February 11th, 2017 (Saturday), 4.00PM
Tyagaraja’s Prahalada Bhakti Vijayam – Harikatha (in English) by Vidushi Vishaka Hari
A DRAMATIC EXPERIENCE
There was a lot of excitement and a full house at the first of the four concerts lined up for Samyoga 2017 – the annual festival of Ranjani Fine Arts, on Feb 11th 2017. The concert for the evening was a Harikatha by Vidushi Vishaka Hari – an eminent Carnatic musician, and an expert and popular Harikatha exponent. The topic was the ‘Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam’, one of three operas composed by the great vageyakkaras of all times, Sadguru Sri Thyagaraja Swami. The accompanists for the evening were Shri Mudikondan Ramesh on the Veena, Shri B Ananthakrishnan on the violin, and Shri S.J. Arjun Ganesh on the mrudangam.
The excitement gave way to wonder, as Vid Vishaka Hari began by saying that the Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam had little to no dwelling on Hiranyakashyapa and Narasimha! Prahlada without Hiranyakashyapa and Narasimha, sounded to me like soup without salt and pepper, but then it was a Harikatha by Vishaka Hari, and I was sure that this was going to be yet another unique sublime experience!
The artist set the tone for the evening saying that she was going to follow the sequence of Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam exactly as composed. The opera has 45 Keerthanas written in 28 Ragas. The opera has five different Acts. There are several prayers and introductory notes. Let me now take you through this musico-dramatic journey.
Act 1. Prahladha saved by the God of the ocean and Garuda
As in the opera, Vid Vishaka Hari rendered the prayers to Lord Ramachandra in a Viruttam form, followed by praises to the great sages like sage Narada, Purandara Dasa, etc.
In the first scene, Lord Ganesa is beautifully described by Shri Thyagaraja. A nice rendering of Sree Ganapathini in Raga Saurashtra depicted this. The great story then started unfolding. The gate keeper of Vaikunta arrives singing the name of Lord Vasudeva. Vid Vishaka Hari elaborated this narration with the rendering of Vasudevayani in Kalyani with apt Niraval and Swarams.
She then very eloquently mentioned how the gatekeeper explains to the director, the purpose of the drama. The gatekeeper said that Prahlada is lying in the ocean bed wound by poisonous snakes, having been thrown there by the servants of Hiranyakashyapa, his demon father. The God of the ocean was coming to rescue him and had ordered celebrations on the arrival of the divine being Prahlada, in the ocean world. The song that describes this in the play is ‘Sagarundu Vedalenitho’ in the Raga Yamuna Kalyani.
An interesting analogy mentioned by Vid Vishaka Hari was that the poisonous snakes entangling Prahlada represented the arishadvargas or six passions of the mind - kama (lust), krodha (anger), lobh (greed), moha (attachment), mada or ahankar (pride) and matsarya (jealousy), Prahlada represented the disciple and Samudra Raja (Ocean God), the Guru who frees the disciple from the arishadvargas.
Prahlada was placed on the throne and Samudra Raja prayed to Garuda to free Prahlada from the clutches of the poisonous snakes. The krithi composed by Sri Thyagaraja for this scene, Vinatasuta in Huseni was rendered very beautifully.
Being greatly pleased with the prayer, the king of birds, Garuda, appeared before Prahlada. His flapping of the wings sounded like “Krishna ….. Krishna …..”. Garuda tears away the snakes with his powerful claws and wings and frees Prahlada . The king of the ocean spoke with divine love to Prahlada, and woke him up from his meditation.
Prahlada opened his eyes, saluted the ocean king and told him how sorry he was for the indifference shown by him. He fell at the feet of the king of the ocean, who lifted him up, treated him in a great way and gave him several gifts including Naga Rathnas. Then, the king of ocean assured Prahlada that Hari would come to see him and advised him.
Smt Vishaka Hari wounded up this section highlighting that Prahlada had been initiated by Samudra Raja into a true seeker’s spiritual journey.
Act 2. Prahladha beseeches the Lord
Smt Vishaka Hari said that at this point Prahlada had gained lot of understanding of the Lord and wanted to sing about it. Saint Thyagaraja pens a wonderful krithi here – ‘Vandanamu Raghunandana’ in Raga Sahana. Prahlada pleads for the vision of the Lord. Narada arrives there and describes the great qualities of Lord Hari.
