Todi – Transcending the Infinite

Note: This article has been published in the current issue (April – June 2022) of Shanmukha – the quarterly journal of the Mumbai-based Sri Shanmukhananda Fine Arts & Sangeetha Sabha.

Todi – Transcending the Infinite

To a Carnatic music rasika, the name Todi conjures multiple thoughts and emotions including:

  • One of the most well-known ragas
  • Eternally appealing
  • A raga that possibly anyone can identify just by singing two notes – or perhaps just the oscillatory gamaka of the gandharam is enough; hence a raga that can arguably be identified by just one note!

And as it is with anything popular in our world, it has its share of criticisms (though thankfully this is not much) especially in the last few years.  The following comments surface from some rasikas when the artist starts the delineation of this raga:

  • ‘’Oh no, not Todi again!’’
  • ‘’I have already heard six Todis in the last five days this Season!’’
  • ‘’If you dare to sing Todi, I will switch off the mike!’’ I was actually threatened with this in so many words by a veteran organizer and rasika before I ascended the stage for my concert.

So why have I included the three apparently ‘’anti-Todi’’ statements?  It is just to underscore the fact that the staleness of a raga, or it being overdone and hence perhaps boring the rasika, is totally left to the artists themselves.  It therefore becomes an even bigger responsibility for them to still keep the audience interested with yet another rendition of Todi.

Let me recount here, a concert by a veteran musician that I had attended just before the pandemic.  Midway during the concert, when the raga alapana was begun, the rasika next to me (who also happens to be a good friend) involuntarily exclaimed in dismay, ‘’don’t tell me it’s Todi!’’

I refrained from reacting – for two reasons.  Being a musician myself, Todi can never sound even remotely stale to me no matter how many times I hear or render it.  And secondly, I was naturally eager to know the kriti that would be rendered.

As the alapana progressed, I stole a look at my neighbouring rasika who, I could see was drawn into the raga alapana delineation in spite of herself and her ‘’anti’’ stance.  And finally when the expansive and imaginative alapana ended to a thunderous applause, we exchanged glances.  Both of us spontaneously broke into smiles at the same time.  Her smile was a clear acknowledgment of the excellence and the freshness of the just-concluded alapana!

That concert’s particular raga alapana proved yet again, perhaps for the nth time, the expansiveness and the truly infinite potential and scope of Todi and its marvelous ability to take the rasika on yet another elevating journey, for the (n+1)th time!. The enchantment of Todi that transports us to a different realm, is such that even when it ends, it has taken an irrevocable hold on us. We continue to think about it for days / months / weeks / years afterward.  We are definitely different people and I would emphatically say, better people after such experiences.

Such is the grandeur and profoundness of Todi with its limitless scope for elaboration.

Small wonder that there are never-ending anecdotes, legends and stories about this perennially appealing raga.  P. Sambamurthy writes how Todi Sitarama Iyer sang the raga for eight consecutive days.  Nagaswaram maestro T. N. Rajarathinam Pillai’s Todi forays are legion amidst the Carnatic music fraternity.

With such being the scope and the appeal of the raga, it’s a no-brainer that Todi has simply innumerable compositions.  Countless varnams and kritis in multiple talas, both small and delectable; and majestic and expansive, swarajatis, padams, javalis, jatiswarams and tillanas.

In this article, my intention is to highlight a few of my favourite compositions in this raga.

As usual, let’s start with Tyagaraja.

It would not be a hyperbole to declare that Tyagaraja’s compositions in Todi span literally every nuance of this 8th melakarta raga.  Barring the rishabham and the madhyamam, Tyagaraja has begun a composition in Todi in every other note of the sapta swara ocatave.

Some examples are:

Madhya shadjam – aaragimpave and ninnuvina sukhamu gaana, both in rupaka tala

Gandharam – gatineevani, adi 2-kalai

Panchamam – chesinadella marachitivo – adi 2-kalai

Dhaivatam – daachukovalena – misra jhampa

Nishaadam – nee daya raavale gaaka – adi 2-kalai

Note: daachukovalena and nee daya raavale gaaka are wonderful examples of kritis that begin with an emphatic swaraakshara.

Taara sthaayi shadjam – emani maatlaaditivo / tappi bratiki

Let us look at a few of Tyagaraja’s creations.

1. Munnu raavana – misra jhampa tala, 2 kalai

Definitely a lesser heard kriti.  The challenging double kalai misra jhampa tala is perhaps another dampener.  But great masters have rendered it – doyens Alathur Brothers would revel in this kriti, their crisp rendition of the misra jhampa tala double kalai ostensibly rendered with utmost ease and comfort. I have heard renditions in single kalai also, but this kriti’s grandeur with its sprightly gait, comes out fully if rendered in double kalai.  In recent times Sanjay Subrahmanyan has rendered it with his usual élan.

Well-known scholar, the late Dr. Raghavan has categorized this kriti under the section of the Sanchari Bhava in Bhakti Yoga; and says this kriti falls into the category of ‘Dainya – Dainyokti’ – plaintive pleading.  The bhakta goes through a roller-coaster of emotions at various times.  Tyagaraja addresses Rama plaintively saying that his offering sanctuary to Vibhishana and Sugriva; and protecting Prahalada should not be just history; but rather that history should repeat itself by you protecting me.

Having said that this is probably a very rare instance of a kriti that has Ravana’s name woven into the pallavi!

2. Aragimpave – rupaka tala

A fairly well-known kriti.  During worship rituals in our daily life and on special festival days (Ganesh Chaturthi, Varalakshmi Nombu, Saraswati poojai, etc.), the naivedyam – the food offering, forms a vital part.  Indeed, many of us wait for the naivedyam so that one can partake of the various goodies prepared on the festive days!  Milk is an indispensable offering in our naivedyam rituals and the pallavi in this kriti requests Rama to accept the milk offered as naivedyam.  In fact, this kriti itself specifies the naivedyam aspect of Tyagaraja’s worship.  In the anupallavi, Tyagaraja requests Rama and Sita to partake of the sanctified butter, along with the milk.

The charanam is interesting.  The first two lines are:

sAramaina divya-annamu

shaD-rasa yuta bhakshaNamulu

Loosely translated, it says that the naivedyam also comprises tasty rice, which is sacred, along with eatables that are imbued with the six rasas – or flavours.  These six flavours are – sweet (madhura), sour (amla), salt (lavaNa), bitter (kaTu), pungent (tIkshNa), astringent (kashAya).

Ideally our food needs to have each of the six flavours in order to make a meal complete and nutritious.  It’s quite evident that the modern concept of a ‘’balanced diet’’ was very much part of the daily life those days.  Meals comprising the shad-rasas will not only be wholesome and leave nothing wanting, but also ensure that we do not crave for other ‘’between-meal’’ snacks.  Of course, with the advent of junk food easily entrenching itself firmly in our lives through the various door delivery apps advertised ad nauseum on YouTube and in our TV channels, the story now is a far cry from how it was. It is to Tyagaraja’s credit that the importance of having the six flavours in a meal is underscored most tellingly in this kriti.

Mudicondan Venkatarama Iyer has added some really beautiful sangathis to the pallavi of this kriti. The pallavi actually has ‘’two bouts’’ – it rendered starting from the Madhya shadjam with the few sangathis.  This is followed by the opening words Aragimpave being rendered from the madhya dhaivatam and a few outstanding shadja – panchama varja sangathis, bring the pallavi to a most effective close.  A similar example is the very popular Rama ni samaanamevaru (Kharaharapriya), with the two bouts of sangatis in the pallavi.  Chakkani Raja (Kharaharapriya) has three bouts!

3. Chesinadella marachitivo – adi tala, 2 kalai

Speaking of Mudicondan Venkatarama Iyer, I had to include this kriti.  My mother having been the student of Mudicondan, learnt this from him and subsequently taught it to me.  It gave me the opportunity to examine, realize and ultimately appreciate Mudicondan’s sheer scholarship in adding and polishing the aspect of the ‘sangathi’ per se. 

It is common knowledge that Tyagaraja’s kritis give scope for ample addition of sangatis. Examples include – the ever popular O Rangasaayi (Kambhoji), Daarini telusukonti (Suddha Saveri), Naa jeeva dhaara (Bilahari), Karuvelpulu (Kalyani) and many, many others.

Chesinadella emphatically falls into this category.  The pallavi’s first sangati begins sedately enough, but with the addition of each sangati, both the performer and the listener are taken on a wonderful exploratory rollercoaster ride into the world of Todi.

Mudicondan Venkatarama Iyer’s notation, as taught to my mother, has a total of eight sangatis in the pallavi. Each sangati progressively increases in complexity.  Sangatis #7 and #8, touch the taara sthaayi madhyamam and panchamam respectively in delectable madhyama kala progression of notes, along with a touch of a couple of brigas (palugal) adding the just right amount of spice.  The second half of sangati #8, the portion of O Rama Rama sort of rounds up the intensely involved and an in-depth pallavi exploration with a mellow closure.

A couple of points on the charanam.  This kriti, like the earlier Munnu Ravana, has multiple charanams, but it is the last charanam that is usually sung.

caraNam 3

rAma SrI tyAgarAja prEmAvatAra sItA

bhAma mATalu telpu bhImAnjanEya brahma (cEsina)

Once again, the sangati aspect makes the Todi in this kriti and in this portion shine in full glory.  The words bhAma mATalu telpu are couched in beautiful gamakas with the panchama being eschewed.  The initial gamaka sangati then gives way to the next madhyama kala sangati, which in turn passes the baton to the subsequent briga-laden sangatis.  My Guru late Shri T. R. Subramanyam (TRS) would often recount how T. N. Rajarathinam Pillai would play this particular portion, with his supreme command over the nagaswaram, holding rasikas in absolute thrall!

The line ‘rAma SrI tyAgarAja prEmAvatAra sItA’, lends itself beautifully for niraval singing.  And coming to kalpana swaras, TRS himself would be highly creative.  He would sing swaras at three places – at the beginning of the line – Rama, at prEma and again at either avatAra or at sItA.  That’s the scope of manodharma available, if one cares to just explore a little more!

In conclusion, I would say that Chesinadella is one fine example of a kriti where the creative genius of Mudicondan Venkatarama Iyer in chiseling outstanding sangathis get displayed to the fullest, adding another shining crystal to the world of Todi.

4. Mahaganapatim vande – Muthuswami Dikshitar – rupaka tala, 2 – kalai

Let us switch gears now and look at Dikshitar’s exceptional contributions.

Dikshitar’s popular kritis are Sri Krishnam (Adi) and of course the really beautiful, scholarly and meditative Kamalamba Navavarana Dhyana kriti – Kamalambike. Relatively lesser known gems include Daakshaayani (Rupaka) and Sri Subramanyo (Adi).

Mahaganapatim is a kriti that maestro G. N. Balasubramanian (GNB) often sang in his concerts and consequently, TRS who considered GNB as the main inspiration included it in his repertoire as well.

The first thing that strikes us about this kriti is the emphatic and resonating swaraakashara start.  The syllable ‘ma’ from the word mahaganapatim begins tellingly on the madhyamam, thus perhaps filling in the ‘’void’’ (for the lack of a better word) left by Tyagaraja by not composing a kriti in Todi beginning on the madhyamam!

This kriti is packed with so much of information that a separate treatise is required to cover all the aspects of Ganesha dealt with by Dikshitar.  I will just highlight a couple of the musical aspects.

