RAMA BHAKTI SAMRAJYAM
Feb 13th, 2016 - Tyagaraja's Ramayana - Harikatha by Vidushi Vishaka Hari
The evening of February 13th 2016 – Bangalore Rasikas were destined to witness a near miracle. They were about to meet the greatest Vageyyakara and musician of all times - Shri Thyagaraja Swami . Are you wondering how we could meet his holiness when he already attained Samadhi more than 300 years ago ? Well, seeing is believing - one should have been there, at the first concert of Samyoga – the annual event of Ranjani Fine Arts (RFA) . I know you still think I am spinning a yarn! If you find this unbelievable , you can ask the others present there. On that day, Smt. Vishakha Hari performed a Harikatha on Thyagaraja Ramayanam , and helped us meet Thyagaraja Swami not just in her Harikatha narration , but straight in our hearts.
Such was the profoundness of Smt Vishaka Hari’s performance right from the word go ! She started with Shri Walajapet Venkatramana Bhagavathar’s shloka on Shri Thyagaraja Swami and followed it with a brisk and melodious rendition of the krithi Shobillu Saptaswara in Jaganmohini. Shri Walajapet Venkatramana Bhagavathar was Thyagaraja Swami’s Shishya and in the shloka, he has hailed his guru as one who can be considered equal to Vedavyasa in Vedanta Vichara, to Shuka for his Vairagyam, to Prahlada for his Bhakti , and to Brahma and Narada for Sangeetha and Sahitya .
Smt Vishaka Hari narrated a touching incident where Thyagaraja Swami’s father told him to recite 100 crore Rama Namams so that Lord Rama could give Darshan when he completes the chanting . However , Lord Rama gave Darshan on the completion of the 96th crore chants itself. Thyagaraja asked Rama the reason for the same and Rama said “ Thyagaraja can wait for 100 crore Rama Namams to get Darshan of Rama , but Rama cannot wait that long to give Darshan to his devout and selfless Bhakta ! The impact of the theme for the evening was created in the first few minutes of the concert itself! From thereon, it was a journey that I never wanted to disembark from !
Shri Thyagaraja’s Ramayana started unfolding into a beautiful path to paradise, studded with narratives on the incidents from the Ramayana, appropriately balanced with the rendering of Thyagaraja krithi snippets. As she rightly said, even if we cannot do Samudra Snanam ( full bath in the sea of Thyagaraja Ramayanam) , we can at least stand by the bank and feel and enjoy the waves .
Smt Vishaka Hari rendered a viruttham on the first shloka of the Ramayana . Here Narada asks Valmiki - whether there is any man perfect and unmatched in brain, brawn and beauty , one who is a knower and practitioner of dharma, one who is full of perseverance and has a blemishless character, one who is a scholar but humble, one who is confident but not over confident – and to this , Narada replied that though these seem to be an impossible mix of traits, there is one such perfect person – RAMA !!
A rendering of Rama Nee Samanamevaro in Kharaharapriya followed. The krithi starts as follows - Rama, is there anyone equal to you in all virtues?
We were then introduced to the prelude of Lava and Kusha singing the Ramayanam at Ayodhya in the durbar of Rama. Rama was taking a walk with Bharatha in the terrace and hears Lava and Kusha singing his praise . Bharata says that the singers can be none other than Rama’s own sons . Rama is heartbroken at seeing that his children are singing on the street and he is living in a palace, but is bound by duty towards his citizens , and cannot embrace his sons . Hence he arranges for their singing in his court. Lava and Kusha start by narrating narrate the Bala Kaandam. The krithi Sri Rama Rama Rama in Neelambari was rendered .
