My Uncle Shri P.S.Krishnamurthi – Veterinary Science, Carnatic Music, Letter-writing & Much More

Krishnamurthi Mama

This is the first time I’m doing a blog post about a just departed relative.  Something in me impels me to write about Krishnamurthi Mama – one of my mother’s elder brothers who passed away yesterday morning.

He was the one near relative in my mother’s generation with whom I have perhaps shared the closest bond.  As a teenager, when I wanted to impress upon the world at large what *I* thought was right, he was always ready to patiently listen and surprisingly would accept my viewpoint for what it was.  Ranging from opinions on whether brahminic rituals were important or not, prevailing politics and Carnatic music, Mama was always open to ideas and was always ready for discussion.  The best part was that he would never be either dismissive nor force his ideas on anyone else.

The most remarkable quality that stood out about Mama were his amazing levels of equanimity.  He was perhaps the only sibling out of eight who had such an even-tempered nature.  I for one have never seen him losing his temper or his cool under any circumstance.  And on the other hand Mama would always be ready for a joke and would round off with his characteristic guffaw.

Generally in eulogies, in my world of Carnatic music in particular and especially in condolence meetings, people will always remark of a departed artist that he or she never spoke ill of any other fellow artist.  I think this applies to Krishnamurthi Mama in full measure.  I don’t remember ever having heard him speak ill of anyone.  To me he appeared as someone who calmly accepted whatever life had to offer and he had no regrets with regards to all aspects of his life.

Starting the wedding with the mandatory Mama maalai!

Starting the wedding with the mandatory Mama maalai!

Like all his siblings, he was deeply interested in Carnatic music.  His favourite raga was Sahana.  We have had some *hugely* interesting discussions on Carnatic music, particularly with regards to compositions, ragas, artists and composers in general.  He was a bit of a singer in his own right – he had a strong and ringing voice and would render small kritis in his own inimitable way.  I remember him commenting on the raga Natakurinji during my elder brother’s wedding at Madurai where Krishnamurthi mama was staying with his daughter and son-in-law, (this is as clear to me as it was yesterday), ‘’you know, I don’t know that I like Natakurinji as much as I like Sahana!”  It’s a different matter that I didn’t agree with him *at all*!

Mama also used remark on the grandeur of the Carnatic music concerts that would be held at the Ponniamman Temple in Purasawakam, Chennai.  He once told me how he would rush madly home on his bicycle from college in a frenzy to be in time to catch maestro M.S.Gopalakrishnan’s violin solo broadcast on the All India Radio.

With my father during the nitchayathaartham

With my parents during the nitchayathaartham

In terms of his career, he was an extremely well-respected professor of Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Science in the Madras Veterinary College (MVC).  He was naturally good in academics – my mother has always told me that while her 2nd eldest brother Nagasundaram was undoubtedly the brains of the family, Krishnamurthi would ALWAYS stand first in his class throughout in school.  Several of his students from the Madras Veterinary College, who hailed from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, went back there and set up their own veterinary clinics and coincidentally, one such vet became our dog’s doctor when my father was stationed in KL for a few years!  I can never forget the time when Dr. Asokan, visiting us for the first time at our residence in Bangsar in KL, remarked to my mother that she resembled his professor so startlingly!

At the Kasi Yatri, Mama is standing behind me.

At the Kasi Yatrai, Mama dutifully stands behind me…

For many years after his retirement, he used to come to Delhi to craft questions for the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) Entrance exams at the request of the UPSC.  He first came to Delhi in the year 1982.  I remember when I took him to the Qutub Minar, he was deeply interested in whatever he saw and how the historical monument had the touch of the Hindu shrines about it.  While my brother Ravi took him to see the celebrated Red Fort, I took him to the Yamuna riverside (yes, the river was actually clean, with copious water and quite unpolluted then, sniff!) and we had a very nice time sitting by the calmly flowing river, the clear waters lapping at our feet.

He was a prodigious letter-writer till the end of the last millennium.  I remember being amazed by the stack of crisp new and unused inland letter sheets he would have ready clamped to his cardboard writing pad at his table, for him to dash off correspondence to someone or the other.  And to Krishnamurthi mama, a letter to a teenage nephew like me was as important as a letter to the bank manager or to one of his siblings.  He had a natural flair to write letters and had a very typical and charming rounded handwriting, quite unlike his other brothers whose handwriting were quite similar to one another.

The Mama maalai - another shot...

The Mama maalai – another shot…

Till his end he retained his abilities for making sparkling conversation.  He was equally interested and enthusiastic to know just *why* I missed the flight in 2014 to Bombay for my concert at the Fine Arts Society, Chembur, just as he was in spiritual matters and discussions particularly with regards to the Gayatri Mantra and the Sandhyavandanam.

