M.V. Ramakrishnan

Touch of sophistication


Carnatic vocalist Dr. R. Ganesh, disciple of the late maestro Maharajapuram Santhanam has in recent years been increasingly devoted to nama sankirtanam, thus extending his own horizons as well as adding a touch of sophistication to the ancient, pre-classical form of devotional music.

I happened to hear his performances of nama sankirtanam on two recent occasions -- a short, hour-long recital for Carnatica at the Narada Gana Sabha, and a longer concert at Hamsadhwani which lasted a couple of hours. Of course, in rustic religious settings all over South India this genre of grassroots music is performed for much longer sessions of five hours or even more. In that native environment the music is like the oxygen in the air which one breathes freely; whereas in a metro sabha, it’s like the oxygen we breathe through a tube from a cylinder in an ICU!

But even so, Dr. Ganesh did dispense with a generous dose of it on both occasions! A large assortment of namavalis, viruttams , bhajans and abhangs and kirtanas -- all in adoration of the deities -- were performed in rapid succession, in various tempos, set to beautiful classical ragas (such as Kalyani, Mukhari, Mohanam, Khamas, Hindolam, Durga, Huseini and Vijayanagari.) The lyrics in several languages included compositions of Tyagaraja, Purandaradasa, Bhadrachala Ramadas, Narayana Tirtha, Gopalakrishna Bharati and Sant Tukaram.

Excellent choral support was provided by Perambur Rajagopala Iyengar, Chandar and Kannan on both occasions, and also by Kolkata Shankar, at Carnatica. Percussion plays a vital role in nama sankirtanam, and it was well taken care of by mridangam players Nellai Balaji (at the Narada Gana Sabha) and Kumbakonam Swaminathan (at Hamsadhwani). Shadowing the vocalists sensitively were harmonium player Kumbakonam Sankararaman at NGS, and violinist Madurai Balasubramanian at Hamsadhwani.

Nama sankirtanam of Dr. Ganesh has a certain distinctly rich and colourful quality, which is obviously the result of his high accomplishment as a Carnatic musician. Reciprocally, his parallel experience as an earnest exponent of nama sankirtanam adds considerable value to his Carnatic music, enhancing its spiritual flavour in subtle ways.

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