It was a fine Saturday evening, the eve of Gandhi Jayanthi, the birthday of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi- one of the most noblest and purest sons of Mother India. Mathrubhoomi concert by Event art featuring current flavours of music Shankar Mahadevan and Rock star of Carnatic music (as said by Shankar Ji) Smt. Aruna Sairam was rightly premiered on this special day as the concert aimed at showcasing the various hues of our Mathrubhoomi but concluding with the note that no matter how many different cultures India holds together, the soul at the core is one and non-fragmentable.
The artistes had pre-planned their attires I guess for their outfits were themed on Orange, the colour that signifies dawn, awakening, jubiliance, gaiety, warmth and other positive emotions. Aruna ji wore a beautiful arakku colour brocade saree suitably accessorised with traditional diamond jewellery. Shankar ji wore a pattu Kurta with elegant stone work and Dhoti. Aruna ji had violin, Mridangam, Ghatam and special effects accompanists and Shankar ji was accompanied by and array of Hindustani instruments like Harmonium, Tabla, Flute and Guitar. I have sung several live shows with shankar ji and look up to him as a Guru and my inspiration for great music. I happened to meet him as soon as he entered the venue. We exchanged pleasantaries. I was seated back stage so that I could closely observe the concert. After the artistes were introduced, an audio clip was played. What we heard was the famous poetry of Mahakavi Subramania Bharati ‘Bhaarata desam endru peyar solluvar’. Shankar ji explained that when they were approached to do such a unique concert, both artistes did not want to do the run of the mill stereotypical jugalbandhi competing type of concert showing off their respective vocal abilities. Instead when they were brainstorming about a concept that could bring together both artistes’ emotive skills and present a whole new enriching experience about our motherland, they immediately jumped at taking up this Bharatiyar poetry as the backbone and sailing through it to present the musical forms of different states and take the listener on a magic carpet ride through Bharat.
The entire poetry was recited and the meaning was explained in both tamil and Sanskrit. A surprise guest who stayed on for the entire concert was namma thalaivar super star Rajinikanth who’s Hi-Funda Endhiran had just released the day before. He wore a simple white dhoti and white shirt and made a non-fussy subtle entry as just a lover of music arriving dot at 7 pm asking the organisers if he was late for the concert!! I realised what made a super star!!
Shankar Mahadevan kick started the concert singing his ‘ shree ganeshaya dheemahi’ from his private album Ganesha and was joined at places by Aruna Sairam. The artistes made use of this piece to get warmed up to the BOSE sound systems, accompanists and ambience. After this, Aruna Sairam recited the first line of the poetry
‘Velli panimalaiyin meedholaavuvom adi melai kadal muzhudhum kappal viduvom’
Mother India is flanged by the mighty snow-clad Himalayas on the North and her feet are washed by the confluence of three oceans, Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal and the Arabian sea in the south. The Himalayas remain a mountain range of majesty with their imposing appearance and breath -taking splendour. It is in these Himalayas, wherein according to the Vedas, Lord Shiva resides with his eternal consort Devi Parvati the daughter of Himavan, the king of the Himalayas. The artistes rendered ‘Namachivaya vaazhga’ prelude and glided into Papanasam Sivan’s crisp composition ‘sabapathikku veru dheivam’. The Neraval passages in abhogi saw both the artistes crossing each other’s territory with aruna ji embarking on Hindustani styled phrases and shankar ji giving a taste of his Carnatic prowess. But it turned out to be a treat for the audience at the end!!
‘Pallithalam anaithum kovil seiguvom’
Aruna Sairam explained that, as far as India is concerned, Gurus or teachers are considered second to only god. After being in the mother’s care, the first person that every child looks up to is the teacher. In olden days, we had the Gurukulam system. Children stayed at the guru’s ashram, did seva or service to the guru and his wife and lead a disciplined life. The Guru selflessly taught all he knew and imparted all necessary knowledge required to survive in this world to the child. Bu today, schools have also become corrupted. Gone are the days when the purpose of education was to ultimately reach the divine and gain knowledge about the absolute truth. So Bharathiyar lets out a plea to convert all schools again to temples of wisdom to reach god.
True to this meaning, the artistes embarked on the Gopalakrishna Bharati kriti ‘Eppo Varuvaaro’ in Raag Jonpuri. I enjoyed the cascading sangathis in Shankar ji’s Robust voice.
Sindhu nadhiyin misai nilavinile
What followed next was unexpected. The magic carpet took us to sindh. Shankar Mahadevan tied a kerchief on his head and so did the instrumentalists. It was amazing to see the versatile artists switch gears from genre to genre and doing full justice to whatever they sang. They rendered a Gurbaani compsosed by Guru Nanak in Raag Brindaavani. Much to our surprise, They sprinkled carnatic styled swara passages in the end of the Hindustani styled Gurbaani. Shankar Mahadevan shined in ragas like Brindavani and its cousin ragas that evening.
Sundara telunginil paattisaithu thonigal otti vilayaadivaruvom
Aruna Sairam explained about saint Thyagaraja, the first and foremost of the Trinity composers, Thyagaraja, Muthuswamy Dikshitar and Shyama Shastri who lived in the 17th century. Thyagaraja’s mother tongue was telugu. He was born and brought up in Thiruvaroor, the lap of carnatic music in Tamilnadu, where coincidentally Dikshitar was also born. He composed in Telugu and Sanskrit. He lived as an example of national integration as far as music was concert. He was a devotee of Shri Rama and composed in the praise of Rama and Seetha. It is said that Rama was so impressed and touched by Thyagaraja’s devotion that he , along with his wife Seetha, brothe Lakshmana and eternal devotee Hanuman, personally paid a visit to Thyagaraja;s house and blessed him. Such was his devotional fervour and each on of his compositions reflects this and gives peace to the performer and listeners alike.
After a shared brief sketch of Hindolam, The artistes rendered ‘Samajavaragamana’. I thought they would sing a telugu kriti after all!! But this one happened to be in Sankrit! But hey, no complaints!!
Gangai Nadhi purathu godhumai pandam
In Aruna Sairam’s words ‘We will now take you to Varanasi where Mother Ganga flows with all her beauty, command and grace making fertile the entire region and bestowing all goodness to it. Ganga is the core or the root of our civilisation. Along the ganges, we find musicians singing Thumris, Khayals and every third person is an ace table player!!’
Shankar Mahadevan shot out a Thumri made famous by Bade Ghulam Ali saab. Unlike other Thumris this one was folkish and had a lighter tone to it.
Rajaputhaanathu veerar thamakku
Rajasthan is known for valour and courage. Even the women of Rajput clan do not fear to tuck in their swords, mount a horse and bravely face the enemy on the Warfield. The wedding songs of Rajasthan are very jubiliant and are full of celebration. Though many folk singers of Rajasthan are not formally trained their vocalising techniques are complete with zeal, Harkaths and mazza. ’Bannire’ meaning little desires was a super fast wedding number and got us all clapping along and cheering them. I am sure the artistes had a ball performing this piece.
Singa Maraattiyar kavidhai kondu
Aruna ji made a witty comment saying there was a Marati Lion sitting right in front of them!! Guess who?? Yes the one and only super star Rajinikanth!! She then belted out her speciality Abhang ‘Theertha vittala’ on the presiding deity of Pandharpur Lord Vittala. When two Artists at the peak of their creative journey vibe together, find their common wavelength and decide to produce magic, the result can be mind blowing!! This is exactly what happened in the next item ‘Kalinga Nardhana Thillana’, The master piece of the earliest composer Oothukadu Venkata Subbier, a master blaster of the 14th century. It was a well deserved standing ovation that they got spontaneously from the de’ la crème’ of Chennai!
This is definitely an evening that I will remember for a long long time to come and those who missed it, hard luck!