Of Mind, Metaphors & Saint Thyagaraja’s Music

Understanding the human mind is the most challenging problem for the humanity. This is where metaphors come in handy.

How do psychologists describe the unpredictable nature of our mind? The modern psychologist Jonathan Haidt came up with an interesting metaphor of an elephant and a rider. Elephant represents the most incorrigible part of our brain which simply acts instinctively with a preprogrammed setup. That is why our responses are automatic to a variety of situations in life. Most of our emotions like love, compassion, worry, anger, jealousy are all preprogrammed.

Who is the Rider in the metaphor? Rider represents the intellect which is run by the conscious part of the brain.  Most of the emotions like anger are instinctive and unless the conscious part of the brain, the rider, is brought into play there is no way of improving our character.

The Psychologists like Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung (belonging to early 20th century)used the word Unconscious to describe the darker part of our mind which operates on an autopilot mode. Psychotherapy then involves bringing out this Unconscious through a few techniques involving the conscious part of the brain so that the corrections and improvements in one’s character can take place.

While psychologists were struggling to understand the mind, philosophers came up with interesting metaphors as a means to understand the complexity of the mind. For instance, the Greek philosopher Plato, describing the mind, came up with a metaphor of a chariot pulled by two winged-horses – one noble and the other wicked. One can easily imagine and sympathize with the plight of the charioteer. There is no way he can reach his destination.

Vedanta, known as Upanishads, has analyzed the problem of the mind in detail and came up with amazing metaphors. For instance, Kathopanishad came up with a very interesting metaphor to describe the mind (Bhagavadgita also uses a similar metaphor):

Atman or Self is the rider in the chariot,
and the body is the chariot,
Know that the Buddhi (intelligence, ability to reason) is the charioteer,
and Manas (mind) is the reins.The senses are the horses,
The rider, the Self or the Atman is a mere witness. His fate will depend upon how the budhi handles the mind & the senses, represented by horses.

The musical compositions of Tyagaraja, Annamacharya and Dikshitar abound in songs which address this problem of the Unconscious. How do they do it? They use two interesting techniques. In one set of compositions the saints address the Mind directly while in the second set of compostions the composers get into a dialogue with God Himself. In both cases budhi, the intellect, comes into play. The Unconscious, with its petty games, stands completely exposed. There are a number of songs falling into both the categories. In this post, I will present one such composition of Saint Tyagaraja:

In the composition Manasa mana samarthyamemi set to a rare raga Vardhini,  he addresses the Mind thus:

manasA mana sAmarthyamEmi O

vinu sAkEta rAju vishvamanE rathamu nekki tana sAmarthyamucE dAne naDipincenE

alanADu vashiSTAdulu paTTamu gaTTE palukula vini vEgamE bhUSaNamula nosagina kaikanu
palumAru jagambulu kallala nina ravijuni mAya vala vEsi tyAgarAja varaduDu dA canaga lEdA

This is a beautiful piece describing the true nature of the mind. The saint straight away hits the nail on its head. The vacillatory nature of the Mind is completely exposed.

It says: ‘’Oh, Mind, do not take any pride in your abilities. You are utterly powerless as the Lord seated on a chariot called the Universe is driving it with His prowess called Maya”. Maya is that power of the Lord which completely clouds the Mind of even the sanest person in inexplicable ways. The complexity of the Unconscious described by Sigmund Freud or Carl Jung may be likened to Maya and its effects on the mind.

The saint goes on to substantiate the effect of Maya by referring to the story of Ramayana where Kaikeyi becomes a victim of the Lord’s Maya. When the sage Vasishta announces the celebration of coronation of Rama as the King of Ayodhya, Kaikeyi, at first, was all jubiliant like everyone else. However, she made a volte face and rejected the whole proposal. Blinded by jealousy, she demanded that her son should be made the king in the place of Rama. This sort of irrational and bizarre conduct of people in the world can be explained only in the light of the effects of Maya of the Lord which acts as a veil hiding the truth from the minds of people. It prevents the mind from seeing issues in the right perspective and leads us astray. This is why the saint is asking a rhetorical question in the beginning of this composition: Oh, Mind, of what use is your assumed abilities when you are under the cloud of the powerful Maya of the Lord?  By implication, the saint is pointing out the bizarre nature of the mind and the need to surrender one’s mind to the Lord as a means to keep one’s mind under control.