The anupallavi’s second line ‘’AnandadaM taM-Eka dantam’’ is one of the many highpoints of this kriti.  The word Aanandam slowly makes its way up the plain taara sthaayi gaandhara note; and then the word eka is a magnificent jaaru from the taara sthaayi gandhara to the Madhya sthaayi dhaivatam (a consonant pair of notes) and then the music again sweeps from the madhya sthaayi nishaadam to the madhya sthaayi gandharam – once again wonderfully demonstrating the natural samvaaditva of the notes of Todi.

Let us examine the madhyama kala passage in the charanam.

suparNa vAha sEvitaM sura guru guha bhAvitaM

kapittha-Amra panasa jambU – kadalI phala bhakshitam

As with all of Muthuswami Dikshitar’s creations, the madhyama kala passages are truly a delight and this one is no exception.  The last line before the pallavi spreading over two avartanas of the rupaka tala 2-kalai is a personal favourite:

kapitta – vilaambazham (wood apple), aamra – mango, panasa – jack fruit, jambu – naaval pazham (blackberry or the more well-known name of jaamun), kadali – banana and phala – fruits.

bhakshitam – eats

That’s an impressive array of fruits that Ganesha loves to eat, according to Dikshitar!  Fundamentally, Ganesha is fond of eating and eating good food (modakas are special to him as we all know).  I would like to go further by saying – no rigorous fasting for him, no struggles with the mind when the stomach howls with hunger like a wolf.  One can have one’s fill and propitiate Ganesha, he will still rush to us with ten times more eagerness compared to the proportion by which we propitiate him!

The music of the ending part ‘kadali phala bhakshitam’ again, reaches a glorious taara sthaayi plain gandharam, gracefully descends with some extremely elegant shadja and panchama varja phrases and majestically returns to the pallavi.

Mahaganapatim, with its Upanishadic references and the stories of the Puranas (why Krishna worshipped Ganesha is an example and makes for a separate story) that abound in this kriti, is truly a marvel that only Dikshitar could have conceived and executed with his characteristic genius.

5. Raave himagiri kumaari (swarajati) – Syama Sastri – adi tala – 2 kalai

Mandhara Sthaayi Marvel!

Syama Sastri and his three swarajati masterpieces in Bhairavi, Todi and Yadukula Kambhoji need no introduction to the Carnatic music fraternity – musicians and rasikas alike.  I just felt compelled to include the Todi swarajati here and share a few thoughts on this superlative creation. 

The first is the wonderful and sublime beginning on the mandhara sthaayi dhaivatam.  Personally, there’s something about the mandhara sthaayi per se that transports me to another world.  The first line of the swarajati, raave himagiri kumara kanchi kaamaakshi, is completely in mandhara sthaayi with just a couple of reaches into the madhya sthaayi rishabham.  After establishing the splendorous madhara sthaayi world, the second line just inches towards the gandharam for a couple of aksharas, before returning to the grandeur of the first line.

Consequently, pallavi of this swarajati needs to be rendered totally in mandhara sthaayi ONLY.  The reason I emphasize this is because a few musicians have rendered and continue to render (to my dismay) the pallavi in the taara sthaayi.  This unfortunately spoils and pollutes the tranquil, meditative mood of the intended mandhara sthaayi of Syama Sastri.

Two of my favourite portions of this swarajati occur in the third and the fourth charanam.  The third charanam comprises of the words kaama paalini neevegatiyani koriti – koniyaaditi vediti.  The portion up to the word koriti comes to rest on the madhya shadjam with the ‘ti’ syllable reposing on the ‘sa’.  Then the second section begins with counts of three with the swaras Ri Ga Sa, Sa Ri Ni, Ni Sa (Raave).  I don’t really know how to describe the apparently simple music here, but the effect that the unexpected counts of three and the soft caress of the Todi notes finally blending into the mandhara sthaayi dhaivatam truly is ethereal.

The fourth charanam consists of the words:

kAmitArtha phala dAyakiyanETi birudu mahilO nIkE tagu

The first thing that strikes us is the swarakshara laden beginning – the syllables kA, mi and tA.  However the surprise is that the syllables:

ya ki ya nE , ,

Ti bi ru du , ,

ma hi lO nI , , 

kE ta gu (rA)

The syllables in the first three lines above are all sung in counts of six and the last three syllables kE ta gu beautifully and seamlessly fuse back into the pallavi.

This shows that while devotion and raga bhava are the mainstays of Syama Sastri’s compositions, he also intelligently and unexpectedly introduced subtle mathematics into his creations!

6. Paahimaam ksheerasaagara tanaye – Mysore Vasudevacharya – adi tala – 2 kalai

I have written enough in previous articles about the genius of Mysore Vasudevacharya as a composer and how instantly charming and attractive his compositions are.  Hence I will dive straight into this brilliant creation of his in Todi.

pallavi

pAhimAm kSIra sAgara tanayE mOhanAnga vAsudEva jAyE

anupallavi

dEhi mE mudam maNimaya valayE gEhamAviSa mAmakam sadayE  
caraNam

virinci sharvAdi sampUjitE
sarOjadaLa nayana samshObhitE
virAjamAna hEma vasanayutE varAbharaNa bhUSitE sumahitE

Madhyama Kala (Swara Sahityam)

darahAsayutE muni vinutE sharaNagatEpsita kalpalatE
nirupama saundarya pUritE nikhila kalyANa guNa bharitE

This kriti begins on the madhya sthaayi shadjam, which is the first huge plus about this kriti.  The lyrics in Sanskrit composed on Goddess Lakshmi are absolutely euphonic and are a joy to listen, render and contemplate.  While Mysore Vasudevacharya considered Tyagaraja as his role model as a composer, this kriti seems to have been inspired by Syama Sastri and his composing technique (for the lack of a better word).  While the Todi conceived by Vasudevacharya flows so very mellifluously, it is the swara sahitya passage that is the icing on the cake.  Similar to Syama Sastri’s swara sahitya passages (O Jagadamba, Palinchu Kamakshi, Marivere and several others), this kriti has a beautiful swara-sahitya passage as well. 

A couple of rare usage of words ‘gEhamAviSa mAmakam sadayE’ in the anupallavi, add additional interesting touches.  This is required to be interpreted as:

AviSa – Enter (and dwell in)

mAmakam gEham – my house

**********************************

These are just a few glimpses into the world of Todi.  It was not easy for me to select the kritis to highlight here – there are simply too many in Todi, each having its own distinct charm.

My Guru Shri TRS would often say, ‘’Kalyani is an ocean, E tAvunara is just a drop!’’

The same thing applies to Todi, even more so perhaps, in terms of the sheer number of compositions. 

Other Favourites

Some of my other favourites are:

Endudaaginaado (Misra chapu, Tyagaraja), another kriti with the pallavi dwelling on mandhara sthaayi, depicting the agony of separation of the bhakta from his ishta devata.  Musiri Subramanya Iyer was known for his soulful renditions of this kriti. The bonus is a lovely slow tempo chittaswaram.

Gatineevani (Adi 2-kalai, Tyagaraja) – a kriti that shot into prominence through Lalgudi Jayaraman; the maestro’s polish of this kriti and renderings are not surprisingly, truly remarkable.

Ninne nammi naanu (Misra Chapu, Syama Sastri) – one more popular masterpiece by the eldest of the Trinity.  Subbaraya Sastri’s additional swara sahityam adds to the beauty.

Appane kapaali (Rupaka, Kotiswara Iyer) – a short kriti and a very rare one at that, by the pioneering 20th century composer in Tamizh. This kriti contains descriptions of the charm of Mylapore and its beautiful streets in Chennai that add to the interest.

The jewels by Papanasam Sivan – the very popular Karthikeya gaangeya and Taamadamen swami, both in Adi tala 2-kalai, and the wonderful Tanigai valar saravana bhava in Khanda chapu tala.

Enneramum oru kaalai tookki (Adi 2-kalai, Muttu Tandavar) – a relatively lesser heard delectable heavyweight in Tamizh, with a wonderful madhyama kalam. Happily, this kriti has gained a bit more popularity in recent times.

And yet, as TRS sir would say, all these are just drops in the ocean of Todi!  I have not even touched upon the numerous varnams in this raga composed in various talas, the padams, javalis, jatiswarams and tillanas.

Todi is raga that commands a universe of its own.  Within its defined structure, the scope is rendered so vast as to transcend all boundaries.  And we who have experienced the joy of listening and appreciating this magnificent raga through its myriad compositions and raga alapanas, and still continue to do so, can consider ourselves truly blessed.  Our birth has definitely not been in vain, for we have been shown that this is what divinity could be.

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ABBA – The Glorious Comeback!

Cover of the beautifully and incredibly detailed ABBA biography by Carl Magnus Palm

It’s common knowledge that this Swedish-based group took the popular music world by storm in the 1970s.  And oh boy, how they really RULED the pop world for the next ten years!  The ABBA-mania, for instance, that they generated in Australia leaves one gasping and totally stunned when we watch the video footages available now on YouTube.

They called it quits in 1982. Their song lyrics in their last album The Visitors unequivocally reflected the end of the group.  This was especially evident in songs like When All Is Said And Done and in their last 1980s hit single One Of Us.  A lot has been written about this.

Growing up in New Delhi, India in the 1970s, listening to ABBA was very much a part of my life then.  Songs like As Good As New, Voulez Vous, Eagle and the wonderful Gimme Gimme Gimme took hold in equal proportion along with Vivid Bharati’s Jaymala Karyakram, Binaca Geet Mala and Sangam Karyakram, plus Carnatic music of course.  I remember rushing madly to watch ABBA – The Movie in nearby Chanakya theatre on its release.

Post ABBA’s breakup, there were the hits by other artists of the 1980s that would occupy my pop music listening time.  But apart from the hits per se, when I tried listening to other songs by these artists, I realized rather to my dismay that none of them really appealed to me.  Also, I remember growing tired pretty quickly of even the then acknowledged hits of the 1980s.

In that scenario, I guess it was the time for me to return to ABBA and rediscover their music.  Towards the end of the 1980s, a friend of mine lent me cassettes of their Greatest Hits and Voulez Vous albums, setting in motion the rediscovery process that would continue unabated well into the future – till today, in fact. 

And it was SHEER JOY!  I found myself instantly captivated by the melancholic Knowing Me Knowing You, identifying with the thoughtful nostalgia of I Wonder, fascinated by the gorgeous refrain of ‘’Take it easy, take it easy, try to slow down girl’’ in the foot-tapping Does Your Mother Know, and floored by the complex and differently styled Summer Night City.

“How the heartaches come and they go and the scars they’re leaving’’ sung emotively in Chiquitita still continues to tug at the heart strings. 

I’ve always loved to conjecture – the ‘’Disaster and disgrace’’ caused in the caustic The King Has Lost His Crown; the poor monarch who realizes that ‘’sud – den – ly, the world is upside down!’’ 

“As all good friends, we talk all night’’ from Eagle is truly ME; embodying the numerous all-night conversations I’ve had with my own friends and cousins!

After these albums, I was ready for the next one that made its way to me – and this was the iconic Super Trouper.  I will never forget the first-time joy experienced listening to the exquisite opening harmonies of the title song and Frida’s marvelous execution.  Listening to Super Trouper the first time was the proverbial ‘a-ha’ moment.

