The Veena Festival

Author: Ms Manjari Sinha; New Delhi, India

Spread over a period of four days and held at the conference hall of ‘Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) Delhi, the Festival of veena was jointly organized by ‘The veena Foundation’ and the IGNCA, as "a part of IGNCA’s program to explore the artistic manifestation, emanating from primary human awareness of the world through sense of light and sound".

With the veena recitals by the established and upcoming artistes, screening of well researched films on veena like ‘Making of veena in Tanjore’ and ‘Music in the woods’ on history and traditions of veena playing, panel discussions on subjects like ‘veena in Tamil Literature’ and presentations like ‘History of veena in Temples of South’, the Festival of veena was a full fledged celebration of veena , the divine musical instrument, revered through ages as the source of Nada and sublime devotional feelings. Veena in fact represents the ancient acoustic innovation and the musical sound and resonance of India.

The invitation card also carried a graphic picture of veena as described in Sangit Ratnakar where the veena is said to be the abode of Gods " Dandah Shambhuruma tantreeh kakubhah Kamalapatih, Indirapatrika Brahma tumbam naabhih Saraswati, Dorako Vaasuki Jeeva Sudhanshuh Saarika Ravih, Sarvadevamayi tasmat Veeneyam sarvamangala" that says " the Danda is Shiva, the strings Uma, shoulder Vishnu, the bridge Lakshmi, the gourd is Brahma, the nord Saraswati, the connecting wires Vaasuki, the jiva is Moon and the pegs Sun. The veena thus represents all gods and is capable of giving all auspiciousness.

Focused on the Saraswati veena tradition, the festival was inaugurated by Dr Karan Singh, President ICCR and Trustee INGCA at its conference hall. Shri L.M. Singhvi, Founder Chairman of veena Foudation presented The veena Foudation Award ‘veena Vadana Tattvajna’ to Shri R. Venkatraman, whose mesmerizing concert latter this evening, especially the concluding Anand Bhairavi proved him the most deserving artiste for the prestigious award. Shri Raghurama Ayyar, Secretary General veena Foundation presented a whole lot of resource materials including rare recordings of the legendary veena maestros to IGNCA Archives on this occasion.

The IGNCA also documented the entire festival to enhance its cultural archives and build a data base for future reference and study. After documenting the Saraswati veena tradition this year, the IGNCA plans to document other veena traditions like the Rudra veena, Chitra veena and Vichitra veena et al in the coming years.

‘Making of veena in Tanjore’, a film by Rajeshwari Anand was an added attraction of the inaugural evening that enlightened the audience about the art of making veena and also about the creative craftsmen of this intricate instrument in great detail. The festival had opened with the rendering of saint Thyagaraja’s ‘Panchratna Kritis’ by Prema Mallikarjun and party.

‘Music in the Wood’, a film by Rajeshwari Anand, focusing on the history and traditions of veena playing , screened next day, was also much appreciated. The erudite presentation of Prof. Geeta Rajgopalan, Director Sampradaya Kalakshetra Chennai, on ‘History of veena in the Temples of South India’ and the panel discussion on ‘veena in Tamil Literature’ with participants like Shri P. Vishvanathan, Dr. Leela Omchari, M.G.Swaminathan and Gopal Sharman appraised the audience with varied aspects relating to veena, along with the feast of music presented for four consecutive days by the performing artistes participating in the festival.

Among the solo artistes, Saraswati Rajgopalan opened her recital with a brisk Thayagaraja Kriti in raga Ganamurthi, before she went on to play raga Rasika Priya that proved to transliterate the raga’s name in its true sense, going by the favorable response of the audience. Her centre piece was a detailed ragam tanam pallavi in raga Kharharpriya. The aalapana and swara-prastars in raga malika reflected Saraswati’s characteristic musical talent, a combination of musical scholarship and presentation technique. Her soulful rendering in the ragas Neelambari, Varali, Kalyana Vasantham, Madyamavathi and Desh was a delightful.

Smt. Padmavathi Ananthagopalan a veteran Vainika from Chennai played raga Kalyani exquisitely among other selections. Her rendering was very soothing to the ears.

Hema Krishnamurthy and Jayshri Arvind were the other solo artistes of the second day who played ragas Saveri, Begada, Kamala-Manohari, Kalyani and Sindhu Bhairavi. Shri C. Balasubramanian, S. Radhakrishnan, Kannan Balakrishna and Revati Krishna regaled the audience the third day.

The melodious duet performance by Jeyaraj and Jaysri stole the show on the concluding evening. Right from the opening composition of Muthuswamy Dikshithar in raga Shyama to the popular Thyagraja composition in Nalinkanti, ‘aanandaamrita…’ in Amritvarshini, and the center piece ragam tanam pallavi in raga Todi, adorned with a riveting ragamalika; their recital was totally drenched in tunefulness. They extracted the raga bhava with considerable ease and the good flow of Kalpana swaras indicated their sensitive manodharma.

The concluding Kadana Kutuhalam gave a pulsating contrast with its Western touch. The duo impressed not only with their technical virtuosity and perfect synchronization, but also with their sensitivity and above all their intensely perceptive ears. Shivkumar and Bhagyalaxmi also performed this evening before S. Rahdakrishnan concluded the festival with Vedic Chants.

Mr. Prem Kumar on Mridangam and Ramamurthy on ghatam gave able and enthusiastic percussion support for many of the vainikas during the festival.

To sum up – kudos to the organizers for their sustained interest and success in recognizing and restoring its rightful place to veena that was threatened to slip to the category of endangered species of musical instruments.

Photo: Jeyraj and Jaishree