Listen to this beautiful song sung by ML Vasanthakumari



Chennai Music Festival 2017- My Experiences

Here are a few insights I gathered during the recent music season in Chennai: Old generation of musicians are slowly but surely yielding place to the new. Consider the following. Aruna Sairam of past fame is no more in demand. So is Sudha Raghunathan. Nyveli Santanam has lost his ability to sing at higher scales. His guru TN Seshgopalan is already on decline for the past couple of years. TV Sankaranarayanan, popularly known as TVS for his fans, seems to have taken a break for this season. Bombay Jayasree is no more a crowd puller that she used to be. The list goes on. Among the new generation of musicians, the guys in the limelight are: Abhishek Raghuram (who is today a strong contender for No.1 slot along with Sanjay), Bharat Sundar, Sikkil Gurusharan, Sandeep Narayan are all closing in on Sanjay Subramanyam for equal honours. Ranjani  & Gayatri are already at No1 slot among female musicians. All her concerts during this season were fully sold out. ShaShank on flute and Jayanthi Kumaresh on Veena are perhaps among the best in instrumental music. Yes, we are going through extremely interesting times in Carnatic music. The veterans, however, are given their due honors by Music Academy. They are provided a slot at 9am everyday. One will mostly see past award winners of Sangita Kalanidhi performing in this slot. All these are free concerts.

This year my music season started with a music academy concert on 16th December by Bharat Sundar. More than Bharat Sundar, it was Umayalpuram on mridangam who made it memorable. The evergreen Sivaraman was as passionate as ever even at the age of 82! I was indeed fortunate to see him again within 3 days on the same stage, this time, with Saketharaman. But for the magical presence of Sivaraman, I would have walked out in the middle of this concert. Saketharaman showed lack of maturity as he attempted to do Sruti bhedam for at least 3 different Ragas each time failing miserably. In fact it did not even get noticed by the audience. And to make matters worse, the violinist showed he could handle this more deftly and the knowledgeable audience duly appreciated with a big applause. Not just that. Saketharaman tried to make up in speed whatever he could not handle in slow pace. Many of his Raga alapanais including Todi were done in haste. It was as if someone was after him to go ahead finish off. I feel he doesn’t deserve a prime slot, that too in  the prestigious Music Academy.

My next concert in Music Academy was that of Jayanti Kumaresh on Veena. Her music was meditative on the divine instrument. A soulful bhairavi as the main Raga was followed by a brisk RTP in Kapi Raga and a Ragamalika.

My next concert was that of Sanjay in Naradagana Sabha. To say his performance is great is no more news. If it’s Sanjay, it has got to be scintillating music in every department of music – be it ragalapana, swara Kalpana or RTP. His speciality lies in coming up with surprises. New unexpected phrases dominate his presentation which make his concerts lively. The highlight of his concert was Kambhoji Raga. He presented the famous song Srisubramanya with an unforgettable Neraval and swara kapana which raised the mood of the audience to Brahmananda.

Sanjay’sperformance can be matched by one and the only Abhishek Raghuram. This brilliant lad can match Sanjay or even surpass him in each and every department of music. I attended his concert in Naradagana sabha. Kambhoji was again the highlight. My only disappointment was that he selected an obscure composition of Venaikuppayyer – ninne koniyada. The poor song selection was partly compensated by brilliant and original swara Kalpana with innovative phrases.

The next concert I attended was that of Amruta Murali, an upcoming artist. This was at Parthsaradhi swami Sabha in Mylapore. The poor accoustics, very uncomfortable seats and some traffic noise are not conducive for a good musical concert. Nevertheless, she performed reasonably well. She sang one unusual Raga, Ganga Tarangini( I knew it only because she announced it; It’s Melakarta No 33). She presented a very blissful piece – Varadaraja….at a very slow pace. The slow pace was almost like a lullaby and I slept half-way through the song. My only complaint against this Raga is its name. One would expect Ganga Tarangini to be a fast paced Raga, not a meditative one :-).

Sikkil Gurusharan’s concert was yet another simple  but very impressive one. Here’s one artist who will never disappoint the audience. His consistency, sincerity and commitment are exemplary.

Back to back with the above concert was  Jugalbandi by U Rajesh on mandolin  and Rajesh Vaidya on Veena. This was a mere demonstration of power and speed and I attended this more for fun than for any serious classical music. Well, a purist that I am cannot put up with this for long and expectedly, I walked out of the concert hall midway.

My last outing for the season was on 29th December at Mylapore Fine arts to listen to the great flutist ShaShank. This was indeed a grand finale of my music season. If Bilahari was presented at a slow pace, Rag Lalita was even slower. Bilahari ragalapana was followed by the famous song of tyagaraja – paridhana minchite. In Rag Lalita, he presented Dikshitar Kriti Hiranmayim lakshmim. Bhaskar on the Violin matched his style with equal ease. And Patri Satishkumar was excellent on Mridangam. This Mridangist is sometimes accused of banging away to glory even to the extent of overshadowing the main artist. This time, however, I saw a very subdued performance from him closely following the main artist’s mood and rhythm.

