As a matter of convention but not as a thumb rule, Carnatic music concerts generally have a set format introduced by Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar, one of the foremost doyens in the 1920s to bring about a bit of standardisation in the Kutcheri Paddhati. It lent a sound framework and stability to the concert which is why most artistes religiously follow this pattern to date with some minor tweaks here and there. Today in a concert spanning two-and-a-half-to-three hours, the pattern roughly as practised and that which has evolved and gotten established over the time begins with Varnam followed by one or two short compositions in praise of any deity, post which a sub-main piece of a well-known composer namely by the Carnatic music trinity, or Papanasam Sivan, or Mysore Vasudevachar, or Pattanam Subramaniam Iyer et al is presented. This sub-main would carry an elaborate Neraval and swara-prastara as part of their repertoire, which is followed by one or two fast/medium paced compositions as a filler. Then arrives the main piece — Ragam Tanam Pallavi (RTP) — which is generally composed by the performing artiste herself where she displays her virtuosity and control over the rAga & Thala and the percussionists equally reciprocate in the form of Thani-Avartanam. To break the monotony after the most elaborate piece of the concert (RTP), the artistes prefer to present a Viruttam (recital of a shloka or a poetic text) or a Bhajan and eventually conclude the concert with Thillana (a piece that is most suited for dance performances) followed by Mangalam.
Variety is the flavour of life and so it is in Carnatic music. The best analogy for a Carnatic music concert would be a buffet served at a wedding where varied palatable delicacies are placed starting with sweet dishes and starters followed by a main course and eventually concluding with a dessert. One generally does not alter that chronology and disturb the status quo by opting for an ice-cream before the dal-chawal or roti sabzi for multiple reasons: a) it’s been a convention followed by our ancestors for ages b) disruption is not a great idea as one could be turned into laughing stock for not conforming c) there is some scientific reason behind this order d) it provides a certain balance in the way the diet is approached d) none of the above and just going with the flow.
One of the most established artistes in the Carnatic music circuit Sangita Kalanidhi Sanjay Subrahmanyan presents a one-of-its-kind concert that conforms with the Ariyakkudi Pattern of Kutcheri Paddhati but brings in novelty within that structure by presenting rare compositions in a certain pattern. For example, every alternate composition is chosen in a Melakarta rAga and that too in a clear order, where he opts to present all the six rAgas viz. Kanakangi, Ratnangi, Ganamurthi, Vanaspati, Manavati, and Tanarupi that form a part of the 1st (Indu Chakra) of the Melakarta Scheme.
One interesting observation, Sanjay Subrahmanyan does not exactly meddle with the concert pattern; however, at the same time he does not shy away from showcasing his creativity by introducing a unique pattern within the structure that allows ample space for his imagination to blossom. That’s the beauty and greatness of Indian classical music.
Below is the order in which SS renders this concert Madhuradhwani — Sanjay Subrahmanyan Vocal, which is almost similar to the pattern that was just explained. The titles mentioned in bold and italics represent the melakarta rAgas and M1-M6 represent the exact chronological order in which they have been presented as per the nomenclature in the melakarta scheme:
- Varna: Inta Chalamu, composed by Veena Kuppaiyyer in raga Begada
- Ullam urugi, composed by Sudhananda Bharati in raga Kanakangi (M1)
- Ninnada, composed by Saint Tyagaraja in rAga Kannada
- Janani ashrita palini composed by Harikeshanallur Muttiah Bhagawathar in Raga Ratnangi (M2).
- Sub-Main: Shri kamalambikaayam composed by Muttuswami Dikshitar in Raga Sahana in Thisra Triputa Thala which is a unique tala
- Ganamurthey composed by Saint Tyagaraja in raga Ganamurthi (M3). Presents kalpana swaras with interesting swara patterns and is equally well reciprocated by Varadarajan on Violin. Varadarajan mirrors every aspect of Sanjay Subrahmanyan, even his eccentricities.
- Karuna judu, composed by Shyama Shastri in raga Sri. There are multiple charanams in this piece; however due to paucity of time, SS fast-forwards to the last charanam that carries the mudra of the composer — Shyama Shastri.
- Vana durge, composed by Harikeshanallur Muttiah Bhagawathar in raga Vanaspati (M4)
- Gaangeya vasanAdhara padmanabha composed by Swathi Thirunal in Hameer Kalyani
- Main piece: Idadu padam tuki adam in Raga Kambhoji – Interesting unconventional and unheard phrases are employed while essaying the raga
- Evarito ne delpudu composed by Saint Tyagaraja in raga Manavati (M5)
- Rama krishnaru manegey bandaru, composed by Purandaradasa in raga Thilang
- Viruttam in raga Saveri, Abheri, Mohanam, Tanarupi
- Va Velava composed by Koteeswara Iyer in raga Tanarupi (M6)
- Innamum oru Thalam composed by Muttu Thandavar in rAga Behaag
- Mangalam: Pavamana composed by Saint Tyagaraja in rAga Sowrashtram
SS’ wide range of repertoire can be seen in the selection of compositions, ragas and also the variety of composers included in the concert without ignoring the fundamental structure and the most prominent composers i.e., Saint Tyagaraja, Muttuswamy Dikshitar & Shyama Shastri.
Meaning of a few technical terms used above:
- Melakarta ragas are the parent scales in the Carnatic music system; there are 72 such scales divided into two major parts viz. suddha madhyama and prati madhyama, and further divided into 12 chakras.
- Varnam: a brisk piece which encapsulates all the facets of a rAga
- Neraval: improvisation and elaboration by catching hold a particular phrase, typically the most beautiful phrase from within the composition which is meaningful and conveys a message; albeit not many artiste have been able to keep up with this rule and at times pick-up phrase arbitrarily
- Swara-prastara: presentation of swara patterns with various permutations and combinations
- Thani-Avartanam: an independent performance by the percussionists aligned with the central theme of RTP to showcase their skills over laya/rhythm. This could be a bit tricky at times as the piece could be composed in any Tala chosen by the main performer but generally the artistes have a consensus on the RTP before getting onto the stage