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Today, September 24th, 2014 is the first day of Navaratri – The Festival of Nine Nights. Navaratri, also known as Dasara in many parts of India, is a good time for classical music listeners – The music festival at Navartri Mandapam in Thiruvanantapuram and at Mysore Palace are well known. In some of the earlier years (2007, 20082010… ), I have written about some musical compositions that are dear to me during the this ten day festival.   I thought of reviving this tradition and make a few posts during this year’s Navaratri as well.

Since Navaratri is a celebration of the various aspects of Devi, I will confine to the compositions to those that are about Goddesses such as Parvati, Saraswati, Durga etc who are worshiped during these Nine Nights. Also, as a way of remembering the recently-departed ‘God of Mandolin’, U Srinivas, I will confine to only instrumental renditions of such compositions. I will try to point out to some interesting tit-bits about those compositions too.

First a couple of words about U Srinivas – I think we were plain lucky to have lived in the same time as this artist, who brought in an alien instrument and turned it into our very own, as far as Indian classical music is concerned. If you ask me, it is high time we call this instrument as Sri-Veena 🙂 . Although we tend to associate the word Veena with the Saraswati Veena (which is actually only as old as the early 17th century), the term Veena actually refers to a stringed instrument, with or without frets, which may be played using plucking or bowing etc. We have had Veenas such as Nagaveena, Dhanurveena (which were played using a bow), just like a modern day violin. We have the Chitra Veena (a.k.a. Gotuvadya), Rudra Veena and the like. Guitar which has been adapted for Hindustani music by Vishwa Mohan Bhat is being called as Mohana Veena, and why not call mandolin as Sri Veena ? Just a passing thought as I started out writing this post!

In the 18th century, Tanjavoor was a great center of music and arts. Syama Shastry, who is considered as one of the “Trinity” of Karnataka Sangeeta  lived in Tanjavoor city. His compositions bear his signature  as ‘Shamakrishna’. He was the priest of Bangaru Kamakshi temple in Tanjavoor, and often addresses his favorite deity as  “Shamakrishna sodari” – the sister of Shamakrishna (Vishnu).  Although numerically his compositions are lesser than those of Tyagaraja or Muttuswamy Dikshita, each of his compositions is indeed a gem.

During Sharabhoji’s reign (1777 AD – 1832AD),  a musician named Bobbili Keshavayya, visited his court. Keshavayya was well known for challenging musicians. Since no other musician in Tanjavoor court were ready to face Keshavayya who was known for his expertise at singing pallavis with extremely complicated rhythmic structures, the responsibility fell on Syama Sastry.

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(Picture courtesy: The Hindu,   http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-fridayreview/carrying-on-the-legacy/article4463886.ece)

In the music-duel that followed,  Keshavayya sang a pallavi in Simha nandana tALa, which Shama Sastry comprehended and reproduced. Now, it was Shama Sastry’s turn to challenge Keshavayya next day. That night during his prayers to Goddess Kamakshi, Syama Shastry sang a new composition in a brand new raga – Chintamani, pleading her to protect him at this critical moment  (dEvI brOva samayamidE ati vEgamE vacci).

For the first day of Navaratri, the composition I want to share with you is this – “dEvi brOva samayamide” in Raga Chintamani, played on the mandolin by, who else but U Srinivas, and U Rajesh?

Wishing everyone a very happy time during this Navaratri.

-neelanjana

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On the way to work this morning,  I was listening to a show on raaga kalyAni on Stanford Radio at 90.1FM (www.itsdiff.com)  presented by Sri Ragavan Manian, an eminent musician of SFO bay area.

Kalyani, or yaman if you are from north of river Krishna, is a very captivating rAga indeed. I have rambled on it this rAga earlier, here and here. Today, it is the chance to write a bit more!

What if I were to be stranded in an island, and had only one rAga to listen to? Which rAga would I pick? Of course, kalyAni. Actually that reminds me of a comment made by one of the callers in the radio program this morning – “How can anyone in the right frame of mind NOT like kalyANi?” 😉 ?