He was very particular about his Sandhyavandanam and was very meticulous to perform his nitya karma.  Small wonder his end came so peacefully to have finally and calmly breathe his last in his son’s arms yesterday morning.

Rest in peace Krishnamurthi Mama.  Your enthusiasm for life, your cheerful disposition and most of all, your characteristically ringing laughter will continue to ring in our ears forever.

Image | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Mysore Vasudevacharya’s Dwaadashanama Kriti 4

Fourth Name – Govinda

Meaning:

  1. Lord of the worlds (the syllable ‘’go’’ denotes the world)
  2. ‘’go’’ also denotes speech i.e. the words of the Vedas; hence He is one who is discovered or realized through the words of the Vedas
  3. One who gives us the power of speech
  4. Friend of the cows

 

Details of the kriti: 

mAmavasu gOvinda – rAgA sAmA – rUpaka tALA

 

P: mAmavAsu gOvinda

kOmala caraNAravinda

 

A:  sAmajAdinuta mukunda

shyAma rucira cikura brnda

 

C:  vAsudEva vanaja nayana

bhAsura sharadindu vadana

shrI samEtanata samadhana

bhAsamAna kanaka vasana

 

 

mAmavAsu gOvinda – protect me quickly O Govinda!

kOmala caraNAravinda – O one with delicate, lotus-like feet

sAmajAdinuta – O one worshipped by the elephant (Gajendra) and others

mukunda – O giver of liberation

shyAma rucira cikura brnda – dark, beautiful hair (chikura) curls

vAsudEva vanaja nayana – O lotus-eyed Vasudeva

bhAsura sharadindu vadana – with a face shining like the autumn moon

shrI samEtanata samadhana – one who is always with his consort Lakshmi (Sri) and one who is worshipped by rishis would have attained the state of calmness

bhAsamAna kanaka vasana – O one with  a resplendent golden garment

 

Additional notes:

A very charming kriti in the equally charming raga Sama.  This kriti albeit hardly known, holds its own against perhaps the most popular kriti in Sama – Annapurne Visaalaakshi of Dikshitar.  And also against other compositions like the runaway hit Maanasa Sanchara re, Patnam Subramanya Iyer’s reasonably well-known Maravakave and Tyagaraja’s grand heavy-weight Saantamuleka.

The opening pallavi beginning in the taara sthaayi shadjam is an impassioned appeal to Govinda for protection and that too, with haste!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

OST @ Music Academy – Dec 28, 2015

Team: O.S.Thyagarajan (OST) – T.H.Subramaniam (violin) – K.V.Prasad (mridangam) – B.S.Purushottam (kanjira)

There is always a sense of completeness in O.S.Thyagarajan’s concerts.   OST’s concerts demonstrate that when one is steadfast to tradition and when the artist adheres to principles without playing unduly to the gallery, there will always be something for everyone, the connoisseur and the laity alike.

Beginning with the Kalyani adi tala varnam vanajakshi (attributed to Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar and fiercely disputed by many others!), OST rather surprisingly sang Tyagaraja’s Muddumomu next after singing just a snatch of an alapana of Suryakantam.  A relaxed and involved Nee bhaktibhagya sudhaa (Jayamanohari – Rupaka – Tyagaraja) followed.  Crisp and brief one avartana swaras were sung for all the items till then.  Swaras for the pallavi line for the Jayamanohari kriti were especially charming particularly the swaras ending in the upper octave d s’ r’ g’ m’ Nee bhakti with the nee being rendered as a descending phrase from the taara sthaayi madhyama with a smooth and effortless briga.

Perhaps the submain was the biggest surprise.   OST sang an expansive alapana of Vasantabhairavi.  The very first phrase firmly established the raga and OST being the veteran he is, rendered the alapana with ease and abandon alternating the slow phrases with the fast with just the right doses.  I was listening to such an elaborate alapana of Vasantabhairavi after a very long time and to me the raga alapana in particular was pure delight.  Well-known violinist from Thrissur, T.H.Subramaniam responded to the alapana admirably with aplomb.

OST presented Muthuswami Dikshitar’s Prasanna Venkateswaram set to tisra jati triputa tala.  Though I have known that this kriti is part of OST’s vast repertoire, I was nevertheless hearing it from him for the first time.  OST rendered the beautiful kriti taking care to enunciate and highlight the saahitayam clearly.  Particularly OST’s evocative rendering of the line ‘rasikashEkharam kRpAkaram rakSita bhakta Anandakaram’ struck an indelible chord making it a proverbial ‘aha’ moment!