I will not be doing justice to my post, if I do not mention the grand concert of Ranjani & Gayatri which I attended at Naradagana sabha. The sisters combine very well and complement each other in all that they do on the stage. Their song selection is perhaps an important factor adding up to their success.

Overall, I had a thoroughly enjoyable music season this year.

Among the Sabha canteens, I would give full marks to the one at Music Academy. I generally relished the usual fare offered by the canteen, although one of the innovative dishes attempted by the Chef called Usuli Upma, was a great flop. They served one unusual dish – morkkali – on one particular day and it was delicious.

Published in: on January 7, 2018 at 7:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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17Artists and 21 hours Of Non-Stop Music

How many hours of music can one listen to without feeling mentally fatigued? Well, the answer depends on the person. If you are a learner, there is perhaps no saturation. You may like to keep listening for any length of time. On the other hand, if you are merely a music lover, you may have some limits to your ability to listen and absorb music after several hours. I used to be a crazy enthusiast in my younger days and used to attend concerts all day. Chennai offers such opportunities during December music festivals. The concerts are distributed over several sabhas (halls) and one often does sabha-hopping.

This post is about the way it’s organized in Bombay. In Bombay there is an organization called PANCHAM NISHAD which is known to organize marathon concerts in one location. This year it was organized yesterday (on 11th November) at Shanmukhananda Hall. It’s called Eight Prahar concerts. Each Prahar corresponds to a particular time interval of the day – approximately a 3-hour interval. The programme started at 6.30 am and ended at 3 am on the following day practically covering almost all Prahars.
I wanted to test myself and see how many hours of non-stop music I can endure before saying – enough is enough! (I tried this out about 4 years back and managed to stay beyond 12 midnight. At 12 midnight the famous musician Kishori Amonkar started singing and I could not resist the temptation of sitting through her concert. But then she was a complete disappointment as her Sruti kept slipping consistently. Obviously old age was catching up with her voice and she was no longer in control of her voice. So I just left the hall).

The experience this time was somewhat different. I reached the hall around 11am as Ronu Mazumdar’s flute concert was in progress. He was playing the beautiful morning Raga Bhupali Todi which is pretty much similar to Carnatik raga Subha Pantuvarali. There is no doubt he is a great artist. However, after a slow alap, he picked up unbelievable speed exhibiting his mastery of the instrument. But speed cannot be equated to melody. In my opinion, there is no place for super-speed when you render a very sober raga like Subha Pantu Varali. I also had a problem when he went to very high pitch. Somehow, my ears cannot take kindly to such high frequencies. It was comforting to know that I was not alone in feeling the discomfiture. At least a couple of others exited from the hall closing their ears when the artist was elaborating sangatis at very high pitch. Well, this is not a criticism of the artist. Several others seemed to enjoy the proceedings.

As if to compensate for this, at noon, the stage was set for the great musician Pandit Jasraj. This was an unbelievably ecstatic experience. There are no words to express the quality of his music. He presented the Raga Shudh Saranga. I think the equivalent Raga in Carnatik is Brindavan saranga. (At least that was how it sounded to me). Before his concert Jasraj made one very profound comment. He said: “Early in my career, before every concert, I used to get tense thinking about the ragas I was going to sing. Nowadays, I’m completely free from that thought. I feel completely free because I know that I know nothing. When I sing, I realize I ‘m not singing – it just happens. Neither I’m singing nor are you all listening. I see only Eswara everywhere”. He is echoing what is said in Bhagavadgita: I’m neither a karta nor a bhokta(I’m neither a subject nor an experiencer). If one is in such a spiritual state and sings, it’s bound to be a divine experience!

This was followed by Sabir khan on sarangi playing the same afternoon raga Sarang. What a contrast to the earlier performance. Poor artist felt very small playing the same raga after a maestro. He stopped in between and said: “After listening to the great singing of Jasraj ji, I wanted to change my raga. But the organizers insisted I should play the same raga on sarangi”. The audience could not help sympathizing with his plight.

The early-evening session started with Sanjeev Abhayankar (a disciple of Jasraj) followed by Devaki Pandit. Both gave commendable performances. They are both considered to be upcoming artists.

Then we had a great display of Dhrupad singing by Uday Bhavalkar. He took Rag Puriya for elaboration. Dhrupad style is perhaps the most ancient tradition in Hindustani classical music characterized by very slow pace of presentation. The musician literally spends a long time on each and every note and produces subtle variations to bring out beauty.  It was amazing to see Bhavalkar cover the lowest to the highest octaves with equal facility and stay in those uncomfortably  low and high pitches for a long interval of time. The style is aimed not to entertain but create a feeling of peace and meditation. One just has to sit back, relax and enjoy Dhrupad style of singing. At the end of this concert, Pandit Jasraj himself came on stage to shower encomiums on this great Dhrupad artist.

