Saturday, December 5, 2009

Season kick off and Mayuram Viswanatha Sastri

Another season kicks off today with a concert for the Margazhi Maha Utsavam. I have been silent these past months on the blog. A couple of reasons. Travel has been hectic and the creative juices are not flowing. This is just a note to say that I do intend to keep this going in whatever way I can. The Jaya TV concert annually has been my season beginner and I do enjoy it so much. It is a concert where I can tap into this huge library of music and come up with compsitions that go on to occupy a regular place in my concert repertoire. In the eighties when I was still in the process of learning songs, the biggest motivation came from competitions and thematic concerts. Everytime there was a competition one had to learn many songs of a composer and thus one managed to expand one's repertoire. Later when I started performing there was an explosion of thematic concerts in Chennai. This gave me another opportunity to learn songs. Some of those themes from the early nineties that I have sung included Songs on Devi by Tyagaraja, Harikambhoji and its janyas, Ambujam Krishna songs, Papanasam Sivan songs, Koteeswara Iyer (a special recording for Charangi, then run by Mr RT Chari of Tag centre), Gopalakrishna Bharati special concert at Anandatandavapuram, Swati Tirunal, Compositions of Annamacharya, Bhadrachala Ramdas & Narayana Teertha, several concerts of Dikshitar kritis by Guruguhanjali where a songlist was given to me in advance and I hardly knew a single composition!

Jaya TV gives me the perfect space to work out a theme, do some 'data mining' and come with a list of songs. The thing I like about these concerts is that because of the tremendous reach of television so many people listen and come back to concerts with requests of the same. This kind of ensures that these songs do not die prematurely as a one off effort as in some cases. Instead they enjoy a decent lease of life and I also get to keep singing fresh songs rather than repeated requests from some of my old recorded commercial albums. I have also concentrated a lot on tamizh composers and compositions. After all it is the language I am most comfortable with. I grew up speaking it everyday!

This year's theme is interesting in that I have chosen an almost forgotten composer. Mayuram Viswanatha Sastri was a vaggeyakara in the true sense of the word. I have heard a senior musiclogist once mention about the composer Tiruvarur Ramaswamy Pillai as a 'vidwan' who also composed. So also were composers like Patnam, Poochi, Muthiah Bhagavatar, Papanasam Sivan and Mysore Vasudevacharya from the early days for the 20th century. Mayuram Viswanatha Sastri was a brilliant composer who unfortunately did not enjoy the patronage of performing musicians like many others. Only GNB and later DK Pattammal sang some of his songs. In fact his most popular song, Jayati jayati in Khamas became well known mostly thru GNB's record. There is a story that Jayati jayati made it to the final round for selection as the Indian national anthem. Another sidelight on Viswanatha Sastri is that the Music Academy had organised a competition to encourage vaggeyakaras and Viswanatha Sastri won the first prize.

During the eighties Viswanatha Sastri's brother Shri Vaitheeswaran used to conduct concerts dedicated to his compositions annually. I have heard concerts of musicians like Kalakkad Ramanarayana Iyer and Manakkal Rangarajan in Sastri hall singing these songs. After that nothing much was heard except that I know Vidwan Bagalore S Shankar belongs to Viswanatha Sastri's sishya parampara and has sung many of his songs. During the Jayalalitha Govt rule in Tamizh Nadu, Semmangudi had publicly asked for musicians to take up Viswanatha Sastri's Tirukkural madura keertanaigal to increase the presence of tamizh songs in concerts. In this connection the then Chief minister had awarded a financial grant to the Viswanatha Sastri family for popularising his compositions. At that time, a close relative of Viswanatha Sastri met me in Bangalore and gave me several of the books with his compositions and asked if we could do a recording sometime. Somehow I never got the time to sit down and examine the songs. Thankfully the Jaya TV concert has given me the perfect forum to bring out some of these hidden gems. As I perused the songs I was stunned by the musical quality of the songs I really felt bad for having ignored him. As in the case of Dandapani Desigar last year Viswanatha Sastri is another excellent composer who's songs need to be sung more on the concert stage.

Apart from his tirukkural madura keertanaigal, where he has set the tirukkural to music in kriti format, he has also composed songs like murugan madura keertanaigal, krishna madura keertanaigal and bharath bhajan - a collection of sanskrit songs with a patriotic fervour. He has also explored several composition forms like varnam, kriti, swarajati, ragamalika, folk tunes, nadai changes in songs etc. I really enjoyed learning up these songs and I hope rasikas will support this and more of his songs will become popular.

Looking forward to yet another season and hopefully a few more posts before the year is over!