There were plenty of ‘wow’ moments in the concerts of Geetha Bennett, Sankar Ramani and Saralaya Sisters.
At the outset, my salutations to those sabhas that have provided prime slots for Veena, at a time Veena concerts are on the decline. Geetha Bennett was at her musical best in the evening concert. She is a worthy daughter of a worthy father – Dr. S. Ramanathan. I have had occasions to watch Dr. Ramanathan playing on the veena, the queen of musical instruments and throughout her concert, his inspiration was inevitably there.
Geetha’s outstanding ability in all its inspiring grandeur was prominent from the Thiruppavai to the Thiruppugazh. The first phrase in her Nattakurinji alapana elicited the essence of the beautiful raga. Her traditional moorings were seen right through the alapana. In Swati Tirunal’s ‘Mamava Sada’, the niraval and swarams were at the anupallavi, ‘Samalagiri’.
Geetha elucidated the main raga, Kalyani, with sureness of touch and escalating spontaneity. In the sparkling ragamalika Tanam in Kalyani, Kannada, Hamsanandi and Ahiri, plentiful curves and phrases glided from the lower to the higher octaves with absolute resonance. In ‘Ethavunara’ of Tyagaraja, she rendered the pallavi in a variety of sangatis. Swarams were at the pallavi itself and the concluding lovely korvai was in consonance with the kriti.
The thani by Chidambaram S. Balashankar (mridangam) and Adambakkam Shankar (ghatam) emphasised the vast scope of rhythm in creativity. Balashankar’s rhythmic sway is encased in pure aesthetics. The tisra nadai that he elaborated in several avarthams was a thrilling tala discourse. While accompanying too, he showed his instinct for anticipation. For instance, in the anupallavi of Papanasam Sivan’s ‘Karpagame’ (Madhyamavati) that Geetha Bennett played, Balashankar’s dexterity produced magical effects.
After the Thiruppavai (‘Maale Mani Vanna’), Geetha Bennett rendered Dikshitar’s ‘Kanchadalayadhakshi’ in Kamalamanohari, with swarams at the charanam, ‘Raka Sasivadane’. True to the tradition that she has imbibed, she sang two songs, her voice charmingly merging with the veena. One was Gopalakrishna Bharathi’s ‘Sethi Solla Vandhom’ (from Nandanar) in a lovely Dwijavanti and the other, Dr. S.Ramanathan’s Sivaranjani composition, ‘Va Velava’. Lalgudi’s Sindhubhairavi Thillana was a neat presentation.
The veteran critic SVK has recorded an incident as narrated by vidwan T.K. Murthy, “I lived opposite Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar’s house in Mylapore. For nearly a month, I heard Ariyakkudi sing the Varali kriti, ‘Seshachala Nayakam.’ One day, I boldly asked him why he had not sung that song in any of his cutcheries. He replied, “The sangatis and the song have not become part and parcel of me.” You know, he released the song after a year of incubation.”
I was wondering how much of practice would have gone into Sankar Ramani’s seemingly effortless rendering of a pallavi set to tisra jathi triputa, with the pallavi at atheetham! The Valaji alapana, tanam, the trikala niraval and the swaraprasthara were not only aesthetic, but also revealed his technical virtuosity. The sprinkling of brigas at the tanam was appropriate.
On the violin, R. Raghul, a gifted artist, produced a sensitive Valaji. On the mridangam, B. Ganapathiraman displayed enormous skill of anticipation in the pallavi and, during a mini thani, he played a beautiful mohra and korvai.
The main raga was Kalyani and Sankar Ramani’s elucidation was expansive and artistic. Raghul elicited the vital aspects of the raga. In ‘Kamalambam Bhajare’ of Dikshitar, the high speed niraval and the variety of kuraippus in the kalpanaswaras, were interesting. The thani by Ganapathiraman was splendid.
Earlier, Sankar Ramani commenced his concert with the Ata Tala Kanada varnam ‘Neranammithi,’ followed by Tyagaraja’s Saraswathimanohari piece, ‘Enta Vedukondu’ (popularised by V.V. Sadagopan). The Hindolam krithi ‘Samaganalolane’ of Papanasam Sivan was by the book. Sankar Ramani concluded his fascinating concert with M.D. Ramanathan’s beautiful Bagesri composition, ‘Sagarasayana Vibho’, with his mudra, ‘Varada Dasa.’
In our system of music, ragamalika is a delightful form of composition. Of Dikshitar’s four ragamalikas in vogue, the grand Chathurdasa Bhuvana Rupa ragamalika, ‘Sri Viswanatham’ with 14 ragas symbolising the 14 worlds, is easily the most majestic. It has two parts – Sri, Arabhi, Gowri, Nattai, Gowlai and Mohanam in the first part and Sama, Lalitha, Bhairavam, Saranga, Sankarabharanam, Khambodi, Devakriya and Bhoopalam in the second part. After each part, the ragas go back in half avarthanam, back to the pallavi. The credit for introducing and popularising this composition goes to MLV.
Saralaya Sisters rendered this magnificently, although in a slightly different patanthara. The main raga of the lovely morning concert was Poorvikalyani (Gamakakriya in the Dikshitar school). Triveni commenced the alapana and Kavitha continued it. That they learnt the nuances of ragas from the great flautist S.P. Natarajan was evident in their rendition. On the violin was G. Bharathi, daughter and disciple of the violin maestro M. Chandrasekaran, who was present in the auditorium. His outstanding style was unmistakably evident in her technique throughout. She played like a maestro, enriching the concert. She certainly has a bright future.
Dikshitar’s ‘Ekambranatham’ was the chosen kriti and the sisters rendered it with dignity and emotion. Well-rendered niraval and swaras were at ‘Panchakshara Mantra’.
H.S. Sudhindra (mridangam) and H. Sivaramakrishnan (ghatam) provided a well-chiseled thani. The concluding korvai was indeed a beautiful piece of true art. Sudhindra was an asset to the vocalists, for his style was marked by subdued richness. Contrary to the usual practice, Sudhindra requested the audio engineer to reduce the volume for his mridangam!
The sisters commenced with Papanasam Sivan’s ‘Gajavadana Karuna Sadana’ in Sriranjini. Swaras were at pallavi. Triveni’s Saveri alapana was splendid indeed. Bharathi’s response was equally fabulous. In Tyagaraja’s ‘Kannathalli Neevu’ on Goddess Tripurasundari, niraval and swarams were at ‘Kanakabhushanamula’. If Kavitha’s Lathangi alapana was graceful, Bharathi’s elucidation was inspired and imaginative. Papanasam Sivan’s ‘Venkataramana’ (Rupakam) had swaras at ‘Alarmelmangai’.
The sisters captured the essence of Kuntalavarali in Swati Tirunal’s ‘Bhogindrasayinam.’ Sudhindra’s suggestive beats leading to the charanam were ingenious. The sisters concluded their recital with ‘Jagadoddharana’ and a Tiruppugazh.