As the years progressed, I went on a buying spree of ABBA albums.  In the late 1990s, after moving to the south Indian city of Chennai, one of the first things I did was to buy their albums from the now defunct Landmark – Ring Ring, ABBA –The Album, Arrival, and The Visitors.  Songs I discovered for the first time and songs rediscovered and the ensuing joy and bliss, merits a separate post!

ABBA is a group and a brand that has truly stood the test of time (cliché to be pardoned!).  Nothing else can explain the euphoria of their millions of global fans, on coming to know that they have finally gotten back together.  This is despite their earlier constant proclamations of ‘’we won’t be getting together again’’ and that they would like their fans to ‘’remember them as they were’’, which in my opinion was understandable and I suppose justified.

Their two new singles ‘I Still Have Faith In You’ and ‘Don’t Shut Me Down’ garnered one million plus hits on YouTube within a matter of a couple of days of their release.  This is surely the testimony to the Swedish group’s enduring popularity and their permanent presence in the hearts and minds of their fans and followers.  The album Voyage to be released two months from now and their concert in London scheduled next year, are eagerly awaited.

Thank you for the continued music ABBA, I definitely still have faith in you.  If you take a chance on me, I would emphatically proclaim how you showed clearly that people need hope, loving, trust, love, faith and a helping hand!

From me and all your other millions of fans around the world, let me declare:

I’ve Been Waiting For You!

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The Enid Blyton Yahoo Group

Enid Blyton

Recently a musician friend of mine Varalakshmi Anandkumar had posted on her WhatsApp status wishing Enid Blyton on her birth anniversary.  That immediately set the stage for me to text her to exchange thoughts on one of the most beloved authors, who was an inextricable part of my childhood. More importantly, for certain adults like Varalakshmi and me (and a whole lot of others that I personally know), Enid Blyton continues to remain a HUGE part of our adult reading time.

Here’s how the WhatsApp chat with Varalakshmi went:

Her WhatsApp Status – Happy Birthday to Enid Blyton who brought so much joy to my childhood!

My Text in Response – Wow, great!  So happy to see this status!

Varalakshmi’s reply – Naturally!  Her books were so much a part of my life!

Me – Well, they continue to be a part of my life even now!

Varalakshmi – Wow, me too!  I grab her books even now whenever I get the chance.

Me – I’m reading Second Form at St. Clare’s right now.   Probably for the 8943852987th time.

Varalakshmi – Ha, ha!  I’m sure you remember parts of the book by heart. 

Me – I believe I do.

Varalakshmi – For me the scenes between Mirabel and Gladys in the music room are indelible.

Me – Ah, nice! This one is one of my favourites – perhaps the most favourite of the St. Clare’s books.  This is probably the only book where the midnight feast does not end in disaster (usually midnight feasts in Enid Blyton books end with a teacher coming on the scene resulting in mandatory punishments), the mandatory trick played on Mam’zelle, is for a change, played in the dining room (instead of the usual classroom) during lunch, with the whole school witnessing including the Principal, and finally the least likeable character in the book – spiteful, catty and overbearing Elsie gets a wonderful surprise reprieve in the end.

Varalakshmi – Great points!

Me – Ahem!

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A couple of decades ago and definitely before the advent of the Internet, adults reading / discussing Enid Blyton books would have been viewed with grave suspicion by the rest of the community.  Blyton was only read by kids and even kids weren’t being encouraged to read her works due to the innumerable racist accusations leveled at her, a point which quickly became passé and beaten to death. 

Sometime in the mid 2000s, I googled Enid Blyton in order to know more about her.  It was a habit of mine to google my favorite topics – Hindi film music director R. D. Burman was one, Swedish pop group ABBA was another, the Indian Railways was a third.

And Enid Blyton. 

One of the links that popped up after googling her name was the Enid Blyton Yahoo Group.  It could be said that Yahoo Groups were the rage in that decade.  On checking out the group and reading some of the posts, my surprise knew no bounds.  Here was a group of mainly adults across the world, who were more or less my age, and were discussing Enid Blyton and her works like how an elite group that would discuss say, Dickens, Austen or Forster.

I remember the discussion ongoing at that time was The Land of Far-Beyond and members of the group in response to a quiz, were commenting on The Cellars of Gloom and the book in which it appears.

Automatically, I applied for membership – an introductory email requesting to be added to the group, after mentioning my interest in Blyton.  I was added in a couple of days and the welcome I received from the existing members individually was so friendly and warm that I’ve never forgotten it.  Needless to say, the Enid Blyton Yahoo Group became a major part of my life for the next few years.

It’s one thing to read Blyton as a child but a totally different thing to read her books as an adult and what’s more, to *discuss* her works with people across the world having similar interests.  With the Blyton Yahoo Group, we discussed her books of course – our impressions created when we read Blyton as children and again as adults.  Apart from in-depth and some wonderfully analytical discussions, we as members would formulate quizzes – both straightforward questions and some cryptic posers.  Topics would consist of questions where we had to guess the books, quizzes on pets, places, on the numerous series that Blyton wrote and also tricky puzzles (a member from Nepal was adept at setting these), plus very high level, tough-to-crack crossword puzzles.  One gracious member from England was sweet enough to send all group members across the world a postcard in response to one of the quizzes she set!  Naturally, it’s a permanent part of my treasured memorabilia.

Another established writer settled in France, actually wrote an extract of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in typical Blytonesque style.  Some members posted their thoughts on unwitting double entendres in Blyton which not surprisingly caused no end of mirth in the group!

Book reviews and reviews on the various series were posted by members and this would be written with so much of depth and thought that it would be like reading a very interesting novel by itself.  An outstanding review of wonderfully delectable House At The Corner by a then sixteen-year-old astounded group members with its sheer maturity of thought and character analyses. Review of the Secret Seven series was so well written that I printed it out and made my wife read it (I didn’t have a home computer at that time).

A major activity we undertook as a group was the Round Robin.  Group member Keith Robinson (a published author himself based in the US, with several books to his credit) defines it as:

”If you’ve never heard of a Round Robin, well, in this case it’s a brand new story written by a group of fans, with each member writing a chapter and making it up as they go along. Nobody knows where the story will lead; there’s no plot to follow, and the direction of the next chapter is decided by the end of the last one. It’s a lot of fun, and the result is either a wonderful new story—or a complete mess!”

One thing I can certainly aver is that it was GREAT FUN participating in the Round Robin.

A poll was set up by the administrators of the group and members voted for which series we would choose to write the story.  After deciding on the series (it was the Famous Five series – not surprising!), another poll was set up as to which member would write which chapter.

Five Go Back to Kirrin Island was the result of the round robin.  As Keith himself says:

‘’Written by members of the Yahoo Blyton Group, this is a Round Robin story – that is, each chapter is written by a different person, with the overall plot being decided as the story moves along. It could go in any direction! This was an ongoing project started in January 2006 and finally finished in October of the same year (several months later than expected). ‘’

Here is the link to the Round Robin and to Keith’s superb website on Enid Blyton.

As it is with online groups and forums, members would join, some would post actively, while some would mainly lurk.  A few would drop off without warning every now and then.  But there were many who remained active participants – these were across the world and included countries like Britain (naturally), the US, the Netherlands, France, Germany, the Indian subcontinent including Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, all of Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand.  Members ranged from school and college students, to writers and editors, scientists, senior doctors, homemakers, retailers, top government officials – people practically from all walks of life.

Not surprising that we all got to know one another over time very well and are some of us are still in touch, despite the end of Yahoo Groups some time ago.

Yahoo Groups have had to give way to more ‘’accessible’’ and attention-grabbing social media like Facebook, WhatsApp and so on.  The Enid Blyton Society and its forums run by Tony Summerfield is very active also.  But as one member from Britain pointed out, the intimacy that the Blyton Yahoo Group members developed with one another, was something really unique. I’ve been part of various other online forums but none of them, in my experience, came close to the closeness of this group.  Small wonder we are still in touch.  In fact, I would make it a point to stay with a Mumbai-based member whenever I travelled there for concert engagements.  Similarly, a Kolkota-based member treated me to one of the best Bengali Vegetarian lunches I’ve ever had when I had once travelled there on work.

There are several pages on Facebook on Enid Blyton that are active currently.  So Enid Blyton is very much ‘’in’’, which is good.  These focus on visual content – book covers, single questions and so on. 

But there’s something about the written text / typed word.  Sans visual distractions, I feel it’s the written word that gives the reader adequate space for in-depth thought, understanding, absorbing and reflecting.

And that’s what made the Enid Blyton Yahoo Group truly unique.  Like how Blyton is part of my life and will continue to be, so will the eponymous Yahoo Group.

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Shankarabharanam – Some Lesser Known Aabharanams

Note – this has been published in the current issue of Shanmukha, Vol XLVIII, Jan – Mar 2021

Shankarabharanam is a universally enjoyed melody, whatever be the stream of music – Indian classical, film, or western music.  Much has been written about this raga and how it is one of the six melakarta ragas that has perfectly symmetrical tetrachords.  The well-distributed swara intervals of the scale of Shankarabharanam make it instantly appealing to the connoisseur and the layman alike.

The gandhara swara of the raga is Shankarabharanam’s soul.  Vidwan Sanjay Subrahmanyan in an article circa 2003 went further to say that just a kaarvai (sustained standing on a note) on the antara gandharam conjures images of Dakshinamurti in deep penance!  He also said in the same article, ‘’I can never forget once when Shri Veena S.Balachander during a lecdem, just played the gandhAra, looked up and asked ‘What rAgam could this be?’ and many responded immediately ‘shankarAbharaNam!’ ’’

Popular compositions in Shankarabharanam include the starter varnam Saami ninne kori by Veena Kuppayyar – a standard and usually the ‘’first varnam’’ that a student learns as s/he transitions to, after learning the swarajatis Rara venu gopa bala (Bilahari) and Sambasiva yenave (khamas)!

Coming to kritis, the well-known ones include Endukupeddala, Swararaga sudharasa, Manasu swadhina, by Tyagaraja; Akshayalinga vibho and Dakshinamurte by Muthuswami Dikshitar; Saroja dala netri by Syama Sastri and Mahalakshmi jaganmata by Papanasam Sivan.

Tyagaraja has composed several kritis apart from the well-known ones.  We will go through some of the slightly lesser heard ones.

1. Buddhi raadu – Misra Chapu

Tyagaraja underscores the importance of Satsanga in this kriti.

It is well-known that Tyagaraja venerated Narada as his Guru and created multiple kritis in praise of him.  Among the Sadhanas mentioned by Narada in his Bhakti Sutras, seeking of the company of the great souls – Sat-sanga is considered highly efficacious.

Adi Sankara says in the famous Bhaja Govindam:

सत्सङ्गत्वे निस्सङ्गत्वं

निस्सङ्गत्वे निर्मोहत्वम् ।

निर्मोहत्वे निश्चलतत्त्वं

निश्चलतत्त्वे जीवन्मुक्तिः ॥

By keeping the company of great Mahatmas, one becomes dispassionate. He gets Vairagya.  He does not like the company of worldly men. Then he develops the state of Nirmohatva. He becomes free from infatuation or delusion. Then his mind becomes steady and one-pointed and rests on the Svarupa or Essence. Then he attains liberation or freedom.

