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Svanubhava Chennai :: Day 2 & 3

Day 2 of Svanubhava began with a Khayal recital by Pt.Venkatesh Kumar from Dharwad. After a fabulous day 1, I was really excited by the prospect and in that excitement I entered the Rukmani Arangam in Kalakshetra only to find it occupied to a little more than half capacity.

Disappointed as I was, I simply put the thought aside. I wasn’t going to let the indifference of Chennaiites to Hindustani classical music ruin Pt. Venkatesh Kumar for me. I knew for a fact that Pt. Venkatesh Kumar was a musician’s musician. I was expecting him to sing Khyal Gayaki with Raagdhari as it should be; not sing to the audience, as most Hindustani classical musicians who come to Chennai end up doing. And he did not disappoint.

With just that opening note of Bhairav (the equivalent of Mayamalavagowlai), I knew this was going to be a special recital. He sang Bhairav in Vilambith ektaal (12 beat cycle) with such conviction and beautiful employment of taans and swar taans. As he moved onto bol taans and the dhrut composition in teentaal, I knew I was among a mesmerized audience. 

Chennai has not been witness to such pure khyaal gayaki and raagdhari for a while now – and I must thank Svanubhava for bringing it as a part of the festival. It is exactly the sort of encouragement that Hindustani classical music needs in a city where it is literally non-existent. 

The crowd had grown to full capacity, actually overflowing as he moved on to sing a popular bandish in Deshkar (the more light hearted equivalent of Mohanam – the stronger being Bhoopali), Mu tho thore kaaran jaage. He was forced to stop there despite repeated requests from the audience – yet again because of shortage of time – but the recital had set the stage for what promised to be yet another fascinating day at Svanubhava 2011. 

He was well accompanied by Shri Vyasmurthi Katti on the harmonium and Shri Kesar Joshi on the Tabla

Villu Paatu

Up next was Villu Paatu by Subu Arumugam and party and I would do gross injustice by commenting on such fabulous folk art forms, simply because of my own ignorance of Villu Paatu – I simply did not expect to enjoy it so much. It was 2 hours of absolute, joyous entertainment. 

The entire audience was glued; simultaneously applauding the genius of the artist and rolling with laughter at his witty poetry – adults and children alike – because of the spontaneity of the artists, the light hearted nature of Villu paatu tradition, the humorous interactions between Subu Arumugam well accented by his accompanists.

It was the perfect foil to the serious concert that preceded it – Svanubhava showing the way yet again in giving young children fantastic exposure to the fascinating diversity of India artistic forms.

Subbu Arumugam has made his own contributions to the art – such as introduction of instruments like the tabla and the harmonium. He reduces the sound level of the villu and other instruments so that the words are heard clearly by the audience – for he staunchly believes that the audience must hear and understand every word that is spoken in his performance. His own villu, he says, was touched and blessed by the Kanchi Paramacharya. From his own admission and recitation of anecdotes , he is an ardent devotee of Mahakavi Subramania Bharathiar and the Kanchi Sankaracharya parampara.

Documentary Screening

Dr. Sriram Parasuram once told me – ‘ Music is ultimately the expression of one’s innermost thoughts, feelings and emotions. A musical soul reaches the climax of expression only as a singer –  because the process of expression is uninhibited by the limitations of a secondary medium. The journey of a musical soul is incomplete until it takes birth as a singer.

But there are some enlightened beings who have transcended that, by dedication and complete submission to one’s art and absolute mastery of the medium.

From ancient times, people have acknowledged that the Rudra Veena is the medium or instrument that is closest to the human voice. This belief does not become more apparent than in the inspirational story of the Late Ustad Asad Ali Khan, one of the foremost exponents of the Rudra Veena who’s soul I’d like to think achieved that state of absolute anubhava or experience and expression through intense sadhana of the Rudra Veena. Indeed after watching just a small part of the documentary about him, I was left with no doubt that he was an enlightened soul.

In the documentary, Ustad Asad Ali Khan –  A Portrait, Renuka George takes us through the Gharana of the Rudra Veena; through numerous interviews with Khan Saab and his contemporaries – starting with a beautiful rendition of Darbari in the Rampur Durbar and culminating with the most intense experience of music and riyaaz i have ever witnessed. 

Unfortunately though, time got in the way of any of the audience watching the entire documentary. But from the 15 minutes I saw of it, I am running helter -skelter trying to get myself a copy of the film, I urge you to do the same. 

