Fitting tributes to Syama Sastri and Purandaradasa

Neela Ramgopal, performs at Sri Thiagaraja Sangeetha Vidwath Samajam, in Chennai. Photo: Aishwarya Ashok.  

Neela Ramgopal’s musical tribute in Chennai to Syama Sastri on the composer’s Jayanti, was her second successive salutation in two days. The other recital was in Kanchipuram itself, the seat of the chosen deity of the composer. Her passion for singing and long years of experience were evident in the manner Neela Ramgopal overcame initial trouble to climb greater melodic heights over the next two hours.

From the opening piece in Kalyani to Mangalam, there was something new on offer at regular intervals in the Vidushi’s performance for Thiagaraja Vidwat Samajam, Mylapore. For instance, the varnam in the eight-beat tisramatyam (3+2+3 maatras) talam, which is rather unusual for this genre of composition.

‘Rave Himagiri kumari Kanchi Kamakshi,’ (Thodi), is one among the three swarajatis written by Syama Sastri available to us, the one in Bhairavi practised more. Listening to the Thodi masterpiece from Neela Ramgopal, you could not but appreciate its intrinsic beauty, the majestic raga lending itself so beautifully to Syama Sastri’s inspired lyric.

In the Bhairavi swarajati, the seven stanzas are in the ascending sequence of notes. For that reason, the piece is invariably chosen as an apt early lesson to impart to students a grasp and understanding of the so-called ‘ghana ragam’ that Bhairavi happens to be.

An answer may remain forever elusive regarding the next kriti, ‘Devi samayamide, ati vegame vachchi,’ in ragam Chintamani. Why is it that this song is sung in the way it is by most artists? The composition is rendered in vilambita kalam, if not in ativilambita kalam. Conversely, the pallavi is an imploration to the deity’s swift arrival to protect him, an aspect veteran Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna would point out and hence increase the tempo whenever he sang in keeping with the spirit! Neela Ramgopal’s beautiful rendition of the song had its own appeal, quite apart from these academic talking points.

The Purvikalyani song, ‘Enneramum un namam uraippadu en nemam,’ is among the few that Syama Sastri composed in Tamil. For a first-time listener, Neela Ramgopal’s rigorous training was in ample evidence in this recitation and subsequent improvisation. A light ditty that followed in the ragam Kalgada was ‘Parvati ninnu neranammiti.’

But the best illustration of Neela Ramgopal’s growing command over her voice that evening came in the hour-long presentation she gave of the Khambodi composition ‘Devi ni pada’. Noteworthy were the brilliant rhythmic excursions during kalpanaswaram, not to mention the emotive niraval. Mannarkovil Balaji responded magnificently during this improvisation as well as his solo thereafter. Violinist M. R. Gopinath played a splendid supporting role right through the recital.

The Bengaluru-based vidushi concluded her recital with a mangalam composed by T.N. Padmanabhan in tribute to Syama Sastri.

A protégé of the redoubtable Sandhyavandanam Srinivasa Rao, S. Poorna Pragna Rao, brought music nearer to his audience in a somewhat unusual manner. He punctuated his vocal recital with extensive explanations of the musical and philosophical/spiritual prowess of Purandaradasa, Pitamaha of Carnatic music and to whom the concert was dedicated.

In particular, the purpose behind Pragna Rao’s performance seemed a recapitulation, through innumerable illustrations, of the inseparable connection between bhakti or religious devotion and Carnatic music. With a rare command over all the three relevant languages for his task, Rao conveyed the essence of Purandaradasa’s Kannada works in fluent Tamil, freely citing from Tyagaraja for elucidation. The sequence of singing and thematic explanations fell into a pattern from the very second composition of the evening.

In the kriti, ‘Naaninna dhyaana doliralu,’ (Kanada) the composer celebrates the power of divine contemplation to conquer base human emotions. As Rao went on to elaborate on ‘Matsarisuvarellakoodi maaduvadenu,’ one inevitably began to draw parallels with Tyagaraja. In his ‘tera tiyyagarada matsaramanu,’ in ragam Gowlipantu, the composer implores to be rid of ill-will that could deny him the attainment of ultimate salvation. The other instance that occasioned a similar comparison was the kriti in ragam Athana – ‘Sakalagraha bala nine.’ Both in terms of the tune and the theme, the piece could not be closer to Tyagaraja’s ‘Naradaganalola natajana paripala,’ observed Rao.

Elaborating further on that Purandaradasa kriti, the artist also echoed a lament of late T.K. Govindarao relating to the manner of its rendition among latter-day musicians. The burden of that objection runs like this: the three stanzas in the original composition each address the days of the week, the months and the distinct seasons respectively as caused by divine intervention. But more recent recitations of the song are a mere parody that hardly conveys its essence.

Listeners conversant with the language in question could well feel short-changed over this lack of a sense of discrimination on the part of performers.

Pragna Rao’s recital returned ever closer to a standard concert in the Hindolam and Kalyani kritis, which he embellished with elaborate improvisations. Kalyani Shankar on the violin and Thanjavur Subramanyam on the mridangam were a brilliant duo as accompanying vidwans.

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Printable version | Dec 2, 2021 10:32:32 PM |

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