Colorado celebrated Indian Carnatic Music Festival Thyagaraja Utsavam on 3/8/09

India is very rich in varied culture, religious values and different forms of music and dance. India’s classical music tradition, including Carnatic and Hindustani music, has a history spanning millennia and, developed over several eras, it remains fundamental to the lives of Indians today as sources of religious inspiration, cultural expression and pure entertainment.

Carnatic music is the old form of music compositions in India. It is commonly associated with the southern part of the Indian subcontinent. While Hindustani music has Persian and Islamic influences in North India, Carnatic music has its roots to the ancient Vedic times. Carnatic music has rich heritage and tradition that is perfectly attuned with Indian culture and religion. This is based on a 22-scale note (swaras) on contrary to the earlier 12-note scale that is used in the western classical music. However, in all its practical aspects and purposes, not more than 16 notes are generally used. A unique combination of these notes or swara as they are said to evolves separate ragas.

The features and the constraints of a raga will be clearly defined in the arrangement of the notes in its arohanam (ascending notes) and avarohanam (descending notes). Another very important aspect of the Carnatic music is the thalam or the rhythm. The thalam is the rhythm of the piece that is being performed. Today, there exists more than hundred thalams, but here also, very few of them are in use. The most popular thalam have three, four, five, seven or eight beats in them. Carnatic music, like its north Indian counterpart went through several changes. The period between 1650 A.D and 1850 A.D is referred to as the Golden age for this music. The famous trinity of this period Thyagaraja, Muthu Swami Dikshitar and Syama Shastri composed mainly on Hindu Deities and devotional themes, which are popular in Thanjavur at that time.

This Trinity in Carnatic music have brought innumerable krithis (compositions). Syama Sastri’s greatest contribution was the swarajathi. He converted these from their dance form to the musical form that we now know of. Thyagaraja surrendered himself completely to Lord Rama since childhood. For food, every morning he would go round the village asking for alms – unchavritti, as it is called, and he would not gather even alms more than his daily need. He took sanyasa (became sage) towards the end of his life, and attained salvation in 1847. He has composed about 600 krithis and two musical plays, all of them devotional and philosophical.

Muthuswamy Dikshitar has contributed about 500 compositions to the Carnatic music. Most of his compositions are in Sanskrit and in the Krithi form i.e., poetry set to music. Each of his compositions is unique and brilliantly crafted. The compositions are known for the depth and soulfulness of the melody – his visions of some of the ragas are still the final word on their structure. The Carnatic musicians pay homage to Saint Thyagaraja every year, in the Indian calendar day of Pushya Bahula Panchami that comes sometime in the month of January, at his place of burial in Thiruvaiyaru, India, by rendering his compositions in chorus.

Five of the famous compositions by Thyagaraja are called Pancharatnas or five jewels. This is a hilarious scene, one should watch at least once in a lifetime. The same is organized in many places of the world, wherever possible. South Indian music lovers in Colorado have been celebrating the Thyagaraja Aradhana (musical homage to Saint Thyagaraja) since last year. Last year’s festival was held at Hindu Temple and Cultural Center of Colorado, on Wadsworth Blvd, Littleton, there were more than 60 singers took part in this great event that includes children of all ages. This year’s event: Second Annual Thyagaraja Utsavam has been celebrated in Colorado on 8th March 2009 at Douglas County Fairgrounds Kirk Hall, in Castle Rock, CO in a big fanfare. There were more than 100 singers and 300 audiences in this massive event that includes the seasoned artists through the aspiring young learners. The program has started at 10am, and continued without interruption till 7:00pm, at its grandeur. The stage was decorated with Saint Thyagaraja Swami’s photo in the center, grandly decorated with various flowers on either side.

The program was started at 10:00am, with all the notable artists Priya Hariharan, Arun Kumar, Chayadevi Ramayanam, Gayatri Krishnamurthy (Veena), Gowri Nandakumar, Sriram Srinivasan (Mridangam), Meera Ganesh, Pramod Kuppa, Matangi Venkat, Vani Iyer, Vijayashree Venkatesh, Venkat Subramanian (Mridangam), Kanchi, Ravi Mahalingam (Mridangam), Raja Venkatraman (Tabla) along with some kids to start with the Ganesh stuti. The team then proceeded with the Pancharathna kritis – Jagadananda Karaka (Naata), Dudukugala (Gaula), Sadhinchene (Arabhi), Kanakana ruchira (Varali) and finally Endaro Mahanubhavulu (Sri), just took the whole breath from the audiences to delve into the ocean of Carnatic music. This was very well blended with the Mridangam beats, to create the absolute symphony.

