Few weeks ago, I had the good fortune of attending a thematic concert of  bay-area vocalist Sri Ragavan Maniyan. He was accompanied on the violin by Sri Hemmige Srivatsan, and on the mridanga by Sri Sriram Ragavan.

In this concert Ragavan sang compositions  of his guru, Dr M Balamuralikrishna (BMK).

A typical Karnataka sangeeta concert has two aspects to it-  One is  the  kalpita sangeeta (or pre-composed music) and the other  is manOdharma sangeeta (composed extempore).  On the kalpita sangeeta part, the vocalist normally chooses a variety of compositions such as varNa, kriti, dEvaranAma, taranga, ashTapadi or tillAnas.  Some composers have specialized in specific forms of compositions and there may be a limitation when all the compositions are of the same composer. For example, if you limit a concert to compositions of Purandara Dasa, you can only have padas (dEvaranAmas) and ugAbhOgas, since suLAdis are almost extinct.  On ther hand if you choose Tyagaraja, you can only have compositions of the the kriti genre.  BMK, is one of the composers who have composed all kinds of compositions that are performed in a standard concert and hence limiting the concert to a single composer in no way negatively affects the variety in the concert.

I have been a Balamurali fan for almost as far as I can remember, and I have grown up listening to his recordings.   We got our first tape player at home when I was probably 7 or 8 years old. The first audio cassette we got was of  Balamurali’s. It seems like yesterday, listening to Tyagaraja’s pancharatna kriti jagadAnanddakAraka in nATa, Syama Sastry’s dEvI brOva samayamidE in ChintAmaNi and jayadEva’s nijagAdasa yadunandanE in sindhu bhairavi on that tape. Of course, back then neither did I know anything about Tyagaraja, Syama Sastry , Jayadeva, and  Balamurali nor about sindhubhairavi, chintAmaNi and nATa. But listening to these, and other recordings day in and day day out developed my taste for music as our audio collection grew in course of time.

I very well remember the first time I heard Balamuralikrishna live on stage. It was in 1980 or 1981, I think.  It was quite a rare  event for me, because BMK was not one of the musicians who came annually either during Ganapathi festival or Ramanavami celebrations in our town. That day, he started out with a majestic endarO mahAnubhAvulu in Sri, and then moved on to sing tuLasIdaLamulachE in mAyAmALavagouLa. And alas, we had an untimely rain shower, and the concert had to stop mid way because it was an open-air concert.   It was rescheduled after a few days, but I missed it because I was out of town to attend some function. Later, I have had the opportunity to hear him live a few times, but never as much as I wished for :(.

This concert of Ragavan was a real treat for me, since Ragavan is a student of BMK, and is follows his tradition of, or should I say, not following the tradition blindly and is willing to make new experiments!

I want to do a small disclaimer first! I am not a concert reviewer J I will list the compostions he sang, and add some notes wherever I can.

In this concert Ragavan presented the following compositions:

1.      chalamu sEya  (varNa)  in Ramapriya:

If you ask me, BMK has composed fabulous varNas. I like almost all his varNas, that I have heard – but the varNas in Shanmukhapriya (oMkAra praNava),  gambhIranATa, amrtavarShiNi (AbAlagOpAla)  , shuddha tODi (saraguna gAvumu) and nATa (E nAdamulO)  are my favourite ones.

2. mahAdEva sutam in Arabhi:
A brisk and attractive kriti.

3. srI rAmam sadA in tAnarUpi :

BMK is one of the few composers who have done composed in all the 72  mELakartas (parental sclaes).  I have listened to all of them, and I like some of them better than the others. The rAga tAnarUpi, due to the nature of notes employed is a challenge to any musician. It is a double vivAdi rAga – simply said, it has some intervals between the notes that are not commonly used.  Ragavan’s AlApane and kriti rendition were both excellent.  Before the concert I had half a mind to do a listener’s request for him to sing the mELakarta kriti in a non-vivAdi rAga such as kOkolapriya or suvarnAngi (in which BMK has real nice compositions).  Not that I don’t like vivAdi rAgas; in fact I do like them a lot – but because many listeners have associated BMK with vivAdi rAgas, and I wished Ragavan dispelled that myth (This is not really true; but with 40 of 70 mELakartas being vivAdi, he has had no other option, you see!)  I ended up not doing the request, because I believe the artiste is the best judge of  what is best for his manOdharma at any performance. 

 4. A composition (on Saraswati) in mOhana:

This was the only composition I had not heard before. I forgot the words though.

5. mA mAnini in tODi: This is a special composition – because the sAhitya uses only the sounds sa-ri-ga-ma-pa-da-ni: the seven notes used in our music (except for the line which has the composers signature) 

6. oMkArAkAriNi in lavangi:

BMK is a trend setter. For hundreds of years, it was thought that a rAga should have  at least 5 musical notes to be enjoyable. BMK changed that with his new rAga creations such as mahati, sumukham and lavangi. 


 7. satyamulakidi kAdu manchi kAlam in bhairavi :

It is an interesting composition. This is a translation of Purandara Dasa’s ‘satyavantarigidu kAlavalla’ ; While he has retained the traditional maTTu in bhairavi rAga, and almost verbatim translated the words, he has  introduced  his signature, in addition to the purandara dAsa’s signature  as ‘muraLIdhara srI purandara’ in the last charaNa.  As far as I know, BMK has created such parallel sAhitya for a few more of Purandara dAsa’s dEvaranAmas such as  anugAlavu chinte and simharUpanAdE . There might be more too.

8. rAga – tAna – pallavi in miSramukhi tALa in rAga hamsAnandi:Ragavan used a line from one of BMK’s kritis,  and set the pallvi in misramukhi tALa ( a new concept introduced by BMK)

9. brihadISvara mahAdEva in kAnaDa: Probably one of the first BMK kritis I became aware of. I remember listening to vocalist Channakeshavan (a deciple of BMK)  sing this in a concert.

10. varuga varuga in kAmavardhini:

One of the best compositions in this rAga I would say.

11. rAga ThAya mAlikA tillana (tanom nom tatara tillAna): Funny that I am writing about this again! In an earlier post, I mentioned this composition and said it will need a post dedicated to itJ .  So, I am not writing more now! I will just say, it is a very challenging composition, and Ragavan did it amazingly well. If I closed my eyes, I could actually visualise Balamurali singing on the stage!

12. mangaLam Sri Raghavendra in suruTi:

Overall, it was a very satisfying concert experience for me. And for those of you in Bengalooru: BMK is singing at Rama Sava Mandali (Fort High School) on 15th May 2008. Don’t miss this opportunity to listen to the Maestro live!