Concert The Hindu Friday Review November Fest was off to a sonorous start with Aruna Sairam's abhangs

S he deserved every bit of the standing ovation for her expansive repertoire of abhangs that she darted across the stage to her audience who turned into her admirers, all in a matter of two hours! That was Aruna Sairam's pulsating presentation.

The Hindu Friday Review November Fest took off to an aesthetic start with the Marathi devotionals which are Aruna's forte. An array of accompanists — five percussionists with a violin and harmonium — set the stage afire along with the musician who put her unique stamp on the Hyderabadi concert scenario. Interspersing her powerful recital with a brief on the history of abhang, its etymology and the varied number of composers of Maharashtra, she chose a piece from each of the range of saint-singers who were called varkaris (saints of the bhakti sampradaay). Her prelude to each composition was welcome as it was educative, giving us a glimpse into those times and thereby better appreciation. She further spiced the songs with lively gesticulations and expression in keeping with the abhang tradition.

Whether it be Sant Eknath's abhang or Tukaraam's Rajasa sukumar, Sawale sundara roope or Samarth Ramdas' Amba Saraswati in vilambit culminating in the gondhal in druth, or even better Janabai's soulful dalitha konditha tuza gaayina anantha or still better Bhakta jana vatsale vittale, a feminine impersonation of Lord Vittala of Pandharpur as envisaged by Namdev — the abhangs displayed a pattern. They are rhythm-based, start either on a low key or medium tones, but invariably end in a tempo more or less akin to typical group bhajan rendition. The tempo is to churn ecstasy.

Aruna Sairam did wind up all her pieces in a spiral but never too ecstatic keeping in mind the staged show parameters. While she mastered the Marathi idiom, intonation, diction, et al, the same cannot be said of her Meera bhajan and the Bengali ‘suprabhat' for Kali. Meera's composition Koyi kahe sasta, koyi kahe mehenga in Rajasthani maand fell short of the spirit of Meera which history portrays as deeply emotional rather than excitable despite being classified in the bhajan category.

Raghavendra Rao proved to be a dexterous violinist as was Niranjan Lele on the harmonium. Percussionists S. Karthik on the ghatam, J.Vaidyanathan on the mridangam, Shejwal on Pakhawaj, Sai Bankar on tabla and Pratap Rath on additional percussion complemented one another without being unduly loud.

The Thodai mangalam was a thoughtful gesture to generate interest and involve a south Indian audience in the Marathi devotionals.

The recital beginning with Ganapathi and almost wrapping up with the same deity (the visarjan song with the Ganapati bappa moriya refrain made for a wholesome fare. The aarti and Haripaat made for a perfect finale.