What a week that was! A spiritual retreat, 2 music concerts and a celebration of satabhishekam – all in the space of 4 or 5 days! It was a dream trip to Chennai. I was in coimbatore to spend a day with Swamy Dayananda saraswathi at his beautiful ashram in Anaikatti in the midst of a forest. It was a great retreat as expected. While walks around the ashram were rejuvenating, meetings and discussions with the swamiji were spiritually elevating.

The following day, I was back to noisy Chennai to take part in a Satabhishekam function.  Last week we had celebrated satabhishekam of my father-in-law. One wonders why it’s called satabhishekam considering that it’s only 80th birthday celebration and has nothing to do with the number 100. I got no satisfactory answer. I was only told it’s called so in vedic parlance. Apparently, one is supposed to have seen 1000 moons(full moons)in 80 years. A back of the envelope calculation indeed shows that one can theoretically see a little more than 1000 full moons in 80 years.

In this post I will try to capture the events of the function as I saw it.

The function started with UDAGA SANTI, which is basically a process of ‘purifying’ water with chanting of Vedic mantras. The holy water was poured over the old couple by the priests ceremonially while chanting mantras. The water is then sprinkled on the people gathered around as a token of  blessings. This ritual was followed by Homam and then ‘Muhurtham’ which was performed in a traditional way with the accompaniment of auspicious Nadaswaram and Vedic mantras.

The atmosphere in the hall was electric full of anticipation and emotion. Well dressed ‘mamis’ and ‘mamas’ formed small and big groups to discuss every topic under the sun. Being a host, of course, I didn’t find much time to sit and chat though. Or perhaps I had to pretend to be busy running around. I often wonder why everyone keeps running around in our functions. Are they really busy and if so why does it happen when everything is outsourced. I figured out everybody contributes to the chaos starting with the ‘vadyar’, (priest). Here is how it happens: The ‘vadyar’ would give a list of things to be procured a few days before the event. The list is never complete as there are several last minute additions. As the function proceeds, the missing item is announced repeatedly by the ‘vadyar’ himself from the stage. The info is religiously passed around and soon everyone is moving around randomly to find the piece. And by the time someone painstakingly brings the item, the ‘vadyar’ would very often compromise and complete that part of the ritual! Vadyar’s contribution doesn’t end there. Consider another scenario. Vadyar announces: So and So is wanted urgently on the stage. Soon several search parties would run around the hall trying to find the VIP wanted by the vadyar! The chaos has to be seen to be believed. I’m tempted to capture this disorder from an aerial camera one of these days! It’s amazing that with all this confusion, we still manage to complete all the rituals on time before the real ‘Muhurtham’ or the auspicious time!

There is something odd about the way we organize receipt of gifts. Once the religious part is over, the tamasha begins. Someone would sit close to the couple as they are greeted by people waiting in line for their turn. The practice is that the couple receive the gifts and pass it on to someone for safe custody. Soon disorder sets in and the custodian of the gifts (in this case, I happened to play the role!) has to almost grab the gifts from the couple even before they receive it since the next guy in line is impatiently waiting to thrust his gifts into the hands of the couple!! I have seen this happen in many weddings in South India. Can someone find an innovative solution?

After the tiring function got over, it was time to open the gift packets and take stock. Well, we found out that we were saddled with 3 suitcases full of sarees and veshtis as gifts, enough to conduct a garage sale!! We all unanimously decided to distribute most of the sarees and veshtis to old people in an old-age home.

In spite of the busy schedule, I managed to sit for a while to discuss music with a friend of mine who is equally passionate. No discussion on carnatic music in Chennai is complete without a discussion on TM Krishna. My friend gave an interesting insight on this guy. He narrated a few of his eccentric acts on and off the stage…… and finally gave a perspective which I found  interesting. He said: “The guy is eccentric alright. But then, we need to understand that he is searching for something in life and that’s what makes him act the way he does. It’s best to leave him alone instead of finding meaning in his acts. The guy is wealthy, made name and fame and has scaled all the heights at a young age. There is nothing else to achieve. So , in the absence of a guru to guide him, he is searching and exploring”. I nodded my head in agreement and said to myself: Quite true – but aren’t we all searching for something in life beyond the mundane existence?

After the function got over, I managed to squeeze in some time to attend 3 concerts. The upcoming star Bharat Sundar with Vaidyanathan on Mridangam and an unfamiliar artist on Ghatam was a great treat. What was particularly noteworthy about this concert was the way all the artists worked together as a team cheering each other for each innovative Sangati or phrase. The concerts of Ramakrishnan Murthy and young Sruti Ravali on the following day were also enjoyable. However, it’s disappointing to see that some of the upcoming artists seem to equate speed with melody. Someone needs to remind them that speed, like in driving, thrills but also kills! In the case of music it kills melody!



Published in: on August 9, 2014 at 10:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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