By S Sivaramakrishnan
Being present if not singing at Tiruvaiyaru during the aradhana is easily regarded as the greatest tribute to pay to the memory of Tyagaraja. And if you are a practising musician, nothing can be as elevating as an exclusive slot to perform in the Pancharatna kirtana on Bahula panchami day.
After a gap of several years, I was fortunate enough to attend a few sessions of the 165th Tyagaraja aradhana observed this year from 9-13 Jan 2012 at Tiruvaiyaru in Tanjavur District. As usual the Pancharatna Kriti rendering by group of devotees on the Samadhi day which was however ‘more than adequately covered and reported’ by the media in all its hues.
I limit my remarks to the events I witnessed at random on various days of the series.
The inaugural function attended by several political leaders had a sizable strength of partymen at the venue. Interestingly though, a speaker mentioned that Tyagaraja was ‘cremated’ in Tiruvaiyaru. Another read from his written speech that ‘Rama Sastrigal’ was one of the Trinity! But one thing that made immense sense in the speeches was the references to unstinting patronage, leadership and support extended by the G K Moopanar family in the conduct of the aradhana for many years now. Encomiums were also paid to the present secretaries of the Sri Tyagabrahma Mahotsava Sabha Utsava Committee—Haridwaramangalam A.K. Palanivel and Srimushnam V. Raja Rao—for their hard work, devotion and organizational skills apart from their artistic acumen.
It is a rare honour to get the inaugural slot of the aradhana but the Priya sisters chose to render Adugathura as the first song. Many felt that a kriti like Sree Raghukula (Hamsadhwani) or any other in a ‘bright scale’ would have lent a special charm as the opening number of the series (notwithstanding the fact that the kriti in Manoranjini is a unique composition of Tyagaraja).
O.S. Arun, Papanasam Ashok Ramani and Anuradha Krishnamurthy who sang familiar compositions fared average in their slots.
T.N. Seshagopalan started off appropriately with Entara nee (Harikambhoji) but a bad throat posed him challenges during the upper octaves of the Kalyani alapana for Bhajana seyave. He didn’t relent and in the process strained himself oblivious to heightened excitement among the audience for Kadri Gopalnath’s saxophone waiting next in row. Kadri with his shining livery was a big draw, but his Saramati didn’t register well. I have often wondered why Kanyakumari’s violin should sound like a second saxophone on the dais!
Mandolin Shrinivas walked away cool with Marubalga (Sriranjani) and a scholarly Nenarunchara (Simhavahini).
N. Ramani was his usual self with Dharini (Suddhasaveri), Ganamurte and Endamuddo (Bindumalini).
Nithyasree gave a fine, emphatic recital with Janakiramana (Suddhaseemantini) and Siva siva sivayyena (Pantuvarali) and a couple of other kriti-s.
Though veteran N.C. Soundaravalli’s choice of Nagumo (Abheri) was welcomed by a discerning audience, the ‘multiple and must not avoid sangati-s’ seemed challenging.
Subha Ganesan, Rudrapatnam Brothers, and K. Gayatri. Gave good recitals.
Trivandrum Krishnakumar and Binny Krishnakumar impressed listeners by their selection of a rare kriti in Saranga on the presiding deity of Tiruvaiyaru, Panchanadeesa.
Mahathi who rendered Evarey Ramayya (Nasikabhushani) showed care in handling a swarakshara prayoga at the charana sahitya passage Pagavari. Nasikabhushani seemed to be the favourite of many.
It was heartening to note that quite a few veena artists participated at Tiruvaiyaru this year. Mudikondan Ramesh presented a well articulated Mokshamugalada (Saramati) in his late night slot.
Saliamangalam Ramdass played a good Mohanam for Nanupalimpa. Trichy Sivakumar’s Kamalaptakula (Brindavanasaranga) was good.
Mangala isai by Sheik Mahaboob Subhani and Kalisha Beevi that preceded the inaugural session gave a solemn start to the aradhana. They played an excellent Kapi. But in their rendering of Janakiramana (Suddhaseemantini) an occasional chatusruti dhaivatam in place of suddha dhaivatam showed up in the pallavi sahitya (Ramana).
