Though Veena is an age old instrument of South Indian music, it has lost its due and deserved seat in the excessively commercial world of Carnatic music. When I listened to Smt. Geetha Bennett giving a Veena recital at Bharatiya Vidhya Bhavan, I could not help but feel how the current generation has lost sight of this grand instrument.
We need to revive this instrument as an accompaniment in concert circuits, with willing and experimenting artists of newer generation.
For those who are less aware of the artist, Geetha Bennet is a reputed Vainika and is an “A grade” artist on All India Radio. The daughter of vidwan and Sangeetha Kalanidhi, S. Ramantahan, Bennet has been living in the United States for the past twenty years.
She has performed extensively around the globe and has provided musical support for American Film scores.
As I walked in, she was in the middle of Swathi Thirunal’s composition, “Mamavasada Varadhe” in Raga Nattakurunji. She chose to elaborate into neraval and swaram in the line “Lalitha MaNihara su lalithe Mam Pahi Sada”. In this line the composer asks the beautiful and fully adorned goddess Lalitha to protect him always. An apt line for nereval and swaram, Bennett demonstrated effortless control over her instrument, as the whole piece was a delight to the ears.
Next was a short and sweet sketch of Hamsanandi raga.The notable aspect of her alapana was that she brought the essence of Veena music playing various combinations of jantais (pair and triplet swara patterns), generously showcasing the various octaves, skipping notes, and playing numerous notes within a single fret. “Needu Mahima”, by Harikesha Muttiah Bhagavatar, followed alapana.
Thyagaraja’s “Shobhillu Saptaswara” was played in a good and lively tempo. She commenced the krithi with and thus highlighting the term “Sapta swara”. Briskness was followed by a somber and melodious Neelambari ragam, leading into the rendition of “Eppadi Thaan En Ullam”, a composition of Oothukadu Venkata Subbaiyyar. Here, Bennett followed the age-old tradition of singing and playing the Veena simultaneously, a lilting experience for rasikas.
The main ragam of the night was the timeless Mohanam. Bennet had a good mix of slow and fast phrases displaying her adept handling of the instrument. This was followed by a ragamalika thanam in Mohanam, Kanthamani, Dhanyasi, and Behag. She went on to render Papanasam Sivan’s classic, “Kapali”. Being the centenary year for Sri Madurai Mani Iyer, this was especially apt, given that this composition was first introduced over half a century ago by the great vidwan in the music circuit.
Sri Balasankar (mridangam) and Sri A. Shankar (ghatam) were exciting in their thani and support through the concert. They exchanged some challenging and interesting kannakku patterns during the thani avartham.
The concert ended on a high note as the artist concluded with “Pullikkalaabha mayil” a Kavadi Chindhu of Annamalai Reddiar.