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 When music becomes a “Tapas”

The compositions of the Trinity are timeless and each time they are heard, they lend fresh meaning to the listener. Recently, this point was more than proved when I happened to listen to the exquisite rendition of Sri Shyama Sastri's swarajathis rendition by senior musician Smt.Ambujam Vedantam and her disciples. Yes, the three gem swarajathis are without a parallel and what a musical architecture Shyama Sastri has built through these compositions! First is the choice of three Bhava laden ragas - Bhairavi, Todi and Yadukulakamboji for composing them. Then comes the relaxed gait and tempo which so ideally brings out the essence of the raga in full measure. Finally, the beautiful way in which the lyrics and melody complement each other to fit into the Tal a structure and make it most exquisite.

In the Bhairavi swarajathi , there seems nothing left untouched about the raga. Shyama Sastri starts the composition in the mandra ni in the opening phrase, touches the mandra ma, proceeds gradually in the arohana krama and in the final svara, he touches the tara ma and lands beautifully on the theme line. The step by step progression portrayed is simply an aural treat ! Similarly, in the Yadukulakamboji piece, he has defined the grammar of the raga by subtly showing which note is more important to the raga and warrants elaboration accordingly. This is a subtle but magnificent way of showing music students the contours of the raga and how they should approach it while doing manodharma. Thus, there are two swara passages starting on sa, one on ri, ga and ma, three on pa, two on dha and the final one on tara sa. The Todi piece again is a grand and gorgeous one which shows the multi-hues and different facets of the raga and how the same ga could be approached in different contexts. Truly, the three compositions offer a kaleidoscopic panorama of the ragas in all their grandeur.

What do I say about the gait of the compositions which give so much room and scope for the intricate display of the nuances of each note? The karvais are neither too long nor short - just right enough to give space to magnify the beauty of each note. While many think that high pitched and super fast singing is an applaudable virtue, Shyama Sastri has shown through  these three compositions that the ultimate essence and beauty of music lies in the Mandra sthayi coupled with a  grand Vilamba kaala.

But of course, I must hasten to say that it is the deepest understanding of all these intricacies by the performer that can bring out the multifaceted dimensions of these compositions. I have heard so many artists render these swarajathis but I suppose the rendition of Smt.Ambujam Vedantham stood out very distinctly  because she seemed to literally meditate on these compositions, going deep into the beauty of every phrase and enjoying every note and word to its ultimate. It was the self-enjoyment of the music that got radiated to the listeners. She took the rasikas on a beautiful, exciting journey and through her introspective approach, showed them how each note and each phrase could be made so pregnant with musical meaning.  It was truly a serene and ethereal experience and I was really moved to see how the outcome of these monumental compositions can be, when they are rendered by someone to whom music is a way of life and nothing but a “Tapas” - a meditative process of rediscovering and unearthing the ultimate values of music. Ambujam Mami - thanks for opening that beautiful window for us to peek into the great musical treasures which we possess and can really be proud of.  My silent Pranaams  to you for showing what music can really give to a person who surrenders himself completely at its altar. May your tribe increase!c

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