Monthly Archives: November 2009

Unique presentation

Rarely have I come across Carnatic performers whoexplain the music that they are singing. R.K.Padmanabha’s concert yesterday at Jayarama Seva Mandali, Jayanagar was one such instance where the veteran engaged the audience even as he gave a short brief regarding the song or raga that was to follow. He touched upon the significance of lyrics in Tyagaraja’s magnum opus “Entharo mahanubhavulu” in Shri Ragam or bhava (feelings) evoked by ragas such as Kaanada or Kambodhi. While Kaanada creates a sombre mood, Kambodhi generates a feeling of veera (courage) rasa. He had a good rapport with the audience and engaged them throughout the performance.

Beginning with the varnam in Hamsadhvani Jalajakshi sung in all three speeds, he moved on to a sprightly Vasantha piece by Purandaradasar Kodubega divya mathi. The evergreen Tyagaraja favourite Oru joopu raa in raga Kannada Gowla (sung in a slower tempo than the norm with emphasis on sahitya) followed by Entharo mahanubhavulu set the pace for the concert. An unusual alapana in Kaanada in a taanam format that portrayed the raga beautifully for Purandaradasa kriti “Dhaasanthe” was followed by Vadiraja’s composition in Hamsadhvani. Vadirajaswamy is RKPadmanabha’s revered deity. The main item of the concert was Subramanya Namaste. The sancharas in Raga Kambodhi were vivid, dynamic and sung with a lot of feeling.
The accompanists were CNChandrashekhar (violin), C.Cheluvaraju (mridangam).

Jungle Trail

This article originally appeared in the Metro Plus edition of the Hindu

There’s a nip in the air as the jeep winds its way up the hill. A herd of Sambar stands in the middle of the road. Our driver brings the jeep to a halt. The largest of the deer stares hard at us.

It almost seems as if he’s debating whether to let us pass. It’s an uncanny feeling as we lock gazes. Without warning, he turns his head and leads his companions into a thicket of bushes. As the driver sets our jeep in motion, I realise that my toes are tingling from the encounter.

I am at Biligiri Rangaswamy (BR) Hills with my family. The two-hour drive from Mysore saw us climb almost 3,000 feet above sea level. The bustle of the city is a distant memory. It’s a silent world but for the occasional rustle in the dense underbrush of the deciduous forests that surround us.

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Taking it as well as you dish it out..

Winston Churchill
Image via Wikipedia

Last week a friend forwarded a review of her recent article in the Statesman. It was a scathing review and took her completely by surprise. I commiserated with her, having been in the same situation with music critics. When an unflattering review of my concert appeared in the paper, with the critic sparing no words, I had cringed with shame. The accompanying photo only added insult to injury. That’s when I remembered my aunt’s sage advice, “Any criticism, however unwelcome, is better than no feedback at all!”

What is the worst that could happen in such a scenario? My friends and family would recall the offending review for a day, at best a week and then move on. But I still hadn‘t. I had also conveniently forgotten the good reviews that had appeared in the same press. In my naiveté, I’d assumed that the world revolved around me. Luckily it didn’t.

No one likes to be criticized. Why do we find it difficult to accept criticism? In my opinion, how criticism is delivered makes all the difference. A soft tone of voice, a pleasant expression, and relaxed body language while communicating, is the key. It’s non-trivial especially when we’re frothing at the mouth and have worked ourselves up to face our unsuspecting quarry. Like a well-made sandwich, criticism has to be layered. Start with a compliment, then go for the jugular with your constructive criticism and finish with another compliment. When criticism is warranted, don’t hesitate. It takes grace to accept criticism, and courage to dole it out. Winston Churchill’s quote comes to mind. “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same functions as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”

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Divine Deals

Photograph of :en:Ganesha deity from the :en:G...
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“We’ll stop at the temple on the way out!“ My father is emphatic. Whenever I have a concert he insists on breaking the proverbial coconut at the corner Ganesha temple. While I have last minute jitters of getting to the concert venue on time, my father nonchalantly goes about the business of propitiating the elephant God. As another Vinayaka Chaturthi festival passes by, I find myself wondering why Ganesha seems to figure in our lives only when we need something to happen.

To test my hypothesis I began quizzing my friends and neighbours. Rita, my neighbour’s daughter was my first interviewee. I asked her about her temple routine. “When my exam results are due, I do several rounds of the temple with multiple offerings of flowers and fruits.” “What happens between exams?” I asked. “Oh, just one round, sometimes a coconut thrown in!” Last week when another friend underwent a battery of tests with her doctor, the “modaka” preparations at her home gained astronomical importance. As always my husband had his own take on matters. “Ganesha is probably the most overworked God among the Hindu pantheon today” he declared pompously – ensuring he was out of my father’s earshot.

Having grown up in a traditional family bound to the lunar calendar and every Hindu festival on it I never did question my beliefs. Today as the mother of two girls who question everything and want to know why we are doing something, I feel the picture of Swami Vivekananda in my living room mocks my passive acceptance.