This was followed by yet another great treat from Rahul Sharma on Santoor. Playing the Raga Jhijhoti, he proved himself to be the chip of the old block ( He is the son of the great Pandit Shivkumar sharma).

The last concert I listened to was that of Rakesh Chaurasia on flute. He played the Raga Behag which is one of my favourite ragas. Most would know he is the nephview of the veteran flutist Hariprasad Chaurasia. He is a true successor to Hariprasadji to carry forward the great tradition.

At this point I came out of the world of music to attend to my mundane existential problems of hunger and sleep. I managed to get some decent south Indian snacks in Matunga which is known as mini-Madras and boarded a train back to my Mulund residence.

Published in: on November 12, 2017 at 4:24 pm  Comments (1)  
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A Drug (Ecstasy) without Side effects

Yes, as you might have guessed, I’m talking about Music for sure. A good divine music is indeed like the drug Ecstasy except that one doesn’t experience its side  effects. It’s addictive like a drug but  a good addiction without any hangover. When   you are exposed to it,  it slowly takes you out of the sea of samsara or bondage to the sea of ananda (ecstacy)and before you realise you will feel completely liberated and free from all the  a worldly worries. This is especially so with Hindustani music. The magic begins the moment a maestro introduces a raga from its lower octaves at a very leisurely pace. There’s  absolutely no hurry as the artist stays on each note for a long time. (In contrast, in Carnatic style the musician shows a sense of urgency in moving  from one set of swaras to another).

However, for the magic of music to unfold, one needs a special ambience and special performers to do the job. Here is an account of my recent experience.

It is said that the path to paradise begins with hell. The path  is strewn with obstacles which the faithful should overcome.  This was indeed my experience yesterday when I decided to go for an evening Hindustani concert at Nehru Centre in Worli. It’s an unusual programme in the sense that it started early in the evening at 5pm and ended at 11pm (A full six-hour programme). The programme is titled Teen Prahar. Teen Prahar literally means three quadrants.  Hindustani tradition divides 24 hours of a day into 8 quadrants of 3 hours each and Ragas are classified according to the time of the day. For instance there are early morning Ragas, morning Ragas, afternoon Ragas, early evening Ragas, late evening Ragas, night Ragas and so on. The notes of Ragas play an important role in this classification. For instance, Ragas with shudha madhyama  are normally preferred in the morning like Bhairav, for instance. This was okay in the olden days when people had plenty of time on hand to listen to music throughout the day. But in the present day scenario there are two problems: Firstly, most of the programmes are arranged only in the evenings. Secondly, people have no patience to sit for more than a couple of hours. The net effect is that one gets to hear only a couple of repetitive evening Ragas like Yaman, bhairavi or bhageshri which specifically cater to the mystique of the twilight hours. Teen Prahar is an initiative to cover at least three quadrants of a day and present Ragas which are normally not heard in evening concerts. When it started a decade ago in Bombay, the programmes used to start early in the morning and end only at 11 or 12 midnight. The programme itself was called bhairav se bhairavi Tak by people who are musically savvy. That is, you start with bharav raag,  say, at 6 am and end with bhairavi raga at 12 midnight. Nowadays, the same programme is compressed to 5 to 6 hours – from 5pm to 11pm.

Yesterday I ventured out to attend this annual programme held at Worli which is about 30 km away from where I live. I left home at 3.30pm with packed dinner in hand. The first question was whether to take my car or take public transport. There are pros and cons and I finally decided on public transport since it was a week-end. I got down at Dadar station.  But then, as I came out of the Dadar platforms on the west side, I saw a sea of humanity  eating roadside junk food from Vada pav to pizza, spitting merrily everywhere, buying and selling readymade clothes etc. There was filth and dirt all around all the way till I reached the taxi stand. There I hopped into an old fiat – the so called kaali peeli cabs (yellow & black cabs) – which are perhaps 40 years old with worn out and corroded body and the interior perfectly matching with the shabby exterior in all respects. God knows whether they clean or replace the seat covers ever. As soon as I got in, the driver from UP (who else, on earth, can toil so hard in filth!) turned on the metre and to add to my disgust spat out paan and tobacco which he was chewing all along. The entire scene took me back to Mumbai of 1980s.  So, has nothing changed ever since then in these parts of Mumbai? Our PM Modi should visit this place at least once to see the ground realities and understand why Swatch Bharat doesn’t work. It’s not about spending money, it’s about changing people culturally.

In any case, meandering through several lanes and bylanes, my taxi got out of this messy place. We then passed through more decent localities such as Prabhadevi, drove through posh buildings of Worli and eventually reached my destination.