The individual performances then started roughly about 11:30am. All the artists were called to have their seats beside the stage, so there won’t be any lag time when they were to start the performance. The first individual performance by the kids Shritha & Shriya Gunturu with ‘Shri Gananatham Bhajamyaham’ (Kanakangi) was good start. Emhyr, Gautam, Siddarth and Arjun’s ‘Rama Nama’ (Madhyamavathi) was astonishing, which then followed by the nice rendition of ‘Nagumomu kalavani’ (Madhyamavathi) by Meghna Yarlagadda and Shreya Annamalai. Kids from North Denver Raga Anupindi, Veda Anupindi, Anika Ajay, Trisha Somu and Trini Somu have presented ‘Melukovaiya’ (Bowli) wonderfully. Kanjana Chandren and Diya Deepak’s rendering ‘Ramimchu vaarevarura’ (Subhoshini) showed the talent; followed by Sriram Ganesh’s ‘Tulasi Dala’ (Mayamalavagoula) was great.

Mrs.Kanchi Mahalingam’s rendition ‘Nagumomu Kanleni’ has reflected the best gamakas of the Carnatic music. The kid’s song ‘Telisi Rama’ (Purnachandrika) by Tejas, Aneesh, Sumanth and Gokul, ‘Manavi aalakimcharadate’ (Nalinakanthi) by Anupriya Jose, Varsha, Chandana were presented with a lot of ease. The violin rendition of ‘Ninnunera’ (Panthuvarali) by Adhitya Basker has stunned the audience for his expertise. While covering the Thyagaraja Event, we should cover another great part of it, which was Fusion by Priya Hariharan (Violin), Gayatri Krishnamurthy (Veena), Charlie Parker(Cello), Anthony Salvo (Western Violin), Justin Kephart (Guitar), Sriram Srinivasan (Mridangam) & John Thomas (Tabla) to render ‘Nidhichala’ in Kalyani raga. It was just a exemplary performance by everyone, and just a masterpiece of the day. This stole the hearts of all the audiences when they see the Indian and western instruments resonated the great scales of Carnatic music.

The audiences were spell bound with this performance, and almost gave a standing ovation at the end of this performance. The performances by Anandi & Abhinetri Ramaswami’s ‘Eesha Pahimam’ (Kalyani), Tara Kuyilath, Aneesh Warrier, Shrushti Manikandan’s ‘Karunajaladhi’ (Nadanamakriya), Neya Manavalan and Kavya Kannan’s ‘Seetha Kalyanam’ (Shankarabharanam) were remarkable. Violin performances by Hari (Daya Rani – Mohanam) and Rahul Ramesh (Anuraga mule – Saraswathi) were good. The individual performances then continued with Justin Kephart’s ‘Brovabharama’ (Bahudari) on his guitar, Charlie’s ‘Niravathi’ (Ravichandrika) on his cello. The ‘Nightingale of Twincities’ and the 8th level in the student chain from Saint Thyagaraja Mrs.Chayadevi Ramayanam has then cheered the audience with her bhakti sampradaya kriti ‘Srirama Bhakti’. Gowri Nandakumar’s ‘Etavunara’ (Kalyani) with a brief but beautiful raagaalapana received applause from audiences.

The couple Shubhakar & Sahana’s rendition ‘Seethamma Mayamma’ in Vasantha raga was a very melodious and beautiful composition. The recently moved couple Matangi & Venkat Subramanian’s presentation of ‘Teratiyagarada’ (Gowlipanthu) was a scholarly execution. VK Arun Kumar’s Devaamrithavarshini composition ‘Evarani nirnayinchedira’ embellished with erudite expression of the great voice. Another great Singer in Denver Gayathri Krishnamurthy has rendered ‘Upacharamu’ (Bhairavi), which started with a beautiful alapana and swaram, and cherished the audience. Priya Hariharan’s ‘Kotinadulu’ (Thodi) was another rare and beautiful Thyagaraja kriti, and presented with a great melody. The music teacher from North Denver area Mrs.Vijayashree Venkatesh’s ‘Paramathmudu’ (Vagadeeshwari) filled with intricate and complex sancharas and quite impressive. Ashwini Basker (Ramakatha – Madhyamavathi), Tara Sowrirajan (Nee Daya Radha – Vasanthabhairavi), Vikasini Mahalingam (Marugelara – Jayanthasri), Aniruddh Prakash (Nanupalimpa – Mohanam) have proved their best evolving talents, with matured performances. Maithreyi Ramesh and Sharada Ramesh have received several cheers.

