Thani Avarthanam or Restroom Break?

This article first appeared in Citizen Matters sometime back

It’s almost like a switch is turned on and two things happen. People get up from their seats and head towards the doors in two different directions. Most of them make a beeline towards the restroom while some presumably head towards the canteen in the opposite direction. I’m attending a classical concert at the Bangalore Gayana Samaja when I watch this scene unfold in front of me. Carnatic vocalist sisters Ranjani and Gayatri are the main artistes of the evening. The auditorium is overflowing with music-lovers. Before the concert begins, all the seats are taken. The stragglers end up standing near the doors while a few scramble around for floor space to sit.

This piece is not a review of the wonderful concert but to draw attention to an age-old problem at classical concerts. I have one gripe with the audience and that’s to do with how they behave during the thani avarthanam segment of the concert.

What is a thani avarthanam? It’s not a restroom break. It’s not a ‘let’s eat vada-bhajji break’. The thani avarthanam is a segment of the concert where the mridangist plays complex rhythmic patterns either as a solo player or with other percussionists such as morsing, kanjira and ghatam. It is a part of the main song’s rendition by the artiste(s) and concludes with a mohra and korvai. The mohra is like a crescendo which ends with a korvai that is played three times before the main artist begins singing from where he or she left off.

The thani avarthanam is the result of the percussion artists’ years of hard work and training – the performance is a labour of his or her love. In the concert by Ranjani Gayatri, the organizers SRLKM had done a stellar job by trying to accommodate as many people as possible in the hall. They had notices put up on the wall for the audience to make the concert a more pleasurable experience for all. One of the pointers was requesting the audience to leave the hall at the end of a song and not while the artistes were performing. But for all the writing on the wall there were many who couldn’t care less.

The mridangist’s solo performance lasts for fifteen minutes at the most. So why can’t we hold ourselves back for the additional time and give our percussion players their due respect on the stage? Or leave before the main song begins if there is an urgent need to use the restroom?

As I’ve mentioned in other articles, rhythm is a critical component of a trifecta it forms with melody and lyrics in carnatic music. Here is a wonderful thani avarthanam by mridangam legend Karaikkudi Mani for the song Kaligiyunte Gatha, a composition of Tyagaraja in raga Keeravani set to Adi tala. The vocalist is D.K.Jayaraman.

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