There are very few people who can don multiple hats and yet manage to enviably excel in each of the roles they play. One such great person is Sri T.N. Seshagopalan (TNS) – vocalist, vainika, keyboard/harmonium artist, teacher, harikatha exponent, composer …. you could just go on and on. The rasikas assembled at Amarabharati, West Tank St., Tiruvanmiyur, Chennai yesterday got to witness the “Harikatha Exponent” in the multi-faceted TNS. A very impressive performance it was that left me with this feeling of having witnessed something great, of having learnt a lot and of wanting to learn a lot more about this boundless ocean that Carnatic Music is.
Scheduled to start at 6.30 PM, the performance began at about 7 PM when a garlanded TNS, dressed in veshti and angavastram, got ready along with his ensemble comprising Sri Nagai Sriram on the violin, Sri Kalakkad Srinivasan on the mrudangam and Sri B.L. Kodandaraman on the harmonium. TNS began with Sri Vedanta Desikan’s “gnAnAnanda mayam dEvam” and went on to give an awesome performance for over 2.5 hours in which multiple facets of his seemed to step in just when required to hold the rasikas spellbound. He seemed so fluent in the languages he used – Tamil, Telugu, Sanskrit and English. Every time he sang a line or two from Sri Thyagaraja’s compositions, the way he brought the raga out made me almost go into a trance. The effect seemed to linger on even when he spoke thus giving the effect of a satisfying 2-3 hour carnatic concert. Popular vocalist Sri T.V. Sankaranarayanan was there among the rasikas along with his wife from the beginning of the performance. He stayed till the very end and spoke very highly of Sri Seshagopalan’s vidwat, mastery over multiple things and above all of this, the fact that he still puts in the same amount of hard work which he did when he stepped in the field long long ago.
Here are some notes I managed to take which form only a very small part of what he told (including some of the humorous aspects). My limited knowledge and limitations in my ability to understand what TNS said might have introduced errors. Corrections, if any, are welcome:
- The harikatha was about Sri Thyagaraja being a “Sadguru”. I think either the organizer or TNS said that harikatha performance on Sri Thyagaraja can be done for days and days together without still covering everything that could be told and harikatha on “Sri Thyagaraja as a Sadguru” could itself be done for days together. TNS told that he is in a quandry as to what to include in the limited time given to him and what to leave out
- “While doing bhakti through kirtanam, the bhakti through sravanam and that through smaranam both get combined and get reflected. A person doing kirtanam well is able to make the people hearing comprehend the ‘deivIga sAnnidhyam’. So it is beneficial to both people who tell kIrtanam as well as to people listening it. If a kIrtanam is done well it is ‘sankIrtanam’, else it is ‘pOkkiritanam’ ” 🙂
- “Audience involvement in kIrtanams/concerts is required but sometimes (over) participation tends to lead to difficulties. For example, in one of the concerts, I was singing one sangati while the violinist was playing a different one. Upon scrutiny, I found that he is playing for what one of the elderly guys sitting in the first row was singing” 🙂
- “The significance of the RAma avatAram of the Lord is that it is in this avatAram that he stressed the importance of values in life. He came and lived along with the people as a good son, as a good brother, as a good friend and so on. He exhibited ‘karuNai‘ where and when required in this avatAram”. He went on to describe a lot more things about RAma avarAram
- “RAma avatAram came before Krishna avatAram because it seems as though the Lord wanted to live and show what he preached before he actually preached”
- “Sri Hanuman was seated at a height above Sri Krishna himself when Sri Krishna give the gItopadEsam. This seems to signify that understanding the gItA is more difficult than telling it”. He cited the kriti ‘gItArtamu’ in raga suruTTi whose charaNam refers to Sri Hanuman. He told that nishAdam is the jIva swaram of suruTTi and that Sri Thyagaraja has aptly placed Sri Hanuman (vAtAtmaja) at the nishAdam
- “Sri Thyagaraja has included the entire rAmAyaNa in a small uruppaDi ‘srI raghukulamandu buTTi sItanu cheyi konina rAmachandra’ “
- On the significance of the name ‘rAma’, he cited the kriti ‘evarani’ in dEvAmrutavarshini and said that in the Shiva panchakshara mantra, when the letter ‘ma’ is removed from ‘nama shivAya’ of Om nama shivAya, it would become ‘nashivAya’. Similarly, if from ‘nArAyanAya’ of ‘Om namO nArAyanAya’, the letter ‘ra’ is removed then it would become’ nAyanAya’. A combination of these two important letters formed the word rAmA
- “There are many people these days who claim to be gurus and even sadgurus …….. A person who teaches how to do something is a guru ….. Sadguru is one by observing and following whom we even learn what he has left unsaid. We are able to visualize what he has visualized. He lives and stays as an example of how to lead a life …… Sri Thyagaraja is a sadguru …. one should not ask people to call him as a sadguru, people should by themselves call a sadguru as one”. Citing ‘shrI gaNapatini sEvimpa rArE’ and ‘rAju veDale jUtAmurArE” compositions, he said Sri Tyagaraja was not just satisifed by seeing the lord all by himself but requested everyone to come and see the lord in his full splendor.
- He recited a slokam “vyAsO naigama charchayA mrudugira valmIka janmAmunihi, vairAgyE shukayEvacha bhakti vishayE prahlAdayEva swayam, brahmA nArada apratimayO sangIta sAhityayO, yO rAmamrutapANa nirjita shivaha tam tyAgarAjam bhajE” and said Sri Thyagaraja has been said to be like Sri Vyasa in vEdAs (?), like Sri Valmiki in poetry, like Sri Shuka in vairAgyam, like Sri Prahlada in bhakti, like Sri Brahma and Sri Narada in sangIta sAhityam and that he is said to have even won Parameshwaran in rAma bhakti. He cited one of the charaNams of ‘kana kana ruchirA’ beginning with ‘kAminchi prEmamIra karamula’ in support of this.
- He said that just like each of the avatArams of the lord is for saving the world from adharma and for letting dharma prevail, we can think of the Trimurtis of Carnatic Music as having been avatArams for saving music. He said he viewed Sri Thyagaraja as Lord Rama, Sri Muthuswamy Dikshitar as Lord Subramanya and Sri Syama Sastri as Goddess Kamakshi.
- He told that just like medicine is given to children with honey, Sri Thyagaraja’s rAmAyaNam or rAmAnubhavam is special and different from other rAmAyaNams in that sangItam is used as a honey. He said one who is more inclined towards literature can read/hear/know/experience rAmA through the literary beauty while one who is not can let the sangItam (music) take over and experience rAmA through it. The way he described the bliss experienced by a rasika after hearing Thyagaraja’s compositions sung/played by a good musician was so good. It cannot be put into words.
- I am not sure if TNS saw someone sleeping in the audience. He remarked jovially that when a patient went to see his doctor and complained of sleeplessness because of the different medicines that had been prescribed for him and asked the doctor to do something to get him to sleep, the doctor told him to go to Tiruvanmiyur and attend the TNS harikatha to get instant sleep 😉
- He said Sri Thyagaraja also gave many rAgAs their swarUpam. He cited the example of the kriti ‘paluka kaNDa’ and the usage of double panchamam in the ArOhaNa of navarasakannaDA.
- He said that before Sri Thyagaraja’s time, only a few people could listen to good classical music and those who practised it were also highly regarded and considered themselves very special. He said Sri Thyagaraja made such a sangItam accessible to everyone for bhakti and encouraged everyone to sing and take the Lord’s name.
Here are some snaps (click on the thumbnails to enlarge) :
TNS presenting the harikatha:
TVS praises TNS: