Of the many compositions of Thanjai-Naalvar (Quartet), the maximum available have been authored by Ponniah Pillai, who codified the procedures of dance, said B.M. Sundaram.
Chennai Fine Arts is celebrating its seventh Vaggeyakkara Vaibhavam and RTP festival at Shanmugasundaram Hall (Gokhale Sastri Institute) for five days. The rota has an interesting combination of an RTP session, followed by a brief sketch of a vaggeyakara's life and works and a concert of his compositions.
Speaking of Ponniah Pillai, musicologist Dr. B.M. Sundaram said that Ponniah was one among the Thanjavur Quartet, who codified the main procedures of dance and the order to be followed in presenting each segment.
Of the many compositions of Thanjai-Naalvar (Quartet), the maximum available have been authored by Ponniah. He had composed beautiful jatiswarams in ragas such as Kalyani and Chakaravakam, but over the years, the padavarnam has slowly ‘usurped' the place of the jatiswaram. Ponniah acquired the expertise of swaraksharam that can be seen in many of his compositions. He composed many varnams in Sankarabharanam and one among them has exemplary swaras centred round the panchamam.
Sundaram regretted that some of today's dancers omit or replace some key-words from the lyric of the composers and questioned their propriety in this regard.
Ponniah has also given many defining ragamalikas and often included the name of the raga in his compositions. He, in fact, wrote parallel compositions in Tamil for many of his songs that have their original versions in Telugu. Invariably, sabdams are composed in Khambodi and Ponniah is no exception to this rule.
Renowned scholar T.S. Sathyavathi's concert that followed showed that she has the mental make-up to handle compositions of weight and complexity. Her voice appealed both intellectually and emotionally, fitting well for Ponniah Pillai's compositions that are predominantly in the chowka kalam. The alapana for Devamanohari (‘Mahadeva Manohari') , the main raga of the evening, was made to look simple with phrases that were sung with exceptional spontaneity, and the niraval at ‘Somasekari Thribuvana' put bhava above all else. The gripping pace of the Natakurinji Varnam, the subtle variations for (Antha) ‘Ranganathude' while singing its pallavi, the depth and solidity of the alapana for Arabhi (‘Amba Sowrambha‘), the countless non-repetitive single avarthana swaras for the same raga - were all of equal worth. ‘Amba Nilambari' (Nilambari), ‘Dheena Rakshaka' (Ahiri) and a Thillana in Kannada were included in the fare and deserve to be mentioned here.
Ashwini Satish who provided vocal support excelled with two delectable cameos (Arabhi and Devamanohari alapanas), quietly seizing the opportunity afforded to her.
Pakkala Ramadas traced Arabhi and Devamanohari with delicate and fast-paced usages and seemed to enjoy the leisurely pace of the songs. His accuracy in the swara segment was an indication of his calculative abilities.
Kallidaikurichi Sivakumar, known for his soft playing, proved that laya vadyam is primarily responsible for the success of vilamba kala songs, and thus used his good judgment unfailingly.