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Chatravata Narasimha, a laya vidwan!

HE is fond of music. HE also practices tala on his lap. Sitting in practicing mode, this Lord blesses musicians who visit HIS abode. It is said that Lord Vishnu appeared as Narasimha and blessed the divine child Prahalada after slaying the demon Hiranyakashipu. This incarnation of Vishnu took place at Ahobilam in Andhra Pradesh. At Ahobilam, there are nine Narasimhas. One among them is Chatravata Narasimha, a great lover of music. This Lord is happy listening to Ahaaha and Huhu, two Gandarvas or celestials, who produced divine music. HE is so pleased that he puts Adi tala on his left lap. HE is seated in such a posture under a banyan tree. Musicians visit this place to have the blessings of this Lord. They sing here and go home happier and blessed.

Getting a view from behind
Every moment of his inspired performance for Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha on the evening of January 8,2011 was relished not just by the packed audience in front of him. This small bunch of eight who sat around him on the stage too enjoyed it thoroughly. While two of them were playing Tambura, the others were non-performing accompanists of his concert team this evening. The Tumbura girl often craned her neck to catch a glimpse of Krishna’s bhava-filled face as he got immersed into alaps. Sitting just behind him (at backward short-leg position, to use a cricketing metaphor), this disciple of Krishna sported toothy smile as the vocalist dropped some difficult phrases and went on a swara blitzkrieg. All eyes on the stage were focused on a single direction. Towards T.M. Krishna, of course!

No, please!
As he was about to end his 3-hour concert for Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha around well past 9.30 in the evening on January 8, 2011 with a `Mangalam’, some in the audience got up to leave the hall. A piqued T.M. Krishna requested them to stay on for a few moments until the `Mangalam’ was rendered. "I too would have problem getting my car out," he said. "After all, it is rendered for everybody’s Mangalam," quipped Krishna. His appeal had indeed the desired effect.

Ageless display
It was a fascinating duel between the young and the old. In the end, both emerged winners. Mridangist I. Shivakumar and Ghatam S. Karthick showed how class and power go hand in hand to elevate the concert and perk up the atmosphere. Each one wasn’t trying to score a point or two over the other. They were, in fact, respecting each other’s artistic skills. When the veteran Mridanga Vidwan applauded the younger Ghatam Vidwan, Karthick bowed in appreciation for the older Shivakumar "I can play like what I did now. But for him to play the way he did at his age, he must be given a standing ovation," Karthick told the packed audience at a concert given by Nithyasree Mahadevan on the first evening of 2011 for the 110-year-old Sir Parthasarathy Swami Sabha. The audience promptly rose as one to give a long applause to veteran Shivakumar. "I am not quite sure if I would sit and play the way he played today when I reach his age," Karthick told the audience. "Well, he will stand and play," Nithyasree interjected. "Yes, I have a place to stand and play," quipped Karthick, putting his hands on his tummy. Nithyasree thanked Karthick, the learned artiste, for his kind words for her Mridangist-father Shivakumar. "He has a large heart," the vocalist said, making big Karthick squirm!

A Partha behind this Sarathy!
For her, this place is special. She always commences her New Year journey with a concert here on the first evening. She has been doing this for some years now. It is a double-delight this time around for her to be at Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha on the maiden evening of 2011. The 110-year-old Sabha has honoured Nithyasree Mahadevan with the title "Sangeetha Kala Sarathy’ this year. So saying, the vocalist paid her pranams to the Sabha people and wished all a happy new year. With the concert for Sri Parthasarathy Sabha behind, this Sangetha Kala Sarathy is set on a fresh musical journey in the New Year!

