Papanasam Sivan Rasigar Sangam celebrated Sivan's 119th birthday by organising a seminar interspersed with music, dance and lec-dems. It discussed everything from Papanasam Sivan's poetic prowess, his art to his bhakti and musical excellence.

Sivan's era saw songs on the silver screen that were steeped in classicism and his musical contribution to that golden period was baffling for its infinite hues. They were mainly in Tamil and had their democratic appeal without diminishing their integrity or their musical richness. Sivan was still humility personified and chose to call himself as a paid-servant (oozhiyan) while writing a short preface to a book containing a collection of his songs. Papanasam Sivan Rasigar Sangam celebrated Sivan's 119th birthday recently and organised a seminar, on his works, at Narada Gana Sabha.

Radha Bhaskar sang and brought out the melodic beauty and lyrical depth in Sivan's compositions. He was a prolific composer even in his time and had so much in common with Sri Tyagarja. Sivan was therefore rightly known as the Tamizh Tyagayya. Both viewed music as a vehicle to attain the lotus feet of the Lord and were on a par with when they fused sangita and sahitya thus making each song a profound moment for the rasika. "It was also interesting to note," she said, "that both tried to reveal to us the whole gamut of the raga Kharaharpriya, perhaps showing that any 'raga' for that matter is actually a mirage where as you get nearer, its entire dimensions only appear to be farther and farther away. If one thought Tyagarja had exhausted this raga, Sivan only 're-exhausted' it."

Soul-stirring kritis

Next, Rukmini Ramani and Mallika Ravi rendered some select songs of Sivan to show how like Muthuswami Dikshitar he too visited many of the holy shrines (sthalams) and gave soul-stirring compositions on the presiding deities.

While 'Neelayadhakshi' in Bilahari was sung in praise of the Goddess at Nagappatinam, 'Saraswathi Dhayai Nidhi' (Saraswathi) extolled the power of Koothanoor Amman and 'Kamakshi' in Saveri praised Kanchi Kamakshi. The Bilahari song was after the popular kriti 'Parithanamichidhe' of Patnam Subramania Iyer. 'En Manam' in Simhendramadhyamam on Goddess Rajarajeswari, the Nanganallur deity, a song composed on special request made by KVN, came up next. The duo teamed well to highlight the well-woven madhyamakala lyric in the song 'Akhilandeswari' (Sankarabharanam, Tiruvanaikaval). The other melodies were 'Gomathi Thaye' (Yadukulakhambodi), 'Kanthimathi Annai' (Kanada) and 'Kanindharul Purindhal' (Kalyani). Rukmini mentioned that the compositions penned by her were truly inspired by the works of her father.

The accompanists for these two sessions were Akkarai Sornalatha (violin) and Ganapathyraman (mridangam).

Erudite rasika

One saw an erudite rasika in J. Subramaniam who seemed to have made an independent analysis of Sivan - his poetic prowess, his art, his bhakti and his musical excellence. "Sivan's songs were unimpeachable," he asserted and gave the example of 'Nambikkettavar' (Hindolam), where the word 'Umai' has been dovetailed to the lyric so intelligently to convey its two meanings ideally suited to two different contexts. He called Sivan a comprehensive composer ('Mahothama Vaggeyakara') who situated himself in the hall of fame along with Meera, Sabhari and Andal by sheer range of bhakti. Sivan through his music was 'much much closer to God' and thus could chide and reprimand (nindhasthuthi) the Almighty as he did in many of his songs. He was thus a demanding bhakta. He was not merely a versatile composer and his lyricism was not an act of imitation, but one of emulation which led him to the path of self-discovery.

Septuagenarian dancer Pushpa Shankar's gestures and expressive eyes communicated Jayadevar's Ashtapadhi, 'Priye Charu Sheele' in its most glorious and sensuous form. Art seemed to reside in her. Adayar Lakshmanan who introduced her as his colleague of those days at Kalakshetra deserves special kudos for bringing her into our consciousness. Lakshmanan also mentioned that the tune [set for the kriti] was that of Sivan.

Earlier he talked about the works of Sivan that were eminently suited for dance and two dancers, Deepa Babaprasad and Gayathri Raja, presented Sivan's Padha Varnam, 'Nee Indha Mayam' set in Dhanyasi where the pallavi was rendered many times over to portray the spells cast by this avathara.

The dancers were accompanied by K. Rama Rao (vocal), T.K. Padmanabhan (violin) and Gopinath (mridangam).

Papanasam Ashok Ramani was the coordinator who intervened with some relevant remarks. He said that the actual number of compositions by Sivan in Sanskrit was 90 and mentioned that the line in the Kharaharapriya song should be 'Srinivasa Thava Charanav' (and not Charanam). He felt that Pushpa Shankar's dance reminded him of Balasaraswathi amma and also took him to the days when Rukmini Devi performed to Sivan's singing.