Bridge of Contention

Here is a humorous forward I received today:

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Lord Ram surveyed the Ram Setu and said “Hanuman, how diligently and strenuously you and your vanar sena had built this bridge several centuries back. It is remarkable that it has withstood the ravages of the climatic and geographical changes over centuries. It is indeed an amazing feat especially considering the fact that a bridge at Hyderabad built by Gammon using latest technology collapsed the other day even before they could stick the posters on its pillars.”

Hanuman with all humility spoke “Jai Sri Ram, it is all because of your grace. We just scribbled your name on the bricks and threw them in the sea and they held. No steel from TISCO or cement from Ambuja or ACC was ever used. But Lord, why rake up the old issue now.”

Ram spoke “Well, Hanuman some people down there want to demolish the bridge and construct a canal. The contract involves lot of money and lot of money will be made. They will make money on demolition and make more money on construction.”

Hanuman humbly bowed down and said, “Why not we go down and present our case”

Ram said, “Times have changed since we were down there. They will ask us to submit age proof and we don’t have either a birth certificate or school-leaving certificate. I studied in a gurukulam and did not bother for certificates, my apprenticeship under the great sages was nice but they didnt give me any experiance certificates either. Even my archery skills did not get me any medals but only a wife. We traveled mainly on foot and some times in bullock carts and so we don’t have a driving license either. As far as the address proof is concerned the fact that I was born at Ayodhya is itself under litigation for over half a century, if I go in a traditional attire with bow and arrow, the ordinary folks may recognize me, and the cops make get me in an encounter or put me behind bars under some anti terrorism act, maybe Arjun Singh may take me to be some tribal and, at the most, offer a seat at IIT under the reserved category. Also, a God cannot walk in dressed in a three-piece suit and announce his arrival. It would make even the devotees suspicious. So it is dilemma so to say.”

“I can vouch for you by saying that I personally built the bridge.”

“My dear, Anjani putra, it will not work. They will ask you to produce the layout plan, the project details, including financial outlay and how the project cost was met and the completion certificate. Nothing is accepted without documentary evidence in India. You and vibishana are two of the eight immortals in this world, how can you prove you are still alive. You may cough but unless a doctor certifies it, you have no cough. A pensioner may present himself personally but the authorities do not take it as proof. He has to produce a life-certificate to prove that he is alive. It is that complicated.”

“Lord, I can’t understand these historians. Over the years you have given darshan once every hundred years to saints like Surdas, Tulsidas, Saint Thyagaraja, Jayadeva, Bhadrachala Ramdas and even Sant Tukaram and still they disbelieve your existence and say Ramayana is a myth. The only option, I see, is to re-enact Ramayana on earth and set the government records straight once for all.”

Lord smiled “It isn’t that easy today. Ravan is apprehensive that he may look like a saint in front of Karunanidhi. I also spoke to his mama Mareecha, who appeared as a golden deer to tempt Sita maiyya when I was in the forest and he said that he won’t take a chance of stepping on earth as long as Salman Khan is around.”

The World Cup is ours !!!!

We have lifted the T20 World Cup. The players believe they have done it. My mom believes it is because of her prayers to Lord Ganesha. One of the youngest among my cousins believes its because of the school prayers which he was reciting again and again.

Three Day Special on Oothukkadu Venkatakavi

FYI … Shruti, Worldspace’s 24 hour Carnatic music channel, is broadcasting a 3 day special on Oothukkadu Venkatakavi as a part of its Nadopasana program from 7.00AM to 10.00AM IST today, tomorrow and the day after. Chitravina N. Ravikiran is the guest speaker and will be giving expert commentary. Certainly a must hear for those like me who are smitten by Oothukkadu kritis. I will have to catch up with the repeat broadcast from 12 – 3AM IST though because of office :-(

Trip to Nallattoor (Nallattur)

I was looking at the list of Carnatic concerts in Chennai some days back, confused as to which ones to attend the coming Sunday. Just then my mom came and said, “Let me help you with your choice. You are not going to any concert but will be coming with us to Nallattoor Anjaneya Temple. It’s your uncle & aunt’s wedding anniversary. The entire family (comprising all the kith and kin in Chennai) is coming and you have no other choice“, demonstrating yet again her ability to simplify decision making by thinking ‘out of the box’ ;-)

Directions:

Nallattoor is located near Tiruttani, en-route to Tirupati. We started from Chennai late in the afternoon and came back before midnight the same day. It took us just a little over 2 hours to reach the place by car and just about the same time to come back.