Narada’s arrival was experienced through the krithi ‘Naradamuni’ in Pantuvarali, very aptly rendered by Smt Vishaka Hari.
Narada tells about a dialog between Lord Hari and Goddess Lakshmi in which Lord Hari expresses his desire to immediately come to earth and see his great devotee called Prahlada. Goddess Lakshmi expresses her reservations but Lord Hari convinces her and starts his journey to meet his great devotee Prahladha.
A Churnika, which was a description of Vaikunta by Narada. was presented in eloquent style, and the conversation between Lakshmi and Narayana was amazingly narrated.
Act 3. The fainting of Prahlada due to sorrow and coming of Lord Hari
When there was no sign of the coming of Lord Hari, thinking that he did not have the luck to see the God, Prahladha feels that his hands are useless since they could not worship the Lord and there is no use of his tongue, which does not have any luck to sing about Lord Hari in his presence. Prahladha feels that his birth itself is absolutely useless and sings this Krithi 'Yeti janma midhi, Ha Oh Rama'.
Did I say “Prahlada sings”? Well, that was not a typo! Smt Vishaka Hari singing there on stage was Prahlada to us!
When Lord Hari does not appear before him in spite of several entreaties, Prahlada feels greatly miserable and gets worried. He falls unconscious. Lord Hari then lifts him up. He speaks to Prahladha with great kindness and love. Hearing that, Prahladha is thrown in to great rapture and sings the Krithi 'Enati nomu phalamo' in Bhairavi.
The above krithi was elaborated beautifully by Smt Vishaka Hari and ably accompanied by the team. Here ended the third act.
Act 4. Lord Hari offers boons and Prahladha wants only devotion at his feet.
Smt Vishaka Hari’s captivating narration continued. Lord Hari who had come before Prahladha is greatly pleased. He blessed Prahladha and requested him to ask for any boons. Prahladha replied to him that when Lord who was like the wish giving tree was himself present before him, where was the need to have material wealth. He asked only being able to serve the feet of Lord Hari.
This was beautifully expressed in the krithi ‘Varija nayana nee vadanu nenu’ in Kedaragowlai
She then sang this Krithi welcoming kindness on the part of Hari -’ Dhaya rani, Dhaya rani, Dasaradhi Rama’ in Mohanam
This brought forth the conclusion of Act 4
Act 5. After Making Prahladha happy, Lord Hari returns
Prahladha is immersed in great joy but later when Lord Hari returns, he is again greatly upset.
The krithi expressing this Viraha was beautifully presented – Nannu Vidachi in Reethigowlai.
An interesting anecdote was about Prahlada asking every one if they saw Hari and some people said, yes, they saw Hari, the friend of Thyagaraja – here a wonderful imaginary yet subtle transformation of Hari to Rama and of Prahlada to Thyagaraja happens – Smt Vishaka Hari outlined this so beautifully!
Lord Hari and Goddess Lakshmi again return to bless Prahladha. Prahladha becomes extremely happy and invites Lord Hari to his Home.Lord Brahma, Narada, sages, Deva, Indra as well as the king of ocean return to witness this scene and the Drama comes to an end.
Smt Vishaka Hari concluded with ‘Rarama yinti daka’ in Asaveri and ‘Challare Ramachandru’ in Ahiri. To pay respects to the Narasimha Avatar, she sang the charanam ‘Pramabhagavata’ from the Sree Raga pancharatnam ‘Entharo Mahanubhavu’ and the charanam ‘Aganitagunagana’ from the Nattai pancharatnam Jagadanandakaraka.
It would be too little a compliment to say that throughout the concert, the veena, violin and mrudangam players complimented beautifully and elevated the concert.
It is only when the concert concluded, that I realized that I had become part of the drama itself where Prahlada expressed himself through Thyagaraja and Thyagaraja was expressing himself through Smt Vishaka Hari. Such was the sublimity of the presentation where the audience, the performer, the accompanists, the stage, the characters in the drama and the creator of the drama, all became one.