Once again succinct one avartana sarva laghu swaras with apt responses by T.H.Subramaniam were rendered and the kriti was brought to a very satisfying close.  It made me draw a sort-of parallel – the late D.K.Jayaraman made Dikshitar’s Kannada Bangala kriti Renuka Devi his very own; here was OST who definitely has made Prasanna Venkateswaram his own!

OST next rendered Syama Sastri’s taruNamIdammA in Gowlipantu, followed by Tyagaraja’s sanAtanA paramapAvana in Phalamanjari.  That OST has a penchant for Tyagaraja kritis is well-known.  I will never forget the akhandam (organized by Ghatam V.Suresh and others) held earlier this year in February at the Sri Raghavendra Swami Temple in Dr. Ranga Road, Mylapore.  OST sang at 2:00 AM and his unflagging energy at that hour, and the complete dedication with which he rendered several Tyagaraja kritis in quick succession without pausing for any breath was truly mind-boggling.

Coming back to the concert, when the time was around 9:55 AM, OST launched into an expansive alapana of Kambhoji.  OST developed the raga traditionally by starting off on the panchamam and then moving to the taara sthaayi.  After effortlessly delving into the ocean of Kambhoji in that octave he then proceeded to come down to the Madhya sthaayi dhaivatam and finally ended the elaborate and extremely wholesome alapana.

T.H.Subramaniam, on the contrary, started the alapana from the mandhara sthaayi – his first few phrases almost reminiscent of Dikshitar’s masterpiece Sri Subramanyaya Namaste.  With his violin’s tonal quality being wonderfully sonorous, T.H.Subramaniam in turn played a leisurely and unhurried alapana, traversing all the octaves, painting his own picture of the raga.  Rightfully OST himself was deeply appreciative of the THS’ response to his Kambhoji alapana!

The kriti?

Okay, the kriti was O Rangasaayi!  With doubt, it is Tyagaraja’s ever popular masterpiece and arguably the most popular kriti ever in Kambhoji.   As OST started the grand composition, I was led to ponder upon one point – how many times would this kriti have been rendered at the dais of the Music Academy?  In all probability Music Academy herself would have clearly lost count!

Yet, when OST began O Rangasaayi, the delighted ripple that it sent through the vast audience was unmistakable.  As I observed the people of my row sitting up straight and thereupon enthusiastically ‘’putting’’ the talam, one point was very evident.  No matter how many times a kriti like O Rangasaayi is rendered, these masterpieces will always, ALWAYS generate fulsome enthusiasm among the listeners, even if rendered for the nth time.  Of course, the pedigree of the vidwan or the vidushi is a major factor and hence if someone of OST’s stature renders O Rangasaayi, then the audience’s enthusiastic response is practically a given!

This point was underscored further when OST executed the niraval at the customary line ‘’Bhooloka vaikuntam’’.  The senior vidwan took his time to develop the niraval and this was obviously no mechanical exercise.  OST’s sheer comfort with the aspect of niraval per se and him being supremely ‘’at home’’ in  the taara sthaayi was exhibited in full glory as he sang the elaborate niraval and after traversing all over the upper octave, finally came to rest on the life note of Kambhoji, which is the taara sthaayi gandhaaram.  The culmination of the superb niraval in keezh kaalam ended in a spontaneous and enthusiastic applause.

Veteran K.V.Prasad on the mridangam has full understanding of sahityam which he exhibited in his thoughtful and sensitive playing throughout the concert.  B.S.Purushottam, another well-known star kanjira player responded likewise.  It was interesting to see to Purshottam respond to the vocalist while Prasad played for the violinist in some of the segments of the niraval and during the kuraippu swaras.

A delectable Muruganin Marupeyar Azhagu of Guru Surajananda in Behag and Khanda chapu (tuned by T.M.Thyagarajan) and OST’s compulsory piece that he renders in every concert as the last item – Tyagaraja’s Naadupai (Madhyamavati, Khanda Chapu) brought this wonderfully satisfying concert to a fulfilling close.

As the curtains came down and as we audience stood up and prepared to move towards the exit, I heard a rasika in the row behind remark that there was no Ragam, Tanam and Pallavi.  His companion returned quick as lightning, “but there was absolutely no NEED for a Pallavi!’’