Brand Vishaka
There is no better way to get into a New Year than listening to this disciple of Lalgudi G. Jayaraman, the violin maestro. No, we are not talking about Bombay Jayashri's music here. We are talking about Vishaka Hari, the Harikatha exponent. Parvathi Kalyanam was her theme for discourse on the evening of the last day of the first decade of this century. It was a full house at Sivagami Pettachi Auditorium, as Chartered Accountant-turned Harikatha specialist Vishaka held the audience spell bound with her simple and evocative narration mixed with some lovely rendition of songs by great composers on Parvathi and Shiva. Actress Sukhanya was among the audience, dipping herself deep into the discourse till its very end. Prior to the commencement of the discourse, President of Brahma Gana Sabha Nalli Kuppuswamy released Vishaka's album on Srinivasa Kalyanam. The Nalli boss sat through the discourse. This Madisar-clad artiste has given a new dimension and meaning to Harikatha with her concert-style discourse. Vishaka is a brand to reckon with even in this modern world, it appears.

Jay Shris!
Some go there to listen to their favourite artistes. Still others go there to see their favourite artistes. A few others go there both to listen and see their favourite artistes. Sitting afar from the dais, the rasikas of the third kind could only listen but not properly see their favourite artistes as it happened in this case when Bombay Jayashri was giving a concert for Narada Gana Sabha on December 30, 2010. These mami-fans had come fully equipped to tackle such a possibility. They had come with their binaculars to cut short the distance between them and their darling singer. Well, they have crossed the distance somehow to take a glimpse of Jayashri!

Vocal exchange
This is Net age. Young ones use SMS (short messaging serivces) on mobile phones to cross-verify a raga with friends sitting elsewhere in the audience during a concert. However, some still follow the conventional `yelling route' to exchange notes on ragas with their dear ones sitting in different rows, as these two middle-aged women did during the concert of Bombay Jayashri for Narada Gana Sabha on December 30, 2010. They were not really yelling but softly used their vocal power to clear doubts on ragas.

The voice within fans out
Music is universal. If proof were needed, you get it in full measure during the December music concert in Chennai. Eero Hameenniemi from Helsinki was in the front row during her concert for Mylapore Fine Arts Club on December 24, 2010. On the Boxing Day at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, at least half-a-dozen non-Indians were seated behind performing artiste Bombay Jayashri. These fans from across the shores were intent listeners. Some of them were avidly following the beats. Well, this voice has fans within and without!

Bombay Jayashri, Boxing Day & Music
It's a rare coincidence. The Boxing Day this 2010 is on Sunday. The Boxing Day when tsunami consumed so many lives was also on a Sunday(2004). On both days, Bombay Jayashri gave a concert for Sri Krishna Gana Sabha. On the tsunami-hit Boxing Day, there was gloom all around. Jayashri looked forlorn that day. The world has travelled quite a distance since that day. Bombay Jayashri this Boxing Day was in her element. Surely, she is a transformed artiste today.

Taking Cognizant
In this global village, boundaries have no relevance for business. Market regulators and investors, however, have become very relevant to global enterprises. They keep a corporate honcho on toes all the time. Filing quarterly results and meeting the expectations of investors can prove a taxing job for CEOs (chief executive officers) and CFOs (chief financial officers). Not surprisingly, they seek solace in some stress-busting activity. The head of this leading information technology company decided to dip himself deep into some lovely music of Bombay Jayashri at the Mylapore Fine Arts Club on the evening of December 24, 2010. A mechanical engineer from the National Institute of Technology (formerly the Regional Engineering College) in Trichy, Chandra Sekaran, President and Managing Director (Global Delivery) of Cognizant, also holds an M.B.A. from the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore. Chandra Sekaran is from a musically-sensitive family and spent much of his early days in Sirgazhi. Investing time in music has surely been helping him to drive his enterprise efficiently and profitably. Well, we need to take cognizance of this power of music.

Fan(ning) attraction
A concert within a concert! Well, this fan had managed to stage it on this day. This lady was among the few listeners allowed to be seated on the stage around the performing artistes on the dais. She was sitting just behind the violinist at the concert of Bombay Jayashri for Mylapore Fine Arts Club on the evening of December 24, 2010. This fan would follow the tempo of the vocalist and percussion artistes. There is nothing wrong in that. All involved fans do that. But this `exciting' fan was demonstrative. She would swing the head aggressively right and left, let the right hand come down aggressively while counting the beats and stage a singing act. For the audience seated in front of the performing artistes, she was an avoidable diversion. If Jayashri was able make a positive impact with her music on the audience, this lady fan had an unsettling effect on co-listeners.