- Narayanan Iyer
February 11th, 2017 (Saturday), 7.30PM
Tyagabrahma Loka Charitam – Bharatanatyam by Guru B.Bhanumathi and disciples
An evening well spent
The lights were being set up since that afternoon, and after long hours of planning and execution, they were finally ready to shine their goodwill on the dancers to make, what was a spectacular performance, a little more spectacular! But, the stage really lit only when the nartakis entered, dancing to the tunes of ‘vidulaku mrokeda’, set in the ‘raga of ragas’- mayamalavagowlai, in the ‘tala of talas’- adi, and more so, on nothing but music. The smiles that the dancers donned were nothing compared to ‘suryakoti’ itself! They beautifully depicted kamala, Gowri, Vageeshvari, Garuda, Shiva, and why not, even Brahmanandam.
The story of Sadguru Tyagaraja unveiled itself to the vibrant strains of raga hindola. This story set in Tiruvarur Grāmam, held a potpourri of emotions that left us all speechless by the end. Little Tyagayya was a bundle of innocence and immense bhakti. The boy that Tyagaraja was, he would sit and pray day in and day out. Not only were his eyes, but also his mind- fixed on nothing but Rama. Once, as he was praying, he extemporaneously began to sing, “namo namo raghavaya…”! His parents were shocked as little Tyagayya claimed to have composed whatever he had just sung. Seeing such talent in their child, Tyagaraja’s parents felt that it was right to send him to Sonti Venkata Ramanayya, a renowned guru for training in music professionally. When his parents take him to his to-be-guru’s house, and tell him that their son, only in his teens, had managed to compose a song of his own, the guru didn't seem quite impressed. He said, “nowadays, all are singers, and all are vaggeyakaras- there is no room for age and experience”, in a very sarcastic manner. After listening to Tyagaraja render his composition, the guru could only said the same thing, minus the sarcasm!
Tyagaraja had now learnt and imbibed a lot of music from his guru and his own mind. Marugelara, Shobhillu, Guruleka Etuvanti, Brochevarevare, Telisirama and many more, were songs he would compose impromptu as he begged for alms, singing along the streets. Time flew as Tyagaraja soon got married. Songs would just flow out of his mouth like honey.
Another anecdote represented beautifully was when Tyagaraja would go the Dharmasamvardhini temple to pray, and Narada himself would come in disguise to give Tyagaraja a holy text. Tyagaraja then sings, “Vara Narada Narayana”.
Despair crept in as it was time for Ramabrahma, Tyagaraja’s father to leave the world. Tyagaraja then asks Rama, his Ishta Devata, “idi nyāyama?(is this fair?)”.
A Nātaka isn't complete without the protagonist being troubled by someone, and it was no different in Tyagaraja's case either. His brother was one who didn't believe in the system of doing anything without being paid in cash or kind in return, but this was the flip side of what Tyagaraja believed. His brother would say, “you sing so well, can't you go present yourself at the royal palace or something, and get us more money so we can all be rich! All you do is sit in front of Rama and sing. What's the benefit?”. To this, doleful Tyagaraja says that Rama is his father figure, his direction and that Rama is everything to him. This doesn't satisfy his brothers greed. The avaricious brother curses tyagaraja to which tyagaraja sings, “durmārgacharā”, saying that the world is an illusion, what should I do? Tyagaraja's brother and equally sly sister-in-law come up with a guile plan of forcefully sending Tyagaraja and his wife out of the house.
Tyagaraja travels far and wide, singing, to express every emotion that seemed to have crawled upon him. And then, in Kerala one day, a respected man sings ‘gopālakapāhimam’ to Tyagaraja, upon which Tyagaraja insisted that he learnt the song. Then does he realise, that endaro mahānubhāvulu.
All this was impeccably being represented by all the nartakis. When we could just about digest so much rasa the dancers were able to give, there was rightfully more for them to offer. It was time for the masterpiece to display it's grandeur- endaro mahanubhavulu, Sri ragam, adi talam, tyagaraja. The dancers displayed phenomenal skills as they gloriously danced to these vibrant strains, of which, presenting, Dr. Srivatsa had done a great job. The audience was thrown into a room full of mirrors- over fifteen symmetrical formations were made to perfection. There was some special glow that was seen in the eyes of each soul present there. To see the dancers exhibit such levels of coordination was more than astounding.
