R.R.Sabha Trichy – 100 Years Young & Still Going Strong!

On March 18, 2016 I was privileged to perform for Rasika Ranjana Sabha (R.R.Sabha), Trichy’s Centenary Year Concerts.  This is an organization that is not new to me, having performed there many times, but my association goes back to my MBA student days in the then Regional Engineering College (now National Institute of Technology, NIT) in the mid-1990s.  R.R.Sabha used to conduct concerts regularly with veteran L.Venkataraman (popularly known as LV) being in charge.

Along with classmate and fellow Carnatic music aficionado Arun Subramanian, we would make sure we never missed any concert that was happening in the precincts of Trichy and naturally it was usually R.R.Sabha where we attended the most concerts.

The first concert that I attended, I remember was S.Sowmya’s Eka Raga Concert and she took up Sahana.  Starting off with an unusual ata tala varnam, Sowmya rendered various items in Sahana including a very impactful and weighty rendition of the Kamalamba Navavaranam.  The piece-de-resistance was the dwi-nadai pallavi in adi talam that she rendered impeccably and most aesthetically.  The purvaangam (first half) was set in tisra gati and the uttarangam in khanda gati.

During my studentship at NIT Trichy, I got the opportunity to perform on the night of Sivaratri at the very hallowed venue of the Sri Tyagaraja temple in Tiruvarur.  The concert was arranged through R.R.Sabha by none other than LV sir.  Some of my NIT Trichy MBA classmates had also come for that concert from Trichy.  These included Babu Lourdu Raj, C.M.Srikumar, Anand Vaideeswaran, Amitabh Kant and of course Arun Subramanian.  We had a most privileged tour of the grand temple that included the celebrated Kamalaalayam and we were also taken to the Trimurti vaaggeyakaaraas’ houses.   As a practising Carnatic vocal musician, the temple of Tiruvarur and the Kamalaalayam without doubt has that extra special hold and all of this was made possible thanks to R.R.Sabha, Trichy!

After passing out from NIT, I next performed for the R.R.Sabha in 2002 as part of a festival dedicated to the Trimurtis – Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri.  From then onwards, I have had the good fortune to be a regular performer at the FGN Auditorium.

Being the centenary year, I was honoured to have a great veteran team comprising of acknowledged stalwarts – T.K.V.Ramanujacharyulu on the violin, B.Harikumar on the mridangam and Alathur Rajaganesh on the khanjira.  The concert was held at the premises of the Mahatma Gandhi Centenary Vidyalaya, Tennur.  Throughout the centenary series concerts, R.R.Sabha has made it a point to honour prominent vidwans and vidushis based in Trichy.  The artist that was honoured on the day of my concert was mridangam vidwan Salem K.Srinivasan.  More about this later!

Established in 1914, R.R.Sabha has completed more than one hundred years of service in the promotion of Art & Culture.  A very tastefully designed souvenir has been printed to mark this exceptional and enviable milestone.

RRSabha Souvenir

R.R.Sabha Centenary Year Souvenir Cover – Featuring the landmark of Trichy – the Rock Fort and the Ucchippillayaar Temple

 

The spirit of Trichy and the camaraderie that various Trichy-based organizations have amongst themselves is clearly visible.  The number of good wishes and full page congratulatory messages from various sabhas, music schools and organizations that appear in the first half of the souvenir bear testimony to this, giving the impression that the Trichy bonhomie is definitely something unique and enviable!

The souvenir carries snippets of the first annual report of the sabha for the year ending in October 1915.  These have been painstakingly scanned and compiled by Gomathi Venkat and make for fascinating viewing.

As befitting a centenary year souvenir, it carries articles written by wide spectrum of distinguished scholars, drama stars, professional musicians (one of which happens to be yours truly, ahem!) and other veterans.  And this souvenir is a wonderful example where all the articles are extremely interesting in their own right and consequently becomes definitely a collector’s item.  Small wonder that I ended up reading through the entire compilation well into the night after boarding the Pandian Express the night after the R.R.Sabha concert!

