Compositions to cherish

The Neelakanta Sivan Sangeetha Aradhana festival focusses attention on the work of Neelakanta Sivan. The 35th edition of the fete begins on August 1.

Updated - July 30, 2010 03:36 pm IST

Published - July 30, 2010 03:35 pm IST

Neelakanta Sivan

Neelakanta Sivan

The 35th Neelakanta Sivan Sangeetha Aradhana festival, conducted under the auspices of Sri Neelakanta Sivan Sangeetha Sabha of Thiruvananthapuram, commences on August 1 this year and goes on till August 8. In these eight days, the rasikas of the capital city will be treated to no less than 12 Carnatic music concerts, aside from renderings of Thiruppukazh and other devotional songs. The festival commemorates the 110th Samadhi year of the great composer Neelakanta Sivan who lived and died in Karamana, Thiruvananthapuram, though, sad to say, his greatness has not been sufficiently understood or acknowledged by people at large.

Memorable concerts

One of the four major Sabhas of Thiruvananthapuram, the Neelakanta Sivan Sabha is actively engaged in keeping the flame of Carnatic music alive and focussing popular attention on the work of Neelakanta Sivan. Ever since its inception in 1975 thanks to the vision and initiative of the late Venuganam Janardana Iyer, the annual Aradhana festival offered by this Sabha has contributed many a memorable evening to the lovers of Carnatic classical music. Today, it continues to grow from strength to strength owing to the efforts of the founder's friends and the whole-hearted patronage of the rasikas.

Neelakanta Sivan was born in 1839 in a village called Vadiveeswaram in Nagercoil and he grew up within the precincts of Fort Padmanabhapuram, both located in the Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu. Subramanya, as he was then called, already showed a mystical inclination in his childhood, and appeared to be not quite cut out for the worldly life. Eventually, when still an adolescent, he was pressurised into marrying the daughter of one Thanu Iyer, a wealthy man who lived at Karamana. Thus began his association with Karamana and Thiruvananthapuram, which continued till his death on pradosham day in the Tamil month of Aadi in the year 1900.

It is said that when he was living in Karamana, Subramanya officiated as a village magistrate for 15 years but abandoned the job, sickened by the corruption he encountered everywhere, and once again devoted his time to piety and meditation.

In the course of his lifetime, he is believed to have composed around 2,000 kirtanas, most of them in Tamil and in the Shaivite tradition, in adoration of Lord Siva, the presiding deity of Fort Padmanabhapuram's majestic Neelakanta Swami temple. And his devotion to this deity earned him the appellation of Sri Neelakanta Sivan. Thanu Iyer was less than sympathetic to the other-worldliness of his son-in-law who, he hoped, would change his ways and engage himself in some money-making venture instead of ‘wasting time and resources' in devotional composition.

In a fit of temper, he is supposed to have destroyed quite a number of the composer's songs in a futile bid to reform him. Given the richness of what has come down to us, one can only wonder at the immensity of the loss that Thanu Iyer's act of wanton destruction has perpetrated on posterity.

In contrast to the work of many composers of the past and the present, Neelakanta Sivan's compositions do not stop with mere extolment of divine grandeur. They are, on the contrary, poetic in form, reflective in tone and philosophical in substance. In consequence, his admirers look upon him as the ‘Tamil Tyagaraja.'

This year’s Aradhana

This year's Aradhana begins with a vocal recital by Sanjay Subrahmanyan and ends on the eighth day with a vocal concert by the Ranjani-Gayatri sisters. In between, there are many concerts by eminent artistes.

Particularly noteworthy is the second day's main concert, the chitravina recital by N. Ravikiran . This internationally acclaimed artiste, known for his highly classical and melodious gayaki style, has rarely, if ever, performed in Thiruvananthapuram. Son and disciple of Chitravina N. Narasimhan, and grandson of the renowned Gottuvadyam Narayana Iyengar, Ravikiran also had the rare good fortune to be tutored for 10 years by the redoubtable T. Brinda, one of the truly great Carnatic musicians of the 20th century. The classical music aficionados of Thiruvananthapuram may be forgiven if they await the dawning of August with a certain measure of impatience in their hearts.

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