Look! no mridangam!

T.M. Krishna   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Ranjako janachittanam is a defining trait of raga, according to the 8th century Brhaddesi. Raga entices the minds of people; it attracts them. Raga also, etymologically, means colour and emotion.

Between performing a raga in well worn ways to please an audience on the one hand and seeking it as a lover, beseeching it to reveal its beauty on the other, there is a leap, a dangerous, heady leap of desire and faith. While enjoying a raga being performed, marvelling at the confidence of an artiste, the technical skills and musicianship on the one hand and soaking in its colour so that not even the name remains on the other, there is a chasm. The former is a relatively safe journey for both the artistes and the audience. Alapana, kriti, niraval, swaram, korvai... the path keeps the experience safe. The anticipation generated within even the most exciting concert is bearable.

Emotional involvement

When T.M. Krishna performed sans mridangam for Nadopasana, with four tamburas and R.K. Shriram Kumar's violin accompaniment, one had to suspend all anticipation — a necessary condition to absorb his concerts. There were initial misgivings — mridangam is so essential to creating and retaining interest in a concert — but we left the hall in a state of musical inebriation.

Krishna’s music is extraordinary; academics, who doubt the reality of manodharma being truly creative, must listen to him. But more than this, his emotional involvement and vulnerability as he explores the raga are manifest on stage. If raga can please, it is entirely a by-product of that emotional suffusion.

Bhavam is much celebrated in our music but can lapse into sentimentalism when it is deliberate, affected. It has to stay within limits and not be a tear jerker, especially for the performer. How can one perform when the voice is choking with emotion? But it does happen. You are singing ‘Muruga Muruga Endral’ and moved by the image of the deity or you have lost a child and cannot sing ‘Chinnanchiru kiliye’ — that is common. But while singing a phrase in Surutti or Nattakurinji, if the beauty of the dhaivatam as it emerges blushing from the swaying nishadha moves the performer, and he stops, reeling under that epiphany, that is uncommon. And not at all cheesy.

When Krishna did take a moment or two on a few occasions, we waited, with bated breath. Perhaps he would say he would not go on? breath. Perhaps he would say he would not go on? Came a ravishingly sung viruttam on Mathorbagan — He whose one half is She — penned by Perumal Murugan.

One wondered warily what was to come next. The magnificent Sri Vishwanatham! Is it fair to give the audience so many jitters? But risks are a part of a heady journey.

It did not matter how the concert unfolded — first, ‘Enduku Nirdaya’, and then gentle rivulets of ragas with Shriram Kumar and Krishna taking turns — Mukhari giving way to shades of Surutti that gave way to Natakurinji, Saramati... finally a throbbing ‘Mokshamu Galada’; a surprise flurry of a few avartanas of swaras in Khambodi ending on the regal dhaivata leading to ‘Ma Janaki’; a Mukhari, Bhairavi and Manji co-existing.

It did not matter how he presented the concert, but what he sang. And this is what he has managed single handedly, well, almost, because Shriramkumar lent valuable support — to show a generation of rasikas, preoccupied with ‘the list’, that a concert does not need it.

How did we not miss the mridangam?

Can one say the mridangam was playing in the collective subconscious? We all know how the mridangam goes during that last swaying sangati of ‘Ma Janaki’ or how it could build up a gripping tapestry during the higher sancharas of ‘Mokshamu Galada.’ One may perform without a violin, a mridangam, and most importantly, without a list.

What then is truly essential to the Carnatic experience? The tambura, raga and tala? Perhaps!

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Printable version | Apr 13, 2021 11:08:04 PM |

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