Tygaraja’s greatness in bringing unique perspectives in Ramayana, which even the great authors like Valmiki and Kambar could not envision. The way in which Visakha Hari presented this was so poignant. One particular incident - Rama as a child comes crying to Kausalya complaining that his friends and not allowing him to play hide and seek. On questioning about the reason, Rama says that if he was to seek, his friends said that his eyes were too wide to tie up, and he was anyways a Sarvajnani . If he was to hide, they were able to find him easily as he radiated light equal to a crore sunrays ( Koti Surya Prakasha). Immediately, we could feel the light of the crore rays with the rendering of the krithi Marugelara (emphasis on the anupallavi line Marugela chara chara roopa parathpara surya sudhakara lochana) . Another incident was the reference to Hanuman in the event of Sita kalyanam. Saint Tyagaraja thought how happy the greatest bhakta of Lord Rama would have been had he been present at the occasion. Another was the reference to the bashful Sita taking a glimpse of Lord Rama on the occasion of the Swayamvara, as listed in the Varali Pancharatnam kriti “KanakanaRuchira”.
Viswamitra’s request to Dasaratha for Rama’s help in destroying the Rakshasas was narrated. When Dasaratha hesitated, Viswamitra said that Rama was Paramatma himself . Rendering of a snippet from Paramathmudu Belige in Vagadeeswari followed .Brochevaravare in Sri Ranjani helped us visulaise Rama’s slaying of the Rakshasas . In fact ,she pointed out that Brochevaravare, narrates the Ramayanam in reverse. The krithi Aparama Bhakti in Pantuvarali was rendered soulfully and reiterated the power of Rama Namam..
Some krithis were mentioned as encompassing all the Kaandams of the Ramayana. For example, Sri Rama Jaya Rama in Yadukula Kamboji was Bala Kaandam in a nutshell, and Vinayamuni in Saurashtram was Ayodhya Kaandam reincarnated.
We then got a glimpse of the Ayodhya Kandam where, on the way to Videha, Rama releases Ahalya’s curse. This is beautifully ingrained into the krithi Sriramapadama in Amruthavahini. A rendering of Balakanakamaya in Atana followed where Rama’s handsome youth is described very beautifully. And when you are hearing this from Smt Vishaka Hari, you feel you are seeing Rama himself. Well, did I forget to tell you that Thyagaraja Swami was not the only person we met that day ! We met Rama too !
The description of the stringing of the bow was just jaw dropping. At one point when she said “ When Rama lifted the bow, the heads of the other contestants went down “ , there was a silence within the silence in the auditorium. You know what I mean! We were actually living the Ramayana ! We saw Sita and Rama tying the sacred knot when Smt Vishaka Hari sang ‘Sita Kalyanam”. We saw Rama entering Ayodhya with Sita when she beautifully sang ‘Samajavaragamana” . There was a very enjoyable violin and vocal exchange in this rendition. We could visulaise the whole of Ayodhya sleepless on the eve of Rama’s coronation . We could hear the evil designs of Mandhara, we could feel the temporary fall of Kaikeyi , we could lament on the pining of Dasaratha, and in the midst of all this, we could see a composed Rama ready to leave Ayodhya for his father’s sake, a dutiful Sita not leaving the side of her husband, loyal brothers in Lakshmana and Bharatha. Eti Janmam in Varali which speaks of Kaushalya’s plight on seeing her son leave, was rendered with Swara Kalpana. All through the concert, she was very aptly accompanied by Smt Charulatha Ramanujam on the violin ,Shri HS Sudhindra on the mridangam, and Smt Sukanya Ramagopal on the ghatam. The percussionists took their awesome rendering to the zenith, in this song .
We went on to see the Aranya Kaandam where Bharata says that he does not want Samrajyam and Rama Bhakti was his Samrajyam – reference to Rama Bhakti Samrajyam in Suddha Bangala. We could see how both Bharata and Rama stay truthful to abidance by their promises to father and brother ( Pitru Vakya Paripalana) .