A foreign fan
He hails from Helsinki. He comes regularly to Chennai during the December music season. And, he is a great fan of vocalist Bombay Jayashri. Not surprisingly, he was among those seated in the front row among the audience during her concert for Mylapore Fine Arts Club on December 24, 2010. He has passion for this artiste’s music. This has even led him to compose music for a Tamil work. That is Eero Hameenniemi for you. He has done research in the ancient Tamil classic “Kurunthogai” and even scored music for “Rain and the Red Earth”. It is fusion music with vocalist Jayashri and involves the Tamil Kurunthogai verses.

Follow the words, avoid the act
As a student of music what should one do? When this question was posed to Carnatic vocalist O.S. Thyagarajan (OST) at an interactive session organized by Deccan Chronicle at the Rasam Restaurant in Chennai on December 23, 2010, OST came out with this interesting tit-bid. Once Musiri Subramanyam was advising his disciples on what should they be doing while singing. When he was giving a concert the next day, the disciples noticed him doing what he advised them not to do. When they met him the following day, puzzled students sought him to know why he did something which he had asked them not to do. To this, Musiri, according to OST, replied, "do what I say and not what I do." Well, it is worth following the teachings.

The Bombay link
Time was when Bombay (now Mumbai) dominated the world of Indian cricket. Today, the city has lost the Lord status in the cricketing field. But the world of Carnatic music is now seeing a steady stream of artistes from Bombay taking centre stage in Chennai, considered the Mecca of Carnatic music. Bombay sisters, Bombay Jayashri, Geetha Raja, Raji Gopalakrishnan, Aruna Sairam, sisters Ranjani-Gayatri, Prasanna Venkatraman and the list goes on. All these have sort of emerged brands in the world of Carnatic music, bringing a new flavour to this classical art form.

Dipping into softest of wares
He is a non-resident Tamilian (NRT) in Mumbai. A B-Tech from Mumbai University and M-Tech from IIT Madras, he has a cushy job with chip-maker Atheros. He is just in his late twenties. Prasanna Venkatraman, however, has moved lock, stock and barrel to Chennai to pursue his musical journey. Today, he is a shining star in the Carntic music horizon. Chartered Accountant-turned-Carnatic musician Sanjay Subrahmanyan is his role model. "There is no question of giving up music," says young Prasanna, indicating his preference to the softest of wares (music) over hardware (chip).

When big is not beautiful …
The big screen is powerful. It’s a big attraction, too. But these two Carnatic vocalists don’t want to get into the world of cinema. Senior singer O.S. Thyagarajan is a strict traditionalist. For him, Carnatic music revolves only around the Trinity. Cinema medium is a powerful medium, he concedes during an interactive session organized by Deccan Chronicle on December 23, 2010 at Rasam Restaurant in Chennai. But what does it spread? Well according to him, cinema spreads only the artiste’s name and not the music to people at large. A couple of days later, in a similar session, upcoming vocalist Prasanna Venkatraman feels, "I am better off dedicating most of my time to Carnatic music." Where the old and young merge…

Where art reflects mind …
She quit computer engineering to become a dancer. She quit as a performing artiste to become a teacher. A student of Dhananjayan, Radhika Surajit has many talented youngsters as her disciples. Over half-a-dozen students poured their hearts out on this friendly teacher during a free-wheeling session with Radhika organized by Deccan Chronicle at Rasam Restaurant in Chennai on the Christmas morning of 2010. They all looked confident-personified as they discussed with a sense of pride their great feeling for the visual art of Bharathanatyam. "Art should make you grow as a good human being," Radhika said. "The innate goodness in you will reflect goodness in the art you deliver," she went on to add. Dancing is indeed a life learning experience!

Veena + Vedam = Pundit
She pines to walk freely unnoticed. She loves to sit at home. She just wants to go on holiday with her kids. Well, fame chased her all the way – from childhood to now – to push her into a super star. Ask E. Gayathri what she would have become if she has not been a veena player. "If I were a man, I would have been a Vedic pundit," pat comes the answer from this spiritually-inclined artiste.