Says T.M. Krishna: I chanced upon the film by accident. But as soon as I saw it, I decided that come what may , I will have it screened at Svanubhava, because the life of Ustad Asad Ali Khan is an experience , an anubhavam that every student of art must have. 

I must say here, from the very first edition of the festival I do not think any of the concerts and Q & A sessions have concluded without T.M.Krishna announcing “we are running late so this is the last question” or “you have exactly 8 minutes to have your tea and re-settle in the auditorium” or “I promise you it will not go till 5:20 tomorrow”. 

Honestly Mr.Krishna, given such an intensity, atmosphere, platform and the chance to interact with such artists and fellow students, we don’t mind even if it goes later than 7 PM!

Post Lunch: Debate

Post lunch on the second day, I witnessed (for a very brief time and I shall explain why) what I believe to be the only mistake that the Svanubhava team have made. 

A debate on Does Indian Cinema Reflect The Reality of Indian Women?

Ms. Kushbu Sundar, Ms. Rohini, Ms. Mangai in conversation with Sri Sadanand Menon

The Svanubhava team and especially T.M.Krishna may not agree with my point of view, but I’m certain most of the audience does.

After a morning with Venkatesh Kumar ji, Villu Paatu and the documentary, the intensity and artistic energy of the auditorium was at a high – and it all came crashing down with this debate. For the debate had nothing to do with what Svanubhava is and I am told (told because I left the auditorium as soon as I saw where this was headed). Adding to that , the discussion clearly went straight over the heads of most of the audience –  all school students. 

Tala Vadya

What I did do during the debate was sit in the green room with the artists of the next and final recital for day 2 of Svanubhava. Now here I was witnessing something that ought to have been on stage instead. 

Stories of ego clashes between artists are legendary, especially artists who are each others competition. Obviously then, when I saw that there was going to be a Tala Vadya Kutcheri with 3 mirudangam players , all contemporaries and all extra-ordinary artists, I was expecting fire works.

What I witnessed instead was the most important lesson that all students of art must learn – mutual respect, camaraderie and placing the art in front of all else. 

Srimushnam Sri V. Raja Rao, Trichur Sri Narendran and Sri K.V. Prasad are three of the most sought after mirudangam players of the day.

Here I thank Svanubhava because I received some life lessons watching these artists together, and Im sure I am not the only one. As they sat in the green room, sharing anecdotes with the other aspiring mirudangam players, cracking jokes (Srimushnam Sri V. Raja Rao is a livewire ) and discussing the art in general, one could see apparent – the love for the art and the respect for the vidya of one another. 

When they came on stage, the entire audience was thirsty for a fitting finale to the day. And boy did they deliver – Retta Kala Adi talam, played from Samam. After a neat opening raagam by Srimushnam Sri.V.Raja Rao, led by him what followed were some of the finest examples of mirudangam; demonstrating 3 different schools of the instrument.

They played in various jathis – thisram, khandam, misram – appreciating and applauding each others playing rather than wanting to outshine each other – which took the performance to that special league and left the audience wanting more at the end.
Thus another fitting finale to a fantastic day at Svanubhava.

The audience held back their questions at the end of the performance – No one wanted to break the illusion.

Srimunsham ji had just one thought that he shared with the members of the audience. Mirudangam keta bathroom, illana coffee – this kind of an attitude at carnatic music recitals has to change, he emphasized but also went on to acknowledge that Svanubhava was providing the perfect platform for that change to take place. 

Excerpts From Artistes & Enthusiasts

[youtube_video id=2ErJZs9v2Mk]

Violinist T N Krishnan

[youtube_video id=LkOi3Vm5GCE]

His son, Sriram Krishnan

[youtube_video id=G3nxCymuE0I]

Satyajit Dhananjayan, automobile photographer/dancer-actor/ son of The Dhananjayans

A hearty kudos to Team Svanubhava!

The Delhi leg has just wound up; watch this space for a Delhi lowdown too.

Here’s to more Score updates from the realm of classical music.

MT Aditya Srinivasan is a household name in Indian classical circles in namma Chennai. If you see a frazzled fellow in a crisp kurta, with a perennial cold, running helter skelter in concert venues and greeting & nodding at every Tomojit, Dhik & Hari, yeeeeah he’s the guy. A professional Tabla player and an ardent follower of Hindustani & Carnatic music, when not listening to 4 hour Tabla concerts on his laptop, he doesn’t mind some Dreamtheater. 

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