Books written by great souls and their swadhyaya (self-study) is important.  However, if we have contact with realized souls and sadhus, the books, which are mere bundles of firewood that need to be kindled, will get the necessary igniting spark.

Tyagaraja emphatically makes this point in the pallavi of the kriti.

pallavi
buddhi rAdu buddhi rAdu
peddala suddulu vinaka  

anupallavi
buddhi rAdu buddhi rAdu
bhUri vidyala nErcina (buddhi)  

caraNam – 1
dhAnya dhanamula cEta dharmamentayu jEsina nAnya citta bhaktula vAg-amRta pAnamu sEyaka (buddhi)
caraNam – 2
mAnaka bhAgavatAdi rAmAyaNamulu cadivina mAnushAvatAra carita marmajnula jata kUDaka (buddhi)  

caraNam – 3
yOgamulabhyasincina
bhOgamulentO kaligina
tyAgarAja nutuDau rAma dAsula celimi sEyaka (buddhi)  

The pallavi depicts the central idea of the fact that wisdom will not come without listening to the advice of great devotees.

Tyagaraja expands this idea further in the anupallavi and in the multiple charanas.  He asserts that even though one may have mastered all great branches of learning, donated generously to charity, read the Bhagavatam, Ramayana and other sacred books, practiced Yoga and attained Siddhis, true wisdom will not attain if one has not gained the friendship of Rama’s devotees.

As it is with many of Tyagaraja’s kritis, the mudra charana i.e. the charana carrying his signature is the one that is sung – in this case it is the final charanam.

This kriti is noteworthy in many aspects.  One, is that most unusually for a Tyagaraja composition, the tala has been set to ‘’viloma chapu’’ i.e. it begins on the third beat (the fourth count on the seven-beat cycle) of the misra chapu tala.  One popular composition that immediately comes to mind is Syama Sastri’s ninnu vinAga mari in Purvikalyani raga, which is mostly sung in the viloma chapu tala. 

Secondly, the Shankarabharanam in this kriti is utterly charming and bhava-rich with its long kaarvais on the gandhara note in the charanam and the kampita gamakas on the nishadam and dhaivatam in both the anupallavi and the charanam.

Note: Mudicondan Venkatarama Iyer taught this kriti to my mother, Smt. Saraswathi Santhanam, back in the 1950s. A sparkling rendition of Buddhi raadu as the main item by my Guru T. R. Subramanyam (TRS) in a concert at IIT Delhi in 1990 with Umayalapuram Sivaraman on the mridangam, will always remain etched in mind. In recent times, my Guru Shri Sanjay Subrahmanyan has rendered this kriti.

2. Emi neramu – Adi tala 2 kalai

Pallavi
Emi nEramu nannu brOva
enta bhAramu nAvalla (Emi)  

anupallavi
sAmaja rAja varaduDani munula
sat kIrti kalga lEdA nApai (Emi)
caraNam
dIna bandhuvani dEva dEvuDani-
asamAna ghanuDani dharmAtmuDanucunu
jnAna dhanulu guNa gAnamu sEya
birAna jUDavu tyAgarAjArcita nApai (Emi)  

Lyrically, this kriti would fall into the category of Tyagaraja’s numerous kritis that display anger, grievances and protests.  He candidly questions Rama as to what his, Tyagaraja’s, fault is that his lord should find it so burdensome to protect him?  To make his point clear, Tyagaraja argues that he, Rama, earned great fame earlier as bestower of boons on Gajendra.  Additionally, Tyagaraja says that though people of great wisdom declared that Rama is the benefactor of the humble, Lord of celestials, the Peerless Great Lord, and is righteous minded; and yet Rama will not look at him so easily.  And he ends with the question – what is my fault?

Emi nEramu’s lyrics have the common motif of Gajendra’s protection, along with some well-known standard attributes of Rama / Vishnu appearing in its lyrics.  Music-wise however, the kriti soars way above other creations in Shankarabharanam.  I remember once my guru Shri T. R. Subramanyam (TRS) remarking that Emi nEramu is easily one of the best songs of Tyagaraja in Shankarabharanam.  Set to a sedate gait of adi tala 2-kalai, the kriti begins slowly from the Madhya sthaayi shadjam, with the anupallavi beginning attractively on the panchamam (similar to the better-known enduku peddala) and fully explores Shankarabharanam in all its glory.  Especially the second line of the anupallavi when Tyagaraja questions ‘’munula sat kIrti kalga lEdA?’’, is most attractive and effective.

3. Vara leela gaana lola – Tisra Laghu

We examined two heavy-weight kritis in Shankarabharanam.  Let us change tracks now and look at a divyanaama sankirtana of Tyagaraja – vara lIla gAna lOla.

प. वर लील गान लोल सुर पाल सुगुण जाल भरित नील गळ हृदालय श्रुति मूल सु- करुणालवाल पालयाशु मां  

च1. सुर वन्दिताप्त बृन्द वर मन्दर धर सुन्दर कर कुन्द रदनेन्दु मुख सनन्दन नुत नन्द नन्दनेन्दिरा वर (वर)  

च2. मुनि चिन्तनीय स्वान्त नरकान्तक निगमान्त चर सु-कान्त कुश लवान्तर हित दान्त कुज वसन्त सन्ततान्तक स्तुत (वर)  

च3. वर भूष वंश भूष नत पोषण मृदु भाषण रिपु भीषण नर वेष नग पोषण वर शेष भूष तोषितानघ (वर)    
च4. सु-कवीश हृन्निवेश जग- दीश कु-भव पाश रहित श्रीश सुर गणेश हित जलेश शयन केशवाशमीश दुर्लभ (वर)  

च5. रण धीर सर्व सार सु-कुमार बुध विहार दनुज नीर धर समीरण करुणा रस परिपूर्ण जार चोर पाहि मां (वर)  

च6. नर रक्षक नीरजाक्ष वर राक्षस मद शिक्षक सुर यक्ष सनक ऋक्ष पति नुताक्ष हरण पक्ष दक्ष शिक्षक प्रिय (वर)  

च7. रघु राज त्यागराज नुत राज दिवस राज नयन-भो जगदवनाज जनक राज सुता विराज राज राज पूजित (वर)

One of the creations of the bard of Tiruvaiyyaru that is completely in Sanskrit, this composition brings us to the point of marveling at his command of the language of the gods!  Set to a sprightly Tisra lagu (gait) this kriti is truly a lilting creation sung almost to plain notes, reminding us that the Western music influence was not lost on or ignored by Tyagaraja.  vara lIla gAna lOla therefore swings its way through the pallavi and the seven charanas like a comfortably cushioned swing (oonjal), so commodious as to take us on a wonderful oscillatory ride that is gentle and elevating music-wise, and at the same time allowing us to contemplate on the divine attributes of Rama that Tyagaraja portrays so effectively.

I will just illustrate a couple of highlights of this delightful divyanama kriti.

Each charana seems to have a ‘’predominant syllable’’.  For example, in the first Charana, the predominant syllable is ‘ra’ (र).  So, we have this syllable recurring through the words – sura, vara, mandara, dhara, sundara, kara, radana and again vara.

Similarly, in the second charana, the predominant syllable is ‘nta’ (न्त), in the third charanam it is Sha (ष), charanam four – sha (श) and so on.  Charanam six is perhaps the most interesting – having the syllable of ksha (क्ष).  This particular syllable is slightly rare in kritis – one strikingly glorious example of the ksha (क्ष) praasam (alliteration) is the madhyama kala section of the Anupallavi of Muthuswami Dikshitar’s all-time great masterpiece, Akshayalinga vibho, again in magnificent Shankarabharanam:

दक्ष शिक्षण दक्ष-तर सुर लक्षण विधि विलक्षण लक्ष्य लक्षण

बहु विचक्षण सुधा भक्षण गुरु कटाक्ष वीक्षण

It is usually acknowledged that usage of the ksha (क्ष) praasam in Sanskrit is rather difficult.  Both Tyagaraja and Muthuswami Dikshitar have achieved this magnificently and with élan, the former with a flourish in varalIla gAna lOla.  Singing this particular charanam in this divya nama kriti is sheer delight for the singer and is an auditory sugar candy for the listener!

varalIla gAna lOla is thus a very different facet of Shankarabharanam that is presented by Tyagaraja – a true assimilation of two diametrically different streams of music, with excellent results.

4. Bhakti bhikshameeyave – Rupaka Tala

A short kriti by Tyagaraja set to rupaka tala.  What is instantly attractive about this gem is the beautiful Shankarabharanam encapsulated by the bard of Tiruvaiyyaru – a different facet, quite unlike his other kritis.  The way he entreats his Lord to grant him alms of true devotion, without desire is wonderfully captivating especially when he implores through the word ‘’iyyavE’’ by caressing the life notes sa ri ga of Shankarabharanam in the Pallavi.  The way the tune of the opening Pallavi line is set, would make for a great raga alapana beginning. 

Some of the most picturesque similes have been used by Tyagaraja in the charanam – underscoring the importance of bhakti.  One can display the brightest of scholarship and discourse endlessly on epics, SAstras and vEdas, but it is all ultimately equivalent to decking a corpse with the choicest of jewels!  Some imagination indeed!

pallavi
bhakti biccam(i)yyavE bhAvukamagu sAtvIka (bha)  

anupallavi
muktikakhila Saktiki tri- mUrtulakati mElmi rAma (bha)
caraNam
prANamu lEni vAniki bangAru pAga cuTTi
ANi vajra bhUshaNamuramandu peTTu rIti
jANalaku purANAgama SAstra vEda japa prasanga trANa kalgiyEmi bhakta tyAgarAja nuta rAma (bha)  

Some artists render the charanam in madhyama kalam, but in my opinion, the import of Tyagaraja’s imagination comes out fully and expressively if the charanam is sung in the normal tempo.

5. Sri Rama Devi – Rupaka Tala – Mysore Vasudevacharya

Whenever I get the opportunity, I always assert this – Mysore Vasudevacharya is easily one of the best composers of the 20th century!  As a professional performing musician, what has never ceased to amaze and delight me is that whenever I look at his compositions’ notations, I find myself immediately attracted and I begin to hum and sing them to myself.  I have experienced this many many of Vasudevacharya’s compositions.

This kriti on Goddess Lakshmi is one such example.  When I first looked at the notation, I found myself singing along and before I knew it, I was hooked. Literally.  The ease of Vasudevacharya’s thought process in the construction of this kriti, made learning it almost effortless.  The process was just ever so smooth – and more importantly, full of joy!  The portion ‘’maamavatu sadaa mudaa’’ in the Pallavi is proof enough of the kriti’s charm.

As it is with many kritis, Sri Rama Devi appears to be a standard kriti in Shankarabharanam, with the third and the fourth line of the charanam repeating the music of the anupallavi.  However, what totally differentiates this kriti is the presence of the madhyama kalam in both the anupallavi and in the charanam akin to a Muthuswami Dikshitar composition.  But then again, Vasudevacharya makes a slight departure here as well – he has kept the music of the madhyama kala the same for both portions of the anupallavi and for the charanam – he only changes the words for these two sections.

However, the ‘’repeat music’’ in my opinion only adds to the sheer attractiveness of the kriti – and underscores yet again how musical Sanskrit can sound.  The anupallavi madhyama kala 2nd line ‘’bhakta bhAgya dAyaka’’ is set to counts of three – it happily falls into place in one cycle of rupaka tala avartanam, seamlessly blending with the Pallavi.

