The works of the 19 century composers were in focus.

The thematic lecture-demonstration on Sunday, ‘Saptha Rathnangal,’ was a refreshing recapitulation of ragas, kritis and composers. It was far from being yet another sentimental journey down memory lane. The illuminating exposition conceived by Radha Bhaskar sought to stimulate interest in a rational and historically-informed approach to music appreciation. To that end, she drew predominantly from the works of the 19 century composers. “Compositions crystallise ragas for posterity,” was Radha Bhaskar’s opening observation. Radha was supported on the vocal by Vasudha Ravi, K.P. Nandini, Aishwarya Shankar and Deekshita. The accompanists were Anayampatti Venkatasubramaniam (violin), Nellai Balaji (mridangam) and S. Krishna (ghatam).

The burden of her presentation was two-fold: to show that different composers dealt with different ragas differently; and to highlight that the multitude of compositions penned by a single composer brought out many facets of the same raga. She advanced the further proposition (debatable) that this huge heterogeneity enables us to understand our music through our own music, rather than in comparative relation to other forms.

Tyagaraja was the first of the seven Rathnas featured that evening. A great pioneer, as many as 100 out of the 200 ragas he handled were his own creations. He wrote as many as 31 songs in Thodi and 32 in Sankarabharanam - some more intricate and complex, others simple melodies. ‘Raghupate,’ and ‘Srirama Srirama,’ in Sahana represent the above types. Evidence of such compositions in contrast are Muthuswami Dikshitar’s song in Sankaraabharanam, ‘Akshayalingavibho’ and ‘Syamale Meenakshi Sundareswari Saakshi.’

Most of Tyagaraja’s songs are found in the medium tempo.

Of no mean significance is the fact that while Tyagaraja wrote at least 14 songs in ragam Kapi, the other two among the so-called trinity of composers seem to have none. Illustrating the point was ‘Anyayamu Seyakura, Rama Nannanyuniga Choodakuraa,’ sung beautifully and a melodious violin essay. Ranjani is the other example of a ragam not handled by Dikshitar and Syama sastri. Similarly, ragam Mangalakaisiki likewise is one that seems to have been deployed only by Muthuswami Dikshitar.

A common characteristic of the southern Indian genre of music is for composers to capture the essence of the raga in the opening line of the song. A case in point is ‘Bagayenayya,’ in ragam Chandrajothi.

Similarly, the significance of sangatis is too well-known to warrant elaboration. “Tyagaraja’s ‘Adamodigalada’ is,” said Radha Bhaskar, “a prime example.” Instances of gliding (jaru) and trembling (kampita) gamakas respectively are Muthuswami Dikshithar’s ‘Sri Satyanarayanam,’ in ragam Subhapantuvarali and Tyagaraja’s ‘Yennallu Oorake Unduvo,’ also in the same ragam.

These and other aspects further developed and systematised by composers of the distinction of Syama Sastri, Swati Tirunal, Gopalakrishna Bharati, Koteeswara Iyer and Papanasam Sivan were featured with worthy illustrations. Notable among them were Bharati’s songs ‘Nandanar Charithram,’ which radically expanded the reach of classical music. The other was Iyer’s ‘Kanda Ganamudam,’ comprising kritis in all the 72 foundational ragas enriched the deeper nuances of this genre.

Given such a rich heritage, and in the context of concerns to promote classical music, it is not unreasonable to expect musicians to make a more conscious effort to popularise songs in the language spoken by the common mass of the people.