In her speech to felicitate the more than hundred odd children who had participated in the Trinity Day celebrations on Friday, 23rd October, at the Krishna Temple Hall in Ruwi, Muscat, chief guest Dr. Pantula Rama said that after hearing so many children sing so well, she felt that the future of carnatic music was safe. She proved this point beyond doubt through her own singing the next day. It was a veritable treat for Muscat’s burgeoning music rasikas. Nearly everyone stayed on till the mangalam which came around 10.30pm, unmindful of the next day being a working day. Such was the magic and classicism of Rama’s music.
She patiently sat through a rather elaborate introduction that went on and on. I have nothing against talented artistes being given their due, but perhaps the organizers should pay attention to starting on time, or pruning their introductions to save time – Rama’s music, as that of her able accompanists, spoke volumes about their collective vidwat anyway! Another suggestion to the organizers: subdued lighting, rather than a display of every available bulb in the city, would have been far more aesthetic and less distracting!
All this was forgotten the moment Rama got going with Tyagaraja’s gem Sadinchane in Arabhi. It set the tone for the rest of the concert, as can only be expected of such a wonderful masterpiece, when rendered with feeling and understanding. The first surprise of the day came in this introductory piece – Rama sang the swara-sahityas of the composition after sadinchane, rather than the conventional way of singing them after samyanidhi. She explained this to the discerning audience, pointing out that it was more appropriate to sing the swara-sahityas after sadinchane as per the sastras. She also emphasized the use of tanam in the singing of the charanams, underlining the boundless genius of the bard, who has packed more into his pancharatna keertanais than generations of researches can ever fully analyze!
She then sang a soulful Gopalaka Pahimam in Revagupti, showing her skill in avoiding any shades of nearby ragas like bowli or bhoopalam. Then came the less heard Tyagaraja kriti chede buddhi manura o manasa in Atana, with brisk swaras in keeping with the bhava of the raga and the kriti.
Rama then took up Bhairavi for a detailed treatment, and followed it up with Syama Sastri’s Kamakshamma, where she showed her sruthi suddham in chowkha kalam singing. She then brought back fond memories of GNB by singing vararagalaya in Chenjukamboji. I cannot but digress here to say that what he had done a good 70 years back still stands as the benchmark for this rare raga composition by Tyagaraja. If this was not evidence enough to say why Tyagaraja is called the sadguru, Rama also sang another of his eka-raga piece, Anadudanuganu in Jingala, apparently on the request on young Nandagopal who was her mridangist for the day. That came after a relaxed exposition of Subhapantuvarali, with Dikshitar’s Sri Satyanarayanam, a kriti that never fails to touch one’s heart.
She did a nereval at ‘satya gnana nanda mayam’, which was very impressive. She rounded off the tanam with Yathi ‘ananda mayam’, gnana nanda mayam, satya gnana nanda mayam, sarvam Vishnu mayam, in keeping with Dikshitar’s way of alliterative prose. Rama showed her good grasp of Hindustani music in the swaraprastharas. Sri MSN Murthy excelled in his repartee, both in the raga delineation and in the kalpana swaras.
So far, it had already been a veritable feast. We had had tanams in the first piece itself, and again in the Dikshitar kriti. When she started the mohanam alapana, I sat back to enjoy what I was sure would be a grand RTP.
The alapana and tanam were splendid. MSN Murthy displayed excellent bowing techniques, and his playing was very sweet to the ear. He proved, like his illustrious peers of the past, that the violin in indeed extremely well suited to negotiate the nuances of tanam playing. Rama surprised the audience yet again, by taking up nannupalimpa a kriti instead of a pallavi.
Later, when I asked her about it, she said she simply felt like singing nannupalimpa after the elaborate ragam and tanam. One can’t question her choice, but the impish twist was a bit disappointing – I believe a few ragas missed out the caressing treatment they could have otherwise received from a seasoned performer in a Pallavi rendering as raga malika!
The Thani followed. The Muscat audience is known to be very discerning, and there is never an exodus at the thani. Today was also special – the mridangist was Nandagopal, a local lad. And he justified the audience attention. His playing was tone perfect, crisp, and technically flawless. His accompaniment therefore constantly embellished the vocal and violin throughout the concert. In the thani he showed his immense maturity in handling percussion.
Rama was not done yet. Neither was the audience keen to let her go. Requests flowed in, and she accommodated most. A venkatachala nilayam in Sindhubhairavi, Jayadeva’s Ehi Murare in pahadi, and muddukare yasoda in kurinji had the audience swaying to some soulful music. She sang a lilting Sakhi marulu konnane, the male version of a javali in a startlingly different form of chenjurutti composed by Balamurali Krishna.
Rama’s strength lies in her ability to do sancharas in the antara sthayi – she made full use of her ability that day. The concert was thus clamoring for the label of a perfect performance. On a special request from one of the organizers, she decided to sing Papanasam Sivan’s naan oru vilayattu bommaya, and proved she was only human. There is no doubt any number of Andhrites, Kannadigas and Malayalees flinch at the enunciation of their words and phrases by the Tamil singers. Rama proved it was a two way street! The charanam phrase oru pugal indri, meaning without any other refuge, was degraded to oru pughazh iNri (the hard N as in kaNN (eye)), which took away some of the genius of Sivan’s lyrics.
A brisk paraj thillana and mangalam saw to end of a nearly four hour, memorable concert. There is no doubt Muscat is not going to wait very long before demanding Pantula Rama and her concert partner (as well her life’s partner) MSN Murthy return soon. Very soon.
The heartfelt thanks of the audience to the magnanimous grace and patronage of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said for such lovely classical music concerts was well expressed by the organizers of the day.
Mangalam: Means auspicious ending, A thankful prayer and conclusion to the musical event.
Sadinchane: One of the 5 of the revered compositions known as the Pancharatna kritis.
Tānam: is rhythmic / rhythm based improvisation of the rāgam. It is done with rhythm based syllables like tha, nam, thom and na. It is usually included as second part in a Rāgam Tānam Pallavi renderings.
Thillānā: is a composition consisting of rhythm syllables, like Dheem, thom, tarana and thaani in first two stanzas, followed by a one or two line lyric. In instrumental performances, it is a melodic rhythmic piece
Yathi: is shape of rhythmic pattern and swara rendering pattern which is one of the 10 elements in prosody, particularly used in Telugu and Sanskrit, where the opening letter of a line, repeats at measured intervals.