Bombay Sisters @ the Sarvani Sangeetha Sabha

At the risk of the first paragraph sounding like a “list of items performed”, let me nevertheless begin by listing the first few items!  The Bombay Sisters started their concert with the bright and peppy Jaya Jaya (Nata – Purandaradasa) and then rendered the rare Bhaavaye Gopabalam of Swati Tirunal in Pushpalatika.  Latangi alapana came next followed by Patnam Subramanya Iyer’s Marivere.  A very nice and sedate rendition Sri Rama Paadama in Amritavahini followed.  Madhyamavati was finely and meticulously detailed by Smt Saroja.  When she began the alapana it was around 7:15 PM it made me think that perhaps they would render a kriti like Vinayakuni or something and then present the main item.  But as the alapana progressed and as Saroja got more and more involved displaying all the splendour of the powerful audava raga that holds its own with Chakravarti Ragas like Todi and Shankarabharanam, it was evident that *this* was going to be the main item.  Years of experience and all the hard work shows, and it was amply evident that Saroja was completely at home and at ease with the raga.  As someone who has heard them since childhood, the impression is that they have meticulously constructed a huge reservoir (let’s say the size of a few Metturs, or even bigger – just for the sake of drawing a tame parallel) called Madhyamavati in the beginning of their career.  Into this they kept pouring the fruits of their practice in this raga, their experiences and insights gained through several concerts in the course of their career spanning several decades.

Once a reservoir has been constructed with *these* parameters and in proportions, which is truly tantamount to a treasure-trove, all you have to do it to just dip into it, choose a sangati here, a touch there, a flourish from another place and pick off an idea from somewhere else.  And from the rich experience, automatically and aesthetically string all this along to produce the final polished product – a very appealing Madhyamavati raga alapana.  And it seemed to me that this is precisely what Saroja did.  However, the point is as we all know too well, *filling* the reservoir is a life-time process and the Bombay Sisters epitomize that!

Tyagaraja’s kriti Ramakathaa Sudhaarasa was presented in a relaxed and unhurried manner taking care to showcase all the finely etched sangatis in the Pallavi, Anupallavi and the Charanam, making me realize that this was a truly cherishable pataantharam.  Usha Rajagopalan’s Madhyamavati alapana was excellent.

Niraval at Bhaama Mani was followed by aesthetic swaras and a kuraippu.  A word about the kuraippu – generally duos even while singing kuraippu, the first person sings a unit, the second of the duo takes it up, give his or her idea and then passes the baton to the violinist.  So a kuraippu for duo singers is presented as a triad;  duo 1 – duo 2 – violinist; this is the cycle that proceeds to the climax (i.e. the korvai).

In order to avoid the danger of the kuraippu becoming an overdose, the Bombay Sisters have decided such that only one of them sings the kuraippu, alternating with the violinist.  Somehow this seems to take into account due regard and thoughtfulness for giving the violinist their space and consequently credit to them.

It was evident that Kumbakonam Swaminathan has been teaming up with the Bombay Sisters for a while now – his understanding and anticipations by his sensitive playing underscored that.  Stepping in literally last-minute in the place of K.R.Ganesh who was indisposed, Swaminathan played an excellent taniyavardhanam along with senior ghatam vidwan Adambakkam Shankar.  The highlight was the misra nadai that was played; after playing the normal misram, it was switched to 14 counts which was subsequently split as a (9+5) combination.  The result was that the ‘khandam’ (5 counts) kept repeating throughout although the nadai was misram, which was very interesting.  Notably, the kuraippu was also neatly executed in misram.  And being one of the leading ghatam vidwans, Shankar easily proved his mettle in the multiple nadais.

As it is with the Bombay Sisters, the post-main items in their concert were equally interesting.  A short slokam in the raga Kapi was followed by a very nicely tuned kriti of Bhadrachala Ramadas.  I came to know later that this kriti was set to tune by their elder sister Smt. Sethu Madhavan – affectionately referred to as Sethu Akka.

This was followed by the truly exquisite ragamalika Nanda Nandana of Narayana Theertha.  Sung in the madhyama sruti, the ragamalika consists of Valaji (actually bordering more on the Hindustani Kalavati), Dvijavanti, Kalyana Vasantam and finally ending with Sriragam.  After each stanza, when the pallavi refrain is sung, it lends a superb effect.  Clearly like so many of his other tuning-projects, this is a wonderful achievement by the one and only maha-vidwan T.K.Govinda Rao.

Without doubt, the Bombay Sisters’ concert proved yet again the importance of continued dedication, focus and devotion, not to mention important auxiliaries consisting of their concert planning and precise time-management.

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About Mohan Santhanam

Carnatic vocalist, based in Chennai. Disciple of Late Shri T.R.Subramanyam (TRS).
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