Carnatic music is certainly about upholding the music of the great gurus, uncovering hidden treasures, expanding the repertoire and more. But pursuits of any kind, artistic or otherwise, gain significance only in a state of constant enquiry. What questions are we asking about an artistic tradition, are we seeing it as a product of society, or are we placing it in isolation? Art cannot help acquiring an energy and passionate intensity when the artiste operates from the realm of dialogue; conversations are not necessarily pleasant and easy. Listening to Carnatic vocalist T.M. Krishna, the saying, ‘fire is the test of gold’, comes to mind. For Krishna, art has to also be a social instrument.
‘Sangamam, Embracing Diversity’, a concert by T.M. Krishna, organised by Shibulal Family Philanthropic Initiatives (SFPI) at St. Johns auditorium in Bengaluru last weekend drew a full house. Setting the tone for the concert, Krishna said, “It is in a moment of vulnerability that you embrace. Hence, an embrace is not about accepting the other, but it is about you making that crossover.” The concert, as the musician mentioned, went on to include “diverse languages, cultures, faiths, and people”.
The concert opened with an exposition of raga Kamboji, which ranged from being reflective to impassioned, followed by Gopalakrishna Bharati’s famous “Tiruvadi sharanam endru ingu naan”. Packing it with niraval (‘aduthu vandu’) and swaraprastara, it was a powerhouse rendition. Krishna’s scholarship came through in the way he sang the swaraprastara at two points in the composition: ‘Tiruvadi sharanam’ and at ‘Devadideva’ in different speeds.
In Mysore recently, Krishna performed an exclusive Vachana (short verses by the 12th century reformer poets in Karnataka) concert. The vachanakaras through their writings strived to rid society of all inequalities and wrote in a language that was accessible to all. In this concert too, he sang two vachanas: ‘Mole moodi bandare’‘ by Devara Dasimayya in the ugabhoga format and followed it with Ladde Somanna’s vachana, ‘Aava kayakadavaru svakayakava maadi’.
Raga Poorvikalyani unfolded poignantly, often dragging the violinist (Akkarai Sornalata) to participate in the conversation. Krishna hardly hides his excitement about the immense possibilities that music offers. Hence, each time his music sounds new.
The concert followed with some beautiful compositions such as ‘Chinna nadena’ (raga Kalanidhi) and Papanasam Sivan’s ‘Shri janakipathe” (raga Karaharapriya). This was followed by a thani (Praveen Sparsh on the mridangam and N. Gurupasad on the ghatam), which unusually ended with a mohra and korvai led by the ghatam artiste. Guruprasad, shone with brilliance in the entire concert. His presence of mind, the spontaneity of his percussion patterns, and most importantly, the sound of his ghatam were of top order. Krishna also sang compositions of Shri Narayana Guru and the Pakistani poet Hafeez Jalandhari’s lyric on lord Krishna.
The highlight of the concert was the rendition of the Edicts of Ashoka, a project that Krishna undertook in 2020. The verses in Magadhan Prakrit began as a ragam-thanam-pallavi with a rich rendition of ragas Kaapi, Subhapantuvarali, Mohanam and Desh. The switchover moment from Kaapi to Subhapantuvarali was breathtakingly beautiful. Krishna kept the motivation high for his violinist, and Sornalatha played some lingering phrases.
Krishna sang ‘Abide with Me’, the Christian hymn written by the Scottish Anglican cleric Henry Francis Lyte. He ended the concert with an energetic rendition of the Meera bhajan made famous by M.S. Subbulakshmi.
The seriousness that Krishna brings to his performances is a moving experience. He transcends artistic boundaries just like he crosses social boundaries. In fact, throughout the concert Krishna was entering new thresholds.