My friend who lives in the US scoffs at my “silly spiritual struggles” as he terms it. “I don’t believe in visiting temples or undertaking pujas. God resides in every human being!” Strangely enough when he comes visiting, a trip to Tirupati with his parents always features in his itinerary. I’m sure he doesn’t go there for just the scenic beauty!

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Shri Chakra Raja Simhasaneshwari

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This post is about the song, Sri Chakra Raja Simhasaneshwari praising the mother Goddess. It is a ragamalika composed by Agastyar and the words are in Sanskrit and Tamil. The ragas include Senchurutti, Punnagavarali, Nadanamakriya and Sindhubhairavi. All four ragas are highly emotive in nature and used in light classical compositions. The practice of Sri Chakra involves the worship of the deity in the form of a diagram (nine inter-locking triangles) that represents both Shiva and Shakthi, the yin and yang of human nature.

Here are the lyrics of the song.

P: shrI cakrarAja simhAsanEshvari shrI lalitAmbikE bhuvanEshvari
A: Agama vEda kalAmaya rUpiNi akhila carAcara janani nArAyaNi
nAga kankaNa naTarAja manOhari jnAna vidyEshvari rAjarAjEshvari

C1: palavidamAi unnai pADavum Adavum pADi koNDADum anbar padamalar shUDavum
ulagam muzhudum ena tagamurakkANavum oru nilai taruvAi kanchi kAmEshvari

2: uzhanru tirinda ennai uttamanAgi vaittAi uyariya periyOruDan onriDakkUTTi vaittAi
nizhalenat toDarnda munnUzhk koDumaiyai nInga sheidAi nityakalyANi bhavAni padmEshvari

3: tunbappuDatiiliTTut tuyavanAkki vaittAi toDarnda mun mAyam nIkki piranda payanai tandAi
anbai pugaTTi undan Adalaik kANa sheidAi aDaikkalam nIyE amma akhilANDEshvari

Listen to Maharajapuram Santhanam and his sons sing Sri Chakra Raja

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TV serials – boon or curse?

television is an evil
Image by deepwarren via Flickr

If you plan on visiting your old uncle or aunt in the evening, think twice. Chances are their favourite serial is playing on television at that time and your visit may not be that welcome. I’m not sure if these serials are a boon or a curse. Some of them are so bad with hackneyed plots and terrible acting I wonder why our seniors settle for such dismal viewing fare. Whenever I talk to them, each would insist that their favourite serial is a cut above the rest!

My mother vehemently argues that it’s good entertainment for people like her as she can’t go out on her own in the evenings. Failing eyesight means that those books have to be put away. ‘Listening to music 24/7 isn’t enough’, she declares. When I make an attempt to understand the storyline behind some of these serials, I get confused. Either that or my comprehension level is that of a first grader. In most cases, the heroine turns out to be a hard nut to crack after undergoing the worst traumas, or there are a lot of evil people out there in the world. Some of the scenarios are X-rated with extra-marital affairs galore and actors wearing costumes showing less cloth and more sizzle. When I listen to an aunt empathize with the pathetic heroine or villify the wicked sister-in-law, it’s hard to distinguish reality from fiction. There is so much passion in her narration, I’m ready to give her an Oscar. But your wicked sister-in-law or mother-in-law would never identify themselves with the characters on screen even if its their story being played out. And that’s the reason for the long innings of serials like Kyon Ki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi.

So the next time you want to visit your octogenarian uncle, remember to call first.

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Teaching classical arts to kids

Aishwarya - Bharatham 02
Image by ? ? ?? ? ?? / a n a n d h a m via Flickr

Recently I had been to a Diwali party where a renowned dancer did an impromptu session of abhinaya for the song “Himagiri Tanaye”, composition of Muthiah Bhagavathar in Ragam Shudha Dhanyasi. As I sang and watched her execute the dance steps all the while explaining the mudras I was amazed at the ease with which she related to the kids. There was magic in the air that night and the children couldn’t stop smiling.

The incident reminded me of my own music teachers and how their patience and guidance motivated me through my learning years. Teaching fine arts to children is non-trivial. A teacher has to encourage and inspire the child to scale new heights.

In an age where Bollywood culture is part of our lives, pervasive in almost every corner, training in the classical arts requires a lot of discipline, both mental and physical. I believe that kids have it tougher now than before. When I watch my older child juggle her dance and music classes with a ton of school homework, projects and what-have-you, I realize that time management is critical in her case.

The social milieu makes a big difference too. In Chennai learning Carnatic music and/or Bharata natyam is more common and children there are exposed to a high quality of performances all the year around in almost every neighbourhood. They have role models who seem to be getting younger day by day. But I see a change in the newer breed of classical performers today as they use modern technology and tools to make the classical arts more accessible to the youth. Podcasts, lec-dems, workshops, seminars, learning on skype, and fusion programs help to draw more of the “Pappu can’t dance/sing” crowd to the classical halls.