With due respect to the artist, due to lack of time, we had to take a fast tour of the rest of the Ramayana . Sita’s pining for Rama in the Ashoka Vana was mentioned in the songs – Needayarada ,Brovabharama ,Chalamelara and Ennalu Orage . When covering Kishkinda Kaandam, we could hear Hanuman asking Ravana to return Sita in “Sarasasamadana”. In Vandanamu ( Ragam Shahana), we could see Rama crossing the Sethubandhana to rescue Sita. The Yuddha Kaandam was very briefly touched upon. After Rama’s victory, we could see Rama , Sita and others flying back in the Pushpaka Vimana . This is mentioned in the first Ghana Raga Pancharatnam “Jagadanandakaraka” . Finally a salute to Thyagaraja was offered through “Thyagarajaya Mangalam”.
Though we left the auditorium stunned , with my family, Smt Vishaka Hari has left the Ramayana journey running in our minds through her lucid and impactful narrative, through her flawless exposition of manodharma and kalpita Sangeetha , and most importantly through the seamless blending of Harikatha and Carnatic music with the aid of Bhakti and knowledge . Indeed we saw, and felt Thyagaraja Swami, Rama and all the other characters in front of us, in our heart and soul. And these are divine moments in life ! Thank you Smt Vishaka Hari , her accompanists, and RFA for enabling these moments !
-- Sri Narayanan Iyer
A UNIQUE SAMYOGA – TM KRISHNA & SANGETHA SIVAKUMAR IN CONCERT
Feb 14th, 2016 - Carnatic concert by Vidwan T.M.Krishna and Vidushi Sangeetha Sivakumar
Despite the ‘deciding’ cricket match between India and Sri Lanka on the same evening, hundreds chose to come for a concert.
It was the second day of the RFA annual festival, and what a way to start it! TM Krishna and Sangeetha Sivakumar truly defined duality or Samyoga. They started off with Sri Tyagaraja’s composition in Harikambodhi- Enduku nee daya. It was sung in a tempo which gave a beautiful start to the evening. We heard a few minutes of tanam by Sangeetha Sivakumar in Purvikalyani prior to a javali of Pattabhiramayya - Nee Matale Mayanura. Next was the piece which most people, including me enjoyed the most. It was Shyama Sastri’s Svarajati in Yadukulakambodhi. Amba Kamakshi was truly rendered by two soulful voices. The lilting pace at which it was sung, took us all to the abode of Goddess Kamakshi.
This was followed by an excellent Todi alapana by Sangeetha Sivakumar. She thoroughly explored the nuances of rendering Todi in the Madhyama Sthayi. A sloka- ‘Pullagi’, was alternatingly sung in different ragams by the two artistes. Nattai, Varali, Nattaikurinji, and Desh were some of them.
Nandanar’s composition Paavi Ezhai Naan in Todi was sung succeeding the sloka. This song has a very beautiful story. Nandanar was one of the 63 nayanar saints. In those days the caste system was very much in vogue and Nandanar was considered to be of a very low caste. He breathed and lived Lord Shiva. He happened to go to Tirupunkoor where there was a Shiva temple. Wary of stepping inside, he tried looking at the Lord from outside. But a cow (nandi) stood by his view. He got frustrated not knowing that it was Nandi, the vahana of Shiva. Then Nayanar sings (the song presented in the concert), “ Vazhi maraithirukkuthe malai pole, Oru madu paduthirukkuthe!”, which means, ‘Like a mountain, one cow is lying down, and is hiding my view!’. It is believed to have said that Nandi actually moved to give Nayanar a blessing of Lord Shiva.
A brilliant Tani Avartanam was played by Sri Arun Prakash and Sri BS Purushottam. The exchange of sollus was a honey- like voice singing. It was time for a Ragam Tanam Pallavi. A stunning segment of Tanam was played by HN Bhaskar. The team then presented a Pallavi,
‘Manam Mayanginel Pavayin Parvayai Parthadum’. It was followed by a short Tani Avartanam. Kalpana Swarams in ragams Kapi, Sahana and Sindhubhairavi were sung to brighten up the piece.
