Vikku Vinayakram, Vidya Shah and the Manganiyars explored the various angles of bhakti in Nirgun Naad, writes Subha J. Rao

Even today, in the Avudaiyar temple in Pudukottai, the rhythm of the gethu vadhyam, an ancient percussion instrument, cascades over devotees. When N. Rajaraman played the 150-year-old instrument, shaped like a veena, the audience was transported back in time. Images of camphor-scented temples and eager devotees queuing up in front of the garbhagriha came alive.

Rajaraman was part of Nirgun Naad, curated by Sufi singer Vidya Shah. The show brought together top performers from different streams of music. There was Vidya and her team, representing Sufi, Chugge Khan Manganiyar and his brother Salim who brought with them rustic ragas and devotion from the desert and, finally, Vikku Vinayakram.

The ghatam vidwan is steeped in classicism yet happily embraces fusion. At 69, he continues to be a rockstar on stage, playing simultaneously on four ghatams, throwing one up in the air for some lovely music, pounding on it one minute and gently patting it the next…all without losing a beat. Accompanying him was his grandson S. Swaminathan, who played the kanjira and also performed solkattu with shlokams in praise of Mahaperiyavaa (Chandrashekarendra Saraswati).

Vidya began the concert with Amir Khusro’s ‘Mohe Apne Hi Rang Me’ followed by Meera Bai’s ‘Ritu Aayi’, an effervescent song celebrating the rain. The songs chosen for the evening celebrated various aspects of bhakti. Among them was ‘Bas Tu Hi’, by woman Sufi saint Rabia Al Basri from Iraq. The song had an addictive rhythm. Adding to the magic was Vikku mama, who made a grand entrance on stage during this number. Pandit Kumar Gandharva’s ‘Guruji Main Toh Ek Niranjan’ was up next. After Vidya sang, Swaminathan performed a solkattu. The thani avarthanam of sorts featuring all the percussionists — Swaminathan, Rajaraman and Shanti Bhushan Jha — was a treat to the ears; Ghulam Ali on the saarangi and Amar Sangam on acoustic guitar created lingering music.

The Manganiyars, who had come all the way from Jaisalmer, stepped in for some vocal and percussion flourishes, their infectious enthusiasm rubbing off on the audience.

Vidya next rendered Naseer Akbarabadi’s ‘Tanha Na Use Apne’ and concluded with the rocking ‘Mast Kalandar’, leaving the audience asking for more of her rich voice that effortlessly caressed the peaks. We were also left wishing that the Manganiyars had sung more of their brand of soul-stirring music.

Nirgun Naad means music that celebrates a formless divine. In a sense, the concert did just that, leaving us with lovely snatches of devotion — for Nature, for the almighty. An evening that prompted you to seek that kernel of devotion within, to surrender.

PERFORMERS

Vikku Vinayakaram: Ghatam

Vidya Shah: Lead vocals

Chugge Khan Manganiyar: Vocals and Morchhang

Salim Khan Manganiyar: Back-up vocals and Khadtaal

S. Swaminathan: Kanjira

N. Rajaraman: Gethu Vadhyam

Shanti Bhushan Jha: Tabla

Ghulam Ali: Saarangi

Amar Sangam: Acoustic Guitar & Mandolin