Seetha Rajan’s ”The Making of a Musician’’ is worth pondering upon and the critical points she makes are valid like never before.  One very pertinent issue she dwells at length is when she says, ‘’With the rapid advancement of science and technology, today, education in general is viewed as an acquisition of technical abilities or specialisation in a field that can assure economic security.  Although this stance may be justified, the focus on cerebral developments sans the lateral mellowing influence of arts and literature, may eventually lead to a lopsided development in the personality of children.’’  This unfortunately is SO VERY true nowadays.  And even when children do take either music or dance classes, these are the first to be sacrificed when the dreaded word *exams* looms in the horizon!  I strongly am of the opinion that the frequency of the classes could be reduced – to once a week perhaps, but completely shutting out music or dance classes isn’t at all the correct solution.  It definitely seems to be easiest solution for most parents in the name of reducing distractions to intensive studying or swotting for exams.  But easy solutions never give the best results, do they?

On another point, underscoring the importance of parents in the process of identifying and nurturing the child’s innate talent, Seetha Rajan goes on to emphasize, ‘’contribution of a teacher in turning a raw entrant into a worthy musician is monumental.  A right blend of competence and commitment makes an ideal teacher.  The teacher-pupil relationship in the words of Sri Narayana Menon, ‘’is a communion of mind whereby the essence of a tradition is passed on to another generation’’.

This brings me immediately to my Guru, Late Shri T.R.Subramanyam (TRS).  I am right now re-learning and revisiting a composition that some of us students learnt from him many years ago.  The kriti is Syama Sastri’s creation in Punnagavarali, Kanakashaila Vihaarini set to adi tala.  The way he has conceived his interpretation of the kriti after learning it from his gurus like Musiri Subramanya Iyer and T.Brinda, is truly a joy – both to listen to and to learn it!

‘The Kriti as Evolved by Sri Tyagaraja’ by Dr. Radha Bhaskar is interestingly presented with insightful points.  She puts it extremely well when she says, ‘’in the music of Thyagaraja, we find a perfect blend of tradition and innovation.  Many ragas which were known only by their name during his time began to blossom with life by his touch.  Of each of them, he made a fit vehicle for conveying varied emotions which others may have felt but not able to express.  The fertility of imagination and variety, richness and grace in the formation of compositions has opened up endless vistas for the music explorer.’’  Dr. Radha Bhaskar points out how Thyagaraja was a trend setter in employing Sangathis and his profuse use of the Deshadi Tala.

Carnatic Vocalist Trichy K Ramesh’s article on Nadopasana emphasizes many truths and principles about one of the greatest of all arts – Carnatic music.  Rendering a kriti with full devotion is equivalent to chanting a mantra one crore times and consequently Yagnavalkya Maharishi says that Nadopasana is the best way to attend Moksha.  I am reminded of an interview given by Dr. M. Narmadha on her maestro father M.S.Gopalakrishnan in the well-known magazine Sruti.  She said that all their practice sessions would consist of, after the basic exercises were over, the day’s navagraha kriti and one of the Kamalamba Navavaranams of Muthuswami Dikshitar which would definitely be played before going on to practice the items for the next concert.  This in my opinion is definitely true Nadopasana and underscores what Trichy Ramesh has stated in his article.

There are two other articles that really caught my attention and kept me totally engrossed.  One is titled The Evolution of Rasika Ranjana Sabha by Smt. Padma Swaminathan, daughter of none other than F.G.Natesa Aiyer (FGN) after whom the R.R.Sabha hall in Trichy Town is named.  It’s interesting to note from this write-up that before staging full length plays in Tamizh, FGN actually achieved the required capability for staging full length Shakespearian dramas!  Padma Swaminathan’s descriptions of her early memories of the Sabha being a structure made out of tin sheets, the surface being in a slope so that back benchers also had a clear view of the stage, make for fascinating reading.  Her descriptions of the stage decoration which was one of the main attractions of R.R.Sabha truly stand out.  This article is a must-read for all lovers of art and is especially a lesson on the attention to detail which FGN would give to the staging of each play.

