All posts by Hari Ram

A Middle Eastern Star in the Making

The Ragam Tanam Pallavi was in full flow. Nodding my head contentedly, I happened to see the artiste’s parents sitting a little away from me. And it occurred to me that Tiruvalluvar might have been inspired by a similar sight to write his famous couplet about what makes a parent most happy: undisputed evidence of their offspring’s accomplishments. And Archana Murali did just that for her parents on 5th February at the Krishna temple in Muscat. A chance attendee would have found it difficult to believe that this was her first ever solo performance. He or she would have thought yet another star of Carnatic music had come visiting the city.

As the curtains went up, one could see a young, somewhat nervously smiling girl, barely in her teens. But all that was forgotten by the time she finished her opening varnam in Vasantha ragm and launched into Papanasam Sivan’s “ganapathiye” in karaharapriya.

The chittaswarams were crisp and brisk, setting the mood of the concert. “Palimpa” in aarabhi followed, followed by “Muruga” (Periyasami Tooran) in Saveri where she gave ample evidence of her ability to handle a tisranadai talam. She had the attention of the audience fully by now.

When she took up a partimadhyama melakarta Dharmavati for alapana next, I was impressed by her choice. The alapana was elaborate, yet free of any shades of Madhuvanti. Udupi S. Srijith who accompanied on the violin gave a masterful and melodious reply. She went on to sing the popular “bhajana seya rada O Ramuni” of Mysore Vasudevachar.

After a brisk “Maakelara” in Ravichandrika, Archana launched into her main piece of the day, “ Koluvamare” in Todi. In the alapana she revealed her understanding of the wide range offered by Todi. Perhaps because the stage was very warm due to the bright lights, she found her throat going dry when she explored the lower octaves.

The kriti was handled like an expert, and she gave generous opportunities to her senior colleague on the violin, like a seasoned expert! The Tani avartanam that followed, with Muscat’s own Nandagopal on the mridangam and Trivandrum Rajesh on the ghatam, was impeccable, and added glory to the concert, which, by now, had the audience totally engrossed.

Nandagopal, a mentor of sorts for young Archana, produced yet another brilliant exposition on the mridangam, reinforcing this reviewer’s opinion that he belongs in the prime time slots in Chennai’s major sabhas. Rajesh was very impressive with his laya suddham, on his incredibly melodious instrument. This Tani will be remembered for a long time by all those who witnessed it.

For a first timer, wrapping up the concert with a few tukkadas would have been more than acceptable. But Archana had no intensions of being a mere beginner. She went on to prove her mettle by singing a short “bantu reethi” in Hamsanadham which she cleverly chose to start at the anupallavi, and followed it up by a surprisingly elaborate RTP in Kapi.

In both the alapana and tanam, she and Srijith regaled the audience with phrases soaked in bhava. The pallavi itself was not remarkable in its phraseology, but Archana scored again in the ragamalika, exploring charukesi, Misra Sivaranjani and Kalyani to her credit. By now, the concert had gone on for about two and a half hours. Archana has a wonderful voice, and it held steady to the very end, which came after another thirty minutes or so of soulful singing: Papanasam Siva’s “nambi kettavar evarayya” in Hindolam, the popular Maand piece “Muralidhara”, and the Purandara Dasa kriti “ Innu day barade” in Kalyana Vasantham.

She wrapped up her concert with Lalgudi Jayaraman’s lilting thillana in Karnaranajni to a standing ovation by the much impressed, and very discerning Muscat audience.

To have the fortune of being born to parents who are both excellent musicians is one thing, but to have the commitment and application to score so well in her maiden concert, deserved the accolade she got.

Well done Archana! Here is another Middle Eastern Star ready to light up the Chennai sky in the annual seasons to come!


Fascinating concert by Dr. Pantula Rama

Dr. Pantula Rama
Dr. Pantula Rama


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.

MSN Murthy
MSN Murthy

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
Vidwat: Erudition.
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.


