It was musicologist Prof. P Sambamoorthy, who unearthed a delectable musical treasure among the rarely touched palm leaves, which remained relegated to the dusty corners of the Thanjavur Saraswati Mahal Library. That was how ‘Gowri Sankara Pallaki Seva Prabhandhamu,’ a Telugu opera composed by the Maratha king, Sahaji Maharajah of Thanjavur came to light.

Drawn to its musical elegance and literary merit, R. Vedavalli felt that it needed to be documented, both to preserve the music and the literature, as well as to make it accessible to everyone. The sixth edition of Prakriti’s ‘Poetry with Prakriti Festival’ commenced with the musical presentation of the Prabhandamu. In the rendering of the Prabhandhamu by Vedavalli’s disciples, one could feel her formidable musical intellect.

The plot is set in Tiruvarur. The Prabhandamu describes the pangs of separation and subsequent union of Lord Siva as Thyagesa and Parvati, after her sakhis succeed in conveying her message to Him at His royal court. And, He arrives in a majestic Pallaki (palanquin).

The one-hour rendition by R. Vedavalli’s disciples, ably led by Sumithra Vasudev – both individually and in groups - has, 23 songs including Viruttams. In the strict sense, it cannot be included in the category of opera, since there is no dialogue or drama in it. It is a straight musical rendition, pleasing and educative.

It commences with a splendid Sankarabharanam piece, ‘Koluvaiyunnade’ that describes the arrival of Parvati’s sakhis at the court of Kailasanaatha, who is seated in all his regal splendour. Who will they choose as a messenger?

Ganga is a turbulent torrent that lacks finesse. The deer is too timid, while Nagaraja is venomous and fork-tongued. The witless moon is reckless. The sakhis finally muster their courage to approach Parameswara themselves. The Prabhandamu has several such mythical twists and turns.

‘Telupavayya’ (in Adi Tala), in Saveri and ‘Kamalayataakshiro’ (Bhairavi) are among the few that could be categorised as kritis.

The rendition was confident and impressive. It had been so well rehearsed that there was no pause between two pieces. The artists were quick in the transition of ragas and talas. They had total control of sruti, laya and ragas. They were perfect in Telugu intonation pronunciation. They could effortlessly bring out the nuances, the alliteration, the rhyme and meter of the magnificent poetic work.

R. Ramani (veena), Swaroop Mamidipudi (flute), R.K. Sriramkumar (violin), K. Arun Prakash (mridangam), N. Guruprasad (ghatam) and Anirudh Athreya (ganjira) gave effective support to the rendering. The veena could have been a bit more audible!

However, to the ears accustomed to classical concerts, it was difficult to be pleased either with repetitive ragas (Sankarabharanam, Sourashtra, Punnagavarali to name a few) or with a Sankarabharanam piece following a Bilahari viruttam. We do not know why the Sahaji Maharajah deployed these ragas. He must have had his own reasons. All the same, we were transported back in time when perhaps this was the order of the day! The imposing setting at ‘Spaces’ in Besant Nagar too reminded one of the ancient temple precincts!

Earlier, the Prabhandhamu book and CD were launched by N. Murali, president, Music Academy, and Dr. Pappu Venugopala Rao. The first copies were received by V.P. Dhananjayan and Dr. Nanditha Krishna. With their release, we may hope that at least a few of the Sahaji Maharajah’s compositions would find their rightful place in our concerts.

(ramakrishnan.h@gmail.com)