Amen!  🙂

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Mysore Vasudevachar’s Dwaadasha Naama Kritis – Kritis 1, 2 & 3

  1. First Name – Kesava

Meaning:

  1. One with beautiful hair
  2. Destroyer of asura Kesi
  3. One who has rays that brighten the whole world – one who’s in the form of Surya and Chandra

Kriti Details

shrI kEshava mAm pAlaya – rAgA bhairavi – rUpaka tALA

P:  shrI kEshava mAm pAlaya rAkEndu mukha krpAlaya

 

A:  lOkEsha nArada sugEya sAkEtAdhipApramEya

 

C:  bhUsura vara paripUjita vAsudEva caraNAgata

dAsajana manOmbujAta vAsarEsa sukhyAta

 

Madhyama Kala:

sAsita khala dOSa rahita bhAsuramaNI bhUSaNayuta

vAsava mukha dEva vinuta kOsala nrpa shEkhara suta

Translation:

shrI kEshava mAm pAlaya – protect us, Sri Kesava!

rAkEndu mukha – one who’s face shines like the full moon

krpAlaya – abode of mercy

 

lOkEsha – Lord of the world

nArada sugEya – sung well by Narada

sAkEtAdhipApramEya – this compound word is broken down as:

sAkEtAdhipa – Lord of Saketa i.e. Ayodhya

apramEya – beyond understanding – i.e. beyond the understand of our five senses

 

bhUsura vara paripUjita – sincerely worshipped to the utmost by the best among the twice-borns

vAsudEva caraNAgata – devotees who have sought refuge

dAsajana manOmbujAta vAsarEsa – he is the Sun to the lotus i.e. the innermost hearts of his devotees; he makes this lotus bloom

vAsarEsa – Lord of the day i.e. lord of the sun

sukhyAta – very famous and reknowned

sAsita khala– punishes the evil-minded

dOSa rahita – without any blemish or bad qualities

bhAsuramaNI bhUSaNayuta – wearing gems shining with brilliance

vAsava mukha dEva vinuta – saluted by all the important devas starting from Indra (vAsava)

kOsala nrpa shEkhara suta – son of the king of Kosala

Additional notes:

Set to rupaka tala, this kriti is a short and sweet encapsulation of Bhairavi, proving yet again that Bhairavi is capable of accommodating compositions of all sizes!

In this first kriti of this set of Dwaadasha Naama kritis, Vasudevachar has made an emphatic point about Kesava being the Lord of the Sun – vAsarEsa.  The connection thus to the daily mandatory ritual of Sandhyavandanam and consequently the Gayatri mantra is firmly established.

The madhyama kala which almost comes as a surprise is the icing on the cake.  Vasudevachar describes Narayana as kOsala nrpa shEkhara suta – Ayodhya was also part of the kingdom of Kosala while Kausalya was from another part.  Hence the description of Rama being the son of the king of Kosala.


  1. Second Name – Narayana

Meaning:

  1. One who manifests as the five elements
  2. Refuge for the common man

Kriti Details

nArAyaNa namada  –  rAgA tODi – Adi tALA

P:  nArAyaNa namata santatam

vArAShi shayanam hIrAngadayutam

 

A:  mArAri vinutam munijana vinatam

dhArAdhara nibhatanum shubha caritam

 

C:  vAsudEvam ambuja lOcanam

dAsavarya pApa vimOcanam

vAsavAdyAkhila sura krta namanam

bhAsurEndu vadanam bhrta bhuvanam

Translation: 

nArAyaNa namata santatam – an imperative appeal to always prostrate to Narayana

vArAShi shayanam – reclining on the ocean – reference to Vaikuntam

hIrAngadayutam – with diamonds on the shoulder

 

mArAri vinutam – praised by Siva (referred to as mArAri which is mAra + ari i.e. enemy of Manmatha)

munijana vinatam –  paid obeisance to by saints (rishis) who have controlled their minds

dhArAdhara nibhatanum – with a body resembling that of heavy rain laden dark clouds

shubha caritam – with a very auspicious history and rich legacy

 

vAsudEvam ambuja lOcanam – as the son of Vasudeva, with eyes like a lotus

dAsavarya – eminent among devotes (varya or vara denoting eminent)

pApa vimOcanam – destruction of sins

vAsavAdyAkhila sura krta namanam – bowed to by Indra and other foremost of Devas

bhAsurEndu – shining like the moon (bhAsura = shining)

vadanam – referred to the face

bhrta bhuvanam – sustaining the universe

 

Additional notes:

Although there are countless kritis in Todi already extant, this is one is practically unknown.  Yet, the all-encompassing raga that Todi happens to be – its scope is akin to the infinite space around us and also in my opinion, Vasudevachar’s phenomenal talent for composing, there is something about this relatively small kriti that sounds so fresh, charming and captivating.

The word ‘’vArAshi’’ as a word for the ocean, is relatively rare.