Yes, indeed, I did realize that the path to paradise is strewn not just with obstacles but lots of dirt and filth as well. And faithful as I am to Music, I managed to reach my destination which is even better than paradise.

So, did the evening fare prove to be as good as I expected? Yes, it surpassed all my expectations. It started off with Rahul Desh Pande’s Vocal recital in Shri Rag which one gets to hear rarely . This was followed by a great Santoor performance by Rahul Sharma who is the son of Pandit Shiva Kumar Sharma. He equalled or even surpassed his father. Towards the end of his concert, he attempted an innovation to bring in folk music. A Rajasthani folk musician came on stage and led the proceedings. He would sing a couple of lines and Rahul Sharma would follow it up with his own improvisations. It was a great contest to watch. This also showed how rich our folk culture is.

The grand finale to the evening was provided by Ustad Sujat khan on Sitar. Expectedly, he presented two great night Ragas, namely, bhageshri and bhairavi (bhairavi is the equivalent of sindhu bhairavi of Carnatic). Bhageshri is a night Ragas associated with the emotion  of a woman pining for her lover. There are a number of old film songs based on this raga. Here is one very popular Hindi song  from the film Anarkali based on this raga.


Published in: on March 19, 2017 at 11:27 pm  Comments (1)  
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Aren’t We Too Judgmental?

Yes, indeed! If any proof were needed, one just has to go around the various concert halls in Chennai during the December Music Festival. For the poor musician every concert is like an examination. And who are the examiners? Of course, We, the listeners!! Once a ‘kacheri’ starts there is expectation in the air. There are questions in every body’s mind like – is he going to start with a ‘varnam’? if so, which varnam? What raga or song will he sing next? How is the artist going to manage his time? Will there be RTP (Ragam/Tanam/Pallavi)? If so, will it be sung in a single raga or as a Raga-malika? Who are the accompanists? Will the vocalist give a free hand to violin and mridangam? As in all examinations, each question carries marks! As a concert progresses all the questions would be answered one by one. Of course there are always unspelt questions on identifying each raga as soon as the musicians start a particular ‘alap’. Several would try to identify ragas by comparison with known songs or tunes. While this may work in most  cases, certain closely related ragas don’t give away their identity that easily. For instance the difference between Riti gowla & Ananda bhairavi can be found out only by a guy who can identify precise ‘swaras’ in ‘arohanam’ & ‘avarohanam’. This is when a specialist’s knowledge is sought, if there is one sitting nearby. All this is fun, which, one would miss if  he or she were to listen to the same concert after the event.  The latter is like watching the replay of a cricket match after the match is over. In addition, one is sure to come across idiosyncrasies of certain celebrity musicians on stage. And finally there is also good fun for the gossip mongers, who like to dwell into personal lives of musicians (one can hear or overhear people discussing these as well).

Having talked so much about being judgmental, let me pronounce my own judgments based on my limited experience of the season.

A music concert by defintion means a performance given  by a team of musicians acting together in harmony. Therefore, every member of the team is expected to play an important role. However, in carnatic music most of the concerts are known by the main artist, who don’t give freedom to vilonists or mridangam players to produce their best. So they have to play a submissive role and no wonder the concert fees is not shared equally. This not only results in bad blood but also in a situation where one doesn’t have the right atmosphere to produce great accompanists like Palghat Mani, Umayalpuram sivaraman, Lalgudi Jayaramn or TN Krishnan.

I will now briefly review below some of the concerts I attended.

Abhishek Raghuram’s concert at Partha sabha was good in patches. There is no doubt about his musical abilities. Whether it is raaga or Kriti, ‘neraval’ or ‘kalpana swaras’, he is capable of producing the best like any maestro. He is blessed with a pleasing voice which is capable breaking all barriers – kaala(speed barrier), gati, range, gamakas, imaginative phrases etc. Such a gifted musician need not play to the gallery. For instance his swara kalpana in pantuvarali(Raghuvara) in fast pace was tiring and got reduced to the level of vocal acrobatics. Neraval of the kriti starting with ‘Mnasuna Neeke Marulu konnanu’…. was, however, rendered with emotion in a slower pace. It is a kriti full of emotion and best rendered in Madhyama kaala (even kalpana swaras). As a friend of mine said: When you have such a blessed voice, you feel compelled to exhibit what all you can do with it.