Music & silence
What is music? It's tough indeed to define it. But senior Carnatic vocalist G.S. Mani has come out with this interesting view on the subject of music. "How inteligently you disturb the silence is music", so says this musician from the temple city of Madurai. What is `gamaka'? "It (gamaka) is the finest oscilation which connects either the preceding or succeding note in a particularly prescribed amplitude," explains this veteran artiste at an interactive programme organized by Deccan Chronicle in Chennai on December 22, 2010.

No mincing Mani
Why is it that Carnatic music has not spread beyond a community? Many have several reasons to offer. An outspoken G.S. Mani, however, has this explanation. He blames the "arrogance of the Brahmin community" for Carnatic music remaining as a `closed secret' . Perhaps, according to Mani, they (Brahmins) thought that "a diamond alone cuts a diamond." Mani minces no words while making his point!

Kriti vs. Keerthana
A kriti has three components - Pallavi, Anu Pallavi and Charanam. It is akin to a human body, which comprises head, torso and leg. According to G. S. Mani, a singer prepares himself/herself in Pallavi, launches an assault in Anu Pallav and continues the assault in Charanam. A Keerthanam, on the other hand, reflects an "undiluted devotion," which makes a singer devotion-personified.

Making faces
They present themselves in different ways. Take the case of singer Sanjay. The contortion in his face as he sways, adjusts and sings leaves the audience blushing mostly. This lady violinist, however, sports a `cry’ face. As she deftly moves her bow to etch out the moods of multi-various ragas, charming Akkarai Subbulakshmi wears a `weepy’ face’. Artistes are indeed expressive!

TVG, the true value giver
Class doesn’t age. Senior mridangist TVG (T.V. Gopalakrishnan) showed it all at a flute concert by Shashank for Sri Parthasarathi Swami Sabha on December 21, 2010. As the maverick flautist let loose the Sri Krishna bansi, TVG waved a stop-play signal at violinist Akkarai Subbulakshmi. For a few seconds, he matched the flautist with strokes for notes in a resonating display of high quality mridangam. Well, Gopalakrishnan is a TVG (True Value Giver) indeed!

Hands on approach
Care for nuggets makes for beauty of a concert. Take this subtle change in the way she counted tala during her concert for Kalarasana on December 19, 2010. Even as Bombay Jayashri dipped deep into her music, she reached for her hands to get the rhythm right. Hand use to count the beat brought elegance to the concert and the artiste looked majestic. Well, Bombay Jayashri deserves a big hand for this!

Spreading smile
Sporting a non-serious face need not necessarily make an artiste’s concert less serious. If proof was required, it was available in plenty at this concert of Bombay Jayashri for Kalarasana on this chilly Sunday evening (December 19, 2010). Her intermittent smile proved infectious. From Tumbura girls behind her to the accompanying artistes around - all looked relaxed, adding pep to the concert.

Resident non-Indians!
We know who NRIs (non-resident Indians) are. Do we know who are RNIs. Well, they are the resident non-Indians (RNIs)! Moderating the question and answer session after a lecdem by Bombay Jayashri at Sivagami Pettachi Auditorium on the holy Vaikunta Ekadeshi day (December 17, 2010) organized by Brhaddhvani, dancer Anitha Ratam has complained about the growth of RNIs, who have been brought up with no knowledge of history and culture. Well, these RNIs pose a serious challenge to the protection of Indian art and culture. They have reduced us to DGIs (Diminished Global Indians)! If dropping a little down the note `Ne' makes a Todi lot lovelier as Jayashri elaborated in her lecdem, dropping `N' in RNI will make for better Indians and India!

Singing melody for son
Taking on the subject of melody further, Anita Ratnam was curious to know from Jayashri how would she make a three-year-old understand melody. "Sing," pat came the reply from the singer, setting off laughter all around the packed Sivagami Pettachi Auditorum. What song will you sing for the three-year-old to understand melody? To a persistent Anita, Jayashri cited the song "Kanne en kanmaniye..." which she used to sing when her son was three-year old. The child is now a boy and a fan among the audience for Jayshari's lec-dem on December 17, 2010.

