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The joys of a spiritual journey

Posted on 21/02/2020 in The Hindu

  • By Manjari Sinha

    Listening to Aruna Sairam makes one realise that the human voice is probably the most revealing musical instrument

    The VSK Baithak, known for its inclination towards Hindustani music, offered a melodious surprise recently when Sangeet Kalanidhi Aruna Sairam regaled the hard-core Hindustani music rasikas with a Carnatic music concert at the Godrej Hall of the WWF in New Delhi. The resonant timbre of her unique voice with impeccable ‘Shruti Shuddhata’ (accurate alignment of the Shruti) and the dazzling range of repertoire comprising the multi-hued bouquet, with the boundless expanse of the raga lying beneath each intuitive breath, left the audience spellbound. Listening to her made one realise that the human voice is probably the most revealing musical instrument that communicates magic, illusion, surrender and several other elements that are part of a spiritual journey.

    She shares her opinion on constructing a (Carnatic) concert, “The artist meets the audience in a typical day-to-day life situation where all of us are struggling in a hundred and one things. The listeners leave their work places, get ready and come to a concert. It takes time to settle down, so we don’t plunge into the main deep raga elaboration right in the beginning. We take you, instead, gradually from one level to the next, quietly deepening the quality of ragas and compositions before the detailed and intuitively improvised Ragam Tanam Pallavi comprising a detailed aalap. Then we proceed to the nom tom of tanam followed by the elaboration of the lyrical content and a sawal-jawab by the percussionists, tapering back to lighter pieces before concluding the musical fare with a thillana sort of piece.

    Her mother Smt Rajlakshmi was her first guru who initiated her into Carnatic classical at a tender age and made her remember by rote, the eternal compositions of the Carnatic Trinity – Tyagaraj, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Shyama Shastri. Also, the innumerable Sanskrit shlokas and devotional chants that she renders with effortless ease. Sangeet Kalanidhi T. Brinda groomed her further in the style of her own mother and guru, the great Veena Dhanammal. Her own approach to music is enriched by her exposure to the best of the Hindustani and Western music but it is perhaps her own sensitivity which has given her music its own signature and fragrance.

    No dilution

    The concert in Delhi also showcased her integrity, because it was not diluted to please the Hindustani music lovers and offered an authentic taste of Carnatic classical where she helped them appreciate and enjoy it. Opening with a Bhairavi Varnam, resembling the architectural structure of a temple Gopuram, she went on to sing a Thyagaraja kriti in raga Chandrajyoti with the vivadi (discordant) notes, the Hindustani music ears are not used to. She explained there are vivadi swaras in this raga, too close to each other, hence, perceptibly, the first impression will not be pleasing, but it has been composed in such a way that gradually it grows on you.

    There was a beautifully rendered Tyagaraja composition in raga Mohana-Kalyani, similar to Hindustani Shuddha-Kalyan and an Adi Shankaracharya sloka for Shri Ranganath in Brindavana Sarang before she went on to present the centrepiece, the detailed ragam tanam pallavi in raga Shanmukhapriya, with the lyric very aptly evoking Shanmukha (Kartikeya), the son of Shiva. A contrasting Kshetragna Padam came thereafter accentuating the viraha (separation) aspect of Shringar where the yearning to meet the beloved reached the limit of vilap, wailing.

    Ecstasy of devotion

    The ecstasy of bhakti moved the hearts in the Marathi Abhang of Namadeva, Bengali song on Kali of Kalighat in “Tumi jago…” and the excerpts from Lalitha-Sahasranama, before she left the audience enthralled with the Kalinga-Nartan Thillana composed by Oothukkadu Venkatasubba Iyer rendered with perfect diction and devotion.

    Aruna was not just melodious or intellectually competent in ragadari or swar-prastar, her music had an intensely emotional approach to the raga and kriti which was slower than the standard speed limit of the Carnatic highway, where artistes, sometimes, are in such a tearing hurry that the concert tends to collapse on its own axis. Aruna loves the swaras and composition she renders, and this love transfers to the audience, who in turn take delight in them.


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