A Musical (non) Concert


Thanks to TM Krishna, I have yet another ‘unconventional’ title for this review because he said “இது கச்சேரி இல்லை’  (idhu kacheri illai) at the beginning of his concert at Bharat Kalachar this morning (21st Dec 2013).  TMK has been much in the news for different reasons, the recent one being the release of his much acclaimed book A Southern Music – The Karnatik Story by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen who said “One of the best books I have ever read on any subject, not just music’.

Going by his recent interviews, I surmise that this statement of his means “This is not a conventional music concert” and he amplified it not in words but by the way the the session panned out.

Some of the conventions that he has appeared to have given a go were;

a.  Beginning the program with a heavy kriti

b. Singing just the Tanam sans the Ragam and Pallavi

c. Finishing a round of swaras at the pallavi and another at the charanam

d. Singing 3 ‘neighbouring ragas’ individually

e. Choosing to render all ragas except one from one half of the melakartha 

f. Making it an “All are Welcome” concert despite being a top artiste

Having kindled your curiousity, let me go into the concert.

TMK was accompanied on the violin by Sriram Kumar (SK), Mannarkoil Balaji on the mridangam and Purushottaman on the kanjira.

When it has become the norm to have just the electronic sruthi box, TMK opted for double Tampura plus the electronic one and it was immensely clear that he was enjoying the drone as much if not more than the musical notes of the program.

It was really surprising that TMK (am listening to him for the first time ever) started the concert with ‘கலிகியுண்டே’ (kalikiyunte) by Thygaraja swami in the ragam கீரவாணி (keeravani).  He sang the raga very very briefly and the kriti in very slow tempo.  As the concert progressed, it became apparent that the tempo will continue to be the same.  Likewise, his throat was a bit  கரகர throughout although it wasn’t quite prominent. He sang neraval and kalpanaswaras at the phrase ‘prahlada parasara’.

If the first item was unconventional, the way he rendered the second one was even more so.  And it was before starting the second that he made the statement that “This is not a concert”.  Perhaps people who are following him would be able to figure it out because he prefaced this statement with “Like I have been saying many times”.  For someone who has not heard him even once, let alone follow him (I am following him on twitter since this morning though), I could not fathom.

TMK sang a quick alapanai of Sree Ragam and nothing was amiss until Sriram kumar started Arabhi at the end of his own alapanai.  That left most in the audience wondering.  Then TMK sang a brief alapanai of Arabhi and while it appeared that he was completing it, he started another raga that he said was Gauri (a raga from the Sikh Tradition from what i could search from the net) and then it was a delightful musical see-saw between him and his violinist.  Together they covered 14 ragas including Naatai, Gowlai, Mohanam, Sama, Lalith, Bhairavam, Saaranga, Shankarabharanam, Kambodhi, Devakriya and Boopalam.  Most of us, atleast as i could see were clueless as to what is happening.  And since he had already given a disclaimer, the audience was getting ready to receive the unexpected as Mrs YGP beautifully summarised during her short speech.  When TMK began Shree Viswanatham Bhajeham, I googled it and realized that it was a kriti called “chaturdasa bhuvana roopa” or a raagamalika with 14 raagas.  This composition by Dikshitar is quite unique in the sense that he has included the names of the ragas as part of lyrics and has also included ‘chittaswarams’ for each of the ragas.  While the pallavi is in Shreeragam, the anupallavi consists of the next 5 ragas as above sung in order and thereafter a line each in reverse order, followed by the charanam in 8 ragas again in ascending and then one liner for each in reverse order.

Nalinakanthi was next in the queue and here too there was a break from tradition.  There was hardly any ragam elaboration, thanam was extensive and without any pallavi.  Both TMK and SK really explored every possible nuance of the ragam (could not avoid gushing at the greatness of Ilayaraja who composed a song “nenjil endrum neengadha’ in ‘Kalaignan’ in this raga especially after listening to my Guru Shri Vairamangalam Lakshminarayanan demonstrating how Raja had used the arohana of the ragam exactly in the opening words of the song) Here too, TMK was elaborate but still maintained the slow tempo (for reasons best known to him).  There was an audible groan from the audience when he finished the thanam and then started the next piece.

Again Ragam elaboration of Karaharapriya was very short but TMK more than made up for that in the Thygaraja Kriti பக்கல நில படி( ‘pakkala nila padi’).  Each of the phrases were as if soaked in the honey of the raaga.  He then did a brief neraval at ‘thanuche’ and then a slow flurry (perhaps an oxymoron) of swaras some finishing at ‘pakkala’  and some others at ‘thanuche’.  The percussionists perhaps wanted to emulate the vocalist and voluntarily gave up the opportunity of playing ‘thani avartanam’ possibly unheard of, in the annals of carnatic music concert history.

