Aruna Sairam’s constant touch with Chennai, albeit being primarily a Mumbaikar seemed to have run her in good stead. At least that has been proven by her being chosen for the Sangita Kalanidhi that is to be conferred on her by the Music Academy, Chennai at the beginning of next year. She won the Padma Sri in 2009 and some time earlier the title Sangita Choodamani by Krishna Gana Sabha, a no less prestigious sabha of Chennai and Kalaimamani by the Government of Tamil Nadu in 2006. She was also appointed Advisor to Department of Culture, Tamil Nadu, Indra Sivasailam award was hers in 2012 and the Rajah Annamalai Chettiar Award in 2013. The contribution of Aruna Sairam to Tamil Nadu and that of Tamil Nadu in recognizing her appear to be mutual.
Even such critics who often see a tradition lost in her transition from the lilting padams and javalis genre of the Brinda school to resorting to populism by playing to the gallery, with the Madu Meikkum Kanna and Kalinga Narthana Thillana category, will have to ungrudgingly acknowledge that all this served to popularize carnatic music willy-nilly. Let us be fair to her. She also had a liberal dose of abhangs in her concerts. Rasikas were led to reach their dancing crescendos, irrespective of whether the meaning was understood or not. That then is the peculiarity of carnatic music which “extends” beyond the purpose of lyrics and their context.
Even such critics who often see a tradition lost will have to ungrudgingly acknowledge that all this served to popularize carnatic music willy-nilly.
She could definitely handle the subtle aesthetics of an Anandha Bhairavi and here there was never any laidback approach from the singer. The pursuit had an immense and staid approach. The purists had to make wow sounds in plenty. There was also this keen sense of proportion in selecting songs that could satisfy the tastes of several groups who come to her concerts for various reasons – Tamil songs, chaste padanthara, those soulful padams and javalis.
Her collaborative efforts with musicians from Germany and France especially with Dominique Vellard – her’s relies on the oral tradition and the westerner wants everything written down — and getting to their idiom with the correct understanding of the Western system could well rank her by the side of Pandit Ravishankar, Ramnad Krishnan, T Visva, as true ambassadors of our music.
While it is very true that those who have the capacity of handling carnatic music can handle any other system, the point to be stressed here is the assimilation of music for her at the right age that must have been the cause. Then her opting to choose Oothukadu Venkatakavi’s presentations must have been a discrete choice. She has released an exclusive album and was greatly influenced by Needamangalam. These compositions have the element of mix of the slow (vilamba) and fast (Thuritha) kalams invariably intertwined and both were treated as her comfort zones, with most vivid portrayals at each level.