The compositions of Neelakanta Sivan and the variety of varnams came under the spotlight.
Dr. Lakshmi Podhuval brought to light little known and unknown compositions of Neelakanta Sivan, one of the 19th century composers. Born in 1839 and christened Subramaniam, the composer was a detached child even at the very young age. He was devoted to almost the entire pantheon of the Indian gods and goddesses, and ‘Neelakanta Dasakam’ and ‘Umayal Dasakam’ were penned by him at that time itself. He rechristened himself Neelakanta Dasan and used the insignia ‘Neelakanta’ in his compositions.
The backgrounder about Sivan given by Dr. Lakshmi enlisted the above information at the start. She sang ‘Sivanai Ninai Manamae’ in Hamir Kalyani and mentioned that the composer wrote mostly in Tamil.
Neelakanta Sivan is credited with penning 90 kritis on Siva, 21 on Devi, 50 on Muruga and eight on Vinayaka, Dr. Lakshmi said. He seemed to have written operas too such as ‘Meenakshi Amman Kalyana Charithiram.’ Sivan had the penchant to include jathis in some of his kritis such as ‘Ananda Nadamaduvar’ in Purvikalyani; in an item in Thodi, the entire charanam carried jathis.
He used simple words to express his devotion but in an intense manner. In this context, Lakshmi referred to ‘Endraikku Siva Krupai’ in Mukhari, ‘Sambho Mahadeva’ in Bowli and ‘Siva Namamae’ in Bhairavi, and sang the first one. She also presented ‘Theruvatheppo Nenje’ where he has enumerated the qualities required to realise God, in the charanam. In his kriti ‘Va Va Kalaimathe’ in Ramapriya, the composer listed the essentials of a good composition. Neelakanta Sivan enjoys the unique distinction (like Gopalakrishna Bharati) of writing a song in praise of both Siva and Vishnu in the same kriti.
Lakshmi mentioned Sivan’s special fondness for Lord Muruga and sang the melodious ‘Oararu Muganae’ in Ritigowla. These apart, Sivan had composed many panchakams, shaktham, ashtakams and dasakams.
It is a fact that while talking on such topics, the speaker invariably has a lot to share but the time constraints and at times, their inclination to complete kriti presentation, take the time. One wished that these scholars could just demonstrate the highpoints of a composition instead of singing the song fully. This way they can enlighten the listener with more information.
Dr Podhuval was assisted by Sivakama Sundari on the violin and young Srivatsa on the mridangam.
It is a known fact that varnams are not just harbingers of an interesting concert, but also present the beauty, magnificence and speciality of a raga almost in a capsule. Practising varnams helps the student understand the raga in all its shades; it also guides him/her on the various facets of a concert, and the best ways of make kalpanasswara matrices, etc. In her introduction, Dr. Prameela Gurumurthy outlined these points in her lecture demonstration on ‘Varnams in Pratimadhyama Ragas.’
“Learning and practising varnams are the best way to understand a raga,” emphasised Prameela. Most of our classical music legends have composed varnams to exhibit their mastery over the raga range. Based on her research, Prameela said there are about 54 pratimadhyama raga varnams by various composers. Of them, 33 are in Adi Tala, eight in Ata Tala, six in various other talas and six pada varnams.
She opted to present samples of some not fully exploited varnams. The Latangi varnam, ‘Sri Kumara’ credited to an unknown composer, was the first item. ‘Pankajakshi’ in Purvi Kalyani (Attingal Sankaranarayana Bhagavatar) was the next followed by Veenai Bhairavayya’s piece in Simhendramadyamam (‘Pada Pankaja’). Sung by Mala Mohan, it had many finely formed swara matrices. Glimpses of a varnam in Amruthavarshini by Veenai Varadayya were markers of his talents. Mysore Vasudevachar’s Mandari varnam came through in the voice of Jayashankar. ‘Sami Ninne’ , the chauka kala pada varnam by Thanjavur Quartet Vadivelu in Kalyani with several swarkshara points, showcased the composer’s extraordinary knowledge of music and dance. This and the next in Shanmukhapriya by Dr. Balamuralikrishna were meticulously sung by Swamimali Suresh.
G.N. Balasubramaniam’s Ranjani varnam, ‘Amboruha,’ by Prameela, and Cuddalore Subramaniam’s Vijayanagari varnam ‘Neethu Charanamule’ by Vijayalakshmi, reiterated the scholarship of the composers. The Poorvangam of the Varali varnam by Ramanathapuram Srinivasa Iyengar in Chatusra Ada Talam was also demonstrated. It was mentioned that the ethukadai swaras in this piece were linked with jathis also. The concluding number ‘Vanajaksha’ in Behag by Professor T.R. Subramaniam was sung in a chorus by all.
The lec-dem brought to light the fact that there is a wealth of fascinating varnams to be explored and sung at concerts; but most artists prefer well-known numbers.
Unexpectedly, the hall started filling up quickly half an hour after the programme began and towards the end, it was almost overflowing; well, the reason was simple… the programme to follow was Vishaka Hari’s sangeetha upanyasam. Nice!