/* START Google Analytics Code*/ /* END of Google Analytics Code */ A home called "Parvathi": The Nectar of Musical Discourse

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Nectar of Musical Discourse


"….you see our house "Parvathi" was not just about Music and Sangeethakaraas only…for example my father would call me to tell me that his wish was that every Ekadasi day all the famous Karnataka Harikatha artists must be assembled in our house….Gamaki Ramakrishna Shastriar, Venugopal Das, Lakshmipati Sahodar…then that famous person in Chamundi extension whose name I forget. Ours was a huge 40x35 hall…then we had another hall in front of it…and we used to have 3 hours of non-stop Harikathas... I was young, then, and everywhere I would jump on my bike and go up and down Mysuru’s extensions to assemble everyone. Then we used to have those huge Chandi Homas,too...imagine Parayana for 45 days! Mother was highly religious...she would do dhyana to the Audumbra (fig) tree in our orchard for hours…she believed Lord Dattatreya lived in that tree…so we performed even 'Upanayana' to that tree in 1954/55….with full Nadaswaram to it ...hundreds of people showed up even for this event..."

K. Srikantiah

[ From R. Sachidananda's "Recorded Conversations with Advocate Kunigal Srikantiah" (a private collection) ] /font>




Brahmashri T.S. Balakrishna Shastrigal in 'Parvathi'

KUjantam rAma-rAmeti madhuram madhurAkSaram
Aruhya kavitA-SAkhAm vande vAlmIki-kOkilam

The story of Rama has always been sung. Its honeyed narrative was first and foremost sung by Valmiki himself. Valmiki was a sage blessed by none other than Narada and entrusted with the task of singing the story of Rama. Valmiki has been compared in this shloka to a cuckoo singing from the branches of the tree of poesy, in a nectarine voice filled with the chant of Rama's charming name. Valmiki delighted in the highest musical values, and taught Lava and Kusha the story of Ramayana to be sung in the most classical way, and Rama was totally captivated by that recitation when they sang in his durbar. There is much proof of that in the original Ramayana itself.

Saint Thyagaraja, the Valmiki of our times, is the composer non-pareil in Carnatic music. Therefore imagine a musical discourse from a learned scholar, filled with gems from Thyagaraja's life and times, and music culled from the saint's glorious compositions. Can there be a more fitting finale in a Ramanavami festival?


Thus it came to pass that on the evening of 12 April 1982, the rasikas who filled the pandal were fortunate to immerse themselves in a musical discourse by Brahmashri T.S. Balakrishna Shastrigal. Shastrigal was famed far and wide for his Harikathas filled with sweet Carnatic music, learned discourse on Vedantic ideas, scholarly story-interpretation, couched in a captivating narrative, and punctuated by humorous digs at our so-called modern life style.

Shastrigal had retired from the position of a senior official in State Bank of India, Madras. Born in 1919, he had been giving musical discourses for over 40 years, and had even undertaken foreign tours. His style was such that the music, the narrative, the language easy to understand for anyone who knew any South Indian language, were sure audience-pullers. Senior musicians like Ariyakudi were all admiration for his learning and musical interpretation.

It is interesting how Mr. Srikantiah arranged this Harikatha discourse. He (Srikantiah) was a regular during the Thiruvayyaru festival year after year. One year, he had heard the legendary Annaswami Bhagavatar's Harikatha there, and recalls that Palghat Mani Iyer himself played the mridangam in that discourse. Similarly, as Shastrigal narrates in his own discourse, once, during the Purandara centenary festival at Thiruvaiyyaru, he had occasion to give his discourse in front of several famous musicians. Captivated by his exposition of the raga Saranga, with support from his gifted brother (who provided the musical vocal accompaniment during the narrative), the maestro T. Chowdiah had remarked to the doyens of Carnatic musicians that day that he had felt compelled to take up the violin and accompany Shastrigal himself but could not do so.

Mr. Srikantiah repeatedly stresses that 'Parvathi' saw and heard not only great musicians, but also played host to famed stage and cinema artistes, writers of international repute, scriptural experts and Sanskrit scholars from all over. It is therefore no wonder that he was keen on arranging good Harikathas during the Ramanavami festival. The devotional musical narrative has been a key feature of all Indian fine arts, and Kathak, Kathakali, Baul music, Harikathas from Maharashtra to the end of South India, have all been a rich cultural heritage for us. Carnatic music and the concert format in fact is said to have evolved from Harikathas. A Harikatha exponent was expected to be trained in singing, scriptures, languages, the art of story-telling, acting, mimicry, humour, and even dancing. Only performers of great intelligence and skills in fine arts succeeded in this genre. And Brahmashri Balakrishna Shastrigal was a shining star in this difficult art-form.

Having heard about Shastrigal, Mr. Srikantiah took the trouble in one of his Madras trips to find out where Shastrigal was discoursing that day. So it happened that he went to a Harikatha in Mylapore area and had a chance to see and hear Shastrigal. His mind was made up on the spot and soon the occasion arose for the Harikatha in Parvathi in 1982.

Mr. Srikantiah recalls that the audience that day had many scholars and eminent men from all walks of life. One of them, Mr. A. Ramaswamy, was the Principal of the Administrative Training College in Mysore, where budding IAS officers would undergo training before their posting. Mr. Ramaswamy was so taken with Shastrigal's Harikatha that he requested him to come and perform the next day in front of his officer-trainees at the college! Mr. Srikantiah says appreciatively that the Principal did a world of good to the future IAS community by giving them a chance to listen to a learned, musical discourse from a doyen like Brahmashri Balakrishna Shastrigal, who represented all that is precious and sacred in Indian culture.


WE BRING YOU THE MUSICAL DISCOURSE IN FULL, as we are lucky to have a good quality recording done by Mr. Srikantiah himself nearly 28 years ago.


The words of appreciation spoken towards the end of the Harikatha are by the senior musician and musicologist from Mysore, Sri M. Cheluvarayaswamy.

PS: Look out for another delectable Harikatha treat soon, this time by the famed Arun Kumar, who was a rage with his wonderful Harikathas all over Karnataka even at a young age.