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October is the month of Navarathri –the nine day festival when Devi, the Goddess, holds undisputed sway over the vast Indian subcontinent. Worshiped variously as Saraswathy, the goddess of learning, Laxmi, the goddess of wealth, and Durga, the goddess of courage and valor, the Devi is fairly inundated with offerings from a multitude of devotees during Navarathri. But none of the offerings are as sweet to her as those tendered in the form of music; the melodious, soulful outpouring of faith. And without a doubt, the sweetest of musical oblations must have been those offered by the students and teachers of Shruthilaya, on the evening of October 30th at the North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee, GA.
Shruthilaya, the brainchild of Kala Vasudevan, has been in existence for exactly Eight years now – and in this brief span of existence, has earned a well deserved reputation as an organization which places the utmost emphasis on preserving the golden traditions of Indian classical music and imparting this knowledge to future generations. Kala, who believes that music is divine in nature and origin, established Shrutilaya as a platform that gives children an opportunity to learn and appreciate classical music, and to showcase their talents in front of an appreciative audience. Over the last eight years Shrutilaya has crafted many wonderful singers and now, with the addition of Gayathri Krishnan, (another talented singer) as a teacher, it is well positioned to expand its reach and scope.
The theme of the Navarathri concert was, appropriately enough, ‘Devi Krithis’ – a rendering of outstanding compositions in praise of the goddess from the greatest of Vaggeyakaras like Muthuswami Dikshitar, Shyama Shastri, Purandaradasar, Harikeshanallur Muthiah Bhagavather, Papanasam Sivan, GNB, Sudhananda Bharati, Pallavi Gopaliah, and Maharaja Swati Thirunal to name but a few. The concert opened with a Ganesha Pancharatnam sung by the students of Shruthilaya and led by Kala . Kala then set the sonnerie for the musical evening with two impeccable pieces; mate malayadwaja by Muthaiah Bhagavathar in Kamas with its rich muktayi swara sahityam, and sree jagadeeswari durga, a composition by Lalgudi Jayaraman in Ahir Bhairav (or Chakravaka in the Carnatic tradition). This was followed by two compositions of Harikeshanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar (durgadevi durita nivarini in Navarasakannada and ambavani nannadarinchave in Kiravani) rendered with exquisite precision by Gayathri Krishnan. Thereafter, the stage was literally taken over by the students of Shruthilaya; every student, from the youngest neophytes to the older adepts performed (at least once) in front of a captivated audience. While the younger children enchanted the audience with their renderings from the works of Dikshitar (shree saraswati namostute), Ponnaiah Pillai (maya ateeta swaroopini), Papanasam Sivan (durgalkshmi saraswati) and so on, the older students dazzled them with their mastery over the classical melody matrix. Weighty and intricate compositions like Dikshitar’s kamakshi varalaksmiI (Bilahari), anandamruta (Amrutavarshini), and shree lakshmi vraaham (Abhogi), Subbarya Sastri’s jananee ninuvinna (Reetigowlai), Shyama Sastri’s shankari shankuru (Saveri), and several others were handled with consummate ease by these students. The musical experience was given a crowning touch by the virtuoso performance of the accompanying artists – Smt. Jassotha Balasubramanian on the violin, and Shri Santhosh Chandru, Amit Narayan, Arvind Narayan and Vignesh Ramani on the mrudangam for different segments. The poised, confident compering by Shridha Abayanathan, Neha Madangarli, and Sharada Krishnappan, and the invaluable help from Divya Sukumar and Anuradha Rao in keeping the younger children in order and maintaining a seamless transition between the performers ensured the success of the evening.
The piece-de-resistance of the concert was a back-to-back rendering of two eternally mesmerizing ragamalikas (Tanjavur Sankara Iyer’s chatur ranjani ragamalika and Maharajah Swati Thirunal’s bhavayami raghuramam) by Kala, Gayathri, and the senior students of Shruthilaya. Swati Thirunal had originally composed bhavayami raghuramam as a composition in Saveri, but it was later modified into a ragamalika by Semmangudi Sreenivasa Iyer. This majestic ragamalika, with its charanams in Natakurinji, Dhanyasi, Mohanam, Mukhari, Purvikalyani, and Madhyamavati, narrates the entire epic of Ramayana in seven charanams, coinciding with the seven kandams (parts) of Valmiki Ramayana. After the ragamalikas the entire Shruthilaya group joined together in a soul-stirring performance of Purandara Dasar’s bhagyada lakshmi baramma by, in lieu of a traditional mangala kriti. This was a befitting end to a wonderful musical evening, and one hopes that Shruthilaya would offer us such exquisite musical treats for many more years to come!