Young musicians presented the kritis of Muttuswami Dikshitar and Oottukkadu Venkata Kavi at a festival organised by The Hindu recently

The poetic grandeur, mastery over Sanskrit grammar and deep spirituality of two of the finest minds in Carnatic music — the evergreen Muttuswami Dikshitar and the prolific yet underrated Oottukkadu Venkata Subbaiyer — were highlighted at a recent festival, organised by The Hindu, that showcased their Navavaranam compositions.

Interestingly, though both sets are called the same, Dikshitar's Navavaranam is addressed to Goddess Kamalamba of Tiruvarur while Venkata Kavi addresses Goddess Kamakshi of Kanchipuram. In addition to the main nine pieces, both Venkata Kavi and Dikshitar have composed a preliminary dhyana kriti and a concluding mangala kriti. Venkata Kavi has also composed a piece on Lord Vinayaka, where he specifically refers to the is Lord as srividyopasana bodhakara while Dikshitar’s Sri Mahaganapatiravatumam (Gowla) is taken to be the Vinayaka stuti presumably because it mentions Tiruvarur through the phrase, kamalalaya tataviharo.

Different tempos

The tempo of the entire Navavarana set of Dikshitar is measured often with words that clothe them with majesty. Compositions such as Sri Kamalambikaya (Shankarabharanam) and Sri Kamalambike (Ghanta) have a meditative feel. Venkata Kavi’s compositions, in contrast, are mostly in medium tempo with words akin to a torrential downpour in some instances. Even the slower pieces such as Yoga Yogeshwari (Anandabhairavi), Neelalohita Ramani (Balahamsa) and Sadanandamayi (Hindolam) have fast passages.

Simple yet elegant

Hosted by The Hindu with Navaratri in mind and sponsored by Suguna Pumps and Motors, the mood of the evening was perfectly captured from the moment the screen went up to display an aesthetically designed stage (by V.V. Ramani) – simple, yet elegant. The artistes chosen to present the items were all from the younger generation. Each team performed a pair of compositions, one of Dikshitar and one of Venkata Kavi. The accompanists for the evening were, by rotation, from a group comprising V. Sanjeev, Akkarai Sornalatha, Sudha R.S. Iyer and Amritha Murali for violin and B. Ganapathyraman, Arjun Ganesh and R. Sankaranarayanan for mridangam.

The inaugural pieces were rendered by K. Dharini who started sedately with Dikshitar's Gowla kriti and followed it up with the Kavi’s Sri Ganeshwara in Shanmukhapriya. Following her were the Trichur Brothers, Vidya Kalyanaraman, Sriranjani Santhanagopalan, Kunnakudi Balamuralikrishna, Nisha Rajagopal, Anahita-Apoorva, K. Gayatri, Sikkil Gurucharan, Amritha Murali, Sumithra Vasudev and the Akkarai Sisters. Each set was preceded by crisp yet respectful summaries that captured the essence of the kritis and the composer's intent.

Complex phrases

Both sets of compositions employ fairly advanced Sanskrit with complex phrases that require a fair grip over both language and musical skills before one can be confident of a stage presentation.

Dikshitar's compositions have had more exposure on the concert circuit and that was evident from the degree of familiarity displayed by the performers. Venkata Kavi's set also features ragas such as Deshakshi and Palahamsa, relatively rare on concert platforms. The more seasoned performers in the line-up such as Gurucharan, Balamuralikrishna, Sumithra, Nisha Rajagopal, Gayatri and Amritha made their presentations with expected competence while it was heartening to see the confidence with which the younger lot tackled the complexity of lyrics and handled ragas such as Nadanamakriya (Sriranjani), Deshakshi (Vidya) and Balahamsa (Anahita-Apoorva).

Duet performances — dhyana kritis by the Trichur Brothers and mangala kritis by the Akkarai Sisters – were also noteworthy for their crispness. The accompanists handled the variety of artists, tempos and srutis with aplomb.

If the evening was remarkable for the élan with which the artistes performed the complex pieces, it also highlighted the importance of mastery over the lengthy lyrics. Many of the songs may be rendered as an elaborate main piece in regular concerts as one missed the manodharma aspects such as alapana and kalpanaswaram, especially for major items such as Kambodhi, Todi, Shahana and Bhairavi. There are also ragas common to the two sets such as Anandhabhairavi, Kalyani and Punnagavarali, which is another reason to consider a separate day for each composer's works while presenting such compilations. However, in an age of impatience when rasikas start fidgeting barely two hours into any concert, it was wonderful to see a packed house for the four hours it took to present this esoteric musical marathon, and for that alone, this idea deserves praise.

Watch it online

The videos of each of the compositions will be available on the corresponding day of Navaratri starting October 14 – 25 at www.thehindu.com/chennai

The artists share their views at http://thne.ws/navaratri-musicians Slideshow of the festival may be viewed at http://thne.ws/concert-navaratri