 

 

  1. Third Name – Madhava

Meaning:

  1. Ma denotes mahalakshmi and hence Madhava denotes her husband
  2. One who’s born in the lineage of Madhu
  3. One who can be understood through Madhu vidya – one of the branches of the Upanishads

 

Kriti Details

bhaja mAdhavam – rAgA hindustAni kApi – Adi tALA

 

P:  bhaja mAdhavam anisham vAsudEvam

bhujagAdi pati shayanam dEvadEvam

 

A:  aja rudra surEsha vinuta caraNam

gajarAja bali prahlAdAdi sharaNam

 

C:  mAra janakam ambuja nibha nayanam

nAradAdi munijana krta namanam

shUra mArIca rAvana madanam

shAradEndu vadanam paribhrta bhuvanam

 

Translation:

bhaja – Worship

mAdhavam – Madhava ( husband of Ma – Lakshmi)

anisham – always!

vAsudEvam – Son of Vasudeva

bhujaga- adhipati shayanam – reclining on the lord of snakes

dEvadEvam – god of gods

aja rudra surEsha vinuta caranam – one whose feet are praised by Brahma, Siva and Indra

gajarAja bali prahlAdAdi sharaNam – the refuge of Gajendra, Mahabali, Prahlada and others

mAra janakam – father of Manmatha

ambuja nibha nayanam – one with lotus-like eyes (nibha  / aabha – oLi veesura kaNgaL nibha – brightness / used as comparison – samkaasha, sadhrusha)

nAradAdi munijana krta namanam – one who is offered/done prostrations by Rishis such as Narada

shUra mArIca rAvana mathanam – destroyer of heroic demons Ravana and Maricha

shAradEndu vadanam – one whose face is like the autumn moon

paribhrta bhuvanam – one by whom the universe is sustained

 

Additional notes:

The reference to Ravana and Maricha as ‘’shUra’’ is interesting.  ‘’shura’’ generally refers to someone who is very heroic and brilliant.  Certainly Ravana’s brilliance and talent was undisputable and so was his complete devotion to Lord Siva that enabled the ruler of Lanka Ravana to acquire the grace of the latter.  Hence the use of the word ‘shUra’.  Very tragically, Ravana’s immense power, and the fruits of his physical and spiritual penances and sacrifices, were used to ultimately terrorize the universe and to gratify his lust.  Since Ravana was such a ‘’shUra’’ it needed someone with the stature and superhuman personality, rather an avataara purusha like Rama to vanquish him.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Mysore Vasudevachar’s Dwaadasha Naama Kritis – Prelude

 

Introduction

It is a matter of common knowledge that the Gayatri is hailed to be the supreme mantra.  It is the prayer to the Almighty for the induction of serene knowledge in us.  The Gayatri which we offer as prayer, is to the Lord Narayana dwelling in the Sun, to bestow upon us knowledge and protection.  Swami Sivananda, in his magnum opus Sadhana says, ‘’whichever your ishta devata may be, yet the regular repetitions of a few malas of the Gayatri will bestow upon you all that is auspicious and benevolent to you, herein and thereafter.’’

He continues, ‘’there this is the Greatest of all Mantras and its presiding deity is the Pra-Brahman itself.  Yet, it is acceptable to all types of aspirants, for its conceived as worship of Devi, worship of Lord Hari, worship of Aditya or the sun and also as pure Nirguna worship of Brahman.

The Tejas of the Brahmachari lies in his Gayatri Japa.  The support and prosperity of the Grihastha is again the Gayatri, strength and solace of the Vanaprastha is again the Gayatri.   Thus the Gayatri is the constant guide, support and strength and verily is the summum bonum of life.

So great is its importance that the Japa of the Gayatri is laid down as a compulsory daily Sadhana, in the life of every Hindu.  This daily Sadhana is the supremely important Sandhyavandanam.  The scriptures have laid down the injunction that the Sandhyavandanam is not merely a daily ritual – it’s a ‘nitya karma’- something that has to be done the same way one eats and drinks to sustain oneself physically day after day at different points in the day.  Kanchi Mahaperiyavaa Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi went further and emphatically averred that the number of Gayatris recited mentally for people in corporate jobs or otherwise, should be a minimum of 108 on working days and a minimum of 1008 on weekends.

Since the Sandhyavandanam is the bedrock of Gayatri Japa, this ritual begins with a two-part purification step.  The first part is the ‘’aachamanam’’ which is done by sipping water thrice and reciting mentally:

”om achyutaaya namaha, om anantaaya namaha, om govindaaya namaha’’

The second step of the purification is the recitation of the twelve (or twenty-four depending on the tradition) of Narayana or Vishnu.

The first twelve of these names are:

1.    Kesava

2.    Narayana

3.    Madhava

4.    Govinda

5.    Vishnu

6.    Madhusudana

7.    Trivikrama

8.    Vamana

9.    Sridhara

10. Hrishikesa

11.  Padmanabha

12. Damodara

Reason for these twelve names of Vishnu

An initial question that arises in us is the reason for these twelve names and why they should be the names of the Almightly in the form of Vishnu.

