This is a compilation of kritis born out of a collaborative effort at music-making between two women — Kamala Kothandaraman, as lyricist, and Sulochana Rajendran, as music composer. The book is credited to ‘Kamalasulochana', a pseudonym coined by blending parts of the names of the two authors. Usually, the practice is to give prominence to the lyricist and sideline the artiste who sets the tune. This is seen in a large number of cases — whether the song is that of a Vaggeyakara whose tunes are now lost necessitating a resetting of the music (for instance, Annamacharya and Jayadeva) or a lyricist whose words were set to music by others (Ambujam Krishna and Periyasami Thooran, for example). In a refreshing departure from this practice, the present work gives equal importance to the two components of a Carnatic composition, the words and the score.
If concerts are the visible clinical indicators of the state of Carnatic music's health, it is the richness of compositions that forms the foundation of its well-being. While the bulk of Carnatic musicians' repertoire comprises the compositions of the Trinity, there are indeed a substantial number of songs by other composers too, both pre- and post-Trinity. Post-Trinity composers are by no means small in number, nor are their compositions. But, sadly, a majority of them exist only in the realm of books. This, however, should not stifle the flow of new compositions. After all, music is essentially a medium of self-expression and not something that hinges on its likely popularity rating. Popularity is often late in coming for new composer-entrants especially in a genre of music that has a long tradition such as the Carnatic. Against this backdrop, the duo behind Geetavahini need to be commended for their effort.
A majority of the 51 compositions in the book are in Tamil and the rest in Sanskrit. The songs are dedicated to different gods in the Hindu pantheon — barring the one song, Venkatasubramanya in Saurashtram, which appears to be on a Namakkal-based preceptor. The lyrics are available in English (with diacritical marks), Devanagari, and Tamil, while the notation is given in English and Tamil. Musically, the songs are not by any means below par. Since the ragas chosen are the popular ones, even those who are not particularly adept in reading the notation have little difficulty in following them. In the matter of lyrics, however, one felt they could have done with some guidance especially on the aspects of prosody.
The compositions carrying the mudra ‘Kamala' vary in their quality when it comes to alliteration. The second syllable concordance is religiously followed between the first lines of the pallavi and the anupallavi. But such concordance is missing within the charanam (which need not be of the same letter as the pallavi/anupallavi).
As a consequence of the non-use of opening phrases with similar syllabic length (hrsva/dhirga consonance) in some songs, the pallavi, anupallavi, and charanam begin at different points in the rhythmic cycle. It is easy to pass off the excellence of the Trinity and other vaggeyakkaras of their calibre as divine or superhuman. What is overlooked, in the process, is the amount of hard work and detailing that must have gone into the fashioning of the lyrics and setting them to music in a way that made them outstanding. Barring a few exceptions where lyrics happen to be an irrepressible outpouring of the soul, any composition has to be backed by such a strenuous effort if it is to stand the test of time. If the expectation is that those pieces should feature in concerts, they will have to measure up to the standards of the established songs. Here alliteration and metre play an important role, and one hopes the composer of songs in this volume will put her creative capabilities through more stringent norms.