalior and Kairana traditions and was yet his own. He belongs to Dharwad, a region musically as fertile as Thanjavur. Musicians from Dharwad are influenced by the enduring power of the music of Pt. Bhimsen Joshi.
More profoundly, if less famously, Dharwad and its neighbouring areas are impacted by the missionary work of the saint-musician Swami Panchakshari Gawai and his successor Pt. Puttaraj Gawai. Venkatesh Kumar is a disciple of the latter.
With a voice that is neither deep nor soft, engaging with the accompanists in extroverted joy and withdrawing into quiet recesses of his mind, offering relatively complex phrases contrasting with somewhat simplistic ones, sketching alaaps with sustained notes in perfect sur followed immediately by dazzling quick taans, Venkatesh Kumar offered contrasts and an interesting mix. It left the audience completely exhilarated. While Maru Bihag, with its immediate melodic accessibility and uncomplicated structure, was very well received, the treat of the evening was clearly Kaunsi Kanada. It is a jod raga, a raga that arises from fusing two other ragas -- in this case Malkauns and Darbari Kanada.
Jod raga is a class of ragas the like of which we don’t see in Carnatic music. Sometimes ragas that have almost no point of convergence are brought together as jod raga. Such ragas, in their very conception, offer resistance to be rendered coherently. Their renditions are carried through solely by the artistry of the musician and we do have memorable renditions of such ragas by great musicians.
Kaunsi Kanada is relatively well amalgamated and the fusion of Malkauns and Darbari is not as improbable as some other fusions are. It is indeed among the very old jod ragas.
The beauty and the challenge of jod ragas is that the roles of the constituent ragas, places where they can be fused, and where they must shine separately, are not all strictly defined but are left to the creative imagination of the musician. Venkatesh Kumar gave a wonderfully clean and evocative interpretation of the raga around the traditional bandish ‘Rajanakesarataaj.’ The alaap around the antara (the second part of the bandish) had him dwelling on Malkauns predominantly with phrases from Darbari flashing like jewels every now and then.
The raga delineation was brought to a satiating finish with the drut bandish ‘Kahe Karata Mose Barajori.’
Earlier he sang the bewitchingly simple and beautiful composition ‘Sakhi mori roomajhooma’ in Raga Durga and Jhaptaal followed by Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan’s composition ‘Eri Dhanadhana Bhaga Mori’ in teentaal. Amidst fine sketches of alaap were baffling phrases with just two notes rendered too many times with little aesthetic impact, and very simple patterns of sargam, little more than alankaras.
Acceding to a request from a member of the audience for Raga Shankara, he sang two traditional compositions ‘So Jaanoon Re Jaanoon Anderi Sajani.’
Shankara and Maru Bihag have many common notes and clearly, a more contrasting raga would have been a better choice. He wound up with a Bhairavi bhajan – ‘Samajha Mana Koi Nahi Apna.’ As December 31, 2012, drew to a close, world weariness was the right mood!