Saraswathi Vidyarthi’s special raga thana pallavi concert had an abundance of musical ideas

A special raga thana pallavi concert by Dr. Saraswathi Vidyarthi was hosted recently by the BTM Cultural Academy, Bangalore. Charulatha Ramanujam (violin), Jayachandra Rao (mridanga) and Bhargava Halambi (kanjira) were the accompanying artistes.

The concert began with “Sarasuda”, the adi thala varna in Saveri raga, to which were appended fairly extensive kalpana swaras. A mellow and bhava laden rendering of the Thyagaraja krithi ‘Parithapamu’ in Manohari raga and rupaka thala followed, highlighting the plaintive tenor of the lyrics. A sketch of Saraswathi raga prefaced the Purandaradasa composition “Kodu Bega Divyamathi Saraswathi” set to khanda chapu thala, also presented in a sedate and evocative tempo. A brief outline of Ahiri, illumining the unique structure of the raga and its subtle overtones, was followed by Syama Shastri’s ‘Mayamma’ in adi thala, exquisitely modulated and clearly enunciated, though sung at a slightly accelerated pace.

A swift “Sri Ranganatham Upasmahe” in Poornachandrika raga and adi thala was the prelude to the main item of the concert, a raga thana pallavi in two ragas, Chakravakam and Hamir Kalyani. The alapana began with Chakravakam, distinct phrases establishing the identity of the raga at once. The gamaka-oriented rishabha, set off against the plain and elongated gandhara and madhyama, anchored the exercise firmly to the core tenets of the idiom. Elaborate sancharas at the panchama and dhaivatha led to succinct ones around the nishada before ascending to the thara sthayi shadja. Long sruti aligned pauses at the shadja, gandhara and madhyama, an extended stay at the panchama and short forays beyond, punctuated with brighas, attested to an abundance of musical ideas and voice control.

The beauty of Hamir Kalyani was drawn out in long-looped sangathis and occasional fast passages interspersed with meditative halts at the panchama and thara shadja, which were the focal points of the alapana. The thana alternated between the two ragas in its progression upwards, incorporating deep heavy gamakas and a variety of patterns notable for strength, clarity and vigour. The pallavi beginning “Parameshwari Chakravaka Ragaroopni” was couched, as explained by the vocalist, in Divya Sankeerna thriputa thala, with the laghu consisting of an unusual six counts. The first part up to the beginning of the druta, was in Chakravakam in the chaturasra gathi, and the remaining in Hamir Kalyani in the tishra gathi, creating an intricate and impressive tapestry of diverse melodies and rhythms. The sahithya expansion was comprehensive and included the mandatory tempo variations while the kalpana swaras in the two ragas, which adhered to the respective gathi orientations in the pallavi, and the ragamalika swaras, reaffirmed the artiste’s formidable laya expertise and powers of manodharma.

The violinist responded to the many rhythmic and improvisational challenges with alacrity and outstanding technical skill, while the percussionists displayed exemplary coordination and expertise throughout the concert in general, and in the thani avarthana in particular. On the whole the concert drew attention to some of the many facets and complexities that form the cornerstones of the genre, without detriment to its aesthetic and emotional content.