A jugalbandhi by Kottakkal Madhu and Ambalapuzha Vijayakumar expertly blended the bhakti of Sopana Sangeetham with the rasas of Kathakali Sangeetham.

Jugalbandi is, ideally, a seamless fusion of two different styles of music. But generally what happens, at least in music, is that two performers get together and end up popularising the two streams they represent. Of course, there are the occasional moments when they break into an impromptu fusion.

This, in short, was what happened in the jugalbandi between Kottakkal Madhu and Ambalapuzha Vijayakumar, brilliant exponents of Kathakali Sangeetham and Sopana Sangeetham, respectively, at the Azhakiyakavu Temple festival at Palluruthy, Kochi, recently.

This was only their third public performance after Madhu and Vijayakumar decided to embark on this new musical venture. “We are still probing the possibilities; we found it to be an exciting experiment and we are sure of turning it into a perfect jugalbandi where the boundaries of the two forms will blend without blurring the identities of the two styles of music,” says Vijayakumar. And certainly the immense possibilities of such a fusion were evident in the two-hour performance.

After both of them took turns to sing the invocation, Madhu set the ball rolling with two popular padams, ‘Naishadhan evanthan…’ from ‘Nalacharitham Fourth Day’ in Mukhari and ‘Sarasanethra…’ from ‘Kuchelavritham’, in Ananda Bhairavi. Both these ragas and the padams were rendered elaborately bringing out the nuances of the raga as it is handled in Kathakali Sangeetham. With your eyes closed, letting the bhava-laden voice of Madhu, backed up by Nedumpilly Rammohan waft into your inner recesses, the chenda, maddalam and edakka joining in, it was as if the characters came to life on stage. Vijayakumar used Ananda Bhairavi in a kalampaattu kriti. Vijayakumar was supported by Ambalapuzha Sreekumar.

There is something poignant about ‘Ajithahare…’ (‘Kuchelavritham’) and Sree raga that make your heart melt. Both Madhu and Vijayakumar must have sung this padam on so many stages. Here, in this jugalbandi, Madhu chose to sing it separately, in the distinctive Kathakali Sangeetham style. This was the first and best opportunity where Vijayakumar could have joined in, in his style, to make it a different experience.

Instead Vijayakumar used Sree raga in a Kesadipada varnanam or a graphic description of the presiding deity of Guruvayoor. As Madhu said as an introduction to the programme, Sopana Sangeetham is drenched in bhakti, while Kathakali Sangeetham delves into all the rasas. And this Vijayakumar rendering was just that.

“We actually could have thought of this. In Kathakali, bhakti is not all important but in Sopana Sangeetham this is the soul. So we need to look for padams that suit both the styles, such as ‘Ajithahare…’. There are a few of them, and we try and sing them together in our different styles. We will do this in our future programmes,” says Madhu, with Vijayakumar nodding in agreement.

Vijayakumar gave an elaborate exposition of Kalyani raga, exploring the two distinctive styles in Sopana Sangeetham – the Vadakkan (north) popularised by masters such as Njeralathu Rama Poduval and the Central Travancore style popularised by Shadkala Govinda Marar and his successors. Madhu chose ‘Ghora vipinam…’ from ‘Nalacharitham Third Day’ to probe the various shades of the raga.

‘Pushkara Vilochana’ (‘Kuchelavritham’) in Surutti, followed by a kriti on Sree Padmanabha Swamy in the specific Southern style were the pieces Madhu and Vijayakumar rendered before they wound up the jugalbandi in Madhyamavathi.

Tripunithura Hari (edakka), Venu Mohan (chenda) and Raju Narayanan (maddalam) provided the percussion backup.