Lalgudi Siblings’ Concert for the 91st Birthday Celebrations of (late) Prof Dr T V Kuppuswamy

Some Prelude

The T.V.Kuppuswami Memorial Festival organized by the T.V.Kuppuswamy trust and the Chandilyan Trust in Chennai a couple of weeks ago had the Lalgudi siblings G.J.R.Krishnan and Vijayalakshmi’s duet concert for the third and the final day.  Kumbakonam K.R.Ganesh was on the mridangam and Alathur T. Rajaganesh was on the kanjira.

The concert was preceded by a couple of speeches on Dr. T.V.Kuppuswami.  Shri Balasubramanian spoke of his association with Dr. Kuppuswami and the latter’s irrefutable scholarship.  Shri Balasubramaniam  particularly highlighting the Sanskrit plays (Udayana – Vasavadatta being one of the many) that Dr. Kuppuswami had scripted and staged.

“Music was clearly Dr. Kuppuswami’s life”, he recalled.  He narrated an interesting anecdote concerning a discussion he had with the scholar with regards to Raga Khamas.

“Doesn’t the raga Khamas give you the feeling of, ’come on, Dance!’?”

Shri Balasubramaniam admitted that to him, Khamas didn’t conjure up feelings of dancing.  Particularly if kritis like the mellow Sujana Jeevana, the sedate and scholarly Sarasa dala nayana are considered.

“However many years later I was going through a book on music”, Balasubramaniam continued, “where I read that the raga Khamas strictly does not have the kaakali nishaadam.  This was incorporated later by the nattuvanars”.

I may add here that the kaakali nishaadam was used with great celebratory effect by two of the most illustrious composers of the last century – Muthiah Bhagavathar and Mysore Vasudevacharya.

“Since the kaakali nishaadam was added by the nattuvanars, it was clear to me then, what Dr. Kuppuswami meant by Khamas making him feeling like dancing!” concluded Shri Balasubramaniam.

G.J.R.Krishnan, before commencing the concert, had his own information to add to the previous speeches.

“It was mentioned that Dr. Kuppuswami was extremely close to V.V.Sadagopan,” he said.  To request my guru for dates to accompany V.V.Sadagopan, it was Dr. Kuppuswami who used to come to our residence, then at Jones Road, Saidapet.”

G.J.R.Krishnan also spoke about the close relationship the Lalgudi family had and continues to have with Dr. T.V.Kuppuswami’s family and now with next generation.  He said that for the upanayanam function at Pollachi of Dr. Kuppuswami’s son Dr. T.K.V.S.Mani, the concert was by Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, accompanied by Lalgudi and the relatively lesser known Trichy Raghava Iyer on the mridangam.

“For an upanayanam concert,” G.J.R.Krishnan told the audience, ”in a small town like Pollachi, the concert went well beyond four and a half hours.  The audience was so enraptured by the concert that no one noticed that the train the artists were supposed to board after the concert, had already departed!  When this was realized, a car was hurriedly organized, and this car literally chased the already departed train.  The artists finally were able to board the same train at Pazhani!”

The Concert

Krishnan and Viji began their concert with the celebrated Nalinakanti varnam of Lalgudi.  The opening beautiful strands of Nalinakanti with the right pause at the necessary gandhara note (the gandharam is an exceptionally strong note in Nalinakanti and if carefully and thoughtfully used, it can literally transport the listener into joy) set the tone of the concert.

Arunachala Kavi’s Ramanukku Mannan Mudi (Hindolam, Adi tala) followed with a few rounds of swaras with very appealing poruttams.  Surely the Lalgudi Bani is one school that believes in making utmost use of intelligent poruttams!

The popular Tyagaraja kriti Rama nannu brova in Harikambhoji was next.  This kriti was preceded by a beautiful raga sketch.

Surprise Item!

The next item was the surprise element – an expansive alapana of Rasikapriya played by Krishnan.  Being the last raga in the 72 melakarta raga scheme, Rasikapriya consequently has all “highest” notes.  The rishabha is the shatsruti rishabha, the highest rishabha and similarly for all the other swaras – gandhara, madhyama, dhaivata and nishaada.

My Guru Shri T.R.Subramanyam (TRS) once referred to Yagapriya, the 31st melakarta raga as a ‘double vivadi’ raga and that ‘epithet’ obviously applies to Rasikapriya as well.  However, despite its overpowering vivadi nature, Rasikapriya is a raga that rather surprisingly lends itself to the construction of tasteful alapanas if the musician’s abilities are aesthetic and intelligent enough.  In my opinion there is a lot of inherent ‘ranjakatvam’ and ‘rakti’ in Rasikapriya.

TRS sir was quick to discern Rasikapriya’s potential and scope and hence often sang it in his concerts.  A concert that especially remains etched in memory is one in the late 1980s in New Delhi where he sang Rasikapriya as the main item, with veteran Guruvayur Dorai on the mridangam.

Another maha-vidwan who understood Rasikapriya and was also captivated by its beauty was none other than virtuoso Lalgudi Jayaraman.   The maestro went ahead and composed a brilliant Jatiswaram in the raga and also included the vivadi ragam in his ‘Navarasa Varnam’ – a ragamalika varnam comprising nine ragas, each raga representing one of the navarasas.  Lalgudi has used Rasikapriya to portray the ‘Bhayanaka rasam’ to wonderful effect.

Considering ragas in general, there are the ragas that shine through their practically patented gamakas – Todi being a classic example, another being Varali, with its characteristic gandhara.  On the other hand there are ragas like Mohanam and Hamsadhwani that have gamakas but equally, they shine brilliantly through plain notes’ combinations as well.

Rasikapriya also similarly shines forth through the rendition of combinations of ‘plain notes’.  Instrumentalists can have a field day with the raga, if they are able to get a feel for the raga.

G.J.R Krishnan’s Rasikapriya alapana that day is a case in point.  Unlike Lalgudi Jayaraman’s illustrious contemporary M.S.Gopalakrishnan, I really haven’t heard elaborate alapanas in vivadi ragas by the former.  However G.J.R.Krishnan probably to fill that niche as well, proceeded to expand Rasikapriya elaborately and what an alapana it was!  Not a mere conglomeration of notes, not a juxtaposition of random phrases but a total masterpiece where every nuance, every note and every little detail was given the utmost care, dexterity and attention with the result being an astonishing, aesthetic and elevating experience of the vivadi raga.

As if the Rasikapriya alapana was not enough, there was the crowning glory, the pièce de résistance which was to follow.  But before that there was another very delectable midcourse item (so to speak!) – an elaboration of the rakti raga Saveri played by Viji.  The relatively less heard Tyagaraja kriti Daritapuleka in Adi tala was played with due reverence.  Another surprise was the elaborate niraval on the charanam line that was alternately played by the siblings and the sparkling swaraprasthara.  The reason the niraval was a surprise because Lalgudi Jayaraman normally would reserve the niraval exclusively for the Ragam, Tanam and Pallavi section in his concerts.  One normally would not get to hear elaborate niraval for kritis particularly during his concerts in the 1970s and 1980s.  If a particular concert did not feature a Ragam, Tanam and Pallavi, then the niraval in all probability would be dispensed with.  I’m sure there must have been exceptions of course but generally, this is how a general “Lalgudi Concert” would be structured.

And the pièce de résistance

Hardcore Lalgudi devotees will know that the maestro has handled Shankarabharanam several times over – both in his violin concerts, and also when playing along with the leading masters of the day.  There is a commercial recording that was brought out of Lalgudi’s concert in Bombay by the Shanmukhananda Sabha (I think) where Lalgudi along with G.J.R.Krishnan has played Shankarabharanam as the main item with the kriti being Subbarama Dikshitar’s beautiful heavy-weight Shankaracharyam.

Shankarabharanam was also the main item that day, with the kriti being again, Shankaracharyam!  However the alapana by G.J.R.Krishnan deserves special mention, particularly in the region between the madhya shadja and the madhya panchama.  Honestly I don’t know if I will be able to do any justice to describe that alapana in mere words, but I do really want to share my thoughts on it, which I truly feel I was blessed to listen to and experience.