The charanam’s madhyama kala ends with an endearing beautiful proclamation that Lakshmi is ‘’vara mangala dEvatA’’.  Singing this kriti is sure to give all of us the mangala that most of us are in quest of – that is my conviction.

The lyrics of the kriti:

Pallavi
shri ramA dEvi
mAmavatu sadA mudA  

Anupallavi
kSIra sAgara kanyakA
dvArakEsa nAyikA  

Anupallavi Madhyama Kala
suracira mrga mada tilakA
parivrta brndArakA
smara janaka krpA pUrNa
bhakta bhAyadAyikA
Caranam
paramAdbhuta caritA
paramAnanda bharitA
pAra rahita mahimAnvitA
pAlanEtra ujitA

Caranam Madhyama Kala
para vAsudEva dayitA
parAsharAdi vanditA
vara gAna tOSitA
vara mangaLa dEvatA

6. Damodaramanisham – Adi tala 2 kalai – Mysore Vasudevacharya

Before we get into this kriti, a short introduction is necessary.

It is a matter of common knowledge that the Gayatri mantra is hailed to be the supreme mantra. This mantra is a prayer to the Lord Narayana dwelling in the Sun, to bestow upon us knowledge and protection.   So great is its importance that the japa of the Gayatri is laid down as a compulsory daily Sadhana – the Sandhyavandanam, in the life of every Hindu.  During the process of Sandhyavandanam, the sadhaaka recites the twelve names of Lord Vishnu – Kesava, Narayana, Madhava, Govinda, Vishnu, Madhusudana, Trivikrama, Vamana, Shridhara, Hrishikesha, Padmanabha and finally Damodara.

Vasudevacharya, we get to know, was very particular about his daily Sandhyavandanam.  Hence, as his recognition to the importance of these twelve names of Vishnu, and also as his dedication to the process of Sandhyavandanam and its importance, he composed a kriti on each of these twelve names.  This kriti in Shankarabharanam is the final kriti in this set – also referred to as the Dwaadasha Naama Kritis.

Pallavi
dAmOdaram aniSam ASrayEham
SrI mOdakaram Stra sura bhUruham  

Anupallavi
kaumaOakIdharam vAsudEvam rAmOpa bhOga niratam kESavam
Caranam
SaraNAgata pANDava paripAlakam
vara nandagOpa mOda dAyakam
sarasIruha daLa viSAla nayanam Saradindu nibha vadanam kamsa damanam  

Each of these twelve kritis of Vasudevacharya is beautiful – there is nothing which is dull, mundane or run-of-the mill about any of them.  The Dwaadasha Naama Kritis’ set is a separate subject by itself!  For the current article, this kriti in Shankarabharanam being the final kriti in this set, Mysore Vasudevacharya without doubt, truly makes it the grand finale!  I would go as far to say that this is my favourite in this set of twelve kritis.  The Shankarabharanam in this kriti and the way it progresses is simply beautiful.

Vasudevacharya has used a very rare word (in Carnatic music) in this kriti – by describing Krishna has one holding the Kaumodaki – the name of the mace of Vishnu.

Another slightly rare usage is rAmOpa bhOga niratam – the one who sports with many young women – a probable reference to the rasa leela.

The starting syllable ‘da’ of the work dAmOdaram literally reclines on the madhya octave shadjam.  Songs beginning on the Madhya shadjam, in my opinion almost seem to have a therapeutic effect especially when one returns to it after the anupallavi and the charanam, or even after executing a sangati in the same line.  The sheer happiness of coming back to the ‘sa’ is enough to sing this kriti again and again!

7. Sundara rupa gopalanai – Adi 2 kalai – Papanasam Sivan

When I heard this kriti for the first time, being sung in a lecture demonstration on Papanasam Sivan’s compositions many years ago, I remember being taken totally by surprise.  As the recital of the kriti progressed, the initial surprise transformed into sheer amazement and I found myself wondering, ‘’Just why is this kriti not better known???’’

Note – this was part of a lec-dem at The Music Academy, Madras, on Papanasam Sivan’s compositions conducted by his daughter Smt. Rukmini Ramani and assisted by Smt. Radha Parthasarathy.

I guess every sphere of art has its own unsolved mysteries and Carnatic music is no exception.  This wonderful and majestic kriti of Papanasam Sivan set to Adi tala 2-kalai languishing in limbo is definitely seems to be an unsolved mystery! 

The kriti has everything going for it to become a success with musicians and rasikas alike, the foremost of them being the simple and endearing lyrics in Tamizh – so quintessentially Papanasam Sivan.  He demonstrates through the Pallavi, gently reminding to all of us to pray to Krishna as the Sundara rupa Gopalan.  ‘’Come, let us all go and pray to him!’’ is what Sivan says in the second line of the charming Pallavi.

Pallavi
sundara rUpa gOpAlanai dinam tudippOm vArungaL nAmellOrum


Anupallavi
anda mOdAdi illAdavanai vaikuNTha patiyai shrI lakSmi patiyai  
Caranam
pEi ena varum pUtanai mulaip-pAluDan
uyiraiyum urinjum anbar sahAyanai  

piLLaip-paruvam tanil gOpiyar uLLamenum veNNaiyuNDa vAyanai maNNuNDa mAyanai  

tAyena varum punita yashOdai enum
iDaikkula mangaiyin kaN kuLira  

sanakAdi yOgiyarum kANariya vishvarUpa darishanam tandavanai

The charanam is set to a madhyama kala tempo – and takes us through Krishna’s childhood – he who sucked the life out of demoness pUtanA; who helps his devotees, who in his childhood ate the butter of the hearts (love) of the cowherdesses; the mAyan (one who creates illusions) who ate mud, who gladdened the eyes of the divine women of the Yadava clan and Yashoda who came as his mother, and finally who gave the view of his Universal Form to sanaka and other ascetics.

The construction of the charanam in madhyama kala is similar to very well-known kritis of Papanasam Sivan like Kapali (Mohanam) and Taamadamen Swami (Todi).

However, the true icing on the cake in this grand kriti is the creation of the chittaswarams – and not one chittaswaram but two.  So, it should be two levels of icings on a single cake – and that would not be a deliberate poetic exaggeration!

Papanasam Sivan was a prodigious composer who composed many kritis and varnams.  However, chittaswarams in his kritis are rather rare.  Hence, I was tremendously astonished to realize that there is actually not one chittaswaram but two; one to be sung after the anupallavi and a different one to be sung after the charanam.  Both these chittaswarams are verily separate sections on their own and the one after the charanam has dhatu prayogams and some of the notes when sung plain, give a ‘’western notes’’ effect.  It was sheer bliss for me to discover, learn and polish this kriti.  Kudos to Papanasam Sivan who proved yet again that Shankarabharanam, despite having innumerable compositions, always has the space for another creation, provided the composer has the creativity to come up with something different!

In conclusion, I want to say, Shankarabharanam is a true ‘’Chakravarti Raga’’ – a phrase used by virtuoso Lalgudi Jayaraman.  No matter how many compositions we may have heard and enjoyed, the raga has infinite scope to present new facets all the time, retaining its core identity and familiarity at the same time.  The compositions I have had the opportunity to highlight in this article, underscore the ‘’infinitude’’ of Shankarabharanam most tellingly.  Let us continue to discover and unravel the sheer joy of Shankarabharanam through these compositions – as Papanasam Sivan asserts in the kriti we just discussed:

”வாருங்கள் நாம் எல்லோரும்!” 🙂

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Narasimha – Nothing Impossible!

Thought I’d just re-blog this post written a few years ago on Narasimha Jayanti. One kriti that merits highlighting is Mysore Vasudevacharya’s manasA vachasA shirasA in Begada, set to Adi tala 2-kalai. An outstanding composition, it needs a separate post which I will do in a day or two. In the meantime, here’s my written homage to Narasimha, through a couple of great creations by our worthy vAggEyakArAs!

Mohan Santhanam

Perhaps one of the most dramatic of all the avatars of the Almighty, Narayana in his unique incarnation as the man-lion has indelibly captured the imagination of devotees, and continues to hold sway as never before.  And today in our modern world, there seems to be a huge interest in this particular aspect of Vishnu.

The story of how the Protector aspect of the Trinity i.e. Narayana appeared to save his devotee Prahlaada from his demoniacal father, is well known and needs no introduction.  It is worthwhile to reiterate the fact that our Puranas are not just mere tales concocted for a few moments’ of entertainment.  We all know, more or less that our epics are actually storehouses of valuable allegories symbolizing great spiritual truths.  They are as greatly utilitarian as any modern scientific invention.  Swami Sivananda says that we need to scrutinize our scriptures for inner and deeper meanings…

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Dikshitar Akhandam @ Ettayapuram

A post on the Akhandam at Ettayapuram, superbly organized by the Sri Purandaradasa Baktha Samajam, Chennai

A fact about the Carnatic Music Trinity that is well-known and accepted:

Tyagaraja – drAksharasam

Syama Sastri – kadali phalam

Muthuswami Dikshitar – nArikelam!

Tyagaraja’s kritis are meant to be grapes – just plucked off from the tree / bunch and popped into the mouth, and the sweetness of the fruit enjoyed thereupon.

While this may be an over-trivialization of Tyagaraja’s entire corpus (this metaphor certainly cannot be applied to Tyagaraja’s grand compositions like O Rangasaayi, Evarimaata, Emineramu or Etavunara and many others), by and large it is an accepted opinion by musicians and rasikas alike.

Syama Sastri’s compositions, while they perhaps don’t easily lend themselves quite as draksharasam, metaphorically involve a little more labour akin to peeling the banana in order to consume and enjoy the fruit.

Muthuswami Dikshitar, well, the comparison to the labour involved in the process of getting ready a coconut for consumption, is definitely not an exaggeration at all in my opinion!  Right from climbing the coconut tree, which by itself involves a great level of expertise available to the select breed of coconut tree climbers (a vanishing breed now like many other traditional tradesmen), throwing the coconut down to the ground, collecting it, removing the husk with a vAL (scimitar), and then the actual breaking open of the coconut and then the process of scraping / cutting / grating to get it ready for consumption.

Phew!

And the analogy of learning, practicing, polishing and finally presenting a Dikshitar composition, being equivalent to getting ready a coconut for consumption is not far-fetched at all.  A far cry from popping a grape into the mouth or just peeling the skin off a banana!

Consequently, festivals and Akhandams dedicated solely to Muthuswami Dikshitar are rather rare, especially in the era we are currently in.

Hence when S.Chandran, the president of Sri Purandaradasar Bhakta Samajam (SPBS) reached out to me to ask if I would be willing to participate in the day-long Dikshitar Akhandam at the shrine in Ettayapuram, I had no second thoughts about accepting.  It was a long time since I had participated in such an endeavor, the last being the trip to Bhadrachalam a few years ago.

“Yes Chandran sir,’’ I replied with enthusiasm, ‘’I’m definitely in this time.’’

A convenient WhatsApp group titled SPBS Ettayapuram Trip was created by Chandran which set the ball rolling.  After posting a brief voice-message of welcome, Chandran next requested each of the vocalists to send in their choice of Muthuswami Dikshitar kritis.