In the Vamana Purana written by Veda Vyasa, there is a set of thirteen slokas which is regarded as the Dhyana Snana i.e. meditative bath.  These 13 slokas are to be recited to achieve internal purification, once the external bathing (external purification) is over.  Each of these slokas address Lord Narayana in various forms and His description, and the set concludes with an invocation to the river goddess Ganga and a dedication to Lord Krishna.

Due to the act of being an internal purification, the twelve names of Lord Vishnu are recited along with correspondingly touching the cheeks, eyes, nose, ears, shoulders, navel and finally the head.

Lord Narayana is regarded as the presiding deity of the sun.  The sun sustains life on the earth and hence Narayana who regarded as the protector or the one who sustains, becomes the deity of the sun.  Hence reciting these twelve/twenty-four names of Vishu assumes paramount importance.

Enter Mysore Vasudevacharya!

That peerless composer of the twentieth century, Mysore Vasudevacharya clearly recognized the importance of these twelve names and has bequeathed to us a set of twelve very beautiful and charming kritis.  Each of these kritis is in praise of one name of Lord Vishnu from this set of twelve names.

The details of these kritis in the order of the names as it appears in the Sandhyavandanam ritual are:

# Name Opening words  of Kriti Raga Tala
1 kEshava

 

shrI kEshava mAm pAlaya bhairavi

 

rUpaka

 

2 nArAyaNa nArAyaNam namada tODi  Adi
3 mAdhava bhaja mAdhavam hindustAni kApi Adi
4 gOvinda mAmavasu gOvinda sAmA rUpaka
5 viSHNu satatam shrI viSNum kalyANi Adi – 2 kalai
6 madhuSudana madhusUdanam nATakuranji misra chApu
7 Trivikrama trivikramam aham kAmbhOji Adi – 2 kalai
8 vAmana vAmanam anisham nAyaki Adi
9 Shridhara shrIdhara pAhi jayantashrI rUpaka
10 hrishikesha paripAhimAm shrI dhanyAsi Adi (dESadi)
11 padmanAbha pAlayashu padmanAbha hamsadhvani rUpaka
12 dAmOdara dAmOdaramanisham shankarAbharaNam Adi – 2 kalai

It can be seen that Vasudevachar has used predominantly the popular and rakti ragas.  What violin maestro Lalgudi Jayaraman refers to as ‘’Chakravarti Ragas’’ – Bhairavi, Todi, Kalyani, Shankarabharanam, Kambhoji have been given full prominence in this set of kritis, underscoring the importance of these ragas and also the respective kritis featured in them.  Additionally other classical majestic and rakti ragas like Natakurinji, Dhanyasi, Nayaki and Sama have been used.  To add to the popular appeal, a Hamsadhvani has been featured and Vasudevachar has given a touch of the rare by featuring Jayantasri in this set.

Each of these kritis will be highlighted in the forthcoming parts.

Acknowledgements:

In this endeavour of collecting the material and learning and polishing each of these kritis, I am deeply indebted to the following five people for their help, support and encouragement:

  1. I first thank Dr. K.Vageesh – he was the first person to draw my attention to the existence of this set of kritis and he also demonstrated snatches of some of these kritis by singing them to me.  It was immediately evident that this was a treasure house!
  2. I thank Dr. Radha Venkatachalam for being gracious enough to allow me to present this concert under the aegis of Music Education Trust with this set of kritis as the theme.  The concert is scheduled on Thursday, December 31, 2015 at 6:00 PM.  My team is M.R.Gopinath (violin) and Madipakkam Suresh (mridangam).  The venue is the Gokhale Sastri Hall, Karpagambal Nagar, Mylapore, Chennai – 4.
  3. I sincerely thank Shri Lakshman Ragde for supplying me with various notations and lyrics of these kritis and most importantly, some of the versions of kritis sung by eminent vidwans and vidushis.  Without this, learning these kritis wouldn’t have been possible.
  4. I am really grateful to Shri Vedanth Ramanujam for his encouragement and his offer of printing these out as a pamphlet.
  5. Last but not the least, I sincerely thank Rajani Arjun Shankar for patiently going through each of the saahityams and helping me with the translations.  Rajani has put up with my innumerable questions and her inputs and continued enthusiasm have been invaluable in this whole endeavour.

To be continued…

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Nigamavedavedyam – TRS & An Unusual Hamsadhwani

It’s been a little more than two years since my revered Guru Shri TRS shed his mortal coil. Having had the privilege of being his student for multiple decades, there is hardly a day when I don’t reflect on his unique pedagogy, his spirit of enquiry and sheer intellectual approach. His inimitable sense of humour was his crowning glory – the capstone of all his musical acumen and talent.