Suppu Annamalai’s violin performance for ‘Daya Rani’ (Mohanam) was good. The kids from Colorado Springs Rohan Nandakumar, Pranav Jose, Nikhil Purushothaman sang ‘Sri Rama Sri Rama’ (Sahana) and Snigdha Nawala & Sidharth Nair sang ‘Jo Jo Rama’ (Kedaragowlai), Nikhil Purushothaman, Ashwin Kundeti, Pranav Jose, Mohit Bhat, Apoorva Kanekal, Sanavi Nair, Gowri Simha, Kushi Golla, Shreya Boppudi presented ‘Raghunandana’ (Kedaragowla) very enthusiastically. Aishwarya Ramamurthi’s ‘Mamava raghurama’ (Saranga) was another good presentation. There were several kids performances with upcoming talents – ‘Naapali’ (Shankarabharanam) by Namrita Ashokprabhu, Eeswari Duggirala, ‘Bantureethi’ (Hamsanadham) by Hithaishini, Manasa Ponapali, Apurva Subramanian, ‘Seethamma Mayamma’ (Vasantha) by Punya Ramesh, Vidhya Umesh, ‘Naapali’ (Shankarabharanam) by Sravani Katamaneni, Pratyusha Gunturu and Mandira, ‘Naapali’ (Shankarabharanam) by Maithreyi Ramesh and Sharada Ramesh were some of them. Usha Yarlagadda and Indira Duggirala’s ‘Shobhane’ (Panthuvarali), Sankar Gunturu’s ‘Adamodi galade’ (Charukesi), Sravya Mudigonda’s violin performance for ‘Vidajaladura’ (Janaranjani), Padma Kannan, Anou Manavalan’s ‘Giriraja sutha’ (Bangala), Shalini Harikes’s ‘Bhavanutha’ (Mohanam) were some more impressive performances of the evening.

Then there is another melodious number ‘Mokshamu galada’ (Saramathi) by Vani Iyer that cheered the audience. The newly moved kids from Newyork, Pramodini and Pranav’s Violin performance for ‘Giriraja sutha’ (Bangala) was greatly mixed. Another kid Nidhi Unnikrishnan’s rendition for ‘Bantureethi’ (Hamsanadham) was just gregarious. There were certain numbers that surely cheered the audience after dark by seasoned artists. Prasun Allepali (Raga sudha rasa – Andolika), Meera Ganesan (Evarikai – Devamanohari), Padmini Murali (Shobillu – Jaganmohini), Nirupama Bhatt (Pakkala nilabadi – Kharaharapriya) and Jayshree AV can be undoubtedly placed into this category.

The program ended with the group rendition of Geetharthamu and Mangalam, by the senior artists who have participated in the Pancharathna krithis in the morning. Priya has thanked all the volunteers, parents, audience who make the event a big success. She wished this event to turn into a real massive event like Cleveland Thyagaraja Utsavam. All the vocalists were given the mridangam support by eminent mrigandists Sriram Srinivasan, Ravi Mahalingam, Swaminathan, Venkat Subramanian, and aspiring instrumentalists Arun Chandra (mridangam), Rohan Nandakumar (tabla) and Bijoy Devarajan (tabla). The 9-hour program has been very well compered by the duo Aarthi Ramesh and Sarmishta Ramesh, with a very situational explanation of the krithis, a little bio about the artist along with some historical perspective of the festival.

The event was very well organized by Priya Hariharan, with the help of several dedicated volunteers. A seamless coordination has been seen throughout the event, in every task, and Priya would surely be appreciated for such a wonderful job. The stage has been busy since morning till about 7:00pm, when it finally ended with Mangalam, without any break. A great care has been taken to serve the audiences with lunch boxes, and afternoon tea. All the participants were awarded with a certification of appreciation. It has been great to see Colorado coming up with such traditions. Such cultural events keep the people; especially the kids connect to the traditional and cultural values of India. This year’s Thyagaraja Utsavam (festival) was sponsored by, a Colorado Indian community web portal and Bhairavi School of Music, which is headed by Mrs.Priya Hariharan, a great Carnatic exponent teaching music for the past 5years.

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