Tiruvaiyaru recently hosted the fourth Sacred Music Festival, which saw several interesting performances.

The fourth edition of the Sacred Music Festival, organised by Prakriti Foundation, Thillaisthanam Marabu Foundation and the Thanjavur chapter of INTACH, was recently held at Tiruvaiyaru, with several soulful music performances.

Situated at the entrance of Tiruvaiyaru near the Cauvery bridge is the Huzur Mahadi Palace, built by the Marathas. Adding to its elegance and ethnic ambience is the Cauvery, on the banks of which the palace has been built. Despite its dilapidated condition, the structure still looks majestic and speaks volumes of its heyday.

Serene ambience

The first thing that catches the eye as you enter the courtyard is a peepal tree under which the dais has been set up for the concerts. The other end of the courtyard houses a mandapam with intricately sculpted pillars.

The illuminated ‘Kabutar Minar' (Dove Tower) behind the dais adds to the beauty of the ambience.

This year, the festival began with chanting by Tibetan Monks of the Drepung Loseling Monastery. The very presence of the monks was at once serene and spectacular. The invocation of the Forces of Goodness, Nyen-Sen, was the first segment of the chants to enhance the spirit of goodness in the environment. The second was Dak-zin Tsar-chod, a melody meant to release the mind from ego. Sha-nak Gar-cham, an ancient dance, was aimed at eliminating negative energy. The chanting concluded with Incense Offering. The monks' sincere efforts to purify the environment as well as the inner mind, were well received and understood.

The chanting was followed by a Hindustani Rudra Veena recital by Dr. Phillipe Bruguiere.

Frenchman Dr. Phillipe, musician, ethnomusicologist, curator and teacher, had flown in specially from Paris for the performance. A disciple of Ustad Zia Mohuiddin Dagar, he has been the Curator of Extra-European music at the Musee de la Musique, Paris, since 1994. He was accompanied by the London-born drummer John Boswell on the pakhawaj.

The second day saw crowds gather at Pushya Mandapam, which was constructed during the Nayak period by Govinda Dikshitar. The stage was put up on the middle of the steps of the bathing ghat.

Nagaswaram is an instrument meant for the open air. When Mylai S. Mohanraj with the support of E. Perumal and M. Karthikeyan, began playing ‘Mahaganapatim' (Nattai) on his nagaswaram, the entire area reverberated with auspicious notes. His playing was neat. During the later half of the concert, drummer Robert from the Netherlands, joined thavil artists Mangalam M.K. Asan and Tiruvallikkeni T.S. Prabhu.

Impressive voices

This was followed by a performance from Asima, a male choir and percussion ensemble from Kerala, with musician and composer Devissaro as its director. The group took elements from the Vedic chants, Hindustani, Carnatic and Western classical genres, folk and ritualistic music, to create pieces which had a soothing impact. The initial procession started from the dome of the Pushya Mandapam with an invocatory sloka and song followed by bols (rhythmic syllables) and the composition ‘Panchabhootam' (including Vedic chants and Darbari alapana).

This year's festival was marked by the presence of youngsters in large numbers. The third venue was the open corridor leading to the Amman shrine at the Panchanadeeswara (God of Five Rivers or Aiyaru) Temple.

The place and the deities, Panchanadeeswara and Dharmasamvardhini, have been eulogised by saint-poets Appar, Sundarar and Gnanasamgandar.

Sopana Sangeetham is one of the most ancient music forms of Kerala. The vocalists are usually accompanied by the percussion instruments, edakka and chenda. The ragas employed pertain both to the region and to Carnatic music. The rendition is in a slow tempo. Jayadeva's Ashtapadi finds an important place in Sopana Sangeetham repertoire.

At the festival, Ambalappuzha Vijayakumar, a leading Sopana Sangeetham artist, performed with the vocal support of Sreekumar. The atmosphere was charged with bhakti in keeping with the theme of the festival.

The Sudha magic

The concluding programme was a vocal recital by Sudha Ragunathan, who performed to a full house. She was ably assisted by N.C. Madhav (violin), N. Ramakrishnan (mridangam) and Alathur T. Rajaganesh (ganjira).

Sudha began with ‘Vatapi Ganapatim' and followed it with ‘Ilalo,' the Atana raga Tiruvaiyauru kshetra kriti which had crisp alapana and kalpanaswaras. As always, she held the audience spell-bound. Shanmukhapriya was chosen for the main alapana, the kriti being ‘Parvati Nayakane.' The swaraprastharas were remarkable.

As soon as the tani started, the Ardha Jama Puja bell began to chime and its rhythm interfering with the beats of the percussionists. It seemed difficult to maintain the tala. The audience expected Sudha and her team to stop till the bell fell silent. But they played on with Sudha keeping perfect talam. It was remarkable indeed!

After the tukkadas, the kutcheri came to an close but Sudha obliged the crowd who requested an encore and sang ‘Kurai Onrum Illai.'

Victor Paulraj, the technical director of the festival, deserves praise for organising an event that offered an aesthetic experience. The generous use of chrysanthemum (samandi) lit up the surroundings with charming radiance.

Another splendid feature of the festival was the perfect acoustics – with no blaring of horns or imbalance in sound, the music was soulful and kept lingering long after the musicians had left.