The participants were requested to send in a list of ten compositions that they would prefer to sing.  Chandran was very particular that there should be no repetitions.  Bhavadhaarini was the first to respond and soon the rest of the participants responded in quick succession.

For me, going through everyone’s list and compiling my own was an enormously interesting exercise.  Projects such as these are the opportunities for artists to showcase the not-so-popular or not-so-well-known compositions of Dikshitar.  Hence all the participants without exception enthusiastically included some rare compositions in their lists.  No one sang Vatapi ganapatim bhajeham or Mahaganapatim (Nata)!

The akhandam was formally inaugurated by the traditional lighting of the Kutthuvilakku.  The chief guest for the day D.Ramprasad, a prominent chartered accountant and an ardent rasika who came all the way from Bangalore, made an emotionally stirring speech about the greatness of Dikshitar and how blessed all of us are to either render or at least listen to his creations.

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All set!

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Akhandam formally inaugurated!

 

 

SPBS office bearer Kumbakonam Ramakrishnan then honoured Radhika Raman, the Tirunelveli-based managing trustee of the shrine, with a shawl.  In her speech Ms. Raman briefly spoke about the history of the shrine, how it was languishing in limbo due to neglect a few decades ago, how a central government official took it upon himself to bring about its resurrection and how it came to be, as it exists today, and the people responsible for the day-to-day maintenance and upkeep.  It was extremely heartening to know the high commitment levels of these well-wishers.

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Radhika Raman speaks about the history of the shrine, S.Chandran looks on…

After that came the concerts – rendering of the kritis sans any manodharmam.  I enjoyed every one of them without exception and it was a delight to listen to relatively rare kritis that were sung with passion and dedication by all the vocalists.  Some of the highlights for me (in no particular order) were:

gajAmbA nAyakO rakSatu – Senjuruti – mishra cApu –  (Bhavadhaarini)

navaratnamAlinIM natajanapAlinIM – gamakakriya (Poorvikalyani) – khaNDa EkaM (Mumbai Shilpa)

kaumArI gaurivELAvaLi – gaurIvELAvaLi (Gaurimanohari) – Adi (Namagiri Ramesh)

praNatArTiharAya namastE vara – sAmantAm – Adi (B.Umashankar)

shRHNgAra rasamaHnjarIM – rasamaHnjari – rUpakaM (Santosh Subramanian)

shrI rAmacandrO rakSatu mAM – Sriranjani – mishra cApu (Calcutta Shankar)

tyAgarAjEna samrakSitOhaM – sALaga bhairavi – Adi (Serugudi Sisters)

Kamalamba Navavaranam in Shankarabharanam (Madurai Rajaram)

 

One thing caught my attention when Santosh Subramanian was singing the rare kriti in Rasamanjari.  In this kriti, Dikshitar states in the anupallavi: aHNgArakAdi grahadOSa nivAraNakarIm!

Therefore, like Tyagaraja in Grahabalamemi (Revagupti), Dikshitar in his own subtle way makes his point by emphasizing that Devi is Supreme and all the graha doshas can definitely be rooted out by Her Grace!  It was an Aha moment!

Apt accompaniment was provided by S.Raghuraman (who also doubled up as the Akhandam’s photographer), S.Chandran and M.Anandhula on the violin.  On the mridangam were Kumbakonam Ramakrishnan, Neyveli K.V.Ramkumar, Umayalapuram Kalyanaraman, H.Harikrishnan and Manikudi Chandrasekhar.  Nanganallur Swaminathan enriched with his ghatam.

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mInalOchani pAshamOchani…

The day’s proceedings were wound up with SPBS honouring each of the participants with a shawl and memento.  Thanks to S.Chandran’s efforts and meticulous follow-up, AIR Tirunelveli sent a team to record the akhandam.  The team also recorded thoughts from some of the artists on the Akhandam per se and about the greatness of Muthuswami Dikshitar in general.

 

 

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Video recordist and also vocalist Murali in action…

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‘’What time is your train to Kovilpatti and how will you go from Kovilpatti to Ettayapuram?’’ asked my wife.

‘’Well, we’re all booked to travel by the Ananthapuri Express, which leaves Chennai Egmore at 19:50 Hours.  From Kovilpatti, SPBS has made arrangements for us to be picked up from the station and to take us to Ettayapuram.’’

‘’That means you’ll have to leave for the station at least by 18:30 Hours.’’

‘’Yes,’’ I agreed.

‘’What dinner shall I pack?’’

And with a great sense of relief I told my wife not to bother.  I said that the office bearers of SPBS have made arrangements for dinner to be served to all the participants after the train departs from Egmore.

Food arrangements were done carefully, starting from the dinner served in the Ananthapuri Express after it departed from Egmore.  This continued with coffee served in the train the following morning before we reached Kovilpatti; and the rest of the day’s breakfast, lunch, evening snacks and that night’s dinner.  The last was thoughtfully served at Kovilpatti station itself before we boarded the Kollam – Chennai Ananthapuri Express for our return.

As we left Chennai, in addition to serving dinner to the participants, Kumbakonam Ramakrishnan went a step ahead by also handing out tempting morris bananas to all of us.  Similarly, the next day he continued this with personally serving potato chips at lunch to us during the akhandam.  Incidentally, the lunch consisted of extremely delectable puliyodarai, sambar saadam, potato vegetable, appalam, curd rice, pickles and jangiri.  Evening snacks consisted of hot and fresh bhajjis and kaara sevai, the latter thoughtfully brought by B.Umashankar.

As I have said in my blog posts before, participating in Akhandams is a completely different experience, quite distinct from travelling for concerts.  The experience is unique and the interactions and the camaraderie are at a different level.  This particular Muthuswami Dikshitar Akhandam underscored this powerfully.  Perhaps most importantly, was the sheer joy all of us experienced in performing as teams, Dikshitar’s lesser-known masterpieces at his shrine.

Yes, Muthuswami Dikshitar was there surely throughout the day amidst us.

shrInAthAdi guruguhO jayati jayati!

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Sathguru Swamiki @ Singapore!

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From the crop of disciples that Patnam Subramanya Iyer seems to have had, Mysore Vasudevacharya and Ramanathapuram ‘’Poochi’’ Srinivasa Iyengar have indelibly carved their names in the 20th century composers’ realm of Carnatic music.

Apart from being a brilliant, versatile and visionary composer, Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar is also credited with the current format of the Carnatic ‘’cutchery’’, which was further refined and polished by his superstar disciple Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar.

What makes Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar a force to reckon with as a composer, as a vaaggeyakaara?  His creations span all types of compositions in the spectrum of Carnatic music – tana varnams – both adi and ata talas, a brilliant pada varnam in Vasantha in the slightly offbeat misra jhampa tala, kritis of all kinds – fast paced, of medium tempo, a few of them being magnum opuses imbued with reposefulness leading to almost meditation in true Muthuswami Dikshitar style, one inspired from Western music modelled on the lines of Raghuvamsa Sudha of his guru albeit with a different raga he himself created, javalis, tillanas, kavadi chindus and a ragamalika.  He doesn’t seem to have left any genre untouched!

Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar is fortunate to have his own descendants who have taken it upon themselves to pay homage to his memory and highlight the compositions that are part of the wonderful corpus he has bequeathed to the Carnatic music world.

Foremost among the current generation is R.Sreenivasan who has settled in Singapore.  His mother Padmasani Ramaseshan, was an active performing vocalist based out of Madurai till the late 1980s after which circumstances forced her to give up everything for the sake of her family.

Despite having to give up music, the blessings of the illustrious lineage of Poochi Iyengar ensured that she kept in touch with music and the musical values she had garnered through her own journey as a musician, remained with her throughout.

‘’Do you know,’’ she said to me the evening we landed in Singapore, ‘’the family considers the Todi heavy weight Sri Venkatesam akin to something much more than the evening Pooja.  After the lamps were lit in the evening, Poochi Iyengar would sit in the Pooja room and render this kriti with intense devotion.  Perumal is said to have appeared in front of him…’’

Listening to her, one got the impression that this wasn’t mere family sentiment or a hagiographical recalling of an incident deliberately created to add a dramatic element in harikatha expositions.  She stated it quietly and most matter-of-factly.

‘’Every kriti has a history – a story by itself’’, she continued and proceeded to tell me the story behind the creation of the well-known saraguna palimpa (which is common knowledge in the Carnatic music fraternity) and satbhaktiyugalga (Ananda Bhairavi).

Padmasani Mami’s enthusiasm was truly infectious and it was fascinating to listen to her account of the Poochi lineage.

Padmasani Mami – here with Harshita.

Organizing any festival involves complete dedication and commitment and Sathguru Swamiki was no exception.  Well-known SIFAS was the venue and the officials from the respected institution especially the president Vidhya Nair responded with great enthusiasm.

The audience response was highly encouraging on all the three days.  The sound system professionals of SIFAS ensured that the microphones were well-balanced in order ensuring optimal and high quality output.

The first day’s celebrations were swung into motion with the President Vidhya Nair, lighting the kuttuvilakku along with veteran S.Kasinathan and the principal of SIFAS, Shankar Rajan.  Sreeni’s mother Padmasani Ramaseshan rendered the kriti ”varam ondru tara vendum”, an evocative composition of Karaikudi Rajamani Iyengar in the raga Aarabhi, set to adi tala, as the prayer.  After delivering the welcome address, Sreeni called upon Sampath Sundararajan to highlight aspects of Poochi Iyengar, and his merit as a composer.

Vidhya Nair lights the Kuthuvilakku along with Kasinathan sir and Shankar Rajan sir. Krithiga Sreenivasan facilitates…

My concert was scheduled on the first day and I started with the super well-known varnam in Mohanam – Ninnukkori.  While it’s now mainly regarded as ”a varnam for kids or beginners” (and never mind that the likes of GNB and then later KVN have revelled in singing this varnam), as I revisited it, one thing made itself amply clear to me.  Ninnukori is a varnam that does have its own unique weight and certainly cannot be dismissed as just a beginners’ varnam.  Additionally, one remark made by Sreeni’s mother was significant – she said that Poochi Iyengar and his descendants would always, without fail, sing a few avartanas of kalpana swaras for whatever varnam they began their concert with.  Hence if one concludes with a few rounds of swaras, this adds an additional bonus to an already sparkling Ninnukkori.

Other kritis that I included were the Todi heavy weight Sri Venkatesam set to Rupaka Tala, 2-kalai, Saraguna Palimpa (Kedaragaula), Raghunatha Nannu (Swararanjani) and Neepaadumule gatiyani (Navarasakannada).

It would not be out of place here to mention how I learnt Sri Venkatesam many years ago.  It was the late Smt. Kanakam Subramanyam (wife of my revered guru Shri TRS) who suggested that I learn this from him.  She had learnt this masterpiece in her childhood in Salem and remarked on the highly unusual beginning – how the syllable ”ven” of venkatesam leaps up to the dhaivatam of the middle octave from the lower shadjam.  She had her own notation of the kriti in a beautiful handwriting…

Coming back to the concert, I was well-supported by my team which comprised of Nellai Ravindran (violin), Tripunithura Sreekanth (mridangam) and Mahesh Parameswaran (ghatam).

