Reverie For Commuter Rajan, an article in the Friday Review brought back memories of past concerts and the musical Ramanujas.
Commuter Rajan found Victoria Terminus almost deserted on a squally and rainy evening. Even the Evening News vendor had closed his shop early and Rajan thought he was fortunate to have kept with him a few old copies of The Hindu’s Friday Review to read during his suburban homewards ride.
Comfortably seated in the train, commuter Rajan opened the Friday Review to find an article, ‘Unique Pallavi Darbar’. The three-day event organised by Carnatica in association with Sri Parthasarthy Swami Sabha would make the art of pallavi singing and its inherent challenges familiar to the audience. K.N. Shashikiran, founder trustee of Carnatica had said that a pallavi bank would be launched and would remain as a repository of pallavis. Pallavi exponent J. Venkatraman was to be honoured with the title Pallavi Chakravarthy.
Going back 60 years
Commuter Rajan slid into a mood of reverie that took him to an event 60 years ago at the Music Academy demonstration session in 1952. The performing giant was vidwan Mudicondan Venkatarama Iyer accompanied on the mridangam by veteran Palani Subramania Pillai. But it was the prodigious versatility of the 22-year-old violinist, Lalgudi Jayaraman that caught the imagination and admiration of the astute rasikas, who had gathered to listen to the presentation of the intricate Simhanandana tala. The musician gave an explanation of the four-kala pallavi set to Kambodhi raga and its akshara compositiion. With 18 angas, Simhanandana tala of 32 matras of four aksharas each amounted to 128 aksharas.
The pallavi was so much in demand that Mudicondan Venkatarama Iyer, its sole and authentic exponent, gave a repeat demonstration in 1971 at the Indian Fine Arts Society.
Lalgudi Jayaraman on the violin and Umayalpuram Sivaraman on the mridangam were the illustrious musicians belonging to the lineage of direct disciples of Saint Tyagaraja, who performed the challenging role of accompanying the singer with great distinction. The rare music was made available in a pre-recorded cassette.
Commuter Rajan remembered the history of Simhanandala tala pallavi from what he had read in the mini-biography of Shyama Shastri by Prof. Sambamurthy in ‘Composers of India’ (Publications Division, New Delhi).
Prof. Sambamurthy had said: The historic musical contest between Shyama Shastri and Bobbilli Kesavayya in which the former sang a pallavi in Sarabhanandana tala as a counter to the pallavi in Simhanandana tala sung by Kesavayya, and emerged victorious has been remembered in tradition. Sarabhanandana tala comes to be known for the first time through this pallavi. An avartana of this tala takes 193/4 matras or 79 akshara kalas. The 24 angas figuring in this tala in their order are : guru, laghu, drutam, laghu, laghu drutam, anudrutam, laghu viramam, drutam, drutam, drutam, anuddrutam, laghu drutam, laghudruta viramam, laghuviramam, drutam, anudrutam, drutam, anudrutam, drutam, laghu viramam, drutam, druta viramam, laghu drutam.
With so many angas no wonder the two talas were considered as musical number theories and the performers of pallavis in these rare talas, both vocalists and accompanists, were thought of as musical Ramanujans.
Commuter Rajan recalled a more recent, vintage pallavi concert by vidwan Madurai T. N. Seshagopalan at Hamsadhwani to the accomapaniment of violin maestro, M. Chandrasekhar and the mridangam wizard, Guruvayoor Dorai. After a very elaborate Kiravani and tanam in progressive tempos, Seshagopalan presented a complicated sangerna jathi triputa tala --four kalai pallavi of 104 aksharas -atuppu at 100th akshara (as explained by D.L.Narasimhan of Hamsadhwani
on the cassette cover). It was a high-voltage performance that left the audience breathless.
Still faraway from his destination Bandra, commuter Rajan continued to be in a reminiscent mood thinking of the elegant, classic and romantic pallavi by Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar in the company of the inimitable T. N. Krishnan on the violin and Palghat Mani Iyer on the mridangam. The four-raga pallavi with words of the four-ragas - Sankarabarananai, Azhai Todi Vaadi, Kalyani and Darbarukku - and the lilt in the music assumed the character of a dance -drama. Walking on the lonely road in the stillness of the cool evening, Commuter Rajan was involuntarily humming the four ragas before realising that he was already at the gates of his Zarin Logde.