When you travel further beyond Tiruvallur on the Chennai – Tiruvallur – Tiruttani route, there will be a point where the road forks into two. You have to take the branch that goes to the right and immediately take a right turn (yes, one more right turn) as soon as you enter it. There is a sign board here that says the temple is 12 kms away. The road from here was narrow (narrower than the stretch from Tiruvallur) and was not in a good shape when we went. It was however well punctuated with sign boards that will help one find his way to the temple easily.
What to see?

The place is famous for Lord Hanuman’s temple (Shri Veera Mangala Anjaneya Swami temple). And that’s about all you can find here. The temple is located on the banks of the Kushasthala river, which was dry when we went.

It was pitch dark outside and the fireflies (glow worms) that kept hovering presented a pretty sight.

The temple has idols of Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, Hanuman, Ganesha and the navagrahas apart from the centuries old idol of Veera Mangala Anjaneya.

We heard there are other temples in a nearby place called Nemili but didn’t visit the same as it was already getting late for the return trip to Chennai. Tiruttani and Tiruvallur are some other places one can cover if the trip is planned well.

Temple History:

The temple is said to have been first built by Vyasaraya in the 15th century. The present structure was built by M. Chakravarti, Executive Director of Amaravathi Group of Hotels, in the late 90s (if I remember correctly).

The history of the temple, as told to us by the temple priest, is as follows. The details on the temple website however are slightly different from his account. Needless to say, I have no idea what actually happened.

Vyasaraya lived in the 15th century in the Vijayanagara empire and was respected as a guru by the kings of the empire. It seems he was afflicted by some strange disease. He prayed to Lord Hanuman and said he will build as many temples of Hanuman as possible throughout his life if he gets cured. He became healthy immediately and went on to build 754 temples till he lived. The Nallattoor temple is considered the most important one.

Vyasaraya’s men were on their way to Tirupati to build a temple and install the idol there when they had to stop at Nallattoor on their way, to take rest. They kept the idol down but couldn’t lift it when they wanted to proceed to Tirupati. Lord Hanuman is then said to have appeared in Vyasaraya’s dreams and expressed his willingness to have the idol installed there after which a temple was built at that very place in Nallattoor.

Over the years, the temple went to ruins and the idol itself got buried underneath sand and dust. It seems even the locals, over several generations, forgot the existence of the temple there. Suddenly one day Lord Hanuman is said to have appeared in the dreams of both Chakravarti (who was an atheist till that point in time and was in Delhi on a business trip) and his wife ( who was in Chennai then) asking them to renovate the temple. It was then that the idol was taken out and the present form of the temple was built.

Observations:

There is no road divider for most part of the route. It is advisable to plan the trip so that it is completed during the day time, especially if traveling by bikes. It might also be advisable to carry lots of drinking water along. We didn’t see any petrol pumps, at least on the 12 km stretch off the main road to Nallattoor. The last one I remember seeing on the way to Nallattoor was in Tiruvallur (I could have missed many).

Chak De India

Saw this movie a couple of days back and I just cannot stop raving about it. Such a simple story but such a powerful film …. so very well made … just kept me riveted to my seat almost throughout. Certainly a must watch.

What a better way to follow it up with than to watch a great run chase just a few hours back, powered by a brilliant performance by Robin Uthappa, that saw India home!!!!!

