Prince Rama Varma's recital was a tonic for tired minds.
If Indian history had lagged behind by a 100 years, he might now be the ruler of Travancore and probably a marginal amateur vocalist in Carnatic music - his ancestry can be traced back to Maharaja Swati Tirunal, one of our greatest classical composers, - rather than being an active Carnatic musician. His name is Prince Rama Varma. And like the sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan, he has a regal bearing on the concert platform.
Rama Varma's neatly-packaged recital of select Devi kritis at Narada Gana Sabha's mini-hall - organised by Charsur Arts Foundation, presumably with the production of a compact disc in mind, - was a wonderful tonic to one's tired nerves. In the first hour of the concert, a few classical compositions were featured without any frills: ‘Jayalakshmi' ( Kamavardhani) attributed to Annamacharya; Dikshitar's ‘Annapoorne Visaalaakshi' (Sama); Subbaraya Sastri's ‘Jananee Ninnuvina' (Reetigowlai); and Tyagaraja's ‘Nannu Kaana Talli' (Kesari, otherwise known as Sindhu Kannada).
The highlight of the second half (as indeed of the whole concert) was the song ‘Omkaara Aakarini' composed by the living legend Balamuralikrishna, in Lavangi (also said to be composed by him).
Although this lovely melody contains only four notes (sa-ri-ga-ma), it was extremely elastic in the hands of Rama Varma. The lyric took only five minutes to be sung, but it was preceded by an intriguing quarter-hour of brilliant raga alapana, and were followed by a colourful sequence of swara improvisation which lasted more than ten minutes.
The accompanists too vied with one another to excel: S. Varadarajan's violin almost sounded like the sarangi during some delicate stretches of Lavangi, Patri Satish Kumar's mridangam and Dr. S. Kartick's ghatam had a resonant tone which greatly enhanced the quality of the music.
Prince Rama Varma, who had originally been inspired by the meditative music of the marble-voiced vocalist M.D. Ramanathan and has eventually become a disciple of the multi-faceted maestro Balamuralikrishna, rendered the Lavangi raga and song with the perfect serenity of MDR and the stylish flourishes characteristic of Balamurali. (Come to think of it, in the meditative phases of Balamurali's music, his own approach does have a certain resemblance to MDR's).
The ultimate test of Rama Varma's true merit would be how effectively he can blend the formidable styles of these twin sources of his inspiration. And one must say he did pass the test on this occasion! It was nice to see that Balamuralikrishna himself was present in the concert hall, no doubt feeling immensely proud of his earnest disciple, who was reflecting a mirror image of himself so far as the Lavangi number was concerned. Also visible in the audience was vocal maestro T. V. Sankaranarayanan, whose presence must have been very precious to the singer.
Talking about Prince Rama Varma's sources of strength, it's impossible not to remember that his successful emergence as a performing artist - transcending the boundaries of his royal family's conventional restrictions - has been mainly due to the generous endorsement of his credentials and the effective encouragement provided initially by the venerable vidwan, T.V. Gopalakrishnan. For it was TVG who identified Rama Varma long ago as possessing a fine combination of excellent scholarship, rich voice and sound traditional values, and set very high standards for the young man by personally accompanying him on the mridangam on many occasions.