Chitra Swaminathan talks to four well-known Carnatic musicians on the tunes of the celebration.
Such festivals are a precious link to our cultural past. Music that’s an integral aspect of Navaratri is not just about celebration, it helps people stay connected with lyrically and emotionally rich compositions whose appeal cuts across time and generations. For musicians it’s an opportunity to revisit timeless pieces on the goddess by legendary composers such as Muthiah Bhagvathar’s Daru varnam ‘Mathe’ and Muthuswami Dikshitar’s ‘Kamalamba Navavarnam’ that usually do not feature in the concert repertoire. There is no dearth of compositions on the goddess with even modern poets contributing immensely. Besides, when you come across motivating verses, it is exciting to set them to tune and share them with listeners.
For me Navaratri is evocative of my musical legacy; of the time spent with my grandmother D.K. Pattamal and of learning new songs to sing during our visits to the homes of relatives and friends for kolu. There is so much meaning in the tradition of encouraging children to sing during the occasion as it is a way to identify talent and help them face an audience fearlessly. What good music means to people and what the blessings of a loving guru mean to disciples, I have seen in the huge number of music lovers and sishyas thronging my grandmother’s house during Vijayadasami. I look forward to performing on radio, television and stage, especially during Navaratri, as I can convey the bliss I experience through the sacred works such as Muthuswami Dikshitar’s ‘Abhayamba Navavarnam’ and ‘Amba Neelayadakshi’ and many more on the goddess.
Sometimes you wonder how is it that the emotional outpourings of the celebrated composers in their verses becomes your own when you are performing them, even taking on the style and expression you lend to them. I attribute the success of my album ‘Devi’, a collaboration of violin (myself) and piano (Anil Srinivasan) to the timeless appeal of our musical heritage. In my concerts consciously or unknowingly I do include a piece on Shakti as it generates positive vibrations, conveys beautifully life’s philosophy and infuses energy into the performance. My favourite compositions are ‘Meenakshi memudam’ and Dandpani Desikar’s ‘Arulavendum thaye’ among many others. Of course, there is the Lalgudi Pancharatna kritis, a legacy I would always uphold with pride.
Being a veena artiste, what better way to celebrate the Navaratri than by performing concerts on all nine days. They are usually held across cities and in different temples and ashrams. I begin my Navaratri cutcheris by focusing on compositions on Durga, then move on to Lakshmi and finally end with pieces in praise of Saraswati. The strings of the veena not just hold the melody of the swaras, they bind you to life and its many truths. Besides, the Navavarnams and many other compositions on Ambal, I enjoy playing the Ragamalika by stringing together ragas that bear different names of the goddess such as Ranjani, Lalitha, Saraswathi and more.