Three nagaswaram artistes on stage was itself an awe-inspiring sight. For the artistes, it seemed routine. Throughout the concert they played naturally. Within five minutes of playing, they left a mark on the listener – evidence that they were veterans. The trio consisted of TC Karunanidhi, his wife TK Maheshwari and their son Karthikeyan. And their concert was one of nine Nagaswaram concerts organized by Parivadini as part of Navaratri Nava Shakti series.
Hamsadwani ragam can help performers peak the concert. The trio took Hamsadwani to start their concert and played long swara progressions. They played Saravanabava Samayamithira in Pasupathipriya ragam, a kriti composed by Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavathar, as a filler without delving into it. Our Carnatic music is full of such short, medium and long kritis.
Then the trio took up a raga called Madhamavarali for alapana. Quite often, many listeners, including those not familiar with Carnatic music, say Subabanthuvarali is an example of ragas that melt hearts. But the Madhyamavarali they played seemed to be of that quality. Karunanidhi expounded the raga thoughtfully, taking time, and fully experiencing it himself. In this, Karunanidhi was experiencing what is often termed, ‘svanubhava.’ The song was Narayana Namo by Narayana Theerthar.
The trio did not delineate the raga in a mechanical fashion. They did not elaborate the arohana first followed by avarohana, but internalized the raga’s qualities and played it to bring out the raga’s flavour. That they were playing nagaswaram only helped. Any raga can come alive and move people if played in the sacred instrument of Tamils.
Having said all this, it was indeed surprising that the trio played Thyagaraja’s Seethamma Mayamma (Vasantha) at breakneck speed in short rupaka thala. The kriti is appropriately performed as a slow, heartfelt composition.
Many performers do this as if they are taking on a challenge. TM Krishna in his book, “A Southern Music – The Karnatik Story”, talks about how performers play one song at a hyper pace, then switch to a crawl in the next. He writes that such performing styles were not to his liking. The thillana in Raga Dhanashree of Swati Tirunal was an appropriate show stopper.
Thavil artistes Manikandan and Venkatesh played as per the requirements of the kritis. In the fast-paced Seethamma Mayamma, they kept the rhythm with perfection. In their solo section (thani), they fully displayed the possibilities of their instrument.
The concert stage had been set up in such a way that the backdrop artwork was what is found in weddings. The Nagaswaram today is mostly played in weddings and in temples. Whether the Nagaswaram is truly considered an auspicious instrument or just a ritual accompaniment in ceremonious occasions, Parivadini deserves kudos for doing its best to revive and rejuvenate the artform of Nagaswaram playing.