Concert pic – with Nellai Ravindran (violin), Tripunithura Sreekanth (mridangam) and Mahesh Parameswaran (ghatam)

Pics post concert:

 

 

The 2nd day saw V.Navaneet Krishnan, student of the one and only Palghat K.V.Narayanaswami, rendering some of his guru’s concert staple items.  Navaneet started off with the brilliant Varali varnam (set to the very unusual chatusra ata tala).  Ably support by Naveen on the violin, Navaneet’s main item was an evocative rendition of the Poochi masterpiece Paramapaavana Rama in Poorvikalyani.  True to his guru’s style Navaneet dispensed with long and involved korvais and wound up his swara segment concisely.  Subramaniam Radhakrishnan and Mahesh Parameswaran’s neat and succinct taniyavardhanam deserves special mention.

One of the highlights of Paramapaavana Rama is undoubtedly the beautiful chittaswaram, especially some of the panchama varja phrases that add their unmistakable charm.  Similarly the chittaswaram of his other magnum opus Saraguna Paalimpa is simply outstanding!  I personally have a yen for chittaswarams and naturally Poochi’s compositions are a joy to sing!

Other items of Poochi Iyengar that Navaneet included were neekelanaa (Devamanohari – again with a brilliant chittaswaram!), Samaja varada (Suddha Saveri), Satbhaktiyugalga (Ananda Bhairavi) and the tillana in Todi.  Incidentally the Todi tillana I was told, is often performed by Kalakshetra.

One highlight was Navaneet’s rendition of the popular Kapi kriti of Tyagaraja – ”intasoukhyamani”.  The addition of the bhaashaanga notes of Kapi for this kriti is attributed to Poochi Iyengar, a fact I didn’t know earlier.

V.Navaneet Krishnan with Naveen Kumar (violin), R.Subramanian (mridangam) and Mahesh Parameswaran (ghatam) and with KVN’s grandson Chandru on the tambura

The third day’s concert by talented youngster S.Harshita, a student of her father and P.B.Srirangachari, brought the three-day festival to a fulfilling closure.  Harshita rendered the Kanada ata tala varnam, Sri raghukula nidhim (Huseni), Anudinamunu (Begada) and Satguru swamiki (Ritigaula).  She sang a dwi-nada ragam, tanam and pallavi using the Mohanam varnam’s pallavi line ninnukori yunnaanura as the refrain.

Harshita in concert with Pavan Sughosh (violin), Muthu Subramanian (mridangam) and our host R.Sreenivasan (morsing)

The concerts ended around 9:30 PM, after which, all of us would troop to the nearby Sri Lakshmi Narasimhan Restaurant, Serangoon Road, for dinner.

A word or two about this rather unusual restaurant – the women who come to the tables to take orders and serve, might be our elder sisters, cousins or aunts.  Looking extremely unlike the conventional ”waitresses”, the way they take orders from each table makes us feel that we are not dining in a restaurant at all – we might be having dinner at a close relative’s place.  Moreover on the second day, after Navaneet Krishnan’s concert, we were served the Kerala ada pradaman (one of my mega favourite paayasams), as a bonus.

 

Coming to know that we were in the midst of the Sathguru Swamiki festival, they requested us to sing in front of Mahaperiyaval’s photo that adorned the billing counter in the restaurant.  Navaneet Krishnan rendered Periyasami Thooran’s Punniyam Oru Koti, with Padmasani Mami joining in with gusto.  Since it was almost closing time for the restaurant, there weren’t many diners and there was an atmosphere of calm and reposefulness with Navaneet along with Mami singing sonorously the Keeravani kriti.  The owners of the restaurant listened to the rendition in rapt attention and expressed their deep gratitude.

‘’Due to the running of the restaurant, we just don’t have the luxury to go out for these kind of events in the evening,’’ they said, delighted and touched by the impromptu rendition. ‘’So, thank you so very much!’’

For me – a unique experience!

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Office bearers of the Sri Lakshmi Narasimhan Restaurant. This was after Navaneet rendered Punniyam Oru Koti…

A word of profuse thanks to my hosts – to Subramaniam Radhakrishnan (Prasad), who incidentally was on the mridangam for Navaneet’s concert and is a student of the formidable maestro Guru Kaaraikkudi Mani, his wife Aarti and Prasad’s mother.  I was peacefully allowed to do what I liked, and this included badgering Aarti for endless cups of tea, which the latter most graciously provided me with.

Travelling outstation with fellow musicians has multiple bonuses.  We get to interact and get to know one another at a much deeper and personal level.  It’s a no brainer that discussing music makes time go SO quickly.  Sampath sir shared his experiences as a student of the one and only Madurai T.N.Sheshagopalan – it was wonderful listening to him talk about his guru.  Later in the flight, when Navaneet came and sat next to me and when we started discussing his guru KVN’s music, ragas – especially Geyahejjujji (Navaneet would know what I mean!!!) and several other musical ideas, it was quite a shock to realize that the 3 hours 45 minutes flight was coming to close as the stewardess asked us to fasten our seatbelts and prepare for landing in Singapore’s Changi airport.

With Harshita, Sampath sir, Navaneet and yours truly at Chennai International Airport

One word about the airline we travelled.  Yes, it was by the much-maligned Air India and our journeys to and fro were, I have to say, EXTREMELY comfortable!  There’s enough leg room in the aircraft, the food was excellent and the service was prompt and courteous.  Air India, it is quite evident, seems to have undergone a massive makeover, definitely for the good.  Long may it last.

In conclusion, I would say that it was an honour to participate in the first edition of ‘’Sathguru Swamiki’’.  Credit obviously goes to my Guru the one and only TRS and his blessings.  He taught me several of Poochi’s kritis including the outstanding Sri Venkatesam and Saraguna Palimpa.  While one of TRS’ early gurus was a disciple in the Poochi lineage, I was really gratified to know that Kotiswara Iyer, whose direct sishya parampara I take considerable pride in belonging to, was also a student of Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar.

Sreenivasan Ramaseshan worked very hard to make the first edition of Sathguru Swamiki a success.  Kudos to his family, especially his wife Krithiga who has been his constant support and encouragement throughout and it was so heart-warming to see her enthusiasm right from the way she received us at the airport.

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Arrival at Changi with Krithiga, Sreeni and Sampath sir’s brother in law (at the extreme right)

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On the way to Punggol – a delectable dinner by Krithiga awaits!

In conclusion, my biggest takeaway by participating in Sathguru Swamiki has ensured that Poochi Iyengar will always be an active part of my concert repertoire with me including his compositions much more often.

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Shertalai K.N.Renganatha Sharma @ Music Academy

Shertalai K.N.Renganatha Sharma @ Music Academy

With a high-voltage full-bench stellar team comprising:

Violin – T.K.V.Ramanujacharyulu

Mridangam – B.Harikumar

Ghatam – Trichy S.Krishnaswamy

Morsing – Srirangam Kannan

”viyadAdi bhUtakiraNE vinOdacaraNE aruNE’’

I had plenty of take-aways from this great concert yesterday.  The pièce de résistance without doubt, being the kamalAmba navAvaraNa dhyAna kriti kamalAmbikE in tODi, after an expansive alapana.  The kAlapramANam was simply exquisite – slow and unhurried, deliberate yet not meandering and most of all, the steadiness and tautness that was maintained throughout.  Renganatha Sharma’s rendition was truly meditative and it was sheer delight to listen to.  His rendition was accentuated by superb and supportive playing by veterans TKV Ramanujacharyulu and B.Harikumar.  Especially Harikumar sir when he embellished the rendition with his playing as Renganatha Sharma sang ‘’kamalAlaya tIrtha vaibhavE…’’ and stood in the taara sthaayi shadjam.  Nothing short of wow!

Niraval was done at a different place – in the charanam ‘’viyadAdi bhUtakiraNE vinOdacaraNE aruNE’’ and was as evocative as it was expansive.  For the tani, keeping an eye on the time, B.Harikumar quickly moved to the tisra nadai and his skill and experience in execution was amply evident.  Likewise with veteran Srirangam Kannan on the morsing.  Youngster Trichy Krishna who’s easily one of the best ghatam players we have today, was simply outstanding in his round.

mAhuri!

Other take-aways were the very attractive and delectable rarity – mAmava raghuvIra in the raga mAhuri.  The swara combination of the Arohana and the Avarohana ostensibly seemed like a take-off on the better known Yadukulakambhoji, but the kriti and the rendition had nothing to do with Yadukulakambhoji at all, and truly held its own.  This kriti in my opinion is a typical example of Dikshitar’s true genius to explore the unexplored, and verily striking gold in the process.  Sometimes for us musicians and rasikas, unknown ragas could seem to appear as a mish-mash of known ragas, but Mahuri didn’t seem like that; it definitely had its own identity.

These were the thoughts running in my mind as Renganatha Sharma proceeded with the rendition.  Serendipitously, as if to emphasize my thoughts and to consolidate the identity carefully built up through the kriti, Renganatha Sharma sang a few rounds of swaras for the pallavi line, to which T.K.V.Ramanujacharyulu responded with enthusiasm and aplomb.

There was this slightly elderly couple seated in the row in front of me; and it made me smile and feel good to see the gentleman immediately take out his smartphone and search for the kriti’s text online and on coming across it, showing it to his wife.  I also observed that the gentleman also searched Wikipedia for the arohanam and the avarohanam and showing that as well to his wife.  Long live such rasikas! 🙂

Purandara Dasa’s parAkumADada

Two other take-aways (actually that should be three) were the inclusion of Purandara Dasa’s parAkumADada after a quick sketch of Kharaharapriya.  This song was tuned in Kharaharapriya by my revered guru Shri T.R.Subramanyam (TRS) – his rendition of this kriti in his prime, along with expansive niraval at the line nararoLagE pAmaruDa for the album containing devarnamas will always remain etched for its truly electrifying effect.

Rasikapriya!

The second take-away was the expansive alapana of Rasikapriya.  With his voice in great form, Renganatha Sharma made full use of full-throated singing along with generous akaarams and fast phrases.  The result was a very charming and scholarly alapana.  TKV’s response was equally good, and he included a dhATu prayogam section in his alapana by jumping two notes that enormously added value overall to his alapana.  This was followed by the kriti that Rasikapriya is synonymous with – Kotiswara Iyer’s aruLSeiyya vENum ayyA.  A few rounds of swaras were also sung at the pallavi line.

Finally, the emotively expressive and rare ‘’kai viDalAmO’’ of Lakshmanan Pillai in the raga kApi set to Adi tala 2-kaLai sedately rendered, brought the concert to a close after Lalgudi’s Pahadi tillana.

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Rail-fanning Trip: Mandaveli-Park Town-Basin Bridge-Tiruvottiyur-Mandaveli

Note:  I had posted this a few weeks ago as a result of a rail-fanning trip.  For some reason, this post didn’t appear along with the rest of my blog posts and appeared alongside Home and About .  I took recourse to deleting the post and reposting.

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”Appa, I want to go on a ”new line” this time!” declared thirteen-year-old Dhananjay.  “Let’s go to Tambaram.”

“Dhananjay, there’s no point in going to Tambaram during the day!” I replied.  “I’ve told you many times that the best time to go rail-fanning on that line is either early morning or in the evening.”

”I don’t want to go to either Avadi or Villivakam like the usual”, said Dhananjay with his jaw set.

“Arreh babaa, why don’t you go to Tondiarpet then?” asked my wife.

“We’ve already BEEN there!” protested Dhananjay.