I attended two concerts of TM Krishna. He certainly does try to give surprises to the audience (don’t confuse surprises with innovation!). In one concert ‘Rag alap’ was in in one raga, tanam was in a closely associate raga while a kirtana was from a different raga. This may relieve one of  monotony but not necessarily an innovation. That apart, his music is certainly maturing and evolving to greater heights . He is excelling in rendering in slow pace. This pace is particularly suited to ragas like Ananda Bhairavi. This pace also helps the listeners to completely soak and relax in music and absorb the essence of a raga in all its  dimensions. While this is not a new trend ( Bombay Jayashree has been doing this for more than 2 years now), this certainly reinforces the feeling that music is best enjoyed at slow pace.

Sanjay was at his usual best in Parthasaradhi sabha rendering with gusto. He never seems to be completely satisfied with his variations in ‘sangatis’  as he keeps coming up with unexpected and unpredicatable ‘sangatis’  just when we mentally conclude that he has done enough justice and expect him to move on to the next phrase.

Sudha Raghunathan’s concert at Narada Gana Sabha was great and fully justified her top billing.

In Music Academy I attended two concerts back to back – that of Bombay Jayashree & Saketa Raman. While Bombay Jayashree’s concert was according to a formula – melodious and divine with a lot of devotion (bhakti) blended into it, I liked Saketa Raman’s concert even better. His rendering of Nalina Kanti & Bindumalini together for RTP was superb.

Published in: on January 6, 2013 at 1:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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December Music Festival – A Month that separates the Men from the Boys!

It’s the time of the year when the men are separated from the boys. Shall we say the ” The Moving Month” for the upcoming carnatic musicians. In Golf, Saturday is called the ‘moving day’, which signifies a day on which men of calibre move up the ladder and are separated from the lesser mortals. It is pretty much the same in the Music Season in Chennai. Several young artists are given their first chance during the month-long music festival in December and only a small percentage of them prove their mettle and move up the ladder in the following year. One can make out who are all moving up the ladder from the time slots allotted to each of them in the following year. From 12am slot they are supposed to move up to 2pm and finally to 4pm or 7pm, which are supposed to be the prime time slots.

This year the people who moved up the time slot are Kunnakudi Balamurali krishna and a few others. Next year it could be Sandeep Narayan or Bharat Sundar, who topped as the carnatic music idol in 2010. A few years back Abhishek Raghuram and Sikkil Gurucharan made it into the prime time slots. This progression of each artist is speculated upon and keenly watched by the music lovers every year.

What are the other highlights for this year’s festival based on my limited experience? Well, Bharat Sundar’s concert was certainly the most promising among the youngsters. Ravi kiran’s chitra veena in Music academy proved what it takes to make a concert  successful. The Morsing and Ghatam players , I thought , got a raw deal by the ‘sound’ quality managers. In fact Ghatam was not audible at all. It seemed to demoralize the Ghatam player till the end. The concert picked up in intensity and quality only towards the end. RTP(Ragam,/ Thanam/Pallavi) in Natakurangi was thoroughly enjoyable. The rest of the concert was forgettable.

Today(24/12) I went to Mylapore Fine arts for Bombay Jayasree’s concert but was disappointed to find tickets were sold out. I didn’t want to get back empty-handed. So I decided to gamble and went for an unplanned concert in Music academy by one Renganatha Sarma. I didn’t go with any expectations since the artist was a complete stranger to me. I was just banking on the reputation of Music Academy. To my pleasant surprise, however, it  turned out to be an exceptionally great experience. I believe he was a disciple of Semmangudi. His rendering was down to earth with no showmaship. He rendered most of the songs in Madhyama kaala with blemishless sruti and a sense of rythm. Bhairavi raaga and the song Kamalamba was the main piece. RTP was in Ragamalika – raagam & pallavi both were rendered in ragamalika style. Ramapriya, shanmukhapriya & sangita rasika priya were chosen as the ragas, all closely related.

Lecture demonstration by veteran musicologist SR Janakiraman(SRJ) was another great experience. His experimentation and innovation in raga singing in swaras was very impressive, as illustrated with Ragas Hamsadhwani, Bhairavi and Hamsanandini. This could pave the way for educating the listeners about Ragas and their structure . SRJ’s main theme is that swaras are after all the life of any raga and hence the new experiment! It is worth emulating by other musicians.

The  performance by Sikkil Gurucharan at Parthasaradhi Sabha on 25/12 was good. Here is a case of Veteram Mridagam artist Umayalpuram Sivaram inspiring the other artists with his energetic performance. His very presence was enough to motivate the main artist and it really enhanced the   quality of performance. Only violinist’s performance was below par. This shows how a veteran player can totally transform a concert.

Is the conduct of Chennai music lovers ideal? Far from it! I found there are 3 different forms of distractions in all concerts in Chennai. One is the ubiquitous cell phones. Many keep it in silence mode, but refuse to ignore the phone when there is a call and try to speak in hush tones. This is enough to disturb others. If there is one place where Cell phones have to be banned, I would say, it is a concert Hall.

