At the inaugural concert of the first edition of The Hindu Friday Review Music Fest

It was a grand, grand evening. A deep breath, and Aruna Sairam sang her heart out to a spellbound audience at the Corporation Kalaiarangam. This was at the inaugural concert of the first edition of The Hindu Friday Review Music Fest in the city. It was extra special for The Hindu as earlier in the day she had commented, “There is something about the abhang, my singing of it and The Hindu. I normally sing one or two in my regular concerts, but the first time I did an exclusive abhang performance was for the Chennai Music Fest, and now I am doing the same here.”

Aruna Sairam always draws the crowds, but any concern one had that many may stay away because it was an evening of Marathi songs, were swiftly laid to rest. Corporation Kalaiarangam was full to bursting.

And, Sairam kept her listeners rapt, as much with her singing as with the stories she told them.

Of saint poets who were drawn, not from kings and queens or great intellectuals, but from ordinary folk. The poets were cobblers, potters, barbers, gardeners, goldsmiths and money lenders. And, they sang their songs to god as they went about their daily business.

Sairam gave an example of an abhang where a gardener tending to his vegetable patch, wonders aloud, if his Vitthala is as fair as his garlic pods, as flavourful as the onions, or as beautiful as the carrots! Pandharpur (the abode of Vitthala), Rakumai, Alandi, the River Indrayani are recurring motifs in the abhangs.

Home-grown, simple, yet realised souls, these poet saints redefined bhakti and everyone could share in it.

And, everyone did. They clapped, went wah wah, tapped their feet and sang along. At the start of the evening, Sairam likened the performance to a journey. Much like the ones the simple pilgrims undertook from their villages to Pandharpur. (Yatris on their way to Pandharpur during Ashadi Ekadashi would stop for a respite and spend the night singing abhangs).

And, step by step, song by song, Sairam led us closer and closer to the home of Vitthala. She narrated stories and encouraged the audience to sing along and dance too if they felt like it.

She interspersed these with compositions of the Alwars, showing how, irrespective of where they came from, the poet saints perceived their god in the same way.

A shining rendition of “Jaago Re” in Bengali had the goose-bumps going again as Sairam had people wiping tears of and swallowing heavily as she awakened Goddess Durga.

A rousing paean to Tirupati Srinivasa followed by the mangalam brought the evening to a close. Sairam and her accompanists received a standing ovation. One amongst the audience commented, “I couldn't stop my tears”. Another said, “I kept looking over my shoulder to see if Panduranga was standing behind me”. It was that kind of an evening.

The artists accompanying Aruna Sairam were: Raghavendra Rao (violin), J. Vaidyanathan ( mridangam), S. Kathick (ghatam), Niranjan Lele (harmonium), Sai Bankar (tabla), Prakash Shejwal (pakhavaj), Pratap Rath ( additional percussion), Narayana Swamy (tanpura), Padmanabhan ( tanpura).