Lec Dem on Oothukkadu Venkata Kavi by Chitravina N. Ravikiran – Part 2

Part 1 of this post can be accessed here

MELODIC (AND RHYTHMIC) CONTRIBUTIONS OF OOTHUKKADU VENKATA KAVI

  • Anchor caraNams: The saptaratnAs have anchor caraNams or secondary refrains within them. The caraNams don’t go back to the pallavi every time they get over. Instead, they return back to one of the caraNam lines. Anchor caraNams have been used in gauLa, kalyANi, tODi, paras and madhyamAvati compositions. While gauLa, kalyANi and tODi compositions have caraNams anchored around the first caraNam line, paras and madhyamAvati have caraNams anchored around the third caraNam line. Venkata Kavi has thus brought variations even within the concept of anchor caraNams.
  • Usage of madhyama kAlams: The madhyama kAlams in Venkata Kavi’s songs are not just restricted to either the pallavi or the anupallavi or the caraNam alone or to just serve a climactic purpose at the end of one of these. He has placed madhyamakAlam intelligently between slow passages within a pallavi or anupallavi or caraNam. Ex. sarva jIva dayApari in suddha sAvEri and vAnchasi yadi kushalam in kalyANi . He uses such beautiful “musical movements” to give a very good feel. There are also several compositions with the entire song in madhyamakAlam. He has given prominence to madhyamakAlam in such places and not just used it as a punctuation mark. Ex in the nATTai composition chindittavar nenjil iruppadu shiva yOga gaNapatiyE
  • Compositions in chauka kAlam: Venkata Kavi has also composed songs in chauka kAlam (ex. enna dan inbam in dEvagAndhAri, padmini vallabha dEhi pradEhi in danyAsi). There is a misconception among people that he has composed only in madhyama kAlam. This has probably come into being because the limited number of his songs that are sung in concerts are in madhyama kAlam
  • Swaraksharam: Swaraksharams occur where the lyrics of the song and the solfa names of the corresponding notes match. Venkata Kavi has employed a lot of swarAksharams. Ex. In the second line of pallavi of sarasija bhava jAyE in kalyANi - “sarvadA sadA pAdAravindam bhajAmyaham” (Letters in bold correspond to the swarAksharams). In some compositions, the entire sAhityam will be in the form of solfa names. For example, the first caraNam of the bhUpALam composition kSaNamEva ganya manyE where he uses swarAkshara prayOgam to create the musical feeling of the flute playing
  • Raga mudra: Raga mudra refers to the use of the name of the raga the composition is based in within the lyrics of the composition. Ex. “navarasakannaDa stutigItE” in the navarasakannaDa kriti sundarEshwara jAyE. He has mentioned many ragas that are not in vogue these days in his composition innum mayangudu swAmi in kIravANi.
  • Usage of uncommon tALams: Ex. Kamakshi Avarnam song in bAlahamsa is in kanDa jAti dhruva tALam (17 beats/cycle in 1 kaLai; song set to 2 kaLai); the one in hindOLam is in sankIrNa jAti maTya tALam (20 beats/cycle)
  • Handling of tALams & partitioning: Ex. kanDa jAti dhruva tALam exists in the form 5 + 2 + 5 + 5. Usually composers may compose songs that keep seamlessly fitting into the tALam at the end of 1 or 2 cycles. Or they may divide the tALam into two and split it equally (ex. 17/2 here). This is the way Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar’s madhyama kAlams are mostly structured. Another way is to follow the structure of the tALam itself (ex. in Sri Tyagaraja’s tODi composition dAcukOvalEna set to misra jampa tALam where some lines are split as 7 + 3). Venkata Kavi has used the 5 + 2 + 5 + 5 split also for the structure of the song in kanDa jAti dhruva tALam !! He has split madhyama kAlams in the Anandabhairavi AvarNa kriti set to 9 beat kanDa tripuTa tAlam into 4 partitions of 2.25 beats each !!!! This and other examples highlight that he was not only a sAhityakartA but also a vAggEyakArA of the highest order
  • Usage of Yatis: Venkata Kavi has used different yatis in his compositions. Few examples are:
    • Sama Yati: In the anupallavi of the nATTai saptaratnA bhajanAmruta – “vrajasundarijana padapankajasama anukampitahrudi smarasambhavanija”, each word like vrajasundarijana comes with equal spacing/meter (tha ka thAm, tha ka dhi na)
    • Gopuchcha Yati: A descending pattern like the tail of a cow. Ex: in the tODi saptaratnA jaTAdhara shankara, the swara pattern used in the first caraNam is: mpdpmgrs, dpmgrs, pmgrs, mgrs,
    • Mrudanga Yati (Example not given)
  • Gati bhEdam: Refers to change of rhythmic gait within a composition. No other major composer in Venkata Kavi’s period has handled it the way he has. An example is the AvarNa kriti in madhyamAvatishankari shrI rAja rAjEshwari‘ where the part of the pallavi “shankari shrI rAja rAjEshwari jaya siva” is in catusra gati, the part “sarva siddhi pradAyaka chakrEshwari kAmEshwara vAmEshwari bhagamAlini” is in tisra gati and the rest of the pallavi “santatam tava rUpam antaha cintayAmi aham cintayAmi” is in catusra gati again. In the anupallavi, Venkata Kavi goes back to tisram and does it in two speeds. The first part “mangaLakara kumkuma dhara mandasmita mukha vilAsini ankusha dhanuhu pAsha danDa bhAskara chakra nivAsini” is in tisra gati in lower speed. The rest of the anupallavi “bhringi sanaka muni gaNa vara pUjita paramOllAsini bhUtajana hitakAriNi parapOshaNa vannivAsini vEnkaTa kavi hridi sarasija vivaraNa paTutara bhAsini vidhi hari hara sura sammata nityAntara prakAshini” is in tisra gati in madhyamakAlam. Another characteristic of this piece is the rare appearance of his signature “venkaTa kavi”. Most other compositions do not have this mudrA (signature). They only have reference to the “Dancing Krishna” like a secondary signature.

