MUSICSCAN: In two of her concerts in the past couple of weeks, Aruna Sairam cast a spell on the listeners.
Like a cluster of comets they're all suddenly visible together on the Chennai sky in the winter months, having gone away somewhere on their respective orbits in space during the rest of the year. We are, of course, talking about the most popular vidwans and vidushis of Carnatic music. Some of us get to see many of them in a particular Sabha where we happen to be regular members or have anchored ourselves with season tickets. But some of us rush here and there to buy expensive and usually hard-to-get daily tickets to attend several concerts of the same set of our favourite musicians.
One of the most popular singers who invariably performs in a full or overflowing house even in the largest concert halls in the city is vocalist Aruna Sairam. And wherever she sings, she usually casts a spell on the listeners midway through the recital. The point where the rasikas collectively feel transfixed in a mesmerised state of mind differs from concert to concert, depending on the given ambience and audience; but it doesn't normally fail to materialise.
In Aruna's concert in the Maargazhi Maha Utsavam organised by Jaya TV at Kumararaja Muthiah Hall in South Chennai, the crucial stage was reached when she began singing ‘Jaago Tumi Jaago!' following a soulful rendering of Papanasam Sivan's Tamil kriti ‘Unnai Allaal Vere Gadi' in Kalyani. ‘Jaago Tumi Jaago', the beautiful Bengali song, is rendered before dawn every day in the Kaalighat temple in Kolkata, calling on the Goddess Kaali to awaken. It is quite unfamiliar in Carnatic music circles today; but is no longer likely to remain so, because Aruna has just created yet another favourite number for which her admirers are bound to clamour again and again.
Of course, prominent among the rasikas' favourite songs in Aruna's repertoire are the Marathi devotional songs known as ‘abhangs.' Usually these are sung in praise of Lord Vittala, but there are also worshipful abhangs on Lakshmi; and Aruna sang one of these, composed by Samartha Ramdas, adding to it part of a traditional Marathi folk chant on Kolhapuri Lakshmi. This accorded well with the theme of the whole concert, which was exclusively devoted to the Supreme Goddess.
A few days later Aruna sang a resounding Vittala song towards the conclusion of her performance at the Krishna Gana Sabha. In that hallowed venue of Carnatic music, the magic moment of mesmerism had arrived during a monumental rendering of Tyagaraja's kriti ‘Kaddanuvaariki' in Thodi. So intense was the singer's involvement in the effort that the swara improvisation progressively became a stormy crescendo which made the audience breathless, and not the singer!
Superb and dynamic accompaniment was provided on these two occasions by violinist H.N. Bhaskar and percussionists J. Vaidhyanathan, S. Kartick and S.V. Ramani; and Aruna Sairam certainly owes them a vote of thanks for enabling her to shine so brightly.