The annual concerts at the Navarathri Mandapam in Thiruvananthapuram are a much-awaited music fiesta that is a fine blend of melody and devotion

The annual nine-day music festival at the Navarathri Mandapam in Thiruvananthapuram celebrates both tradition and music. Many of the legends of Carnatic music have performed at this hallowed venue where nine keerthanas, composed by Swati Tirunal in nine different ragas, are sung during the festival. A composition in a particular raga has been specified for each day of Navarathri.

This year's edition of the festival began with Kunnakudi Balamuralikrishna, accompanied by S.R. Mahadeva Sharma (violin), Palakkad Maheshkumar (mridangam), P.L. Sudheer (ghatam) and Kottayam Murali (morsing). Beginning with the Kamboji varnam ‘Sarasijanabha,' the vocalist proceeded to ‘Kaama Janaka' in Gowla and ‘Smarahari paadaaravindam' in Sama. It was followed by the kriti of the day – ‘Devi Jagat Janani' in Sankarabharanam.

Time factor

However, the Mandapam requires singers to be savvy about the timing as it is mandatory for all concerts to stop at 8.30 p.m., when a bell is rung. Balamuralikrishna had to rush through the soulful Sankarabharanam composition. There was just enough time for a brief but enjoyable tani and ‘Bhaja Bhaja manasa' in Sindhubhairavi.

On the second day of the fete, veteran Seetha Rajan, a strict traditionalist, proved why she is a class apart. In the company of S. Vinu (violin), Arun Prakash (mridangam) and B.S. Purushoththaman (ganjira), this student of Semmangudi opened her account at the Mandapam with ‘Deva Deva…' in Mayamalavagowla. Vinu followed the singer like a shadow and was in his element throughout the concert. Seetha rendered ‘Sri Kumara Nagaraalaye' in Athana and ‘Padmanabha pahi' in Hindolam.

The main raga was Kalyani and the vocalist's luxurious and classic treatment of the raga was sheer melody. ‘Pahimaan Sri Vageeswari,' the kriti, was sung with due accent on lyrics and bhava.

She concluded her concert with ‘Pankajakshanam Rameshan' in Thodi and ‘Jaya Jaya Devi.'

Aswathi Thirunal Rama Varma was accompanied by S. Vinu, Bangalore Praveen (mridangam), Giridhar Udupa (ganjira) and T. Govindaprasad (morsing) on the third day.

The melodious ‘Smara janaka' in Behag was the opening number. The evocatively sung ragamalika padam ‘Pannagendra shayana' preceded the main ‘Devi Pavane' in Saveri. The vocalist and violinist made it a memorable experience for listeners as Vinu did not a miss a single nuance of the vocalist.

An excellent tani was played. Govindaprasad on the morsing showcased the range of the instrument that is usually sidelined in many a concert. Rama Varma concluded his recital with a melodiously sung Hindustani composition ‘Aaj Aaye….'

The grand dame of Carnatic music, Parassala Ponnammal's concert on the fourth day was a text book performance. Her accompanists were Rajasree (violin), Nanjil Arul (mridangam), Manjoor Unnikrishnan (ghatam), Udipi Srikanth (ganjira) and Govindaprasad (morsing). Ponnammal began ‘Paripahi ganadhipa' in Saveri, which had crisp swarams at ‘Bhasura Moorthe.' However, the violinist seemed to be on her own trip. Ponnammal's raga alapana drew a clear sketch of Nattakurinji followed by the kriti ‘Mamavasada varade.'

Thodi, the main raga for the day, and the kriti ‘Bharathi Mamava' was sung with dignity and poise. The percussion was excellent and the brief tani was a rhythmic treat.

Soulful singing

Mridangam maestro T.V.Gopalakrishnan's vocal concert, in the company of S. Varadarajan (violin), B. Harikumar (mridangam) and S. Karthick (ghatam), drew many listeners. Starting with ‘Paripahi ganadhipa,' he moved on to ‘Deva deva jagadishwara' in Poorvikalyani and ‘Paramapurusha' in Vasanta. The main ‘Janani Mamava' in Bhairavi was followed by the tani. He ended his recital with ‘Nache Raghunath.'

Sanjay Subramaniam's concert saw a packed venue. Excellent accompaniment was provided by Nagai Murali (violin), Neyveli Venkatesh (mridangam) and Karthik (ghatam). Beginning with ‘Sarojanabha' in Chakravakam, he proceeded to ‘Paramanadanatana' in Kedaram, which was sung soulfully. ‘Rasa vilasa' in Kamboji was preceded by an elaborate raga alapana and adorned with swaras. ‘Saroruhasana,' in Pantuvarali was sung effectively and the accompanists were in top form. After the tani, Sanjay concluded with ‘Vishweshwara' in Sindhubhairavi.

Verve and vivacity

Trichur Ramachandran's concert on the seventh day had M.A. Sundareshwaran (violin), Kadakkavoor G.S. Rajeshnath (mridangam) and Vaikam Gopalakrishnan (ghatam). He commenced his recital with the Mayamalagowla kriti ‘Deva Deva kalayami.'

Both ‘Pahi Jagajanani' in Hamsanandi and ‘Jaya Jaya Padmanabha' in Sarasangi were sung with verve and vivacity. An elaborate ‘Janani pahi' in Shudda Saveri and a tani was followed by the concluding Behag composition ‘Saramaina.'

On Durgashtami day, Thoppur Sairam started the concert with ‘Paahishripathe' in Hamsadhwani, embroidering it with effective swarams. Sairam and violinist T.H Vasantha exploited the power of Kedaragowla raga to depict bhakti in the kriti ‘Rama Paripalayam.'

While the main ragam Nattakurunji unfurled itself with entwining sangathis, the tanam marked its acme.

The kriti ‘Pahi Janani' set to Mishra chapu, had exquisite niravel and swaram at ‘Devi Sakala.' The tani by G. Babu on the mridangam and Adichanalloor Anil on the ghatam was flawless. Sairam concluded with ‘Vishweshwara' in Sindhubhairavi.

Septuagenarian Venkataramanan, singing for the first time at the Mandapam, brought the curtain down on this year's fete.

Accompanists were Edapally Ajithkumar (violin), Ananthakrishnan (mridangam) and Udupi Sreedar (ghatam). He started with ‘Pahi Sripathe' in Hamsadhwani.

A pada varnam in Kamboji was sung with authority and dignity. The main was Arabhi, ‘Pahi Parvatha Nandini.' Following the tani, ‘Sees Ganga' in Dhanasri and ‘Shankara Shree' led the way to the Mangalam.