Parveen Sultana effortlessly peaking the higher octave, was Dr. Saraswathy Vidyardhi’s inspiration. But she chose to explore the lower notes
Dr. K. Saraswati Vidyardhi is one of the rare vocalists in India –– if not the only one –– who can sing Anumandhrasthaayi in its entirety. Among those who have expressed amazement and admiration at this achievement are stalwarts like Pandit Jasraj, N. Ramanathan, S.A.K. Durga, Sripada Pinkapani, etc.
A student of Sangeetha Kalanidhi Nedunuri Krishnamurthy, the soft-spoken and modest Saraswati received initial lessons from her father I.V.L. Sastry; voice-culture training under Prof V.B. Gadre; and is currently Associate Professor of Music, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam.
She has performed at prestigious platforms including Madras Music Academy, Doordarshan and AIR; won several gold medals and other prizes; and authored several research papers and two books namely, “The Unique Style and Personality of Sripada Pinakapani” and to-be-published “Thaana Deepika”, one of the rare books dedicated to thaanam.
Endowed with a mellifluous voice, Saraswati has several records to her credit including “Varnaamrutham” featuring Pinakapani’s varnams with vocal accompaniment by her child-prodigy daughter Lahari, and “Karnaamrutham” containing rare hymns. A remarkable composition of hers is Raaga Thaala Mudra Pallavi in Simhanandana thaalam –– the longest of ancient music’s 108-thaalams. At a UGC workshop she even taught students to sing the same. But how did the idea of rendering anumandhrasthaayi, the octave below mandhra/lower, come to her? After all, even mandhrasthaayi in entirety is challenging for vocalists, especially females. As for Anumandhra, even stalwarts, at most touch a note or two, and very rarely at that.
Saraswati replies: “Years ago when I heard Parveen Sultana, I was inspired, and practised the three octaves to perfection. But once that was accomplished, I thought, what next? Then was born this desire to conquer anumandhra octave.”
However, that was easier aspired for than done, as Saraswati realised. As the first step, in 1994, she commenced rigorous mandhra saadhana (Kharaj). “Anyway, this is recommended by all gurus for stretching vocal chords and muscles,” she adds. Next, she progressed to anumandhra octave beginning with nishadham (ni), then proceeding to dha and pa, and further.
After a few months, she was assailed by fits of coughing and swelling of vocal chords. Her doctor reprimanded her for her “risky experiments” and advised complete voice-rest. Saraswati took a one-month mauna vrat and feeling better after that, resumed anumandhra sadhana beginning with five-minute durations and gradually progressing to longer periods. Finally, in 1998, at Vijayawada, she sang anumandhrasthaayi in its entirety in Shankarabharanam.
Along the way, Saraswati made some interesting discoveries about this octave. First, anumandhrasthaayi singing doesn’t suit all ragas. Only certain major, melakartha ragas are amenable like Shankarabharanam, Kalyani, Vachaspathi, Shubhapanthuvarali, Kharaharapriya, and janya ragas like Mohana, Hindola, Hamsawdhwani, Amruthavarshini. Also, it’s easier in an audava (pentatonic/five-note) raga because there are lesser notes to handle and the space between notes is larger. Moreover, ragas with pa ni sa prayogas, and also those ending in ga sa especially when the ga is anthara gandharam are more amenable. Thus, for instance a raga like Thodi with an intervening Ri which also requires a gamaka at Ri, would be tough.
Can gamakas at all be rendered in this exercise? “Yes, but only to a limited extent since we are already greatly straining the vocal chords. Janta prayogas and spurithams are possible though difficult.”
Finally, how long does she hold this Anumandhrasthaayi, I ask. “In a concert it can be sung only for a brief duration, maybe a minute or so. It comes and goes in a flash –
sometimes even before the listeners understand what hit them,” she laughs. “Moreover, it should be short since it’s no doubt meant to dazzle listeners but it’s an embellishment and one should never overdo any embellishment. Finally, it should be performed without any compromise on the aesthetics of the raga or composition.”