The city has a history of abhang singing that is more than 100 years old. The Sree Vithoba Devasthan in Mattancherry has regular abhang renderings and most of the compositions of this traditional form are quite familiar to those who participate and listen to them here. For them, Aruna Sairam's abhang performance was another chance to revisit their musical roots, for the others, an initiation into a powerful world of devotional music.
Aruna Sairam was singing on the opening day ofThe Hindu Friday Review November Fest at the Kerala Fine Arts Hall on Friday. The programme was aptly titled ‘Wisdom of Vithala,' as most of the songs penned by poet saints are addressed to Lord Vithala.
Classical as well as non-classical singers have explored this form. Earlier, abhangs were sung by classical singers only as part of a general concert, usually at the end of it. Masters like Pandit Bhimsen Joshi crossed the barrier between classical music and popular music; became a sort of icon through the medium of this form.
As a Carnatic vocalist, Aruna Sairam is known for her full-throated and personalised style of singing. She always enjoyed singing one or two abhangs in her concerts. It was at the same festival in 2006 in Chennai that she first presented an exclusive recital of abhangs. Her strong voice, resonant timbre and exposure to a range of styles are much suited to this form. And today, Aruna Sairam is much-sought after for her abhang singing.
“She was both professional and very devotional. We have seen so many abhang singers but most of them simply sing. There is very little ‘bhava.' In Aruna Sairam's case, it was so different. She interspersed her rendering with the history of the music form, of the compositions, about Pandharpur, stories about the saints.
And her singing was exuberant, soaked in ‘bhakti,' ” says Mahesh N. Joshi, trustee, Sree Vithoba Devasthan.
Aruna Sairam opened the concert with Jog raga and followed it up with the extremely popular Sant Namdev abhang. 'Teertha Vitthala kshetra Vitthala…' (Ahir Bhairav). Originally, abhangs were not meant for the stage or put into a classical framework. It was simply singing the praise of the lord in simple terms, conveying the rich philosophy and teachings of the saint composers.
By the time Aruna Sairam had finished Sant Eknath's ‘Majhe mahir Pandhari…' and Sant Tukaram's classic in Sivaranjini, ‘Rajasa sukumara madancha…' the audience had got into the mood. They were swaying and clapping to the pulsating rhythms and Aruna's soulful rendering.
From the Bhakti Movement of the North she travelled down South with Sampradaya Bhajans, a tradition of singing bhajans with a collection of kirtanas and namavalis. Aruna chose five ragas – Nattai, Abheri, Madhyamavathi, Saveri and Panthuvarali – set in five definite talas.
A short, crisp taniavartanam involving the mridangam (J. Vaidynathan), ghatam (S. V. Ramani), tabla (Manoj Bhati), pakhawaj (Prakash Shejwal) and Pratap Rath (additional percussion) followed.
Blending genres like part of a Tamil kriti and an abhang, an innovative mix of vibrant abhang singing with the buoyant Gondhali was beautifully executed. Every second of the concert was filled in beautifully by the sitar (Kishore Kumar), harmonium (Atmaram Bicholkar) and violin (H.N. Bhaskar).
The surprise was the Malayalam devotional, ‘Anjanashilayil adi parasakthi…', written by Vasudevan Potti and set to tune by Jaya-Vijaya. Her pronunciation might have been a bit flawed but the soul was certainly there. Aruna Sairam wound up the two-hour performance with ‘Omkara saroopa…' in Revathi, Narayanaeeyam sloka tagged on with apadam from Natya Sangeetham.
Keywords: Kochi November Fest