Second type of disturbance is from people who keep humming along with the artist (“pin pattu’). This is really bad and they are difficult to stop. One guy in fact claimed that humming enhanced his listening pleasure. Unfortunately I found that humming is also infectious as their neighbours also sometimes start doing the same.

The third type of distraction is rather subtle and the most difficult to stop. How will you stop a guy who is constantly messing up with the beats ( ” Tappu Talam”). Music is predominantly ryhthm based besides sruti & melody. One can easily get distracted by a guy who is sitting next to you and constantly messing with ‘Talam’!

I am yet to attend performances of other big artists- Sanjay, Sudha, Abhishek, Bombay Jayashree etal. I am hoping to get a chance during the next one week.

Published in: on December 26, 2012 at 12:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

December Music Festival 2011 – My Experiences

Chennai, December Month & Music are inseparable. For me if it’s December it has got to be Chennai. This year I took my holiday from Christmas to New Year for the music season. It was great to see people filling up music halls, rain or shine.(Cyclonic weather threatened to play spoil sport for a couple of days)
I managed to attend concerts of most of the great artists and of some selected upcoming youngsters.
Sanjay was easily the best among the lot. He is the ‘Dravid’ among the artists- very very consistent and innovative as always.
TM Krishna is one musician no one can ignore. He would make news for all good as well as bad reasons. He loves controversies as much as he loves his music! And undoubtedly he has a great fan following. Here are some quotable(read ‘controversial or amusing’)quotes or incidents happily shared by his ‘rasikas’:
-When the audience clapped before he completed a song, he showed his annoyance openly
-When they clapped a little late for the next song, he seemed to have remarked, “I don’t mind even if you don’t clap”
– “People say I talk a lot but will still keep talking”.
– In reply to a question he made an interesting and valid distinction between BAANI and Style. (Baani, according to him, is an intellectual process where a musician tries to structure the methodology of presentation of music and this is meticulously passed on from one generation of disciples to another. On the other hand Style is merely a personal way of rendering music.(for instance, MDR or Balamurali’s music can’t be termed as Baani – it’s merely their personal style which is difficult to copy).

The concert of TM Krishna that I attended at Mylapore Fine Arts was not free from controversies. He made an elaborate rendering of the main Raga Thodi but to everyone’s surprise chose to take up a trivial Varnam (Kanakaangi…)as the ‘Kriti’, which can not offer much scope for elaboration. What is more, he chose to do ‘NERAVAL’ with the most insignificant part of the Varnam – ANUPALLAVI starting with DHANADUDAINA..SARAFOJI… RAJENDRA… etc, which has neither depth of meaning or nor the inherent strength of bringing out ‘Raga Bhava’. In a typical NERAVAL, there is invariably a beautiful convergence of RAAGA BHAVA & SAHITYA BHAVA.
Choosing to sing a Varnam for the main Raga ignoring so many ‘weighty’ Kritis of VAAGGEYAKAAARAAS can only be termed immature!

Bombay Jayasri’s concert was exceptional. Her music can only be described by phrases such as divine, soulful or Blissful. One can really relax and become blissfully unaware of the surroundings, listening to her music. The quality of divinity only got enhanced as she began to slow down her tempo of music for the past more than an year. The slow tempo,perfect Sruti and Bhava together make her music captivating. And one gets completely soaked and absorbed in her music as a concert progresses.
Ranjani & Gayatri, whose music is usually fast paced, also shifted to slower pace – again with a good effect.
Sudha Raghunathan’s concert was, on the other hand, full of VIDWAT and the manner in which she glided smoothly from one Raga to the next during the main raga presentation was simply superb (She handled with complete ease the transition from SANKARABAHRANAM to Thodi to Kalyani to Darbar and back to Sankarabharanam). Besides exhibition of technique, it was also melodius.
We had a great beginning to the New Year thanks to Music Academy organizing a Flute concert by Shashank.
Among the upcoming artists, I must make a special mention of Abhishek Raghuram and Sandeep Narayan. Abhishek certainly has all the ingredients in his music to make it big in the future. However, I felt he needs to tone down on BHRIGAS and use adequate ‘karvai'(effective silent periods) between SANGATIS while presenting a RAAGA Or a KRITI.