TMK made another statement at this juncture that “I follow the only padhati that of carnatic music”.

TMK then sang ‘Saramaina matala’ a Swati Tirunal Javali in the raga Behag and dazzled the audience with some intricate yet seemingly easy to understand set of swarams.

The penultimate piece of the concert was a very leisurely and wonderfully rendered Bhairavi both during alapanai and the kriti.  I could not clearly get the lyrics of this composition but it started with ‘Ramayai’

TMK concluded his (non) concert with Sadasiva Brihmendra’s “Sarvam Brahma mayam’.

In my opinion, the highlights were the Ragamalika, Nalinakanthi and Bhairavi with others in close succession.  

Krishna sang Bhairavi (a janyam of 20th Melakartha Natabhairavi), Keeravani (21st Melakartha) and Karaharapriya (22nd Melakartha) not as part of a ragamalika but as individual pieces. Again, I observed that with the exception of the Raagamalika, all the ragas were from the first 36 of the melakartha system being Suddha Madhyama Ragas.  It would have not been incidental given that TMK is not just a vocalist but also erudite enough to write a detailed book. I do not know if he was trying to prove a point to someone especially those who swear by the modern cutchery format established by Ariyakudi Ramanuja Aiyangar.  

But it was amply clear that TMK appeared to sing for himself and was often immersed in the ‘sukhanubhavam’ of the sruthi and the music.  It just happened that there were some more people listening to him rather than the other way around.  The percussionists also contributed to the soulful ambiance by being very discreet and extremely soft.  And if the reaction of the audience was anything to go by, they loved it.  

Whether TMK is going to be in the musical circuit in this fashion or quit it as he has declared in one of the interviews, I do not know.  But today he made a ‘musical statement’ that would last beyond this program.  God bless the artists.



  1. balaclass7 said,

    December 21, 2013 at 2:25 pm

    Your very detailed review almost took me to the concert hall itself. Being based out of the happening place, I do realize that I’m missing a lot. Incidentally his programme in Marghazhi Mahotsav was telecast today in Jaya TV and reiterated the statement

    • badrirag said,

      December 21, 2013 at 4:42 pm


      I did not watch the Jaya TV program but when I read a review of another recent concert of his, I saw that his unconventional approach has not started today.

  2. N Ramesh said,

    December 21, 2013 at 3:02 pm

    It would have been appropriate if the title for this blog post of yours had been given as ‘UnConcert’, going by the contents of the same !

    Instead of appreciating this long blog (which I always do !) I would now prefer to come down heavily on the Singer for his imprudence and mischief to a traditional format of Music and that too of the Classical genre !

    It only reflects the probable quality of a Haughty IITian, or rather the ‘Kondhra Buddhi’ of such a highly literate IIT Grad or atleast I presume so !

    In other words, it only denotes the aspect of ‘Kutharkam’ which is seemingly embedded in the inner recess of his psyche which gets revealed and exposed when he is singing or rather rendering his form of Classical music in the so-called Carnatic Style, which I too have observed once or twice besides depicting the reckless factor of his inner being !

    It actually portrays the cranky and crazy nature of this singer who is incidentally acclaimed as a great talent by the connoisseurs of Music !

    In fact, many of his Musical Concerts have received rave reviews from the media and critics have always held him in high pedestal, a position that is getting questioned when one goes through this piece of blog !

    And I am not much surprised by it, as it points out to the fabled Brahminical arrogance, more particularly due to his condescending response or approach towards a traditional format of Conventional Carnatic Music style !

    That means, there is some fundamental fault in his overall attitude which could well be the direct fallout of being a ‘irritable, frustrated and restless, yet highly knowledgable Iyengar’ !

    And that’s it from me for the moment !

    Thus Spake the New Age Sage !

    • badrirag said,

      December 21, 2013 at 4:41 pm


      I strongly object to your comments specifically with respect to his caste and almamater which in my opinion has no bearing on his views, however contrarian they may be.

      The rasikas can vote either with their wallet or with their presence and if the reaction of the audience at today’s unconcert (so that you will be happy) is anything to go by, they did not feel very strongly against his unorthodox approach.

      Would like to wait and watch how the establishment and the rasika community respond in the days, weeks and months to come to his ‘thani vazhi’.


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