An Unforgettable Evening.

“A salon is a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation.”

Chamber music is a form of classical music that is composed for a small group of instruments—traditionally a group that could fit in a palace chamber or a large room. Most broadly, it includes any art music that is performed by a small number of performers, with one performer to a part (in contrast to orchestral music, in which each string part is played by a number of performers). However, by convention, it usually does not include solo instrument performances.

Because of its intimate nature, chamber music has been described as “the music of friends”. For more than 100 years, chamber music was played primarily by amateur musicians in their homes, and even today, when chamber music performance has migrated from the home to the concert hall, many musicians, amateur and professional, still play chamber music for their own pleasure. Playing chamber music requires special skills, both musical and social, that differ from the skills required for playing solo or symphonic works.”

I have never been to either.

My friends Geeta and Koushik. as part of our current Vijayadashami festival, treated their friends and some members of their family to an evening of Carnatic Music and excellent food afterwards last Friday. It was a typically Indian adaptation of the Salon and Chamber Music combination called a Baithak. The performers were sitting on the floor and playing and some of the audience too did the same, though the older like me, preferred to sit on chairs.

It was two hours plus of sheer mesmerising Carnatic Music at its best. The singer Smt. Sushruti Santhanam, an accomplished artiste sound in theory as well as in rendition, introduced each piece to the audience, most of them unlike me, not comfortable with Tamil or Telugu, with English translation of the verses being sung as well as the background to each. Carnatic music is entirely devotional and often transports the performer as well as listeners to meditative states and this is exactly what Sushruti achieved with consummate ease. On two occasions I was moved to tears with her bhakti, something that has not happened to me in a long long time.

Her troupe, all amateurs, Smt. Aruna Sivaram on the violin, Sri. M.B.Harsha on the Mridangam and Smt. Sowmya Jayabharadwaj, with the Tanpura accompanying in singing, were equally brilliant and I was very impressed by the thani-avarthanam of the mridangam and the solo renderings of the violinist.

The icing on the cake was the post music session dinner of delicious South Indian cuisine. One particular item, a pickle took me back to many decades and I requested my hostess to let me have some to have at home which she gladly did.

All in all a delightful and unforgettable evening.

Maargita Ganesha.


My friends Geeta and Koushik who introduced me to Dakshina Dwaraka sent an invitation separately and another through the group’s bulk mailing system to attend a program called Maargita Ganesha yesterday. As my readers know we are just about to conclude our annual Ganesha festival and this program was arranged as part of the festivities by the relatively new group featured above. I attended the program and came away from it with great admiration for the two artists featured in the program.


Sushruti Santhanam, with who my readers are familiar through my earlier blog post started the program off with an introduction about Maargita Ganesha. I paraphrase her in this blog post as it was a great learning experience for me too. I learnt some very new things about Ganesha, the path and the links to music and worship.

Maarga in Sanskrit means the path. Many of my readers exposed to Buddhism will connect the word with its Pali equivalent Magga. In this context, the path refers to the path to moksha / liberation. The focus of the event yesterday was on how Indian art uses the path to liberation from form by creating form. Sushruti explained how Ganesha becomes the liberating force and how the created form – music and sculpture become the path. In the music part of the program which I was able to attend fully Sushruti talked about capturing the form and spirit of Ganesha through the exquisite compositions of Muthuswami Dikshitar who takes complex metaphysical and mythological ideas and sculpts them deftly with the chisel of language and music grammar to produce aesthetically evocative compositions. Such creativity is what the Maargitha tradition of music represents.

That introduction was follwed by some mindblowing renderings of Dikshitar’s compositions by Sushruti accompanied with great panache by Ms. Sowmya Jayabharadwaj; Shri H. Venkatraman on the mridangam, and Ms. Mahati Venkatraman on the tambura.

Guruji with lamps

The recital was followed by a lecture by Guru Ravindra Sharma, a sculptor, artist and a thinker who shares a very deep connection with the ethos and spirit of the creative communities of India. His talk centered around the aesthetic journey of sculpture, its rules, materiality and metaphysics. He explained how this form of intense creative engagement in connecting physical material to supra-rational significance and the creation of form, Ganesha in this instance, becomes the Maarga in sculpture.