There were numerous other nagaswara concerts during the aradhana (many of them in the afternoon slots) and it was heartening to note that youngsters are increasingly showing keen interest in the melam. A welcome revival is taking place and hope the trend stays on.
The percussionists played tani for about 20 minutes or even more in the evening prime slots. Despite the attractive presentation by these vidwans, the enjoyability quotient was at a low ebb because of the high decibel amplification at the venue and extended playing. A veteran rasika in the audience felt that the artists must limit the duration of the tani to match the spirit of the congregation. “I have not forgotten the full bench, lengthy percussion ensemble a few years ago which also featured Zakir Husain accompanying Kadri on the tabla,” he reminisced.
The first concert slot in the AIR live relay session on the concluding evening was by Ganesh-Kumaresh (violin) who played Sujana jeevana (Khamas) and Ninne bhajana (naata). I felt they could have played Naata as the first item.
Yesudas, whose was the star concert featured in the second half of the AIR relay, had among his audience bureaucrats and political leaders and the entire band of the utsava committee. He rendered his favourite pieces like Sree Gananatham (Kanakangi) and Ksheersagara (Devagandhari) and the huge gathering lapped it up all. (A vidwan of his stature should not be using a laptop for sahitya reference).
Yesudas surprised his fans by going straight to the Saint’s Samadhi (instead of a waiting car) after the recital for offering prayers. He was duly honoured with parivattom (tying of a ceremonial head-gear) by the priests. As he was coming out, many were seen falling at his feet.
The sea of humanity dispersed immediately after listening to Yesudas and consequently the Anjaneyotsavam marking the conclusion of the aradhana had poor attendance. The customary ‘Geetarthamu’ (Surati) was sung by the staff and students of the Music College of Tiruvaiyaru. The members of the Utsava Committee and a few rasikas joined the rendition with devotion. As the concluding session is ‘open to all’, I was fortunate to sit on the hallowed dais.
The mridanga for this concluding session was not sruti-aligned. Surprisingly no one advised the mridanga vidwan to underplay the strokes or at least remove the exclusive mike. This at a venue where more than a hundred sruti aligned concerts had just taken place!
Veteran T K S Mani—the official announcer for all concerts for many years at the venue—was at the mike till the finish. At the end of the Anjaneyotsava, on behalf of the Committee, he happily read out a very lengthy vote of thanks which acknowledged the role of numerous persons, patrons, proprietors and philanthropists in the conduct of the aradhana. Just saying Endaro mahanubhavulu andariki vandanamu would have sufficed.
I could spot at least a couple of old rasikas–seemingly natives-among the audience who were singing along almost all the kritis rendered by the artists on the dais. They turned emotional on many occasions proving they knew the meaning of the songs. The insensitive among the audience chided them often.
The periphery of the pandal had stalls erected by event sponsors and co-sponsors, institutions, traders, dealers of musical instruments and manufacturers of electronic gadgets etc. Tavil accessories and an Ekaanda Veena (made of a single log of wood) attracted many. A firm dealing in music software had a person in charge who was an epitome of patience explaining the product trying to pick up its sruti amidst the hustle and buzzle outside! A publishing company with a few titles in music could also be seen. Women thronged fabric and jewellery shops. Portraits of the Trinity (courtesy S Rajam), Tanjore plates and icons sold well. Many rasika-s blissfully bargained in the background of Tyagaraja kriti-s! Eateries suitable for puritans weren’t many. As hotels in Thanjavur are grossly inadequate to contain the rush, many depended on friends, relatives and facilities available at Tiruvaiyaru.
Despite arrangements by the district administration for additional transport facilities, buses to and fro Tanjavur ran jam-packed. Many were seen taking photos of the vintage buses plying on the route. “We would sue the transport corporation if such unfit automobiles were seen on the road”, said an irked NRI rasika. “View it as a pilgrimage; tolerate everything en route to Tiruvaiyaru. Where else can you experience the presence of Tyagaraja?” a devotee hastened to silence him.
The event sponsors consisted mainly of banks which had chipped in with decent contributions asserting that nidhi’ was certainly an integral part of enriching the sannidhi at least during the aradhana.