I will conclude my review of my music season with an interesting incident for the benefit of those who may not be familiar with the various Sabhas(Halls)of Chennai. On 24th Dec, I went to Krishna Gana Sabha in T Nagar with great enthusiasm to listen to the concert of TV Sankaranarayanan. I paid 200 Rs and in my anxiety to ensure a seat for the next day, bought another ticket for 200 Rs for the concert of Sanjay Subramanyam. To every one’s shock, TVS’s concert was completely spoiled by the very poor sound management system of the organizers. TVS was 15 minutes into the concert and tried in vain to reason with the sound engineer. At this point, the artist was so upset that he wondered whether he should continue with the concert. The secretary of the Sabha, however, forced him to continue anyway. I came out of the Hall and protested to the secretary and demanded refund of both the tickets. In an unprecedented develpment, the secretary refunded my money, while blaming the artists of coming in late and confusing their Sound engineers!
I came to know later that this hall is notorious for mismanagement.
I think it is advisable to stick to 4 or 5 good Sabhas – Music Academy, Narada Gana Sabha, Mylapore Fine Arts, Parthasaradhi Sabha and possibly Brahma Gana Sabha on Luz Church Road.

Published in: on January 7, 2012 at 6:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Musical Fornight in Chennai

The Chennai music festival is unique – probably only one of its kind in the world. I am not aware of any city which can boast of musical mornings / evenings / afternoons / nights,which are conducted in as many as 15 odd halls /’sabhas’ . I am almost certain there are no parallels in terms of sheer number of concerts per day(on an average 40 concerts in a day,if one counts all halls?).
My Chennai trip came about by default,thanks to US consulate in Mumbai who kept my visa application in pending status. The moment it happened,I quickly changed my plans and landed in Chennai in time for the season.
As usual,there were quite a few innovations made during the season. The following are noteworthy:
Some musicians,during alaap of a main raga,effortlessly switched over to another raga. For instance Bombay Jayashree made a smooth and seamless transition from Ranjani to Bindumalini to priyadarshini – back & forth effortlessly. While this is a technical feat by itself,the overall effect in terms of music and melody is also immense. To my pleasant surprise one of the budding artists( Saketharaman) also attempted this technique successfully with poise. He transited back & forth with the ragas Nalinakanti & Bindumalini.
In another innovation,Ravikiran(of ‘vichitra veena’ fame) presented a fusion of sorts along with an orchestra consisting of violin,key board,guitar(played by a Brazillian),ghatam,mridangam,kanjira etc.. It was an impressive blend of classical with contemporary music. I liked it probably because there was less of contemporary and more of classical.

In an interesting duet(I didn’t attend this one),TN Seshagopalan on vocal was supported by Mandolin Srinivas on string and the event was projected as SESHU &SRINI CONCERT.
There was yet another interesting event which was presented as STHREE THYAGARAJA ARADHANA. This is an all-woman concert wherein 60 women presented together on vocal,and a variety of instruments.
There were also a couple of interesting LEC-DEMS(Short form for lecture demonstration).There were animated discussions on what is popularly known as MANODHARMA SANGEETAM. Manodharma is a unique expression which means in simple terms innovation or creativity within certain well defined bounds. Carnatic music offers excellent scope for innovation whether it is rag alap or,Neraval or swara kalpana. But at the same time one is expected to adhere to tradition. Manodharma in Carnatic music is so vital that it is not an exaggeration to say that the the music is entirely sustained by it. As Ravi Kiran ,one of the panel members put it,when melody,rhythm,& lyrics merge,one can create silence out of music.

S.R.Janakiraman’s lec-dem on classification of Thyagaraja kirtanas in terms of various themes was very fascinating. His passion for music and thirst for knowledge even at the age of 82 is amazing.

I attended another interesting lec-dem by Nedunuri on Ragaa and its scope. During the discussion,Nedunuri mentioned that without ‘swara jnana’,one can never sing a raga. One well known musicologist who was present during the discussion,while agreeing with the statement, added that there are always great exceptions to this rule. And he narrated a funny incident to illustrate his point. In the good old days,there was one very famous drama actor by name KITTAPPA who was also a highly gifted singer. His Rag alap was so astounding that even well known musicians of that time would flock to theatre whenever Kittappa presented a drama interspersed with good music. During one such drama,Kittappa made one amazing rendering of a raag alap which drew spontaneous applause from the audience. The story goes that Kittappa soon went into the GREEN ROOM and asked one of his close friends: “Pachaa- do me a favour- there was such a roaring applause to my rendering of a raga – please tell me what raaga it is that I presented”. The point that is being made here is that Jnana(of swara etc) is not a prerequisite to a musical genius who is born with the gift.

Among the established artists whose performances I liked are: Bombay Jayashree,Sanjay Subramanyam & TM Krishna – in that order.
Among the upcoming artists,the following names are worth watching in the future:
Saketha Raman,Kunnakudi Balamuralikrishna,Rithwik Raja,Vikram Raghavan(the last two are disciples of TM Krishna),and Sandeep Narayan(Sanjay Subramanyam’s disciple).

Published in: on January 8, 2011 at 5:57 pm  Leave a Comment