MISCELLANEOUS:

  • Word play: Ex. “kamalA mukha kamala shilImukha” in agaNitamahima, the gauLa saptaratnA. In the bhUpALam composition kSaNamEva ganya manyE – “mukhadhara smita rashmikara smaRaNa
  • Variations in the kind of language used: The Tamil used in one of the saptaratnAs ALavadennALO (paras) is different from the one used in alaippAyudE kaNNA. The latter depicts the language of the gOpIs who were supposedly not as scholarly as the people mentioned in the former
  • Reference to own compositions: His composition “ittanai pirivu yEnaDi” in suddha sAvEri mentions ” … viraindODi tAyE yashOdE enru …” with a reference to both the song tAyE yashOdE and the raga tODi in which it is based. It also contains “pAdipinnal suruTTi …. pArvai onrE ….” with a reference to both the song pArvai onrE and it’s raga suruTTi
  • Doubts regarding authorship: There were doubts on the authorship of some of Venkata Kavi’s compositions. But now it is clear beyond doubt that these are all his compositions only. This is because these are not one off compositions but are a part of operas he composed. He has composed operas starting from Devaki-Vasudeva wedding upto Rukmini Kalyanam. He has also composed operas on Ramayanam
  • Kshetra kritis: He has composed many kSEtra kritis in Triplicane, Chidambaram, Mylapore (on Lord Murugan in the Kapaleeshwarar Temple) etc
  • Ability to bring his scholarship into compositions without even trying to do so: Ex: In his compositions, he says how Krishna’s flute changed everything … sArangA became brindAvanasArangA, kalyANi became yamunAkalyANi, kAmbOji became yadukulakAmbOji !!!!! He weaves the names of the 7 basic taLas with ease into his aTANA composition alankAra gOpikai tALam pODa

Looking forward to the Kamakshi Navavarnam session planned for next year.

Lec Dem on Oothukkadu Venkata Kavi by Chitravina N. Ravikiran – Part 1

The place: Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, T. Nagar, Chennai. The occasion: Oothukkadu Venkata Kavi Jayanthi.

Chitravina N. Ravikiran and his group of artists made last Sunday morning memorable with a beautiful group rendition (gOshTi gAnam) of the “Saptaratnas” of Oothukkadu Venkata Subbaiyer a.k.a Oothukkadu Venkata Kavi, followed by a very informative lecture demonstration on melodic and rhythmic contributions of the bard.

The program started with Sri Y. Prabhu of Sri Krishna Gana Sabha explaining how his father, the Late Sri Yagnaraman harbored this wish of celebrating Oothukkadu Venkata Kavi Jayanthi for a long time and how Sri Ravikiran readily agreed to present the program, which was not even a part of the initially planned Gokulashtami series, at a very short notice.

Sri Ravikiran’s group comprised the following artists (there were a few more whom I couldn’t recognize):

Vocal: Vid N. Ravikiran, Vid Savita Narasimhan, Vid Nisha Rajagopal, Vid Anahita, Vid Apoorva, Vid Bhargavi, Vid Sriram(?)

Violin: Vid Akkarai Subhalakshmi

Mrudangam: Vid Neyveli Narayanan, Vid B. Sivaraman

Khanjira: Vid B.S. Purushothaman, Vid K.V. Gopalakrishnan

Ghatam: Vid N. Guruprasad

Excerpts from whatever Sri Ravikiran spoke are given below. These are based on the notes I made during the lec dem, aided by whatever I have studied about the bard and his compositions earlier primarily using Needamangalam Sri Krishnamurthy Bhagavathar’s texts.

