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Change as formula in Carnatic music


Like everything else, the Carnatic concert is also changing. It has always been in a state of change — intrinsically — as individuals looked at it in new ways and bestowed it with fresh meaning. Tradition, therefore, was never a clinical hand-me-down, but altered with individual talent. Then why does change, happening at this juncture in its history, seem so overwhelming?

Change, to use that simple word, was inherent to the artistic process of the great GNB or MDR or T. Brinda. The slowness, the speed, the way they interpreted a kriti was the outcome of a conversation between emotion and intellect, and a deeper dialogue with music itself.

It was a vulnerable moment in which they surrendered to the callings of their art. Hence, in what was a profound, personal quest, all the masters brought their own selves into the art form. Change was innate.

But change in the Carnatic space today is more or less a formula. It is a conscious design, and can be recognised in almost every concert. Concerts are full of surprises, thrills — they are crowd-pullers, and they regale the senses. This process is universal, irrespective of what the beginnings of the musician have been.

R. Ashwath Narayanan, an extremely talented young musician, was featured by Music Academy last week in the sub-senior slot. Trained under the legendary Palghat K.V. Narayanaswamy and later under Padma Narayanaswamy, Ashwath Narayanan displays both felicity and knowledge.

Breezy pace

He began the concert with ‘Seethamma mayamma’ in raga Vasantha, which was followed by ‘Manasa guruguha roopam’ in Anandabhairavi. Both these kritis were rendered in a breezy pace and we were already at the third, ‘Brochevarevarura,’ in Khamas. The alapana — succinct, well-structured, flowing — was the highlight of this one-hour concert. While the first half had long, bhava-driven phrases, the latter part had ornamental variations and flash sangatis. The kalpanaswaras had some interesting aspects, the kriti was a matter-of-fact rendition.

The concert ended with a ragamalika rendition of a Arunagirinathar composition, ‘Vizhikku thunai thiru men malar’ leading to a Murugan song in Sindhu Bhairavi, ‘Manathil ugandhadhu.’ This final piece had some evocative moments, giving it a reflective quality. The short duration of the concert could have been a hindrance to an elaborate approach, but the concert could certainly have been planned better.

Trichur Brothers, Sri Krishna Mohan and Ramkumar Mohan, perform at Tamil Isai Sangam’s 2020 Margazhi Isai Vizha

Trichur Brothers, Sri Krishna Mohan and Ramkumar Mohan, perform at Tamil Isai Sangam’s 2020 Margazhi Isai Vizha
| Photo Credit:
Tamil Isai Sangam

Tribute to Tamil

Since it was a concert for Tamil Isai Sangam, Trichur Brothers — Sri Krishna Mohan and Ramkumar Mohan mostly sang Tamil numbers. It was, in a way, a tribute to the Tamil language and the composers and all the great musicians who rendered Tamil compositions. It made the whole concert a nostalgic experience, each piece taking one back to earlier renditions by the past masters.

They opened with ‘Gajavadana karuna sadana’ (Papanasam Sivan), in Sriranjani. Brisk and vibrant, it ushered in a momentum. A brief alapana in Vachaspati was followed by the famed kriti, ‘Parathpara parameshwara’ (Papanasam Sivan). The niraval at ‘Ariya ayanum kaana…’ was clean, and so was the imaginative and energetic swaraprastara. In alignment with each other’s thought process, they made a diligent presentation.

Sai Rakshith on the violin excelled. ‘Thoomani madathu’ in Hamir Kalyani, the ninth Pasuram of the Tiruppavai is a beautiful composition with wistful cadences. The neat presentation had a Hindustani accent in the improvisation portions (Shuddha Sarang hovered in places). They presented, in Mayamalavagowla, Ramalinga Swamigal’s virutham ‘Petra thai’ and one couldn’t help getting nostalgic about Dandapani Desikar’s rendition.

The brothers displayed synchronisation and understanding, extending each other’s ideas in Varali (‘Kaa vaa vaa’), sometimes creating a pleasing harmony.

How can one not remember MDR when ‘Varugalamo ayya’ is rendered? Stately and majestic, beseeching, prayerful and supplicant, the rendition is iconic. Set to raga Manji, the kriti has been rendered by several artistes, creating a spectrum of textures: the Trichur Brothers added to it. In all, it was a well-planned concert.

Both concerts displayed skill and prowess, and were technically sound. Yet, somehow, they failed to stir one. Carnatic concerts are now more confident and less vulnerable. They have become external — the stress is on virtuosity and impressing the audience.

Music, unless an internal process, can only imitate an emotion but cannot create one. This new change is worrisome, it is a modernity that has no soul. The audience should set higher standards — great art after all is the collective journey of both the rasika and the artiste.


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