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 đŸ™‚

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 )

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