Graduating from KG
How many Todi compositions do you know? This is what Lalgudi Shri G Jayaranam asked Bombay Jayashri when she wanted to become her student. Four, replied young Jayashri to the violin maestro. "You are in KG (kinder garten) in Todi," quipped Shri Jayaraman. Jayashri recalled this during the Q&A session post-her lecdem on December 17, 2010 organized by Brahaddwani. "Composition is the fulcrum for melody," she said. "As we learn more kritis, better we become," she added.

Revealing ignorance
Appearances are deceptive. Jayashri found this out during a concert in Chennai in early '80s. There was seated a plump man next to her in full white attire. He was nodding his head like a pendulum and shouting `sabashs' constantly. New to Chennai then, Bombay Jayashri instantly felt awe and admiration for this `knowledgeable' person. The man must be highly educated music-wise, she concluded. But soon the mask came falling, as the man asked her about the name of the raga sung by the artiste. Was it Shanmukhapriya, Purvikalyani or Todi? Well, this man opened his mouth and cleared the doubt!

A learner always
Like her guru, Bombay Jayasri too is turning out to be great teacher. When Anita Ratnam made a reference to this in the context of hand-holding the GenNext, Jayashri quipped, "I hesitate to call myself a teacher." After all, she explained, she was only sharing music with them. "When I share music with them, I also discover ragas together with them," she explained. Learning, it appears, is a work in progress.

The listening business
He has been a regular at Brahma Gana Sabha concerts this December 2010 season. He quietly slips into Sivagami Petachi Auditorium and takes a seat in the front rows. He has always been unassuming. After successfully piloting abrasive maker Carborundum Universal Ltd. (CUMI) to new heights, M.V. Murugappan is unwinding himself post-retirement. He could not have opted for a better way than listening to some lovely music by star artistes such as Sudha, Sanjay, sisters Ranjani-Gayatri and Priya duo. Music, it appears, is a good way to invest time.

Sincere siblings
They had to excuse themselves from singing at Kartick Fine Arts this December 2010 season due to illness. Notwithstanding the chillness in the evening air, the Priya sisters managed their concert for Brahma Gana Sabha on December 16 admirably. The concert of sincere sisters spread pleasantness all around the Sivagami Petachi Auditorium. A concert(ed) exercise in truth!

Fan(ning) nuisance
As Sanjay was giving a riveting concert on December 15, 2010 for Brahma Gana Sabha, these two unconnected gentlemen sitting in one of the front rows separated only by a vacant chair became involved fans. On and off, these two showed off their appreciation whenever Sanjay got into inventive swara formations or let lovely sangathis slip out here and there. Nothing wrong in acknowledging delectable phrases, sangatis and swaras. The problem, however, was that constant "ammadi! Appadi! Chu chu chu!" by them had proved unsettling for their neighbours. Enthusiastic fans indeed were they. Even a well-meaning appreciation could prove a nuisance for neighbours as it happened in this case.

An exercise in singing!
It was a concert for not just the ears but eyes too! Yes, this vocal concert proved a visual treat. As he sang for Brahma Gana Sabha on December 15, 2010, many in the packed audience kept blushing to see the contortion in Sanjay’s face, as he swayed right and left, adjusting constantly his sitting posture as he got into complex raga maneuvering exercise. The three-and-a-quarter hour concert also turned out to be a good `exercise’ for singer Sanjay!

Ranjani the listener
After a sedate start, the concert of vocalist Vijay Shiva for Brahma Gana Sabha on December 14 at Sivagami Petachi Auditorium was slowly warming up. There entered this lady vocalist. She was on stage at the same venue a day before with her sister, giving a lovely performance. Unnoticed, Ranjani occupied a vacant seat on the front row near the entry gate. When sisters Ranjani and Gayatri gave a concert here on December 12, 2010, they had a surprise fan in Vishaka Hari, the Harikatha exponent, sitting in one of front rows among the audience. Well, these artistes too are fans!