Much to the contrary of what the audience had just experienced, Tyagaraja complained of Rama not coming to see his ardent devotee. His wife would extend hope asking him to continue praying with colossal Bhakti. Perturbed Tyagaraja sings, “élā nee daya rādu”, asking Rama why he couldn't spare a few seconds for him.
Prayers answered, Rama finally gives tyagaraja the honour of glancing at what
Tyagaraja had been longing to see for years together- Rama himself.
Everyone had now heard, and heard of Tyagaraja. He was critically acclaimed and accomplished as a musician in the town.
Having heard Tyagaraja sing, the King only felt that it was right for him to honour Tyagaraja with a true Kings possession- gold, jewels and more. When the sevakās come to present the gifts at Tyagarajas house, his brother and sister in law were more than overjoyed. They greeted the sevakas with respect they had never displayed before! As the sister in law reached out for all the heavy jewellery, the brother was forced to thank them for having bestowed all of the valuable necessities. In comes shocked Tyagaraja and his wife, filling their hearts with utmost haste. Tyagaraja, almost in tears of aghast says, “is Rama just condensed to money and jewels? Please take them away!”, to which, his brother asks him if he was out of his minds, and that they couldn't refuse such an offer. “Nidhi chāla sukhama rāmuni sannidhi séva sukhama: is money enough to attain peace and tranquility, or is it the praying to Rama that would yield solitude?”, is what Tyagarajas outpourings were after a tough brawl on weather to keep the gifts or to return them. The result however was in favour of the goodness of Tyagaraja.
Would the antagonist remain silent?- Never in a million years! The cruel brother came up with an idea of stealing the desired idol of Rama and throwing it into the waters. After much discussion with his better half, he manages to grab the idol first, then head to the sea and bravely throw the holy idol- he wouldn't be forgiven that easy. Realisation of the magnitude of his mistake hit him soon, as paralysis crept through the nerves of the hand that had the gut to commit such a sin. He fell to the ground, crying in pain and grief. He tried hard to beg pardon but was bound to face the repercussions of his unkind act. Next day morning, Tyagaraja, unknowing of what had happened the previous night, woke up to the resonating strains of “melukovayya”, in bouli. Little did tyagaraja know, that his possession, his Rama idol lay in the waters beneath. As per his routine, he goes to do his everyday pooja, and just falls onto his knees in extreme distress as the idol was nowhere to be seen. All he could do was take the help of his wife to scout around every nook and corner of the house. Not a soul in the audience moved, not a sound was to be heard- just tyagaraja on stage. Tyagaraja shut his eyes in anguish, trying to think of where Rama was. Tears of agony and torment rolled down the cheeks of Tyagaraja. He was distraught- so much so, that he burst into musical outpourings that contained the true essence of angst. ‘Nee daya rada’ he would sing looking up at the blue skies, with hope. He would then think that notorious Rama was probably playing a game of hide-and-seek with him. ‘Ora joopu’ he would sing, his eyes expressing hints of credence. He would soon break down and ask Rama where he was and for him not to play around with him like this. Doleful Tyagaraja was held hostage by malaise. Then, he would croon, “nannu vidachi kadalakura( don't move an inch away from me)”.
He sets out on a hunt very early on, calling out to Rama with colossal Bhakti. Just like any other day of searching, Tyagaraja encountered the roaring waves, only to find his idol lying there. He bursts into tears of sheer joy and sings, “kanukontini sri ramuni nenu (I've found you Rama), in all of bilahari’s splendour! The audience donned smiles beyond jubilation as they clapped to see Tyagaraja and his wife rejoice to their hearts extent, singing merrily!
Tyagaraja was being portrayed by Guru B. Bhanumathi herself, and I don't think there could have been anyone better to play this character. She completely indulged herself into the character making us feel the presence of Tyagaraja himself. Her display of emotions- widely ranging from aghast to joy- was impeccable. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she looked for the idol; satisfactory joy when she found the idol- she was tyagaraja and only tyagaraja that day. The support which Dr. Srivatsa provided on the vocals and nattuvangam was matchless. He sand every song with devotion, flaunting all the emotions that played an important role in the life of Tyagaraja. The orchestral support was no less. While there was visual demonstration by the dancers, our ears had toned itself to the pleasant music of the musicians. The nātaka ended with ‘Rama Bhakti Sāmraāyamu’, followed by ‘pavanaja stuti patra’.