Texual traditions place Kalyani to be an import from the music of the Middle-Eastern music. The word ‘yaman’ comes from ’eman’ or ‘iman’ in Persian – which means “blessed”. When this rAga was adopted to Indian music, the name was indianized with the same meaning as ‘kalyaNa’, or ‘kalyANi’. This import should have happened sometime around 1400 AD (or before), since we have the name of the rAga mentioned in a composition of SripadarAya (1402 AD-1500AD).

Sometime back, the blog avadhi asked it’s readers to name their Top Ten kannada books. My list was published there too. Today’s  show on rAga kalyAni made me list my top ten favourite compositions, set in kalyAni rAga. 

Disclaimer: This order is not set in stone, and I will just say that it is today’s list; if I were to set to do the list another day I might come up with a slightly different order  🙂 🙂 🙂

For those interested, I am pointing to some of my favourite audio links as well.

1. nidhi chAlA sukhamA :

One of the Kalyani gems composed by Tyagaraja. It was supposedly composed in response to the invitation of Serfoji (king of Tanjavoor) to Tyagaraja to become a court musician. He asks “Does wealth give you bliss, or  being close to Rama give you bliss”? You can listen to it here  sung by S Sowmya.

2. EtAvunnarA:  

Another grand kriti of Tyagaraja in kalyAni. Listen it here  on the Veena, by Eemani Shankara Shastry.

3.  sundari nI divya rUpamunu:

Yet another wonderful kriti of Tyagaraja in Kalyani. Tyagaraja visited Chennaipattanam (now Chennai) to visit one of his deciples. There he visited the temple at Tiruvottriyoor, on the northern outskirts of current day Chennai, and composed five compositions on the goddess Tripurasundari. These are termed as the “Tiruvottriyoor Pancharatna kritis”. This composition is one of those five. Listen to it  sung by Dr M Balamuralikrishna , unquestionably my personal favourite.

4. nija dAsa varada:

No wonder the first three were compositions of Tyagaraja. He has composed more than 30  songs in this rAga. And for the same reason, it seems Patnam Subramaniyam Iyer, who comes in the lineage of Tyagaraja did not compose anything in Kalyani for a long time because he felt that Tyagaraja had almost exhausted all the possibilities in kalyAni rAga. But finally he came up with a his own grand composition, to match those of the saint,  set slightly differently to showing his individuality. Listen to it on the nAdaswara by Namagiripettai Krishnan.

5. SringapurAdhIswari shAradE:

A very nice composition of Krishnamachar, popularly known as Padmacharan. Till recently I did not know this kriti – but once I listened to this the rasika forum (www.rasikas.org) (sung by M N Sriram, a fellow rasika on the forum) sometime back, this has  become one of my favourites!

6. nannu brOvamani cheppavE : 

I love the folksy touch given to this composition of Annamayya.   Listen to this song here sung by Dr BMK  . 

7. kamalAmbAm bhajarE :

Here comes the composition of Muttuswami Dikshitar (MD). This majestic composition is one of the Kamalamba Navavarana kritis. Listen to this played  by U Srinivas on the mandolin

8. bhaja rE chitta:

Another kriti of MD. Listen to this here  sung by Sanjay Subramanian

9. himAdri sutE pAhimAm :

A composition of Shyama Shastri. One of the few compositions that has two different set of words – one in Samskrita and one in Telugu (birAna varAlicchi brOvumu) . Here is the samskrita version from a kannada movie, Hamsageethe, by Dr BMK

10. shivE pAhimAm ambike :

While I could not locate the audio for this kriti, I wanted to list it here because this was the first Kalyani kriti I became aware of! This is a kriti of Tyagaraja, on Dharmasamvardhini, the diety of Tiruvayyaru, the hometown of Tyagaraja.

I wish I could add more compositions, but ‘Top Ten’s are supposed to be what they mean – Right? So even though I don’t want to add these to the list, I will just mention few other must listens  in this rAga –  kAru vElpu of Tyagaraja, abhayAmbA jagadambA of MD, kELano hari tALano or Purandara dAsa sung beautifully by BMK  for a kannada movie – gAnayOgi rAmanna ( Listen to it here)  and the ThAya mAlika tillAna composed by Dr MBK come to mind immediately. The last one definitely merits a post on it’s own. May be some other day!

-neelanjana

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