A `fair’ fan
Concert etiquette is in short supply in most sabhas. Often, one finds people trooping in and getting out of a concert hall in the middle of a song. Many step out as soon as the percussion artistes begin their `tani’ in a concert. This listener sat through the entire concert of Vijay Shiva for Brahma Gana Sabha at Sivagami Petachi Auditorium on December 14, 2010. What’s surprising about her? Well, this listener occupying the first seat on the sixth row at the far end is of non-Indian origin. This `fair’ lady fan was intensely listening and watching simply Vijay Shiva giving a dedicated recital.

Star sisters
This sister-duo had a famous artiste in one of the front rows among the audience during their concert for Brahma Gana Sabha on December 12, 2010. Vishaka Hari, the Harikatha exponent, was intensely listening to Ranjani-Gayatri concert. She sat until the sisters began their RTP (ragam, tanam and pallavi). This Harikatha artiste was spotted at Bombay Jayashri's concert for Mylapore Fine Arts last year. Finding leading fellow artistes among the audience will surely perk up the performance of an artiste on stage. Well, the presence of Vishaka Hari gives a clue or two to the rising status of Ranjani & Gayatri in the musical world.

No example this
This Tamil theatre personality walked into Sivakami Petachi Auditorium a full one hour after sisters Ranjani and Gayatri began their concert on the evening of December 12, 2010. Sitting closer to the exit door, this comedian let his eyes fly right, left and centre. He moved in and out of the concert hall, like an unfocussed child. He proved an attention-diverter for those sitting closer to him in the audience. Well, this does not require a fan following.

Fan-friendly singers
Fans are of varied hues. Some are knowledgeable. Others have good ears for music. Many are lay fans. Raga or talam identification may be an enjoyable test for some in the audience. But for some, it is a tough nut to crack. Well, sisters Ranjani & Gayatri made everybody enlightened when they gave their concert for Brahma Gana Sabha on December 12, 2010. Gayatri put the fans to ease by revealing the name of raga, tala and the composer before rendering every song. A fan-friendly initiative! A welcome one, indeed.

A date with raga
In the music season, it all boils down to selection of appropriate kritis. When singer S. Sowmya sang for Brahma Gana Sabha on December 11, 2010, she rendered ragam Kokilapriya. Since it was the 11th day of December, she picked the 11the melakartha raga. So saying, Sowmya went on to sing Kokilapriya. Sowmya cares for the date indeed.

Stage, a test!
She is a tough teacher. But that didn't come in the way of her allowing talent to come upfront. During her concert for Brahma Gana Sabha on December 11,2010, reality show Super Singer Judge S. Sowmya let her student sitting behind her on the stage to do some solo singing on and off. The young one neatly seized the opportunities that came by her way. A live test on stage, it appears.

A musical sojourn in Chennai
If December comes, can music be far behind. When both converge, all roads must necessarily lead to Chennai. A teacher-minister combo from Kerala in Prof. M. Balasubramoniam and Mr. M.A.Baby has brought students of three State-run music colleges in Kerala to Chennai on a cultural exchange trip for the second year in row. Well, they are all making a beeline for The Music Academy to do a `Sadhana', an initiative of the Government of Kerala put together with help from Prof. Balasubramoniam and his team. `Programme Sadhana' is conceived with the objective of facilitating an interface between scholars and music students from Kerala. Well, the idea is to educate and inspire them during the busy 'music season'. A visit to the Music Academy archival centre by these students from Kerala last year has already resulted in setting up of a similar archival centre at Sri Swathi Thirunal College in Trivandrum. Watch this space to know what happens after their visit this year.

A breach of concert etiquette
This lady listener at Bramha Gana Sabha had no compunction in walking up to the stage and pass on a slip to the performing artiste in the midst of a song. Perhaps, she had chosen to get on to the stage only to seek Sudha Ragunathan to sing her favourite number. The nonchalant behavior of the lady rasika, however, had upset the accompanying mridangist. A visibly upset mridangist was not willing to let the `out of line’ behavior of the lady rasika pass without a reprimand. This senior mridangist quickly reminded the recalcitrant rasika how ill-mannered she was in passing the slip even as a song was in progress. Well, there needs to be a code of conduct for concert-listeners.

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