When a Carnatic concert series is themed on colours, what you experience is a kaleidoscope of ragas and kritis. MadRasana’s Tinge festival, streamed between October 27 and 31, featured the works of an array of composers — from the Sangam era to the Trinity to Bharati. The theme was conceptualised by MadRasana’s Mahesh Venkateswaran along with architect, lyricist and storyteller Vinay Varanasi. The five pallavis based on five colours and presented by five artistes were written by Vinay.
The series began with the colour red and the compositions chosen brought out the various aspects of the colour and the emotions associated with it. The artiste was S. Adithyanarayanan, who was accompanied by Vittal Rangan on the violin and Akshay Ram on the mridangam. The Srividya upasana speaks of the primordial guru with three feet in hues of red — raktha shukla misra — red, white and a mix of both. Dikshitar’s ‘Sri Guruguhamurte’ in Udayaravichandrika perfectly fitted this concept with the raga’s name also representing the colour of the rising sun and the moon. The dhyana shloka from Subramanya Kavacham that preceded it begins with ‘Sindhuraruna kantim’ and merged well with the kriti.
Then came the composition ‘Japakusuma’ (red flower) written by Vinay and tuned by Adithyanarayanan in Kalyani. The kriti speaks of goddess Kamakshi offering the flower to Shiva, who performs the cosmic dance during twilight wearing a garland of japakusuma that emanates a vibrant red hue. .
While red is conventionally seen as the colour of power, the pallavi highlighted its unique trait — compassion. Drawing reference from Adi Shankara’s Soundaryalahari , Vinay’s pallavi, ‘Karunarasamahitaam’ set to misra triputa tala with a gopuccha yati woven into it, was skilfully tuned in raga Sahana by Adithyanarayanan’s guru T.M. Krishna. The leisurely tempo gave a gentle feel to the phrases.
Subramanya Bharati’s ‘Nenjukku needhiyum’ in Sindhubhairavi representing Shakti gave way to a virutham with lines from the poem ‘ Yaayum ngyaayum’ belonging to the Kurunthogai of Sangam literature. It compares hearts overcome with love to red soil mingling with rain. The Ramayana chindu in ragamalika, set as a conversation between a fortuneteller and Sita before she met Rama, sustained the feel of the virutham.
In perfect sync
Anahita and Apoorva dealt with yellow, with B. Ananthakrishnan on the violin and N.C. Bharadwaj on the mridangam. A colour associated with gold and sandalwood, the two main compositions were Muthuswami Dikshitar’s ‘Hiranmayim Lakshmim’ in Lalitha and Syama Sastri’s ‘Kanakasaila viharini’ in Punnagavarali — appended to a shloka beginning with ‘Kalaleela Shala’ from the Stuthi Shathakam of Mooka Panchashathi that also has a reference to goddess Kamakshi residing in ‘Kanakagiri.’ Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar’s ‘Haridra kumkuma priye’ in Surutti extols the goddess as the one fond of the auspicious turmeric and kumkum. The niraval and swarakalpana at the charanam lines ‘Mani mantranidhi’ lent radiance.
Though yellow usually refers to goddesses, the pallavi focussed on the turmeric ablution for the Venkateswara deity in Tirumala on Fridays. The lyrics ‘Kanti prabhe Govinda vaksha vihaare, haridra snana priye’ was set in two ragas, Suryakantham and Surya. The duo rendered it in the challenging misra jati matya tala in tisra nadai without the calculations overshadowing the beauty of the lyrics. The smooth interchanging of the ragas and the ragamalika section with Hemavathi and Kanakangi, again complimented the pallavi’s verses.
Oothukkadu Venkatakavi’s composition in Malavi, ‘Vallare samane’ (Krishna glowing in pitambaram) with madhyamakala phrases in pallavi, anupallavi and charanam; and Jayadeva's ‘Chandana charchita’ in Madhuvanti too lent themselves to the theme well .
Next, Aditya Madhavan focussed on blue. With M. Vijay on the violin and Akshay Ananta Padmanabhan on the mridangam, Aditya presented Muthu Thandavar’s composition ‘Ambara Chidambara’ in Janaranjani with chittaswaram and kalpanaswaras. Muthuswami Diskhitar’s ‘Neelotpalambikaya’ in Kannadagowla, reminding one of the blue water lily, was rendered in a slow tempo.
