Various aspects of Carnatic music are covered here.
Dr. Radha Bhaskar’s workshops on music appreciation have been well received both here and abroad. This double-CD album takes one on a musical voyage covering aspects of varnams, kritis/kirtanas and other forms of compositions which find place in Carnatic concerts.
The instrumental passage after each segment of Radha's explanations, in Raga Surya (earlier known as Sallapam) is gripping and warrants repeated listening. The introduction provides a sample of the varisais and geethams before moving on to varnam.
Radha lists out meritorious composers of varnams such as Patnam Subramania Iyer, Kothavasal Venkatarama Iyer, Thriuvottriyur Tyagaraja, Veena Kuppa Iyer, Syama Sastri and Swati Tirunal. Pachimiriyam Adaiappaiah cannot be forgotten and his name finds a rightful mention as the composer of the K. Ata Varnam ‘Viriboni.’
The singing pattern
The speaker mentions that varnams are sung at the commencement of kutcheris. She also explains that the pallavi of the varnam leads to the anupallavi, after which the chittaiswaram or Mukthayi swaram is rendered before going back to the pallavi. The charanam is followed by the swara passages and there are normally four such passages following the charanam.
Vocal demonstration of the Adi tala Saveri raga varnam ‘Sarasuda’ and ‘Viriboni’ are rendered. It is interesting to note when Radha mentions the charanam sahityam of ‘Viriboni’- ‘Chiru Navumo’ bears an incomplete meaning which means ‘Of the face with a slight smile.’
Moving on, Radha informs listeners that after the rendition of the varnam, a performer generally presents a composition on Lord Ganesha, a few short kritis some of which may be preceded by raga essays and decorated with niraval and solfa passages. The shorter kritis are followed by major kritis with elaborate raga vinyasa, niraval and kalpanaswaras before proceeding to the ragam, thanam and pallavi suite, where the creative abilities of the performer come to the forefront.
Radha then goes on to explain the difference between a kriti and a kirtana. Kritis generally consist of a pallavi, anu pallavi and charanam or multiple charanams. In the case of the keerthana, the pallavi is followed by charanams which have the same musical setting, which is mostly simple. It is illustrated with the help of Tyagaraja’s Sahana kirtana ‘Sri Rama.’ The speaker rightly says that keerthanas were composed for group singing. Even if one is not aware of the raga or tala of the kirtana, one can easily sing it due to its simple structure.
Earlier renderings of ‘Nadupai’ (Madhyamavathi) by O.S. Thyagarajan and ‘Sadananda’ (Bahudari) by Neyveli Santhanagopalan find a place in the disc to illustrate kritis. Further illustration is provided with ‘Ganamurte’ (Ganamurthi) in the voice of Maharajapuram Santhanam, before which Radha explains that some kritis sport only a samashti charanam, a hallmark of Muthuswami Dikshitar. Two such kritis can be heard - Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer’s rendering of ‘Gajananayutham’ (Vegavahini) and the second vocalised by Radha which is ‘Pamarajanapalini’ (Sumadyuthi).
The topic moves to sangatis. How the variations take place in a musical setting are lucidly explained by Radha, who demonstrates her point with kritis such as ‘Chakkaniraja’ (voice of O.S. Thyagarajan) and ‘Vathapi’ in the silken voice of M.L. Vasanthakumari.
The second disc commences with an explanation on chittaswarams and swara sahityams. Radha explains that in Adi tala, the chittaswaram could be in two or four avartanams; in Rupakam and Chapu talas, they could consist of many more avartanams. The chittaswaram of ‘Anandamrutha’ (Amrithavarshini) and ‘Namami Vighna Vinayaka’ (Hamsadhwani) in Radha’s and Trichur Ramachandran’s voices serve as illustrations.
The speaker takes up the subject of swara-sahitya chittaswarams also. Mention is made that the swara portion is rendered after the anupallavi, and the sahityam after the charanam. This scribe has heard Brinda and Muktha render such swara sahitya chittaswarams, when one of them would sing the swara and the other the sahitya at the same time. This had a mesmerising effect. The vocal demonstration by Radha for swara sahityam is the masterpiece of Tiruvarur Ramaswami Pillai, ‘Jagadeeswari’ in Mohanam.
The swarakshara aspect is discussed next. When a syllable of the lyric falls on a note matching the lyric, it is referred to as swaraksharam. The examples chosen are ‘Samaganalolane’ (Hindolam).
One other aspect in connection with compositions which is dealt with is the ‘Mudra’ or the signature of the composer. Radha says composers may resort to using ‘swanama’ mudra or ‘ithara nama’ mudra. In the case of the former, the composition is signed with the composer’s own name as in the case of Tyagaraja, Syama Sastri, Narayana Tirtha, Purandaradasa and Jayadeva. In the latter, the composition is signed using a different name.
The lecture ends with Radha talking about the various genres of compositions to conclude a concert – padams, javalis, bhajans, abhangs, Tiruppugazh, Thevaram and tillanas. That each Tiruppugazh is set to a different chandam (rythmic pattern) is a useful piece of information.
A great deal of effort has gone into bringing out this educational album, which will most certainly serve as a guide for rasikas to have a better understanding of Carnatic concerts.