Like many other artistes, veena duo Jeyaraaj and Jayasri too decided to go virtual in 2020 with an online series titled ‘Taanam Thursdays’, which has run for two seasons now. The interesting aspect of the series is that the duo presents some rare ragas such as Mandari, Kuntalavarali, Balahamsa and Navroj in the taanam format. They also use popular ragas such as Kalyani, Sankarabharanam and Thodi for the brief taanam exercises that span 15-20 minutes each.
Taanam is an aspect of manodharma where the emphasis is on the madhyama kala or medium tempo, and it is executed through rhythmic patterns. It is one of the most important improvisational forms of Carnatic music, similar in exposition to the jor-jhala that follows the alaap in Hindustani music. Likewise, taanam is played after raga elaboration and before the pallavi or the kriti in a Carnatic concert.
Why did they choose to focus on taanam? “Because this feature is a distinctive aspect of the veena. It accentuates the special characteristics of the ragas. The improvisation during taanam enhances the appeal of the kriti or raga presented,” says Jeyaraaj.
The gayaki style
Born and brought up in Kolkata, Jeyaraaj and Jayasri hail from the sishya parampara of Muthuswami Dikshitar, and they have been trying to preserve and propagate the ‘gayaki’ style in veena through their school Veenavaadhini.
“Our training in vocal music began at a very young age under A. Anantharama Iyer and A. Champakavalli of the Kallidaikurichi A. Ananthakrishna Iyer lineage, who belonged to the Dikshitar parampara. After three years, we moved to learning the veena, but our vocal training continued,” says the duo, who also trained under Chingleput Ranganathan.
For the series, they selected ragas carefully. Jeyasri says “Dikshitar composed kritis in both rare and popular ragas, which we learnt from our gurus. Besides, D. Pattammal’s book Raga Pravaaham provided more insights.”
The first season began with raga Atana, while the second with dwiraga taanams, which showcased two contrasting ragas from Carnatic and Hindustani. Some combinations included Nalinakanti and Ranjani, Shyamkalyan and Narthaki, Khamas and Malahari, Chandrakauns and Saraswati and Sindhu Bhairavi and Hamirkalyani.
To make the presentation more interesting, ragas were chosen also to suit special occasions and festivals. For instance, during Navarathri they picked Durga, Simhavahini, Veenavaadhini and Hamsavahini. It was raga Chandrachooda (signifying Shiva) for Arudhra Darisanam, and ragas Vanamali and Venkatachalam for Vaikunta Ekadasi. On Independence day last year, they played Desh and the lesser-known raga Bharati.
“Our exposure to Hindustani music in Kolkata helped us infuse that flavour too in our series,” says Jayasri.
The series concludes this month with an exploration of the rare Dwitiya Ghana Raga Panchakam raga series, which includes Ritigowla, Narayanagowla, Kedaram, Bowli and Salanganata.
The Chennai-based reviewer writes on Carnatic music.