Paathantaram project (2017 – ongoing)
To be updated shortly
To be updated shortly
If you are interested in participating in similar music retreats, in India and abroad, please do drop a line, with your contact details. Thank you.
My husband Akhil and I are very fond of travel, and try to travel to different countries and experience different cultures of the world, whenever time and schedules permit. We often brainstorm on novel initiatives in music – and blending the passions of travel and music, has been a pet idea.
During a trip to Langkawi and Krabi (Malaysia and Thailand), I felt like singing cascading kalpana-svarams while we were swimming below a waterfall. When we jet-skied into the middle of the ocean, with waves crashing on us from all sides, I felt like singing bhrigas to accompany the rise and fall of the waves.
Being with nature, was taking me to a zone of deep musical spontaneity – and I thought that I should do a project to take music to spaces of breathtaking natural beauty. I serendipitously met Smt Renuka Vaidyanathan, an IIM-Bangalore alumnus who has set up Beingsattvaa, a vegetarian retreat center in Bali with the ethos of harmony and healing – and we together worked out a musical retreat in Bali along with Flute Vidvan J A Jayanth.
The concept is to present Carnatic music in pristine, acoustic form, in some of the world’s most spectacular locations of natural and architectural beauty – to a like-minded group of rasikas who leave behind rigours and worries, and enjoy a musical off-site in harmony with nature, culture, art and architecture.
We planned daily excursions and spontaneous music sessions – at rainforests, at the foothills of volcanoes, in palace courtyards and ancient temple precincts. We were honoured that acclaimed banker-philanthropist Padma Bhushan Sri Narayanan Vaghul inaugurated the retreat, and joined us for a part of the retreat.
A thematic video of the retreat, is below:
Both in 2015 and 2016, Chennai was struck by rain and storm, just as Margazhi was approaching. The losses and damages on both occasion, were heart-rending.
And when this happened the second time around, in 2016, I felt like taking my own ‘TiruppavaiNombu’ for Margazhi, and praying for peace – internally as well as externally; peace within us, and peace in the elements.
I believe that all forms of prayer, and associated art forms, carry a message of harmony – harmony with the universe, harmony with nature, and harmony with fellow-beings. In the Tiruppavai, Andal was not only praying for her own emancipation, but also conceptualizing harmony in the world – like when she prays for ‘maadammummaari’ (optimal rain occuring three times a month).
I took upon myself, the task of posting every day of Margazhi, a pasuram from Andal’s masterpiece. I wanted to do this as a home-recording with only voice over Tambura – that musical setting has a vintage charm and a musical appeal, of its own. I posted my daily prayer of one verse of the Tiruppavai, along with its English re-rendering by Prof Archana Venkatesan of the University of California at Davis, in her beautiful book “The Secret Garland”. I am sincerely grateful to Archana for permitting me to post excerpts from her book, along with the daily verse.
Apart from being a prayer, this ‘pavainonbu’ turned out to be a wonderful experience of ‘togetherness’ for me. From a group of rasikas of New Zealand who see the first light when the Sun rises above the International Date Line, to rasikas in the US west coast, who see their day break 21-odd hours later – a lot of rasikas joined me in these daily prayers, which I posted on my facebook page.
It was an amazing feeling of ‘togetherness’, when our love for Andal brought us together to delve into her immportal poem for a few elevating minutes, every day.
Like most students of Sanskrit, I have been blown away by Sri Adi Sankaracharya’s works. Coming from one of the most influential figures in the history of mankind – who achieved all he did, in a life of just 32 years – such a dream combination of intellectual prowess and poetic beauty, has often been overwhelming for me.
As one develops a bond with poetry – especially in its original language – an invisible chord ties one to the poet as well. While I can not claim to be deeply into the Acharya’s philosophy and metaphysics, I certainly see his poetic expression resonate in me – such has been my relationship with the great Guru.
What a sensational moment it was for me, when I got the opportunity to sing at the hallowed ‘Swarnath Mana’, a beautiful traditional Namboodiri house in Pazhamthottam (Punnorkodu, Ernakulam District of Kerala) – where a landmark incident of Acharya’s life is said to have happened, as per tradition.
This is the place where a poor Namboodiri lady unhesitatingly offered Acharya the only eatable in her humble house – an Amla fruit – when he came with a Sannyasi’s begging bowl. The Acharya was so moved, that he spontaneously composed a poetic prayer of such intensity and depth of emotional power, that the lady was blessed with a shower of golden (kanaka dhara) Amla fruits.