The adage: good things are bound to happen to those who do good, was proven to be right that evening.
Every single soul walked back with something to share with the world- the life story of Sadguru Sri Tyagaraja.
- Vibha Arvind
February 12th, 2017 (Sunday), 6.30PM
Carnatic vocal concert by Vidwans Malladi Brothers
I had the opportunity of attending a concert by the Malladi Brothers, Vidwans Shriram Prasad and Ravi Kumar. They threw light on the compositions of St. Thyagaraja, his 250th birth anniversary this year-2017.
The concert started with a perfect alapana in the ragam Mukhari. The alapana was then followed by the Tyagaraja krti SANGITA SHASTRA GNANAMU. This was a vilamba kala kriti well sung and then, followed by kalpana swarams in the same raga Mukhari.
Next was the krti BHAKTI BIKSHAMMUYAVE in the raga Shankarabharanam. In this song, Thyagaraja portrays his love and devotion that he gives to Lord Rama.
A lengthy alapana in Durbar came up next, followed by the krti ENDUNDI VEDALITIVO. In that song, Tyagaraja asks Rama where he emerged from. In that kriti, he showed that his love will be endless, for he places him above the Trinity in Hindu Mythology (Lords Bramha, Vishnu and Shiva). He finds faults with the three, but little does hefind fault with the Almighty Lord Rama. This beautiful composition was then followed by Kalpana Swarams.
Next was an alapana in the ragam Varali, followed by a song practiced hard – KARUNA ELAGANTE. This song was then followed by NERANUNCHI NANU, which started off with a sudden jerk. This song was in the ragam Malavi, a rare but very pleasant raga.
The main piece of the day succeeded this song. Followed by a lengthy alapana in the ragam Bilahari, the song was DORAKUNA ETUVANTI SEVA. There was a neraval on the line RAMABRAMHA TANAYUDU TYAGARAJU TAPADU JU. After the Kalpana Swarams that succeeded this song, there was a tani avartanam well played, where we could see the skills of the artists.
The next song was RAMA RAMA RAMA SITA RAMANA, in the ragam Bilahari. The brothers next performed PAHIPARAMA DAYALO in the ragam Kapi. It seemed like the manuscript of this song was found recently in Madurai by two scholars.
The next song was LALIYUGA in Kedaragowla. Everyone liked this song, for they could feel the thrill of the fast pulse.
The concert then concluded with a Mantra Pushpam – VYASO NAIGAMA in Sindhu Bhairavi.
- Varsha Venkataraghavan
February 12th, 2017 (Sunday), 4.00PM
Hindustani vocal concert by Dr.Ashwini Bhide Deshpande
The 5th year celebration of Ranjani Fine Arts's (RFA) SAMYOGA was a two day grand cultural art form displayed by eminent artists before a discerning auidence. As part of this two day event was a Hindustani classical vocal music concert by Dr. Ashwini Bhide Deshpande from Maharashatra.
Ashwini ji needs no introduction to rasikas as she is one of the foremost and leading musicians of our country.
The concert being planned to begin late afternoon gave the rasikas to listen to rare raagas. Ashwini ji started the concert with Raag Pradeep Ki, a very rare raaga which has various reflections of other well known afternoon raagas such as Patdeep, Bhimpalasi etc. A fine treatment using madahyalaya Jhap Taal was unfolded bringing out the feeling of the raaga. This was follwowed by a drut teentaal composition. One could feel the breezy taans in its full force.
Pradeep Ki was followed by another evening melody - Raag Multani. Ashwini ji presented a beautiful bandish "Banavasa Chale Sri Raam.." in madhyalaya roopak taal. The audience were clearly touched by the way she unfolded the stayee and antara. Shri Vysamurthy Katti on the harmonium very artistically followed the singer and showed his mastery of the raag during his solo intervals offered by Ashwini ji. Pandit Ravindra Yavagal on the tabla brough out clearly the essence of playing tabla as an accompaniment, which is quite different while playing solo tabla.
Ashwini ji followed Multani with Raag Carnataki Vasant and sang a beautiful bandish composed by Pandit S. N. Raatanjankar who also introduced this raag to the hindustani system. The concert was concluded by a marathi abhang from Saint Tukaram.
- Chandramouli Rao