Before starting the lec dem, Sri Ravikiran checked with the audience as to whether there was anyone who didn’t understand Tamil and whether he could break into Tamil now and then – a gesture I appreciate so much, considering the fact that most people who speak during concerts and lec dems I have attended , be it in Bangalore, Hyderabad or in Chennai, almost always do so only in the local language even when requested to at least say a few words in-between in English.

THE SAPTARATNAS

The saptaratnAs (7 gems) of Oothukkadu Venkata Subbaiyer do full justice to the name given to them. They comprise:

  • a pallavi
  • an anupallavi and
  • a caraNam with swaram and sAhityam that is rendered in parts in madhyamakAlam (similar to Sri Tyagaraja’s pancaratna kritis and Shyama Sastri’s swarajatis)

Most of the times, composers are not themselves conscious about grouping a set of songs together. They do sometimes compose a set of songs using a certain theme (ex. Muthuswami Dikshitar’s navavarNams, Swati Tirunal’s navarAtri kritis); but in many cases, people group songs together much later.

Why group these 7 only? Some other similar songs are a part of the different operas that Venkata Kavi has composed. They have not been clubbed here into the saptaratnAs category since they are a part of a different group. The groupings have been done on certain musical and thematic considerations. If we group the other songs into these, then we can go on and form dasharatnAs (10 gems), ekAdasharatnAs (11 gems) and so on :-)

The saptaratnas are the following:

1. bhajanAmruta paramAnanda – nATTai – Adi (Language: Sanskrit)

pallavi line: bhajanAmruta paramAnanda bhAgavata santa caraNarENum nirantaram vahAmyaham harinija

This is a salutation to all great bhagavathas/devotees (ex. Lord Anjaneya, Prahlada, Purandaradasa, Tulsidas etc)

2. agaNita mahimAdbhuta lIla – gauLa – Adi (Language: Sanskrit)

pallavi line: agaNita mahimAdbhuta lIla sadAkarshita rajasAdi satyAtmaka prapanjaparipAla ananda paryanga shayana namO namastE

A rare composition directly addressed to Lord Vishnu as Vishnu (not to his different incarnations). Many rare mythological personalities like Bhoorishena and Pippilada find mention here.

3. mAdhava hridi khElini – kalyANi – Adi (Language: Sanskrit)

pallavi line: mAdhava hridi khElini maduripu samadana vadana madhupE jaya

This is centered on Radha. Venkatavi is probably the only major Carnatic composer to have composed with Radha as the theme.

4. bAla sarasa muraLi sudhArasa – kIravANi – Adi (Language: Sanskrit)

pallavi line: bAla sarasa muraLi sudhArasa bhAva madhura laharI vihAra gO-
This is on Krishna’s music and grace.

5. jaTAdhara shankara dEva dEvA – tODi – Adi (Language: Sanskrit)

pallavi line: jaTAdhara shankara dEva dEvA shashAnkadhara mangaLakara gangAdhara bhujanga valayitAlankAra

This composition is on Lord Shiva. Venkata Kavi mentions how Lord Shiva is enthralled by different rhythmic instruments (like dhundhubi, dimdima, dakka, mrudangam)

6. ALAvadennALO sivamE – paras – Adi (Language: Tamil)

pallavi line: ALAvadennALO sivamE un aDiyArkkaDiyArkkaDiyanAi mILAda

Mentions and salutes all 63 nayanmars and is based out of Periyapuranam.

7. sundara nanda kumAra – madhyamAvati – Adi (Language: Sanskrit)

pallavi line: sundara nanda kumAra surucira nava tuLasi hAra

This composition would have been a part of Venkata Kavi’s daily worship as he offers one thing or the other (Asanam, arghyam, dIpam, dhUpam, tAmbUlam etc) to the Lord in each of the caraNams. All caraNams start before the beat. All madhyama kAlams will start on the beat but will end before the beat (I guess what Sri Ravikiran meant by “beat” here is “samam“). There is a huge madhyama kAlam portion at the end of this kriti which serves as a kind of climax to the entire saptaratnA set.

Will write a detailed account of the portion of the lec dem focusing on the melodic and rhythmic contributions of Venkata Kavi in Part 2 of this post.

( Part 2 can be accessed here )