The concert at Swarnathu Mana, had such an ethereal ambience! I didn’t feel like I was in God’s own country – I felt like I was in Heaven! 🙂 Tuneful and sensitive co-artistes Sri Attukkal Balasubramanian and Sri Mavelikkara R V Rajesh, excellent sound system, a small chamber audience wanting an unusually heavy fare of classicism and keeping rapt attention for 3 1/2 hours – that’s how the concert was…
I presented the KanakadharaStava as a ragamalika with the ragas Hamirkalyani, Dhanyasi, Sahana, Saveri and Madhyamavathi. Here is a short excerpt – the full concert is in the link immediately below.
I often think that the world is moving from doing things “by birth” to doing things “by choice” – and that is a VERY powerful transition.
Taking an example: Earlier, members of specific communities/families, would be vegetarians by birth. Today, several westerners have embraced vegetarianism and veganism – purely by CHOICE. (And of course, some of us – like me – are vegetarians both by birth and by choice)
In 2016, I had the chance to visit the breathtakingly beautiful Hindu Monastery, in the Kauai island of Hawaii, USA. It was a powerful experience of witnessing the intensity of ‘Hinduism by Choice’ – where a group of westerners are pursuing a Hindu life (which they were not born into) with incredible rigour and vigour.
The elaborate Pooja at the Kadavul temple, the beautiful Rudraksha grove cultivated with great care, the Hinduism Today newspaper published so ‘religiously’ – the intensity of ‘Hinduism by choice’, was evident in everything.
I sang “Ananda natamaaduvaar” after the Pooja – and the ashramites not only posted a note with an acoustic recording, but even picked up a translation of the Tamizh lyrics! Whatever this Ashram does, clearly seems like a labour of love for the faith of their choice. In the first comment below, I have attached a brilliant video of the ashram, below this link.
Write-up from the Ashramites, on the visit, and an audio recording of ‘Ananda natamaaduvaar’
In December 2015, Chennai was hit by torrential rains and flooding caused by breach of reservoirs. I volunteered for flood relief work, and tried to help in my own small way. I also did not accept any honourariums for concerts in that season – requesting organizers to add it to the honourariums of my accompanying artistes (who were affected by the floods, and suffered damage to property) instead.
As a prayer for the abatement of floods, I composed a Pallavi in Raga SuddhaDhanyasi – “Taapamtanindayo, Varuna? Arul paarayo, Tuyarteerayo” (meaning: Has your fury been quenched yet, Varuna (God of water)? Won’t you show us grace, won’t you alleviate our suffering), and sang it in that music season.
I choseSuddhaDhanyasi to present this prayer for the rains to abate, because the non-achalaswaras (Ga, Ma, Ni) of SuddhaDhanyasi are all opposite/complimentary to the non-achalaswaras of Amritavarshini(traditionally considered the raga for invoking rain).
The video is below.
When Akhil and I got married, we wanted to celebrate our special day, by doing something for children with special needs. We approached two excellent NGOs in Chennai – V-Excel Academy and Vidyanjali. Our invitation was handmade by children of V-Excel with lovely Warli art, and our gifts were redirected to Vidyanjali.
I later sang “Kuraionrumillai” for the special children of Vidyanjali (link in the first comment below). “Kurai” in Tamizh means regret, and it can also mean deficiency/shortcoming. Singing “kuraionrumillai”, was my way of reaffirming, that these wonderful children do not lack anything; they are not deficient – they just have special needs, thats all.
It was amazing to see how the kids responded (especially one boy who punched out when I was finishing – his teacher explained that this child was very fond of music, and this was his way of saying, “Please don’t stop”).
The video is below.
The kritis showcased the variety in the compositions of Tyagaraja. B. Ramadevi writes.
Devotion and nostalgia were the hallmarks of the 63rd Thyagabrahma Gananjali, held at Sarojini Nataraj Auditorium, Coimbatore.
The Hindu, Coimbatore – 09 Feb 2017
The Sankranti Festival played sturdy notes of classicism
There is always a counter to every trend. In the case of Carnatic music – as opposed to the flamboyance and glamour of the mainstream – there is a quieter and remarkably self-assured stream that holds together its richness and diversity.
The Hindu, Bengaluru – 12 Jan 2017
Padma Sugavanam’s information on songs lent an edge.
When an artist punctuates her concert with informative snippets, she bridges the gap between the performer and the audience.
The Hindu, Chennai – 03 Nov 2016