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Immortal melodies

V. KALADHARAN

Venmani Haridas’ command over nuances of ragas, rhythms and tempos enhanced vocal music in Kathakali.

Some puritans had for long looked down upon Kathakali vocal music as a corruption of Carnatic music. A handful of Kathakali vocalists did liberate the ‘verbal acting’ of Kathakali from the unscientific application of ragas and non-systematic renditions in different octaves.

Of them, Venmani Haridas is an immortal name. He refined the musical techniques of each and every padam in popular Kathakali plays, without sacrificing the characteristics of functional music.

Command over raga

His command over nuances of ragas, varying rhythms and tempos was in perfect harmony with the essential bhava of Kathakali music. The two-hour CDs in two parts, under review, are testimony to this well-established fact.

Recorded directly from a stage performance, the CDs are a musical voyage through the famous Kathakali play ‘Santhanagopalam.’

Slow tempo

Haridas and his co-singers Kalamandalam Babu Namboodiri and Kalanilayam Rajeevan are at their best in the opening slokam, ‘Paramapurushanevam,’ and the padam, ‘Srimansakhe! Vijaya’ in Saveri. The subsequent padam of the Brahmin who arrives at Dwaraka from afar is in the slow tempo and in the typically Kerala raga, Dukhakhandaram. Here again, Haridas and Babu evoke the anguish of the Brahmin who laments the death of his sons.

Haridas is at his best when he sings ‘Vidhimatham nirasicheetamo?’ He has recomposed it in Revathi. Another composition that stands out is ‘Jeevithanayaka’ in Kanakurinji. All the padams that follow in medium and fast tempos are deeply etched in the minds of the rasikas. The only one that sounds a bit odd is ‘Kalyanaalaye chettum’ in Kunthalavarali.

Since the recording is from a live performance, there is constant repetition of lines in the charanams, and this proves monotonous at times.

At the same time, one can easily discern the profundity with which Haridas has dealt with the treasures of Kathakali music. The names of chenda and maddalam artistes are missing in the CD cover. Despite the limitations, the CDs are worth a listen.

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