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Stringing together rare concepts

For her latest project, violinist Kanyakumari focuses on Tyagaraja’s ekaika ragas

Last December, A. Kanyakumari began a thematic series to showcase Tyagaraja’s ekaika ragas – those with only one kriti. She began the series with ‘E daari sancarintura’ in raga Srutiranjani. The veteran violinist had envisioned it as a three-week project for the 2019 music season, but the overwhelming response has made her continue. So far, 49 ragas and kritis have been premièred, one each Friday.

“I wanted to take up a theme not dealt with earlier. Tyagaraja’s appeal lies in his compositions with lyrics that are simple and comprehensible ,” she says. That instrumental music is not given its due in the present day was also an issue she wished to address. “Nadam comes from instruments. The tambura too is used for that. Lyrics can be faithfully replicated by instruments while conveying the appropriate bhava. Instrumental music should be on a par with vocal and instrumentalists should be given their proper due,” she says.For beginnersBesides being a reputed violinist, Kanyakumari is a renowned teacher who has been consistently grooming talented youngsters. Her rationale in the selection of the pieces, and the order of presentation, reflects this understanding of various age groups, levels of musical competence, and attention span. “I began the series with catchy ragas to pique interest. One cannot exclusively present rare songs or only vilamba kala kritis. If we force beginners to learn larger chowka kala kritis, they will get disheartened and lose interest in the music itself. There is immense variety in Tyagaraja’s compositions. ‘Ramincuvarevarura’ in Suposhini, for example, is composed in a Western style, in a fast tempo, but with a simple structure that allows even beginners to learn it. This type of kriti can also be sung in a group. Then there are heavier and slower kritis. It is important to bring in variety by playing popular pieces, rare songs and by playing in fast and slow tempos to cater to every type of learner and enthusiast,” she says.

Before launching the project, she went through the vast repository of Tyagaraja’s compositions, looking for ekaika ragas, and has gathered 134 so far. While she knew some of them already, she had to learn others. For that, she listened to recordings of yesteryear stalwarts and, wherever possible, of multiple artistes. She says that most of the composer’s pieces are easily comprehensible, especially since Telugu is the violinist’s mother-tongue. She sang each freshly learnt piece several times, adapting it to her style, and setting some sangatis if they seemed appropriate, all the while keeping in mind the sanctity of the lyrics and adaptability for both vocal and instrumental music. Only then did she attempt to play it.Many solitary songsShe has been assisted significantly in this endeavour by her disciples Vittal Rangan, Sayee Rakshith and Mallajosyula Srikanth who, besides playing alongside, have also helped produce the finished audio. Others disciples like Mudicondan Ramesh, Embar Kannan, L. Ramakrishnan and Shilpa Venkatesh also lent support. “Contrary to what might be assumed, only single pieces are available even in some common and popular ragas such as Abheri, Bahudari, Brindavana Saranga and Hemavati,” says Kanyakumari. There are other ragas that are so rare that no other composer has set pieces in them — Raamamanohari (to be distinguished from Ramaamanohari, a raganga ragam in the nomenclature followed by the Muthuswami Dikshitar parampara), Gundakriya, and even Suposhini are among them. Kanyakumari points out how Tyagaraja brings out the raga essence and bhavam even in these kritis. She also noticed the appropriateness between the ragas selected by the composer and the lyrics of the kriti. “Of course, how a musician renders the piece is a key part of conveying the message the composer wants to. For instance, in ‘Nenendu Vetukudura’, Tyagaraja laments about where he can search for Rama’s idols that have been thrown away. This emotion cannot be conveyed if played in a fast or aggressive manner, it should be rendered with the required pathos.”Kanyakumari hopes to continue the series as long as she can. “I will be releasing notations for all the songs to make it easier for students to learn. I hope it serves as a resource through which more songs and other facts about Tyagaraja can be learned,” she says. The author writes on classical music and musicians.


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