So as a compromise, we decided on Tiruvottiyur this time.  Parking my bike at Mandaveli  station (I noted and took some comfort in the fact that one of the attendants from Orissa was still working there), Dhananjay and I bought a return ticket for ourselves to Tiruvottiyur.  The MRTS journey to Park Town was pleasant as always.  On reaching the Moore Market complex, we realized with dismay that the next train on the Gudur line was not due for another hour.

”Dhananjay, what do we do?”

”Let’s wait!” he replied promptly.

”Wait?!” I exclaimed in disbelief.  ”Wait for ONE WHOLE HOUR?  Where will we wait?”

”Here.”

”Here? In this sweltering Moore Market complex?  No way!  Let’s go to on the Villivakam –  Avadi stretch,” I ended up suggesting.

This didn’t find favour with my son at all.  “No Appa, I would rather wait for the Gummidipoondi local”, he said flatly.

”How about buying a platform ticket at Central and going around some of the platforms?” I asked him.

He didn’t seem terribly enthusiastic about that either.  I think the reason for that is that we end up frequently Chennai Central quite a few times a year and hence going there didn’t present him with any novelty as far as he was concerned.

”Allright,” I conceded.  ”Why don’t we take one of the Avadi locals, go to Basin Bridge and spend some time there, till the Gummidipoondi local arrives?”

This seemed to find favour and we proceeded (rather, ran) and managed to get into the last coach of an Avadi-bound EMU as it honked and then started moving.

Alighting from the train on platform 1 at Basin Bridge, Dhananjay suggested we immediately make our way to the platform 4 which is designated for trains bound in the direction of Gudur.

The first train to give us darshanam was the Sri Sai Nagar Shirdi Chennai Express. My first impression (which remained unaltered) was that this train is definitely not one of the popular trains.  Which is obvious as it passes BSB at around 11:00 AM, it therefore would NOT be a preferred train.  (inserted note: the train was running about 90+ minutes late)  With hardly any passengers (quite a few of the sleeper coaches were empty or with just a couple of people in them), I thought the train would be a good contender for being a ghost train.

This brings me to the question – what really is the purpose of such a train?  If for instance I would want to go to Shirdi and if I needed to travel by train, definitely the best way would be to go to Pune or Daund and then take a cab or a bus.  Also, this train departs from Shirdi for Chennai at 8:25 AM, which means that one would be needlessly forced to spend a night at Shirdi for no reason, if the visit to the temple is over during the day.  Does a convoluted route through the precincts of Bangalore help to get more patronage for this train?  A moot point.  A quick look at indiarailinfo.com gives us the information that this train serves Yelahanka and Krishnarajapuram but at slightly unearthly hours of before 4:00 AM.  Does Indian Railways really expect passengers to patronize this train?  Probably – when the passengers are left with no choice.  But in the meanwhile, there definitely can be NO profit generated – I am probably making a sweeping statement here but I can say with emphasis that I for one will think ten times before I decide to travel in this train with such ridiculous and inconvenient timings.

The second train we saw was the good old Coromandel, unsurprisingly packed to capacity and beyond.  The unreserved and (to a lesser extent) the sleeper coaches in this train never fail to make me shudder.  In my opinion these coaches of the Coromandel and for that matter any of the trains bound for the eastern part of the country from Chennai, definitely give us a glimpse into what the Lahore-Amritsar trains must have looked like during the partition.  Departing from MAS at 11:15 it was a full two and a half hours behind schedule, due to the signalling system at Chennai Central developing a snag, which subsequently took a good number of hours to rectify I believe.  I came to know this the next day from the newspapers.

After the Corro had glided away slowly but surely due north, it was the turn of the Santragachi – Chennai Express to stop at BSB.  By this time, I noted that the Shirdi Chennai ghost train was trudging out towards its final destination.

The next one to stop at BSB and this time for a good thirty minutes (or even more) was the Trivandrum Chennai Superfast.  And to me it seemed as if Basin Bridge was this unfortunate train’s final destination – it showed no signs of moving!

As Dhananjay and I waited for the local to Gummidipoondi that was due at 11:44, I saw several passengers alighting from the Trivandrum Superfast and making their way towards the exit of Basin Bridge, some even stopping and asking me for directions as to where the exit was, where could one get an auto, and so on.  I didn’t blame them – to me perhaps the MOST annoying thing is for the train to stop indefinitely at BSB just before reaching MAS.  On a couple of occasions (a decade or so ago) I’ve even got down at Perambur and taken a bus home to Mylapore just to avoid getting imprisoned after Vyasarpadi and at BSB.

The Gummidipoondi local finally arrived.  We got into the vendors’ coach and seated ourselves comfortably after albeit firmly prodding a couple of supine and ostensibly asleep male passengers to sit up and make space for us.  We passed the lowly regarded Lucknow-Chennai Express standing morosely at Korukkupet.  Alighting at Tiruvottiyur, we made our way to platform 1, and settled down to wait for the return local – which was due only after about forty minutes or so.  Dhananjay wasn’t bored of course – he was given the darshanam of two goods trains (one in each direction) plus the passing through of a lone WAP7 loco on its way to the BSB yard presumably.  For my part, I settled with my notebook to write down some music notation for an upcoming recording with All India Radio on Friday.  So I wasn’t bored either – I seldom am for that matter!  Also Tiruvottiyur station I realized was much better in terms of some basic infrastructure – the station had a good supply of fans that were actually working and served up a cool breeze which was balm in the not-so-hot but extremely sultry and humid weather.  Basin Bridge on the other hand is pretty bare – no fans or anything and the weather that day was oppressive.  This is probably because BSB is just an ‘’interim’’ kind of a station I guess.

A word about the WAP7 loco which stopped at Platform 1 at Tiruvottiyur for a red signal.  I saw not without some envy a couple of people boarding the loco-pilot’s cabin and the loco resuming its journey after getting the green signal.  How did they manage to get on to the loco, I wondered?  Is it as easy to get into a loco (that too a WAP7) like that? Dhananjay’s comment later that people did ‘’foot-plating’’ made me think and I continue to think….

The return local which was announced initially to the time of 12:25 PM was rescheduled to 12:50 PM.  I don’t know if the 12:25 one was cancelled or merely rescheduled.  The train, without any surprises was packed and Dhananjay got the taste of what the Mumbai locals would be during peak hours.  Of course, there was no pushing or jostling but this was his first time in such crowded conditions.

He didn’t complain however, and even in those packed conditions, he tried his best to bend down and look out of the windows as best as he could.  The crowd obviously didn’t lessen till we alighted at the Moore Market complex and rapidly made our way back to Park Town.  As soon as we were on the platform, hurrah, the EMU for Velachery was sighted.

Travelling by the less crowded MRTS is always a pleasure and so it was a fitting final lap of a journey!

A couple of points – after the Beach-Tambaram section, the section of MAS – Avadi has a fairly good frequency of local trains.   The Chennai – Gummidpoondi section is woefully neglected by comparison.  Even the MRTS has better frequency.

Rail-fanning in the forenoon is perhaps not the best of times but it was nevertheless an enriching experience as always!

To the next rail-fanning!

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Double Decker!

Finally got an opportunity to travel by the much maligned and vilified Double Decker from Bangalore City (SBC) to Chennai Central (MAS).

Reaching SBC from where I was staying with my in-laws in Bannerghatta Road, was a bit of a separate mini-adventure that almost resulted in a photo-finish arrival at the back gate of the K.S.R.Bengaluru City station.  The cab ride took us through areas of Bangalore that were completely new to me (not that I’m ultra-familiar with the city I must admit).

“The entire Bannerghatta Road is blocked sir!’’ informed the cab driver in Tamizh as we loaded our two bags and a back-pack into the boot.

Well, so what?  We were starting sufficiently in time – and it was a Sunday afternoon so hopefully the traffic would be relatively lesser.

(Note: I realize that the above line sounds like a forerunner to us catching the train by the skin of our teeth or that we had altogether missed the train.  No such high-tension drama happened – we managed to catch the train with about five minutes to spare).

The ride to the City station took us through all the phases possible that J.P.Nagar consists of (starting from the 9th), Basavanagudi, the back lane of Lalbagh (or so it seemed) and finally New Tharagupet.  The last was particularly interesting – to me it resembled New Delhi’s Paharganj of the 1970s.  New Tharagupet seemed to be a wholesale market for pulses, lentils, groundnuts – with and without their shells, and even raisins, and dry and wet dates.  All of them piled up separately on the roads in the shape of mini-pyramids.  The most surprising part was that the traditional படி and the ஆழாக்கு seemed to be used for measure and NOT the normal metric weights!

Exiting new Tharagupet, and crawling inch-by-inch through some extremely high-tension bottlenecks near the Bangalore City Metro Station (they were re-laying parts of the roads and we know what THAT means), I realized we were passing the back gate of SBC.  I asked the cab driver to drop us at that gate itself.

‘’No sir, I will drop you at the front gate.  That will be easier for you to board the Chennai-bound trains’’.

‘’No,’’ I replied very firmly.  We had been in that cab for the past one and a half hours and I was heartily sick of the drive and the forced ’Bangalore darshan’.

‘’It will take you at least a minimum of 20 – 25 minutes before you are able to take us to the front gate.  The three of us are perfectly capable of walking across to the platforms if necessary using the foot-over-bridge.  Please drop us here.’’

And it turned out that the Double Decker was stationed at platform 6 at SBC which was just a minute’s walk from where we got down from the cab.  Talk about serendipity!

Headed by a regal WAP-7, the Double Decker departed smoothly and noiselessly on dot at its scheduled time of 14:30 hours.

The Double Decker (DD) in my opinion is surely one of the most reviled trains possible on the Indian Railways (IR).  Right from the way it’s designed (all faulty as I’ve heard), to the lack of amenities plus the constant coming and going of food-vendors which makes the air in the AC coaches stale – complaints about this train would fill the proverbial book.

During a very brief halt at Katpadi…

Here are some of my thoughts:

  • The seating definitely is a bit cramped no doubt. It *could* have been better laid out in order to give the passengers a wee bit more space.  Especially in the triple seater section, the middle passenger perhaps has it the worst if he’s seated amidst people who aren’t quite size zero.
  • However, the train, given its timings, was fast, efficient, kept good time and arrived at MAS about 5-7 minutes before time.
  • I have also heard numerous complaints about the loos being far too less for so many passengers packed into one coach but as far as I could see, people really weren’t exactly queueing up to go to the loo (my coach was full) unlike how it happens on long distance flights where people literally DO queue up. No one seems to complain then!
  • The luggage racks do pose a problem but people adjusted anyway and it was NOT as if one had to swim through various suitcases to reach one’s seat – which is the impression I got after hearing people’s opinions.
  • The AC worked very well, and to me the air didn’t seem go stale with the food vendors trying to sell cutlets, vadas, samosas and dosas. So overall it was definitely not a bad experience for me.
  • Though nothing to do with the train, one high-point in the journey was the sight of the bone-dry Palar River just before Katpadi having furiously gushing waters! This was the first time in my four+ decades of existence that I’m seeing water (and that too in copious proportions) in the Palar.

Bottomline – the Double Decker will always ensure that one is able to travel between Chennai and Bangalore – seats will mostly be available. Personally, it’s a great alternative to bus-travel (shudder) and definitely a less polluting alternative anyway. For people who keep complaining can jolly well travel by the Executive CC in the Shatabdis. You can’t eat your cake and have it.

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