Krishna - The artiste's muse

Aruna’s tryst with the blue-eyed boy

A boy breaks the ‘dahi handi’, a popular event acorss the country during Janmashtami celebrations

A boy breaks the ‘dahi handi’, a popular event acorss the country during Janmashtami celebrations   | Photo Credit: Ajit Solanki

Janmashtami is round the corner, and a thrill of anticipation strikes while recalling the festival’s classic ingredients — the compelling aroma of cheedai and sweets, dahi handi (uriyadi), raas-leela enactments, little children dressed up as Krishna, and brightly decorated homes, awaiting the little charmer to secretively walk in, on their portrayal of his lotus feet. For people across the country, the very thought of Krishna stirs up a variety of images to revel in — both from his childhood and adult years.

Memories of Sri Krishna in my life are aplenty — an early one being learning the composition ‘Cheta Sri Balakrishnam’ in Dvijavanthi raga from my guru, Smt. T. Brinda, whose rendition of it was magical. ‘Krishnakarnaamrutham’ is a set of slokas I learnt from her; she often sang ‘Saayankaale vanaanthe kusumita samaye’ in Ragamalika at the end of a concert. Her rendition of the line ‘Sevyam shringara bhavaihee’ in Hamsanandi was so powerful, that apart from imbibing her unique interpretation of Hamsanandi, I can, even today, visualise the scene of Krishna surrounded by the gopis and gopas of Brindavan.

Another fond memory is my role in home-based skits called Anukaranams, which we would enact in front of a small circle of guests. In the famous Dhruvan-Narada story, I got to play Narada’s role, singing ‘Prasaadhaabhimukham,’ a set of six verses from Srimad Bhagavatam, describing for Dhruvan Maha Vishnu’s physical features, ending with ‘Om Namo Bhagavathe Vaasudevaaya’. As a child I also had the golden opportunity of experiencing Bhagavatha Saptaham by Sri Sukha Brahmam, a Bhagavatham exponent who gained this title for his mastery over rendering the Purana. I was assigned the responsibility of running errands for him through the week, which granted me the privilege of being able to sit next to him and listen to his narration of the epic.

Aruna’s tryst with the blue-eyed boy

As I grew up, the history of compositions on Sri Krishna intrigued me no end. Needamangalam Krishnamurthy Bhagavatar, a descendant of Oothukkaadu Venkatasubbayyar, is a key figure in this space. It is said that Krishnamurthy Bhagavatar used to perform regular concerts and would often sing popular compositions such as ‘Thaaye Yashodha’ and ‘Alaipaayudhey Kanna.’ At some point, he was inspired to search for more compositions of his illustrious ancestor. This led him to Oothukkaadu in search of manuscripts of Venkatasubbayar. He found many of his relatives had unique collections of songs from the original manuscripts, of which they had maintained handwritten copies. Bhagavathar collected these padandharams and manuscripts and gave shape to them, resolving from then on to focus on their popularisation in the Kalakshepam format.

Some of these famous compositions include ‘Maragadha Manimaya’ in Aarabhi which is widely used in Kuchipudi performances, and ‘Maninoopuradhaari’ in Neelambari, on Mannargudi Rajagopalaswami. I had the opportunity to perform a Sevai of the ‘Vatapatra Sayee’ Krishna idol (baby Krishna holding his toe in his mouth), in the Mannargudi temple, by singing this song. From then on, it has been an exceptional feeling to render this piece.

Aruna’s tryst with the blue-eyed boy

In the 1990s, I collaborated with French theatre director Dominique Pompoungnac for a theatre production on Krishna, titled ‘Le Bebe Bleu’ (The Blue Baby) – this was the story of Sri Krishna from his birth until he was five years old, in song-dance-speech format. I was accompanied by mridangam vidwan J. Vaidhyanathan, the songs were all in Carnatic style, there were elements of Bharatanatyam by French Dancer Florence (stage name Vasantha), Carnatic flute by French flautist Jean-Paul Auboux (disciple of T.R. Mahalingam) and narration in French by Dominique Pompougnac. Together, we gave 40 such performances across France.

While thinking of Sri Krishna, it would indeed be a lapse to not mention abhangs — a musical form very close to my heart. Abhangs convey devotion to Panduranga Vitthala of Pandharpur, who is none other than Krishna. The first Abhang I learnt was from Sri Mohan Pai, a great Abhang exponent — it opened with the lines ‘Tu Maajhi Maavooli, Mi ho tujha Paanha... Pandurange’, describing Him as a sacred, generous mother cow, and demanding the milk of universal love (bhakti) from Him. ‘Gowlans’ (allied forms of Abhangs) exclusively describe Bala Leelas, — Krishna’s childhood pranks. ‘Vrindavani Venu’ is a charming gowlan, which has the line ‘Gaayi vyaghra ek thayi zaali’, referring to a tiger and a cow sitting next to each other without any intention to hurt or escape, lost in Sri Krishna’s Venu Ganam.

Reflecting on this line also reveals a larger philosophy — that in the presence of Sri Krishna, everybody is one. Hatred, dislike and spite are all but absent when devotion is foremost, causing differences to melt away like vapour, and putting spirituality at the centre of a peaceful, content life.

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2020 8:34:56 AM |

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