Sree Sanmukhananda Sangeetha sabha Festival, Delhi, 04th day concerts

On Monday the 28th Feb’2005, the festival started with the concert of Vechoor
Shri C. Sankar and Party. He started with a Tyagaraja kriti in Sriranjani (Brochevarevarura)
and then ‘Santhamulekha’in Sama raga which was an elaborate piece. Thelialeru
rama in Dhenuka raga of St. Tyagaraja was delivered very well and then the raga
alapana in Madhyamavathi was well rendered with care and good manodarma. The
kirtana – ‘Rama Katha Sudha’ was very ably handled with good tala kattu and kala
pramanam. One can certainly certify the good padandaram in the presentation of
niraval and swara kalpana that is very much appreciable. The accompaniments Sh.
HN Bhaskar gave very good violin support and Kalakad Sh. Srinivasan on the
Mridangam ably supported the artist.In the Second half Smt. Jayanthi Mohan, who is a regular visiting artist of
Shanmukhananda Sabha was staged . As per the trend of the day the concert
commenced with a Kriti of Tyagaraja ‘ Manasuloni ‘ followed by Nasikabhushani –
Maravairi ramani. Perhaps the weather did not cooperate with the artist and a
slightly lower sruti would have been much appreciated and comfortable too. The
raga alapana in Latangi and the kriti of Pattanam Subramaniam Iyer – Marivere in
K. Chapu was well attempted. The raga alapana followed by the violinist is worth
mentioning and was of high order. Sh. Bhaskar’s support to the artist was a boon
and boosted the atmosphere.

The main piece in Thodi – Kadanavariki was a good selection and the niraval
and swara kalpana showed the MLV style of music to which the artist belong to.
Palladam Sh. Ravi on the Mridangam and Trichy Murali on Ghatam gave a very good
Tani Avartanam with clear Chol Kattu presented by them- specially on Ghatam by


Sree Sanmukhananda Sangeetha sabha Festival, Delhi

The third day music and dance festival of Sri shanmukhananda Sangeetha sabha
featured Ragam Sisters and Priya Sisters at Andhra Bhawan.

Ragam Sisters commenced their concert with a Varnam in Ragam Sree followed by
ragam Hamsadwani (Varana Mukha). After a sprite rendering Dikshidar kriti in
Suddha Dhanyasi ( Subramanyena Rakshitoham) the sisters took up Sriranjani raga
alapana which was well attempted and the kriti Sogasugamrudanga Thalamu with its
swara prastharas was very well handled with maturity. The sarvalagu in kalpana
swara was noteworthy. After the Kriti Nenenduvedakutura it was Mohanam-
Bhavanuta of Sri Tyagaraja with good raga alapana and niraval swaras. The main
piece of the evening was Bhairavi with a Tyagaraja kriti – Upacharamu jeseva
which is very rarely heard now a days. It was very well rendered and the way the
kriti was handled by sisters was well appreciable and very promising. Thereafter
the kritis of syama sastry Kanakasaila (Punnagavarali), Narayanathe namo namo
and a Ragamalika- Kuraiyondrumillai was well received by the audience. The
concert was concluded with Lalgudi Thillana in raga Revathi.
The accompaniments Ms. Lakshmi Venkataramani on the violin, Kumbakonam N.
Padhmanabhan on Mridangam and Sh.G. Ravichandran on Ghatam gave a good support.

In the second half of the festival it was Priya Sisters Nadabhushanam
Shanmukhapriya and Haripriya.
The concert started with a spiritly varnam in Abhogi raga followed by Varana
Mukha in Hamsadwani. Then the two rare krities ‘Ranganadude’ in Sourashtram and
Etavuna Nerchitiv O Rama in Yadukulakambhoji were render very well and well
received by the audience. The composition of Koteeswara Iyer ‘Arul Seyya Vendum’
in Rasikapriya excelled with the swara kalpana and handling of Vivadi mela raga
in a very matured way. Even the raga sunadavinodini – Devadi deva of Mysore
vasudevachariar was very well rendered and worth mentioning. The Navavarnam in
Sriragam gave a divine ambiance to the concert. The main raga – Thodi and the
Tyagaraja Kriti- Dasarathi was a good choice and excellently produced both in
the raga alapana and visthara swara prastharas. Here the bow trick of the
violinist Sh. Ragevendra Rao is worth mentioning which was of high class.
Thiruvaruru Sh. Vaidyanathan and Sh. Ravichandran on the mridangam and Ghatam
respectively gave a scintillating tani Avartanam. The sisters continued the
concert with a vrutam and rare tukdas which was a good change for the music
lovers of Delhi.

Both Ragam and Priya Sisters are promosing artists and well projected by Sree
Sanmukhananda Sangeetha sabha.


Sri Ragam Fine Arts (Chennai)

On November 5th, 2004, Sri Ragam Fine Arts(Chennai), in association with Delhi Tamil sangam, honored musicians Vasantha Sundram (vocal) with the M.L.V. award, and noted top ranking percussionist Kumbakonam N. Padmanabhan(mridangam) the Tanjavur Vaidyanatha Iyer Award, Vallivalam Rajendram(nadaswaram) T.N.R. award, and Padma Sampathkumaran (Bala Saraswathi award).