During the course of his career, TRS composed quite a few varnams; and a few kritis and thillanas. The Ragam, Tanam and Pallavi was his forte of course, as it is well known – his brilliant mathematical mind combined with his sense of logical reasoning enabled him to delight in this creative and scholarly area of the Pallavi and hence he had scores of pallavis to his credit that he composed.

His varnams and the thillanas unmistakably bear his stamp in terms of structure and aesthetic mathematical combinations. What about the few kritis that he composed? TRS has, to his credit kritis in the ragas Suryakantam, Suddha Dhanyasi and in Hamsadhwani.

It is his kriti in Hamsadhvani that I wish to highlight in this article – and it is a humble attempt to portray how a truly gifted maestro can bring freshness, cerebral and yet a sense of the artistic, in a raga like Hamsadhwani that boasts of so many varnams and kritis.

But before that, a brief glimpse into the wonderful raga Hamsadhwani!

Hamsadhwani – a few words

Hamsadhwani is a raga that clearly has a pan-Indian appeal. This extremely popular audava raga (i.e. a raga with a pentatonic scale – with five notes in both the Aarohana and in the Avarohana), seems to have firmly established itself in all parts of our country across languages and cultures.

Muthuswami Dikshitar’s Vatapi Ganapathim is perhaps an all-time favourite whose charm and appeal never seems to fade in the Carnatic music world. Even after hearing this kriti countless times in concerts or otherwise, the charm doesn’t seem to fade – nothing hackneyed about this kriti and even the first usual kalpana swara – ‘p g r s r’ vatapi ganapatim has also perhaps come to be acknowledged as a concert mainstay – the audience very often almost expects it!

Hamsadhwani is supposed to have been created by Ramaswami Dikshitar, the father of Muthuswami Dikshitar. Along with the other supremely popular and major pentatonic raga Mohanam, every child learning Carnatic music is introduced to Hamsadhwani. Be it the mandatory varnam Jalajaksha in Adi talam, or the popular Tyagaraja favourite Raghunayaka, there are numerous compositions in Hamsadhwani, most of which are extremely popular on the concert platform.

Hamsadhwani typically finds itself in the beginning of a concert – it’s a bright and cheerful raga and hence useful for an effective beginning to a concert. Particularly a few sancharas if rendered without the shadja, add extra appeal to the already extant charm of the raga.
Consequently or otherwise it is a raga that composers have favoured to produce compositions on Ganesha. Maybe it was due to the everlasting appeal and popularity of Vatapi Ganpathim, that probably inspired the post-trinity composers to produce compositions in Hamsadhwani based on the elephant-faced god. Many of these kritis have attained great popularity among the musicians and the general rasikas. Some of these are:

1. Gam ganapathe – Adi, tisra gati – Muthiah Bhagavatar
2. Vaarana mukhavaa – Rupaka – Kotiswara Iyer
3. Vandenisamaham – Adi – Mysore Vasudevachar
4. Moolaadhaaramurti – Adi – Papanasam Sivan
5. Varavallabha ramana – Adi – G.N.Balasubramanian
6. Pahi pahi bala ganapathe – Rupaka – Mazhavai Chidambara Bharati
7. Namami vighna vinayaka – Adi, tisra gati – Krishnaswami Ayya
8. Vinayaka ninnuvina brochutaku – Adi – E.V.Ramakrishna Bhagavathar
9. An Adi tala tana varnam on Ganesha by Tanjavur S. Kalyanaraman
10. Piraiyaniyum perumaan – Adi – M.Balamuralikrishna
11. Kaa vaa gajamukhaa – Adi – Chidambaram V.V.Swarna Venkatesa Dikshitar
12. Nigamavedavedyam – Adi – T.R.Subramanyam

Nigamavedavedyam!

This article will now highlight the composition Nigamavedavedyam of TRS on Vinayaka.

The text of the kriti in Sanskrit is:

Pallavi:

nigamavEda vEdyam bhajEham
nirupama karuNAnidhim nirantaram nirvighnadam (nigama)

Anupallavi:

agajAnanAmbhOja savitAram
yugapad bhOgamOkshadhAtAram (nigama)

Charanam:

srIkAnta mAtulam srIkaram
srutabhakta jananikaramandAram
EkAgramanolayavaSamkaram
Ekadantam ISam IDEnisham

Examining the pallavi we see that TRS uses the words nigama and veda as synonyms. The vedas are our primordial scriptures and the nigama is any work auxiliary to and explanatory of the veda. TRS avers that Ganesha is the lord who can be understood through the vedas and the nigamas.