Played with utmost concentration and involvement, yet with a spirit of surrender to the ocean that the emperor raga Shankarabharanam is, G.J.R.Krishnan’s output in terms of the raga alapana was nothing short of something that is truly magnificent.  One felt as if Krishnan had entered and dived deep into the ocean of Shankarabharanam and was gathering pearls after pearls after pearls most meticulously and yet with an effortless élan; stringing them along to create an ethereal edifice, cementing this edifice with the usage of heavenly nectar!

This may sound hyperbolic but really, nothing can aptly describe that wonderful Shankarabharanam alapana that the rasikas gathered that day were fortunate enough to listen to.  Relying totally on the sound system, sans any contact mikes (no contact mikes for Lalgudi as we are told in the excellent biography of the maestro An Incurable Romantic by Lakshmi Devnath), the pure and true sonorous sound of the violin simply carried us rasikas away to a different dimension.

I must mention the Kuraippu.  Once rasikas have heard the aforementioned commercially released album containing Shankaracharyam, after hearing the featured Kuraippu, one is liable to conclude that there wouldn’t really be anything more to attempt and convey in terms of the kuraippu in Shankarabharanam.

But Krishnan and Viji proved that Shankarabharanam is after the emperor ragam!  Both their aesthetically tuned sensitivities ensured that they delved deep into more and more possibilities and in the process displayed combinations particularly in the half avartanas and the quarter avartanas kuraippu that were hitherto unheard and sounded really fresh.

The result was that despite the fact that I have personally grown up listening to that Lalgudi album  almost everyday (no exaggeration!), here was an effort that proved that there is always something extra, something more to strive for, something more to explore compared to what has been attempted and achieved.  The new combinations in that kuraippu were an ample testimony to the limitless possibilities available in Carnatic music, particularly if one is willing to put in the right kind of effort with the right approach.

Bottomline – the taste of sugar and jaggery has to experienced – no amount of flowery language and bombastic description can do justice to even one percent of it!

K.R.Ganesh on the mridangam and Alathur Rajaganesh provided thoughtful, understated and ultimately very understanding support.  Especially Ganesh’s nine-counts’ teermaanams during the corappu in the taniyavardhanam was extremely interesting.

An appointment with the family doctor effectively ensured that I had to leave after the taniyavardham!  Hence I could not listen to Tyagaraja’s Intasoukhyamani (Kapi, Adi Tala) and the differently set Kuntalavarali Tillana of Lalgudi.  But this is one concert that I as a student of music, performer and as a rasika will always remember and cherish.

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About Mohan Santhanam

Carnatic vocalist, based in Chennai. Disciple of Late Shri T.R.Subramanyam (TRS).
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9 Responses to Lalgudi Siblings’ Concert for the 91st Birthday Celebrations of (late) Prof Dr T V Kuppuswamy

  1. Krishnan Ananth says:

    Very good descriptive. Mohan, you are multi-talented….. Our appreciations…

  2. B Karthickeyan says:

    Ram Ram. Very beautiful, informative and intelligent review. Thanks

  3. T?R.Vathsala says:

    The review is very much alike to periavachan pillai’s vyakyanam for nammalwar’s pasurams.highly analytical and illustrative.the artist himself wd not have enjoyed it like this.We enjoy the ragam as well as the rasakyam equally.Trs has practically imbibed his rasikatwam on u.

    • Oh wow! “periavachan pillai’s vyakyanam for nammalwar’s pasurams”?

      I’m not sure if I’m worthy of such a comparison but you’re definitely right about revered Guruji passing on his rasikatwam in addition to the imparting of musical knowledge. All those concerts that he performed and those that he organized, and the teaching sessions effectively ensured that we were exposed to the best of music and musical sensibilities.

      Thank you very much for your comment and kind words!

  4. S.P.Krishnamurthy says:

    Quote:-
    Bottomline – the taste of sugar and jaggery has to experienced – no amount of flowery language and bombastic description can do justice to even one percent of it!
    Unquote
    Sitting far away and reading the review make me feel that I was there with you to understand a drop of the ocean of music. You are not only a good musician but proved to be an excellent Rasika and a writer. keep it up
    S.P.krishnamurthy Bangalore

  5. K.Chandramouli says:

    Really great.Don’t know how to thank.Words fail.

  6. Thank you very much S.P.Krishnamurthy mama and Chandramouli sir! 🙂

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