Concert of the Season, T.N.Seshagopalan

T.N.Seshagopalan (TNS) is a mercurial musician; on a good day
his indefatigable spirit and untiring intellect carries him through to the
heights of unfettered expression. Sometimes his concerts can rise from the deep
depths of depression to the heady heights of pure exhilaration. His concert for
The Ganesh Sewa Samaj in Mayur Vihar Phase”2” in Delhi, India was an example of
a rapid climb from a seemingly irretrievable depth to dizzy heights of release.

Firstly, the concert started 15 minutes late. There were as many as sixteen
(yes, 16) and more kritis . However, unlike the sangeetham that is rendered by
many musicians who sing from a number of preset sangatis, one gets the feeling
that TNS always exercises spot-sangatis in all of his concerts. Although TNS
sang in sangeetham mode, there were many spot-improvised sangatis in every kriti.
Which brings me to the question of whether or not this is a valid katcheri
format. A major advantage was that, after one hour, his voice was set really
well and his every wish was a command. However, one felt restless and
uncomfortable. Perhaps this was a result of us not being ready and prepared for
this format to the concert. TNS commenced with a varnam in Reetigoulai and followed it up with Giriraja
Sutha in Bangla and Merusamana in Mayamalagowlai . He then sang an exquisite ‘Saptagireesam’
in Kaanada. This was followed by “Kaa vaa vaa” in varali. This was then
succeeded by a kriti in neelambari, then bhoopalam, a raagamalika viruttam,
abhang, an ashtapadi of jayadeva and a few more tit bit thukdas. P.Jayabhaskar
performed a superior taniavartanam that was as lofty as the kriti Kaa Vaa Vaa
that preceded it. Of the few concluding pieces the tillana in sindhu bhairavi
was outstanding.

K.Venkatakrishna gave a subdued violin support.This was an excellent concert.
The first half may have left one a bit restless, but the second half was
uplifting. So much so that TNS was afforded a well-deserved full-minute standing
ovation by the Delhi audience. This is something that is rarely seen in Delhi
these days. Well justified…


Stringed to perfection

Three violins playing in perfect synchrony are always a delight to the ears.
When the artistes are Sneha, Ramya and Kaushik it is like the icing on the cake.
The audience at the Sri Shanmukhananda Fine Arts & Sangeetha Sabha on the
evening of October 17th were treated to a cascade of music flowing from the
three violins that came together for compositions and played in sequence for
swara passages.Synchrony not only requires hard training and practice, but also complete
understanding and coordination among the players and there should be no effort
to dominate. Ramya led the way but did not impose her will on her two partners.
The concert commenced with the ‘bhairavi’ varnam ‘viriboni’ in Ata thalam.

Hamsadwani was taken up next. Rather than the many Ganesa kritsi in this
ragam it was Dikshitar’s ‘vatapi ganapathim’ which was selected. The succeeding
piece was Tyagaraja’s devotion laden kriti Sobbilu saptaswara in jaganmohini.
Then came “Jaya Jaya Raghurama” in Sahana.

Ramya was given the task of handling the alapana in Vachaspati for the kriti
"Pahi Jagajannani". Her effort was competent. It was clear that Sneha was going
to take centre stage for the day. Succeeding that came two heart warming pieces
Ranidhi and Bhogindrasayinam in Manirang and Kuntanavarali respectively.

The main raga-kriti was Karaharapriya. This is a raga that can never pall on
the ears. It lends itself to endless manodharma and J.Kaushik utilized this
attribute to the full. The kriti was Thyagaraja’s "Chakkani Raja". The move into
the swaras by the trio was so smooth that they seemed virtually part of the
song. There was ‘Azhutham’ in the rendering of the ‘swaras’. Each note fell
clearly on the ears.

There are some artistes who feel that Thyagaraja’s contributions are not
suitable to be taken up after the main piece. The trio is fortunately not one of
them. The rendering of ‘bhajan’ in Misra Bhagasree was soft and poignant. In
contrast was the brisk-paced ‘Alaypayuthe piece in Kanada. Ennathavam followed.
The trio was set to complete the concert after a complicated ‘thillana’ in
Revathi composed by Lalgudi Jayaraman. The unique concert came to an end on a
devotional mangalam in saurasthtram and an auspicious note.

Seasoned laya vidwans Kumbakonam N.Padmanabhan on the mridangam and Delhi
R.Srinivasan on the kanjira were tailor made for their respective roles in this
enjoyable concert.