Sarvani Sangeetha Sabha has several firsts to its credit, all happening without much fanfare.
The Great Chennai Music Season is just round the corner with sabhas ready with their fare. Officially, the curtain will go up on December 1 but one can already hear the odd crackers exploding here and there. The reference here of course is to organisations that conduct their festivals ahead, detaching themselves from the frenzied activity. There are outfits that surface only during the Season. Amidst these categories are rare sabhas that keep the flag of Carnatic music flying high through silent and steady work. Sarvani Sangeetha Sabha Trust has been doing yeoman service for the past 26 years showcasing artists of high calibre. It is their ability to catch young aspirants that sets Sarvani apart. The Sabha celebrated silver jubilee in 2011 on a grand scale.
Almost all the stars shining on the firmament of Carnatic music cut their teeth here. Priya Sisters, Malladi Brothers, Unnikrishnan, Sanjay Subrahmanian and Pantula Rama were in their teens when Sarvani fielded them. “I picked out the name Sarvani from Lalitha Sahasranamam. The vibration suggested itself,” says S. Vasantha, founder-secretary of the sabha, who keeps a low profile and whose love for music is providing the energy. Lending a helping hand is D. Padma, president and daughter of the late Jogalamba.
A native of Andhra Pradesh, Vasantha has made Chennai her domicile. Transfers made her father, an officer of the Central Bank of India, shift camp frequently and naturally his children had to pick up the thread of education on the move. Trained in Carnatic music, Vasantha’s initiative was a tentative effort, way back in 1985. Giving her support was Jogalamba, social worker and founder of ABM School. The school on Burkit Road, T. Nagar, became the venue.
“It was not expected to last for so long,” laughs Suri, Vasantha’s nephew, who helps her with organising the concerts. The sabha has no permanent venue. After the first year, the scene shifted to Music Academy with the run ending in 2012. “Hall rents are beyond reach and finding a hall is an uphill task,” says Suri. The compact Raga Sudha Hall is the venue for most of their programmes these days.
From T.V. Sankaranarayanan and Nithyasree Mahadevan to Gayathri Girish, artists have rendered four-hour concerts for Sarvani long before they did it for other sabhas with some recitals going on for five hours. Sarvani opened its arms to Aruna Sairam when she relocated from Mumbai in 2000. “D.K. Pattammal was a very good friend of my aunt and a well-wisher of the sabha. She was honoured in the tenth anniversary function,” informs Suri. Vyjayantimala rendered a vocal recital, we are told. Violin ace Kanyakumari and M. Balamuralikrishna are among the artists feted.
With MS the relationship was intimate. It is the humility and simplicity of the stalwarts that is recalled. The concerts were classic and the audience comprised genuine connoisseurs. The purity of the concerts has not been compromised over the years. The sabha fielded young musicians, most of them hailing from Andhra Pradesh, so much so that Sarvani became synonymous with that State. But they source talent from Karnataka and Kerala too. Either CDs are sent or candidates come in person seeking an opportunity.
Mention is made of Vijayalakshmi of Kerala, a visually challenged artist, who plays chitraveena with amazing skill. “Her father maintained the talam and she didn’t miss a beat,” marvels Suri. She has been conferred Ganakokilam in that State. Omanakutti’s grandson performed for Sarvani and the veteran came to listen.
Two concerts are scheduled every month. Finding accompanists is more difficult, it is said. Not everybody is willing to support unknown musicians. The sabha is keen on bringing the compositions of Vengamamba into limelight and the first ever concert of her compositions held by the sabha in September last year was a huge success. The second edition is scheduled for December 1. “Vengamamba was a devotee of the Tirumala deity. Widowed young, she was ordained by the Lord to sing his praise. There is a statue of Vengamamba in Tirumala. Her songs should become as popular as those of Annamayya,” says the founder.
Small scale or big, running a sabha is no easy task. How is fund generated? Art patrons such as Nalli donate. Obul Reddy is another munificent donor. “The passion for art has kept this sabha alive all these years. The future will take care of itself,” smiles the founder.
Sarvani Sangeetha Sabha is featuring artists from Andhra Pradesh and a highlight will be the Harikatha in Telugu on Wednesday, December 3 on Narthana Sala by Bhagavatarini V. Vijayakumari from S.V. College of Music and Fine Arts, Tirupati, at PRCC Charities Hall in Lodi Khan Street, behind the Holy Angels Convent, T. Nagar, 6 p.m.
The other highlight is the rendition of Tarigonda Vengamamba’s songs on Sunday, December 1, from 6 p.m. by G. Vishnupriya and Sreya Ramnath. The songs have been tuned by V.L.V. Sudarshan, violinist. Booklets of the compositions in Telugu and English are getting ready for distribution among the listeners.
A Carnatic music ensemble by Hyderabad-based V. Phani Narayana on the veena, Dr. Ramachandramurthy on the flute, R. Srikanth on the mridangam and Saideekshit percussion on December 2, at Raga Sudha Hall (6 p.m.), Mylapore, complete the schedule.