Music

Pots with musical prowess

Sukanya Ramgopal. Photo: V.V. Krishnan   | Photo Credit: V_V_Krishnan

Hitherto we are aware of Jalatarangini, where water filled porcelain bowls produce the desired notes of the raga. ‘Ghata Taranginini’ is a new concept that Bengaluru-based Sukanya Ramgopal brought into Carnatic field. Ghatam too produces musical sounds as these earthen pots are hollow to help creating a sustained musical note. Understanding the science behind it, Sukanya made them her ‘singing pots’ and is giving concerts all over the country. Even her accompanists are women.

Asked how and why she got down to this type of presentation that too with all women team, Sukanaya says she wants to prove that women artistes are no less than men. “You know the general tendency of male artistes is not to have a female accompanist. This attitude spread so wild that even female vocalists too are preferring male percussion support, despite knowing we are no less than them. I felt belittled and thought we should find potent place in the system. I know I’m as good as any male artiste,” she says. Sukanya literally fashioned a revolution by bringing this ghatam on to main platform, having female support on other instruments like violin, veena, mridangam and morsing.

Sukanya was born in Mayiladuthurai, a small town in Tamil Nadu. Her father Harihar Sarma encouraged her to take to music and put her under tutelage of Iyya Swamy. “I started learning mridangam whenI was 12 and moved with my guru Sri Vikku Vinayakram, a legend in this field, in his concert tours and was mesmerised by his ghatam play and decided to learn this art from Vinayakram. Even Vinaykram’s father told him I was a hardworking girl and determined to learn ghatam. Vinayakram’s cousin K.M. Vaidyanathan and brother Subhash Chandran initiated me in ghatam play. And Vinayakram too taught me this art,” she says. “As I was playing ‘Ghatamala’ with other students, each producing a single note on ghatam under the watchful eye of my guru Vinayakram, I thought how would it be if a single person like me played all the notes keeping all these ghatams before me. I did it and got the raga format,” She explains.

Sukanya found it easy to follow the jalatarangini rout by choosing pots that sound different notes for a pentatonic scale and placed them before her and played on different pots set in the notes to produced raga or kirtana, swaras and rhythm. “Till today I play only pentatonic ragas. I can try adding one more ghatam”, she explains. She then moved to Bengaluru, by way of transfer of her husband.

Sukanya gave first performance only playing on a set of ghatams in a ‘Ghatam seminar’ held by ‘Percussion Art Center’ founded by Bangalore Venkatraman, a ghatam artiste. “I played pallavi in Mohana Ragam. This was first experiment I took up in 1992.”

One notices that Sukanya doesn’t have a flute in her ensemble. She informs flute has similar tone that drowns ghatam sound. “I gave jugalbandi performances pairing with tabla. My dream now is to play ghatam with sitar, veena and tabla,” Sukanya says.

It is another story as to how she goes to pick right ghatams for her concerts with chosen notes. “These pots are made in Maana Madhurai, near Madurai. Only one family that makes them. “They have hundreds of ghatams and what we have to do is to pick up those ghatams sounding the desired notes. If there is minor variation we can correct it by applying clay or Araldite inside the pot,” she says. She attaches contact mikes.

“My work is yet to be recognised by many sabhas. Percussionists should be thorough with Carnatic classical. Only then they can embellish the concert better,” she explains.

Carrying these many pots in travel is a big problem. “I found a way to carry them safe using rope and belt. My house is full of ghatams, some even kept in my bedroom. I call them singing pots; though in olden days ghatam was called ‘dumb instrument’, ‘Oomai Vadyam’ in Tamil. But my guruji was even plays slokams and kaivaarams too on these instruments, thus making them sing and speak. There is life in ghatam,” says Sukanya.

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Printable version | May 14, 2021 1:43:36 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/pots-with-musical-prowess/article5556877.ece

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