The choice of Tyagaraja’s compositions on Rama that have the phrase ‘Ghana neela’, deep blue, and the knowledge associated with it, reflected the thought processes that have gone into the selection of the kritis. A majestic Atana raga alapana, for ‘Ela ni dayaradu’ and the Utsava sampradaya keerthana ‘Poola paanpu’ in Ahiri that has the words ‘neela ghana Shyama hare’ in one of its lines, suited the concept well.
Raga Nilambari, a natural choice for blue, brought in Annamacharya’s ‘Tholiyanu marraku’, which describes baby Krishna on the banyan leaf floating in blue water. A short verse in Marathi, ‘Mana Rama Rangle’, that tells the mind to take the colour of Rama, was in raga Yamuna Kalyani. The pallavi was inspired by the story of Shiva, who takes the form of a gopi to partake in Krishna’s rasleela (‘Krishna hrudaya vaasi Neelakantha ma swami gopi rupa dalachi’). Ragas Kaanada and Shyam Kalyan were chosen to represent Krishna and Shiva. To make the pallavi colourful, Aditya added ragas Manirangu and Saranga that have ‘rang’ (meaning colour in Hindi) in their names.
Spoorthi Rao’s concert with Sayee Rakshith on the violin and Sai Giridhar on the mridangam was themed on green. Dikshitar’s Kamboji raga kriti ‘Maragadhavallim manasaasmarami’, with a reference to emeralds and green creepers in the very first phrase with an alapana and kalpanaswaras gave a vibrant start to the concert. Bhadrachala Ramadas’s ‘Ennaganu Rama bhajana,’ where the poet talks about how he taught a parakeet to recite Rama nama, came next. The niraval and kalpanaswaras at ‘Rama chiluka’ was a thoughtful move.
The raga for the pallavi section, Vasantha, brought alive the imagery of spring. The Kannada lyrics, ‘Vanada sundari, O priya giliye’ addressed the parrot in goddess Meenakshi’s hand. The pallavi was set to tune by one of Spoorthi’s gurus, Gayathri of the Ranjani-Gayathri duo. Ragas such as Vasanti, Behag and Shanmukhapriya embellished the ragamalika section, blending well with Sant Tukaram’s abhang ‘Vrukshavalli amha soyari’, set to tune by Spoorthi in Bhimplaas, which says that for a soul to be happy it must be amidst nature.
White as purity
Sunil Gargyan chose white. Accompanied by R. Raghu on the violin and Sumesh Narayanan on the mridangam, he had a wide choice of songs by various composers to choose from. The swan and Saraswati dominated along with the moon’s glow and the snow-clad Himalayas.
Beginning with the Tamil varnam ‘Anname aravaabharanai azhaithu vaa’ by Tiger Varadachari in Arabhi, Sunil moved on to a rarely heard piece on Hayagriva, ‘Chandramandala madhyastham’ by Swachannan Aravamudacharyar, which describes the god as ‘sunirmalam’ or of pristine nature and as one who glows with the luminosity of innumerable moons. ‘Kailasanathena’ by Muthuswami Dikshitar in Kamboji was in praise of Shiva atop Kailasa.
The pallavi, a tribute to Saraswati, was creatively set in raga Hamsavinodini (Hamsa meaning swan). Sunil’s elaborate alapana and tanam deserve mention. According to Vinay, it was set in Srotovaha Yati, in which the increasing syllabic pattern is inspired by the structure of the dotted white kolam. The pallavi lines ‘Thaam, sannuthaam, Hamsanuthaam, paramahamsanuthaam, bhajeham sharadham’ addresses Sharada, whose devotee was Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.
Tyagaraja’s ‘Sashivadana’ in Chandrajyoti, speaking of a glowing moon soothing an uneasy mind, was another brilliant choice. The words in the abhang ‘Avgha rang’ by Soyrabhai set in Sindhubhairavi represented shuddha satva or purity, implying that everything dissolves into the purity of paramatma. The mangalam that followed spoke of all colours converging into white.
The IIT-Madras Research Park auditorium brought the theme alive in different colours each day.
The Chennai-based reviewer specialises in Carnatic music.