To me, it was a learning experience and I hope to get to know more about the subject from both these remarkable people.

Dakshina Dvaraka. What An Evening!

“Information isn’t what’s scarce; it’s the willingness to do something with it.”
~ Tyler Cowen

It was a heady mixture of culture, history, music, dance, sculpture, religion, and mythology. It was a presentation that was originally scheduled to last two hours and fifteen minutes but because of audience pressure got extended to three hours but still left the audience wanting more.

My friends Geeta and Koushik are deeply involved in matters cultural in Pune with a particular orientation towards Tamil Nadu. They are part of a new initiative called Dakshina Dvaraka meaning Doorway To The South, and had invited me to a programme yesterday. Despite receiving this electronic flier I was not quite sure how the evening will turn out to be but since I trust Geeta’s and Koushik’s judgement in these matters, decided to go. You can click on the image to get a larger image.
dakshina dvaraka

Manjiree and Ranjan too got intrigued enough to offer to accompany me and the three of us had a most interesting and enlightening evening out. Dr. Chithra Madhavan‘s presentation with the help of photographs on six of Tamil Nadu’s many famous temples, the myths attached to them and the history behind them was fascinating to say the least.

Sushruti Santhanam’s explanations about the songs that she sang with reference to the composer/poet/saints behind them was also fascinating and the surprise Bharat Natyam by Dr. Anjali Raju was icing on the cake. Sushruti’s comments about the Maratha influence on Carnatic music zapped audience, sitting as we all were in the heartland of the old Maratha empire.

We left the auditorium with amazement that there was so much that we need to learn about our own culture. Manjiree and Ranjan have decided to go on an extensive motorcycle trip to Tamil Nadu at the earliest and I envy them.

Thank you Geeta and Koushik for having given us this opportunity to learn invaluable things about our heritage. Vignesh, it is a pity that you missed it!

The Awakening.

NITHYASREE“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”

~ Albert Schweitzer

The weekend would have been like any other and Saturday was just that.  On Sunday morning however, I received a phone call from a friend inviting me to attend a Carnatic Music concert in the evening.  On an impulse, I agreed to attend and recovered a forgotten ear for that genre of music.

In my childhood, I used to hear my parents, particularly my mother sing songs in the Carnatic style and we were inundated with Carnatic music from the radio. Even Tamil film songs used to be based on the classical system but arranged by music directors to please a public not quite familiar with the classical music.  Apart from these influences, close family friends were deeply in to the genre and we used to listen to two particularly playing on the Veena.  And, all our weddings inevitably had musicians playing Carnatic music with Nadaswaram and in the evenings during the receptions, leading vocalists entertaining the guests.

As was the then custom, we had a teacher coming home to teach our sister and our cousin to sing, but alas, despite his best efforts, these two worthies could never master the technique though they did as all of us listening to their efforts did too, learn to appreciate the finer aspects of the genre.  Apart from all these influences, our father had a penchant to associate himself with lady singers and would drag us to meet them to listen to private performances.

I grew up in that atmosphere but lost touch with that part of Chennai life with the advent of Rock and Roll and Elvis Preseley etc.  That led to other interests and I eventually ended up coming to appreciate Hindustani Classical music due to living in Pune where it is de rigueur to be seen attending concerts with two very big festivals, the Sawai Gandharva and the Pune festival, celebrating it.

The Sunday concert by Nityashree Mahadevan and her troupe, was  three plus hours of sheer magic.  I was surprised at my ability to sit through the whole concert without losing interest.  Nityashree and her accompanists were all inspired and it was a once in a life time evening.  The audience response was no less in appreciation and involvement.  I had the music playing in my ears till Monday afternoon. I have decided to become a member of the local society promoting this genre of music and attend more concerts that they regularly arrange. No, I have no intention of learning to sing though!

When I posted about this development on my Facebook page, the sheer joy of my dear ones welcoming me back to the fold left me stumped!

Thank you Koushik for rekindling that inner fire and being the other human being too! Thanks to you, another human being Nityashree too did that.