The late Subbudu described MLV as ‘Sangitha Veeranganai.’ One can at best translate Veeranganai as a lady who is brave, adventurous and daring. This description truly fitted MLV.
She was an artiste, who knew her strengths and weaknesses musically and never hesitated to confide in her close friends where she needed to improve upon. She felt the long hours of practice (asura sadakam) put in by her in the earlier years would stand her in good stead on the concert platform later.
Her repertoire covered a gamut of composers, and she kept adding to it till her last days. Not much of planning went into MLV’s concerts. She would rehearse new compositions with her vocal support artistes a few times before presenting them. But then she would make changes in the midst of concerts. These improvisations would be executed with utmost confidence sans any signs of nervousness.
I remember one of her concerts at the main hall of the Music Academy, Madras, for Purandaradasa Day. MLV had coined a pallavi, assisted by her violinist A. Kanyakumari. The lyrics of the pallavi went thus: ‘Sri Purandara Gurum Vande, Dasa Sreshtam Dayanidhim.’ It had been set in raga Shanmukhapriya as revealed to me by Kanyakumari prior to the concert. When it was time to begin the alapana for the pallavi, MLV smiled at her violinist and launched into Manirangu. And what a stunning alapana it was! I consider myself fortunate to have been present at the concert.
MLV was fond of including an RTP suite in most of her concerts, including at weddings and temples if she felt that the audience would appreciate it. Composing pallavis a couple of hours before a concert and rendering them in intricate tala cycles was child’s play for her. She is known to have set a pallavi in Sankirna Chapu talam in the car. on the way to her concert at the prestigious Shanmukhananda Sangeetha Sabha in Mumbai and render it with Anulomam and Pratilomam without faltering.
The royal family of Venkatagiri (Andhra Pradesh) were die-hard fans of MLV’s music and often invited her to perform at their palatial residences in Venkatagiri, Hyderabad and Chennai. At their request, MLV once rendered a brilliant RTP in Revathi and had set the pallavi in Khanda Nadai just before the concert. Recordings of this concert are available as commercial compact discs.
Choice of ragas
MLV generally preferred ragas such as Hamsanandi, Tilang, Sekara Chandrika, Hindolam, Behag, Atana, Kanada, Sunadavinodini and Sindhubhairavi to decorate her pallavis as ragamalika swaras. If she spotted members of the audience in the first rows, who had a great affinity for traditional rakti ragas, she would include Yadukula Khambodi, Varali, Ananda Bhairavi, Mukhari and so on.
During her tour of the U.S. in 1976, at one of her performances, MLV announced that she would be rendering a composition of Gopalakrishna Bharati in Abhogi. Naturally the audience expected the popular ‘Sabapathikku.’ However her manodharma was in full swing that day and the alapana of Abhogi exceeded 20 minutes. Realising that ‘Sabapathikku’ would not fit in after the lengthy raga vinyasa, MLV announced that she would instead sing a pallavi. This was again a change she made on the spot. It is needless to mention that the tanam, pallavi and ragamalika swaras which followed were a veritable treat to the listeners.
MLV was a natural musician. Maybe her paternal side’s family deity Gnanasaraswathi of Koothanur saw to it that she was blessed with a manodharma of a rare order.
My mother, the late Sulochana Pattabhiraman, always said that MLV was a Veeranganai not only in the musical arena but also in life. The dignity, patience and composure with which she faced trials and hurdles made her one truly.