Prema Nandakumar’s article on FGN titled A Great Man’s Vision is easily one of the best articles on the person responsible for the genesis of the R.R.Sabha.  I have heard the Srirangam-based writer speak on the occasion of Dr. Raghavan’s Memorial Day in Chennai and while I have heard of her outstanding scholarship and writing skills, this was perhaps the first time I was reading something written by her.  She begins her article by quoting in turn, Suganthi Krishnamacharí’s article in The Hindu on the R.R.Sabha!  Proceeding to describe the enacting of English plays, Prema Nandakumar goes on to describe most engagingly how FGN, despite his passion for drama, never strayed into the film world barring one solitary exception which was Seva Sadanam (which incidentally launched M.S.Subbulakshmi’s film career).  A most interesting description of Seva Sadanam’s theme follows (I never knew it was based on an epoch-making Urdu novel by Premchand, which was in turn serialized in Ananda Vikatan when Kalki Krishnamurthy was its editor).  The article further describes how famed director K.Subrahmanyam’s imagination was caught by the Tamizh translation of Premchand’s novel and how MS was invited to take up the heroine’s role and Kalki’s subsequent review of the film.

Prema Nandakumar’s article is nothing short of brilliant.  Totally enraptured with her cogent and eloquent writing style, I called noted danseuse and critic Nandini Ramani and asked the latter how Prema Nandakumar was associated with Dr. Raghavan, Nandini’s illustrious father.

Nandini Ramani replied briefly, ‘’Read the Stuti Kusumanjali’’.

Immediately I fished out my copy of Stuti Kusumanjali (a garland of tributes to the one and only Dr. V.Raghavan) and true enough, it was sheer joy to read Prema Nandakumar’s write-up  ‘’The Hero as Scholar’’ – a sparkling tribute to the multi-faceted scholar.

Googling Prema Nandakumar’s name, one comes to know of her illustrious lineage and also that she received her PhD summa cum laude as early as 1961 and there are several books to her credit.  Being a die-hard book lover, it is truly gratifying to know that there is another wonderful world waiting to be explored, created by this extraordinary scholar-writer from Srirangam!

It was of utmost satisfaction for me that mridangam vidwan Salem K. Srinivasan was honoured on the day of my concert by R.R.Sabha.  I have had the honour of teaming up with Salem Srinivasan for numerous concerts both in Chennai and all over Tamizh Nadu, apart from Trichy of course.  A left-handed vidwan, Salem Srinivasan plays with utmost sensitivity to lyrics and truly enhances a concert.  His skills in his taniyavardhanam are something else again.  It’s definitely a joy to perform with him.

Coimbatore Tyagaraja Aradhana Photo with Salem Srinivasan

Concert for Sri Thyaga Brahma Gaanaanjali, Coimbatore with M.R.Gopinath and Salem Srinivasan

Veteran and senior vidwan B.Harikumar in his speech commemorating Srinivasan, remarked that the latter was actually ambidextrous – if he chooses to, then Srinivasan can actually play right-handed as well!

Salem Srinivasan with Harikumar

Veteran and senior vidwan B.Harikumar with Salem Srinivasan after the former draped a ponnaadai around the latter

 

 

Yours truly with Salem Srinivasan - apologies for the grainy photo...

Yours truly with Salem Srinivasan after the latter’s felicitation function – apologies for the grainy photo…

As a performing artist, to me it is verily a matter of great prestige and distinction to be a part of R.R.Sabha and its centenary year celebrations.  I offer my sincere thanks and gratitude to my former NIT professor and secretary of R.R.Sabha Shri N.Sekar for his constant encouragement and support and also for featuring my article ‘’Allied Ragas – Malavi & Chenchukambhoji’’ in the prestigious centenary souvenir.

Keep going R.R.Sabha!  You will without doubt celebrate most successfully, your bicentenary!

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About Mohan Santhanam

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