The second line of the pallavi states that Ganesha is the incomparable lord who is the ocean of mercy (nirupama karunanidhim) and he the one who gives the state of being of having no obstacles whatsoever (nirantaram nirvighnadam). The syllable ‘da’ means ‘to give’ and hence the epithet of nirantaram nirvighnadam (an everlasting state of no obstacles).

In our frenetic daily life with all the million distractions galore (and we may add – distractions available at the mere click of a mouse!), this line and invoking Ganesha is especially apt!

The anupallavi has the reference to a popular sloka on Ganesha:

Agajaanana Padmaarkam Gajaananam Aharnisham
Aneka Dam Tam Bhaktaanam Eka Dantam Upasmahe

The first line of the above sloka states that Parvati (agaja – daughter of the mountain which is contextually represented by the word aga)’s face lights up (aanana – face) on seeing her son Ganesha, just like how a lotus blossoms on seeing the sun.

TRS similarly uses the word ‘agajaanambhoja’ – which is a compound of the words:

aga + ja + aanana + ambhoja

He says Ganesha is savita (savitaaram – ending in the 2nd vibhakti i.e. declension); Ganesha makes everything grow. The word savita means the lord of the sun and it is also the vedic name for the sun. Since there are many Gayatri mantras for different deities, the original Gayatri mantra of which the presiding rishi is Viswamitra is known as Savitri.
The second line of the anupallavi says that Ganesha is the deity who bestows (daataaram) both material and spiritual benefits (bhoga moksha) simultaneously (yugapad).

In the charanam Ganesha is describes as one whose uncle is Vishnu (srikanta maatulam). The reference to this is the famous sloka:

shrIkAnto mAtulo yasya jananI sarva mangalA

Ganesha is one who is the giver of wealth and prosperity – srikaram.
He is the kalpavruksha to his group of devotees and those who seek refuge in him. the break-up of the compound words of this line is:
srutabhaktajana – devotes who have sought refuge (sruta + bhakti + jana)
nikara – group
mandaaram – one of the five tyes of the kalpa vruksham – wish-fulfilling tree

He can be reached with a single focused concentration (EkAgramanolayavaSamkaram)

Laya is the word that denotes the act of subsiding, dying or calming. The analogy is that the mind does not just die but it eventually submerges in the Supreme Being which is Ganesha here. This line can also alternatively mean Ganesha make the submerging of the mind achievable (vasamkaram).

Finally the kriti concludes that this lord with the emblem of ekadanta (single tusk) is the supreme ruler (Isam) and I as the singer of this kriti always sing His praises (IDEnisam which is IDE + anisam).

Some highlights of this kriti:

The kriti is unusual in more ways than one. The first is the way it begins. The syllables ‘ni’, ‘ga’, ‘ma’ and ‘ve’ take the notes N G P R,,, which is a very offbeat beginning for a kriti. This is reminiscent of the way the Kalyani kriti of Patnam Subramanya Iyer (Nijadasa varada) which also begins in a slightly similar fashion, although my guru Shri TRS has employed even more of a dhatu prayogam!

The second most striking feature is the use of ‘poruttam’ i.e. the meeting point, in the pallavi line. The words in the second line of the pallavi, ‘nirantaram’ and ‘nirvighnadam’ are set as poruttam phrases for the final meeting point of the first word of the pallavi ‘nigamaveda’.

The respective swaras are:

nirantaram – G S R S
nirvighnadam – P R G R
nigama – N G P G

While poruttams have become very popular and common now in the renditions of kalpanaswarams in concert, I personally haven’t come across the usage of poruttams in many kritis and this is a brilliant example of TRS’ genius for employing and using poruttams with such felicity and élan.
While the first sangati of the Pallavi’s second line has the poruttam constructed in the middle octave, the second sangati of the Pallavi’s second line has the poruttam descending from the upper octave, which blends beautifully into the pallavi line. TRS has also liberally used shadja varja phrases in many portions that lend an extra appeal to this kriti.

TRS has proved that ragas like Hamsadhwani are verily oceans. Despite the presence of so many compositions in this raga, my guru, typically as his wont, always ahead of his times (this kriti was I think composed sometime in the late 1970s), has used his brilliant intellect and analytical mind to come up with such an offbeat yet very charming creation belying all stereotypes. This scholarly and imaginative kriti on Vinayaka set in this popular raga is verily a shining crystal in the world of Hamsadhwani.

Victory to Lord Ganesha! May He bless us all!

Footnote: A description of a kriti like this wouldn’t have the necessary impact without an accompanying audio. Though I have rendered Nigamavedavedyam several times in concerts, most unfortunately I realized that I don’t have a concert recording of the kriti. Hence the audio is just a recording of mine with the sruti. This is just to portray to the readers how this kriti sounds.

My apologies in advance for the amateurishness of the recording!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments