MUSIC SRJ's workshop on the varnam was an eye opener.
IMMENSE DEPTH: S. R. Janakiraman
"Rare varnams," was the theme and Prof. S. R. Janakiraman revealed immense depth and imagination in the two-day workshop at the Ragasudha Hall. This encounter should serve as a wake up call, especially for vocalists to keep this facet of the kutcheri alive. A disciple of the renowned Tiger Varadachary and Thiruppambaram Swaminadha Pillai among others, Janakiraman gave an exposition of six vintage varnams with personal anecdotes, acknowledging his debt to the great masters.
The workshop was in keeping with the mission `service to music and service through music,' of The International Foundation for Carnatic Music, the sponsor of the event.
For centuries, the varnam has been the opening salvo in a kutcheri. Artistes nowadays often tend to dispense with the varnam, perhaps owing to the shorter duration of concerts. With the result, several rare compositions are no longer in vogue.
Few would have heard a Roopaka or Jhampa tala varnam, because those in Adi and Ata tala are preferred routinely.
A kriti in Suruti is usually featured at the tail end of a concert. But Janakiraman presented a lilting Roopaka tala varnam by Subbarama Dikshitar, ``Sami entani ne."
Incidentally, this was also a reminder that there is no rigid rule about the sequencing of ragas in a kutcheri, or that a varnam should be sung at the beginning of a performance.
Remember Dandapani Desikar's ``Thoodu nee solli vaaraay'" The song, Janakiraman said, was his earliest encounter with the texture and tenor of a scale he would later come to know as Manirangu.
This is another ragam that is often reserved for the closing stages of a concert. But if Tiger Varadachary, the first Principal of the venerable Kalakshetra, is right, a composer's creative instincts defy rules of convenience. Tiger's thana varnam set to Jhampa talam raced like a bullet as Janakiraman sang the notations, made up predominantly of shorter notes. ``Kamalaakshi ninne talachi chaalamarulu konnadiraa,' go the opening lines. Underlining the proximity between Manirangu and Sri ragam, Janakiraman noted that it was like the law of association of ideas in logic.
Janakiraman revealed another facet of his prowess as he took up the 18th century Bilahari ata tala varnam by Sonti Venkata Subbayya. He almost banished the Kaisika Nishadam from the pallavi, although the note appears prominently in Subbarama Dikshitar's ``Sangeetha Sampradaya Pradarshini." He then demonstrated to his audience that Bilahari was unmistakable despite the missing note. The key to handle a varnam is to distribute the lyrics evenly if not necessarily equally across two or more 14-beat cycles, Janakiraman said. The use of vowel sounds between words could otherwise be jarring on the ear.
The need to engage with, rather than mechanically reproduce, the works of great masters was a running thread throughout his demonstration of the varnams in Sahana and Kambhoji by Patnam Subrahmanya Iyer and Pallavi Gopala Iyer respectively. Hopefully, a fresh wave of varnams will wash the Carnatic shores, come December.
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