When a Carnatic vocalist met a nagaswaram player on the Bharat Sangeet Utsav stage

Bharat Sundar and Mylai Karthikeyan indulged in a musical dialogue at the festival

November 24, 2023 05:22 pm | Updated November 28, 2023 03:30 pm IST

Bharat Sundar and Mylai Karthikeyan at the Bharat Sangeet Utsav concert

Bharat Sundar and Mylai Karthikeyan at the Bharat Sangeet Utsav concert | Photo Credit: Courtesy: Bharat Sangeet Utsav

A ragam-tanam-pallavi wired in two ragas with almost similar names hints at the prospect of a flashy centrepiece. Vocalist Bharat Sundar and equally young nagaswaram player Mylai Karthikeyan succeeded in packing their Bhairavi-Sindubhairavi rallies with the power of lungs as well as thoughts. Serenity was seldom the pursuit of the lead pair.

Adding to the overall flamboyance was a role reversal of sorts. The singer led in the acrobatics, when it is usually wind instruments that display exuberance. The entry to the main suite was an instance. Karthikeyan ushered in the beauty of unhurried Carnatic Bhairavi, while an avalanche of frills defined Bharat’s alapana. One of those extravagant streaks even pushed the raga momentarily to the Karaharapriya territory. Slip? Not exactly. Perhaps it was a precursor to the core idea: twin-raga RTP. Thus entered Sindhubhairavi.

Shifting between two ragas

The nagaswaram took cue, but soon enabled the re-entry of Bhairavi. An array of alternations followed. Bharat’s quick shifts between the two ragas weren’t seamless at a couple of places. He infused a dash of Hamsanadam, dramatically yet subtly. As the sketching concluded, violinist Parur Ananthakrishnan went by Bharat’s timely signal for tanam straightaway. Spending a minute each, he essayed a slice of Bhairavi and Sindhubhairavi.

The pallavi was in Adi talam, in chaturashra gait and the take-off at the first beat. That implied an uncomplicated rhythm. As the lyrics ‘Pavani Bhairavi’ eventually gave way to swara passages, the two ragas started intertwining in greater frequencies. Like a dizzying light-and-shade show. Much reposeful was the ensuing tani avartanam. Thiruvarur Bhaktavatsalam (mridangam) and K.V. Gopalakrishnan (kanjira) rejoiced the 20-minute session, but the bouts weren’t bombastic.

Ghana pancharaga mallari

The start of the kutcheri saw the two percussionists performing an unconventional role by embellishing the beats of a mallari. The piece invoking the deity at temple rituals is usually delivered by the nagaswaram with support from the thavil. Here at Bharat Sangeet Utsav 2023, the chief duo ventured out on a ghana pancharaga mallari. Showcasing five melodies, the expert layering of Nattai, Gowla, Arabhi, Varali and Sri set the tone for a colourful course. Between the alapana and the kriti (dedicated to composer Tyagaraja), both Bhaktavatsalam and Gopalakrishnan generated rolls like thavil players do. Tonally, the nagaswaram lent the Tamil composition a sweet shrillness that contrasted amusingly with Bharat’s under-used nasality.

Not very comforting

In Latangi came the second item. Patnam Subramania Iyer’s ‘Mariveredikkevaru’ was the selection. The passages around the niraval (Dharalo ni sati) ended up a bit cluttered, also owing to the percussionists straying out randomly. The swaraprastaram, too, would have been more appealing had the nagaswaram and violin rotated themselves by following a sequence each from the vocals. The two instruments almost reproducing Bharat’s ideas back-to-back bore the risk of early fatigue for the audience.

The pre-main raga was Dwijavanti. Straight into ‘Akhilandeswari’, the Muthuswamy Dikshitar kriti was treated with less emphasis on tranquility. The percussionists tuned into the festive approach. The post-RTP ditties were ‘Krishna nee begane’ (Yamuna Kalyani) and Lalgudi Jayaraman’s tillana in Mand raga. A mellowed approach, in toto, could have soothed the entire track.

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