Music

Papanasam Sivan’s songs in Sanskrit

Virtual lecture-demonstrations and interactive workshops have offered great scope for learning during the pandemic. And Fine Arts Society, Chembur, has regularly hosted such events over the past year.

The society’s ‘Gurudvaar’ series, featuring eminent musicians, is an effort to understand the nuances of classical music through specific themes. The latest workshop was by senior vocalist Gayathri Girish, whose focus was the Sanskrit compositions of Papanasam Sivan.

Papanasam Sivan, a prolific composer, is famous for his works in Tamil, but what is not so well known is that the scholar also composed in Sanskrit. The workshop threw light on the composer’s knowledge of the language and how, through his kritis, he tried to arouse people’s interest in it. Gayathri’s talk showed how such sessions offer opportunities for deeper reading and research.

Excerpts from an interview.

What prompted you to choose this topic?

Papanasam Sivan has many popular Tamil compositions to his credit, but he has also composed in Sanskrit. Some of these kritis are well-known and some need to be popularised. These songs are equally profound, with a lot of raga and artha bhava. The lyrics are expertly couched in the special usage or prayoga of the raga. It is extremely satisfying to share such treasures with music lovers. I have also been enjoying the meaning of the lyrics and the ragas that they are set in.

Papanasam Sivan.

Papanasam Sivan.   | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

What are some of the special features of these compositions?

Sivan composed about 45 kritis in Sanskrit. While bhakti forms the core of these compositions, their lyrical and musical beauty make these rare pieces more special. The choice of the compositions includes kritis that I have already learnt and some which I practised through the notations provided. The main source are the seven volumes of compositions, published by his daughter-musician Dr. Rukmini Ramani. In my early years, I had learnt some of Sivan’s kritis from her.

Sivan’s Sanskrit compositions also carry the grandeur of yati and prasa, a rhythmic aspect one can find in Muthuswami Dikshitar’s kritis. His choice of words to highlight the meaning and beauty of the raga are interesting. For example, in the kriti ‘Narayana nalinayatha’ in Sama raga, Sivan has stressed on the word ‘Nalina’, which highlights the raga’s grace. And in the line ‘Karunakara’, the sangati brings out compassion so beautifully.

In the charanam line ‘Annapoorneswari pranesam’ in the kriti ‘Sri Vishwanatham bhaje’ in Bhairavi, he highlights the special ‘madhyama’ note of the raga. One can find many such aspects in every kriti.

Which are the kritis you chose for the workshop and why?

‘Sri ramabadra’ in Saramati, ‘Pahi meenalochani’ in Bilahari, ‘Janakipathe’ in Karaharapriya, and ‘Sri Vishwanatham bhaje’ in Bhairavi and ‘Narayana nalinayata lochana’ in Sama, to name a few. There are kritis in popular ragas such as Thodi, Karaharapriya, Bhairavi and Bilahari and also in rare ones such as Sama, Hamsanandhi, Saramati and Behag. ‘Thava charanamu’ in Thodi, ‘Dasarathathmajam’ in Purvikalyani, and ‘Sri Madhava’ in Behag are some of the other compositions.

Are these kritis difficult to learn as they are in Sanskrit?

While most of the kritis are quite similar to the Sanskrit compositions of Saint Tyagaraja and quite easy to learn, some carry the depth of Muthuswami Dikshitar’s kritis. I never fail to mention the subtle inflections to be used, the importance of pronunciation and meanings to the participants so that they appreciate every aspect of the creation.

Do these compositions also carry his signature mudra, ‘Ramadasa’ and did he opt for any special rhythmic patterns?

Yes, he has used the ‘Ramadasa’ mudra in these songs too. As for the rhythmic patterns, Sivan has not employed any unique talas. Most of the compositions are set in Adi, Rupakam and Misra Chapu.

How challenging is it to conduct a virtual workshop?

You have to look into every detail. I take special care to highlight the lyrics, their meanings, the raga and its distinct musical aspects. I sing the entire song once, then go line by line and ask each participant to sing it, and finally check if they have learnt the piece correctly. There are 29 singers in a batch. After teaching the entire kriti, I sing it once again, always pointing out the tala and subtleties like eduppu. The final recordings are sent to the participants by the organisers.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of such virtual interactive workshops?

The biggest advantage is reach. For instance, participants have enrolled from across India, the U.S, Australia, Dubai, Johannesburg and London . The only disadvantage, of course, is the absence of the live artiste-rasika connect.

Do you usually choose the themes for such sessions?

Yes, because it makes it insightful. My earlier one was on Muthiah Bhagavatar’s compositions. I also maintain an online portal ‘Chaitanyam’, which features three of my lec-dems on ‘Sivaratri’, ‘Devi’ and ‘Guruvae Namaha’, highlighting the special features of the songs through vocal and pictorial presentations.

The Chennai-based author writes on music and culture.


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Printable version | Jun 24, 2021 3:41:53 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/papanasam-sivans-songs-in-sanskrit/article34501547.ece

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