Then was presented Baro Krishnayya, a ragamalika composed by Kanakadasa. Well, according to me, this was one of the most beautiful renditions I’ve heard of this particular song. All ragams- Maand, Mishra pilu and Jonpuri were handled with so much care and brilliance. The peaceful abhang Dhava Vibho was presented. This song left so much peace and tranquillity in every person’s mind when they left.
Overall, I personally enjoyed myself thoroughly! I think that all the means by which music was produced on stage was in unison with the other. The adage, “Music fills the infinite between two souls”, was proven to be right after listening to this concert…
-- Vibha Arvind
A SUBLIME EXPERIENCE OF MELODY
Feb 14th 2016 - Hindustani concert by Pandit Venkatesh Kumar
In Hindu mythology & literature, there are many references to celestial beings like Siddhas, Gandharvas, Vidyadharas and Kinnaras, who mesmerize all beings with their melodious music. Perhaps these were allegories or symbolisms to artistes who had such divine voices capable of mesmerizing any audience. One was reminded of such celestial beings after listening to Padmashri Pandit Venkatesh Kumar, whose concert was the grand finale of Samyoga 2016!
The avid rasikas were treated to a divine Hindustani vocal classical concert by the renowned vocalist Padmashri Pandit Venkatesh Kumar.
This musician mesmerized the audience with his intense and scholarly singing. Panditji began his concert with the evergreen evening melody- Raag Yaman which is a favourite among most musicians. He sang a traditional bandish ‘Mera mana baandh’ set to Vilambit Ektaal, followed by ‘Eri aali piay bina’ set to Dhrut Teentaal in the same raag.
The swaras (notes)of the raag unfolded step by step in a meditative manner. Each cycle of rhythm (aavartan) was different and richly imaginative with Aalap, Bol aalap, Taan and Sargam creating an ambience of samarpan or total surrender to Goddess Saraswati. True to the song, Panditji’s devotion to Goddess Saraswati was evident at every moment of the concert!
Right from the opening notes, his rendition was captivating and this hour long recital of Yaman transported us to a different world. The second raag was Shankara, a comparatively chanchal raag in which Panditi ji sang two compositions. The first bandish ‘ So jaanu re jaanu’ was set to taal Tilwara and the second ‘Eri sajani’ to Dhrut Teentaal. The natural temperament of this raag with the progression of the high notes was reverberating in the auditorium. The listeners were bowled over by the magical rendition!
The maestro followed this up with a bandish ‘Damaru dama dama baaje’ in raag Tilak Kaamod set to Teentaal. This created a visual image of Lord Mahadeva playing his celestial musical instrument. The selection of raags that Panditji chose to perform that evening is a lesson for all the students of classical music. His rendition was in the following order
1. Raag Yaman from Kalyan Thaat( Melakarta)
2. Raag Shankara from Bilawal Thaat
3. Raag Tilak Kaamod from Khamaaj Thaat
This order demonstrated that if we change the scale we can get different swaras which produce different musical sounds or raags.
Pt. Venkatesh Kumar concluded his concert with three devotional songs sung in quick succession. A vachana by the 12th century philosopher Basavanna in Raag Tilang, was followed by saint Vadiraja’s compostion with the lyrics ‘Ondu baari smarane saalade?’ (Raag Mishra Kirwani) and another devotional composition by saint Kanakadasa based on raag Bhairavi with the lyrics ‘Toredu jeevisa bahude Hari ninna charaNagaLa?’ This exemplified as to how Pandit Venkatesh Kumar has dedicated himself to his craft as a penance.
A very important part of Panditji’s concert was the brilliant accompaniments of tabla sangat by Pandit Udaraj Karpur and harmonium sangat by Dr. Ravindra Katoti. Both these artists gave an outstanding contribution to the concert. We, the rasikas of Bengaluru consider ourselves blessed to have been a part of this concert.
- Smt. Rina Basu