O.S. Arun sang bhajans with a Carnatic twist.
The northerly winds blew across O.S. Arun’s concert hall, bringing with them a torrent of abhangs. Two superb pieces — in Mohanam (Ambujam Krishna’s ‘Swagatham Krishna’) and Valaji (‘Koovi Azhaithaal,’ poet Vaalee) — presented in the middle of the concert were like idly-vadai on a North Indian thali. For all around them were Hindustani ragas that have got appropriated into the Carnatic system — Darbari Kanada, Abheri, Behag, Chandrakauns…it was a filling fare.
Arun began with ‘Prabho Ganapathe’ in Tilang and then moved to Purandaradasa’s ‘Bega Baro’ in Maand, ‘Smaratham Nityahari’ in Misra Bilawal (roughly, the equivalent of Sankarabharanam with both the madhyamams in use) and a name-chanting in Darbari Kanada.
The first major item was ‘Sthirata Nahi Nahi Re,’ a Sarasangi composition of Sadasiva Brahmendra. Sarasangi, veritably a hardcore Carnatic raga, here had a North Indian twang, sounding quite different from what we are generally used to — it was deep, with a melancholic touch, the kind of feeling a raga like Subhapantuvarali would evoke. Then came Mohanam, followed by the sloka ‘Kasturi Tilakam Lalaata Palakae.’ It was as Carnatic as it could be.
The Valaji song ‘Swagatham Krishna’ came next where the alapana practically rode on the word ‘Kumara.’ Taking up Vaalee’s ‘Koovi Azhaithaal’, Arun successfully mimicked a cuckoo’s call while pronouncing the word ‘Koovi’— he does this whenever he sings this piece.
The icing on the cake was the Abheri piece — an abhang by Bhanudasa that starts with the words ‘Brindavanae Venu.’ The song was rendered with such a lilt that many rasikas felt it was the best piece of the concert, (though not much ahead of the Chandrakauns piece that followed.) A request-slip made sure Arun remembered it was Bharatiar’s birthday and the poet’s immortal ‘Kaakkai Chiraginilae’ blossomed in Chandrakauns.
Gopalkrishna Bharati’s famous Behag piece, ‘Irakkam Varaamal’ and a Samartha Ramadas abhang ‘Ha Raghava’ in Mohanam, completed the concert. The latter segued into an impassioned ‘Vittala, Vittala’ chant.
M.R. Gopinath supported Arun on the violin. Mannargudi Easwaran, one of the best on the mridangam, sadly had little scope to perform and was reduced to providing ‘tap-tap’ support. S. Ganapathi played the tabla.