A Multi-faceted Genius

Paraphrasing what Lata Mangeshkar said about Kishore Kumar in the Album Shradanjali “Kya nahi the?” meaning What was he not?, I would like to start with the question “What was she not?”, the she referring to amma, my maternal grandmother Thiruvengadavalli alias Jayalakshmi Sudarsan who was born this day, 5th October in 1923.

Jayalakshmi Sudarsan

She was
a composer (aasu kavi) having composed hundreds of songs on many deities with the tune and the tala
a violinist,
a vocalist,
a person with a phenomenal memory for dates, names, events, slokas, paasurams and the like,
an excellent cook,
a brilliant administrator and organizer,
a stickler for discipline as well as an embodiment of love and affection,
a willing teacher and even more intense student,
a store house of knowledge about traditions,
a wizard in money management,
an engaging conversationalist,
an avid reader,
a genius critic of movies,
a tireless worker,
a shrewd assessor of people,
a person with a high threshold for pain and a penchant for subtle humour, skilled in card games like literature,
a person capable of forgiving those who had wronged her,
someone who wouldn’t think twice before extending a helping hand to others ….. I can go on and on but let me start with a few examples of some of the few qualities as above.

My earliest recollection of her in late 1960s was her attending classes in cookery including jams and squashes and doll making. Very quickly, her stuffed dolls of different shapes, nationalities and hues were adorning the walls and the huge glass case in the hall. I particularly remember the Japanese ladies that she made. I have relished her various dishes that she had learnt including the juices. In fact, she used to make grape juices and sold them in the neighbourhood as well. When she was in her mid sixties, she would walk to Triplicane in the late afternoons to learn a composition or two from Dr S Ramanathan and quickly teach me the same. A paralytic stroke that struck her put paid to her efforts to continue to learn.

This is just a beginning and I will attempt to bring to light the genius I was privileged to call “Amma”.


An Outstanding Concert by Sanjay Subrahmanyam


I was really fortunate to listen to a 3 1/2 hour of exhilarating music by Sanjay Subramanyan (SS) and team at Bharat Kalachar this evening.   His stenorian voice is still ringing in my ears as i am writing this review.  The way he navigated through the stayis was remarkable and he made even the toughest sangathis look very simple & easy.  He was excellently matched on the violin by Nagai Muralidharan and on the percussion by Tanjavur Ramdas on mridangam and Trichy Murali on the ghatam.  

I understand that he started the concert with a Varnam & I came in when he had just begun the Patnam Subramania Iyer Krithi in Saurashtra “Ninnu joochu” .  Even so early in the concert, his voice had a fine ‘பிசிறு’ that became better and better as the concert progressed.

Since the day was Tuesday, SS rendered “அங்காரகம் ஆஷ்ரயாம்யஹம்’ by Dikshitar in the ragam Surati.  I had learnt this kriti from my grandmother (my first music teacher) who in turn learnt it from Dr S Ramanathan. I could listen to a different ‘பாடாந்தரம்’ when SS sang.  He sang a brief neraval at “தீன ரக்‌ஷ்கம்’ and completed with kalpana swaras.

With his next item, SS left almost everyone wondering about the raga. Trying to place the raga, I was unable to enjoy the intricate alapanai both by the vocalist and the violinist  The suspense was over when he started the kriti “Evarikai” and those who had the lyric books raced to find the raga and one of my neighbours truimphantly whispered ‘Devamanohari’.  Trying to figure out this raga, I did some search using my phone and came across a interesting news that the audience in Ernakulam were equally unable to place Devamanohari during a concert by Sangita Sivakumar in 2005.  Looks like the raga invokes the rasa of suspense!!  For those rasikas who are technically oriented, here is a detailed comparison between Vanaspati and Devamanohari.

SS continued with his masterly concert with yet another piece that left the rasikas active and at the same time wondering. It was சிவசிதம்பரமே  by முத்து தாண்டவர்  in the ragam நாகஸ்வராளி.  It seems that this is quite a regular piece in his concerts as revealed by a quick google search.  When he started, it sounded like Bahudhari but I was not off the mark by a wide margin as both these ragas have some strong similarities.  

பஜரே ரே மானஸ by Mysore Vasudevachariar in Abheri @ Karnataka Devagandhari was next.  Sanjay himself has written a blog post on the confusion about this nomenclature specifically Abheri, Beemplas and Karnataka Devagandhari here. After a detailed ஆலாபனை SS sang the kriti followed by a flurry of kalpanaswaras ending in the தனி ஆவர்த்தனம்.  It was really gratifying to see the majority of the audience staying put and enjoying the the percussion ensemble unlike the exodus to the canteen that is a common occurrence.  

Dikshitar’s Soundararajam Aashraye in Brindavana Saranga (which incidentally had the name of the ragam in the pallavi itself) was rendered at a slower pace in keeping with the identity of the ragam. Sanjay’s diction was excellent.

After a brief appreciation of the artists by Mrs YGP where she likened Sanjay to a trapeze artist doing magic with his voice, Sanjay started an elaborate Ragam Tanam Pallavi. in (what i think as) Simhendra Madhyamam.  While the ஆலாபனை left the audience wondering at times, his Tanam was remarkable.  I wish i had the prowess of Adisesha to describe the amazing journey that he took us during the thanam and it was all the more beautiful because of the violinist who played truly in a scintillating manner.  The pallavi went தாம் தாம் தமது என மமதை இல்லாமலே சத்திய தொண்டு செய்வோம் and Sanjay did full justice to the pallavi.  The atmosphere became more electric in the kalpanaswaras when he added a ராகமாலிகை consisting of ஆனந்தபைரவி, நீலாம்பரி & பூபாளம்.  It would be an understatement to say that SS & Nagai Muralidharan gave us the nectar of these 3 ragas in this phase.

As if adding more honey to an already sweet dish, SS started another ராகமாலிகை in praise of Lord Rama in தமிழ் as a தாலாட்டு using Bouli (or is it Boopalam? I often get confused), Bilahari, Shanmugapriya and another raga that I did not correctly identify.  

It was already past 9 pm and SS has been performing for 3 hours now but he showed no signs of slowing down.  He sang a Swati Tirunal piece in the Ragam பாகேஷ்வரி  and just when we were getting ready to leave he started a விருத்தம் in காம்போதி majestically in a full-throated voice.  This was about Lord Siva in different kshetrams like Thiruperunthurai, Thiruvotriyur, Thiruvaroor and on completing the vritham SS sang காண வேண்டாமோ? by பாபநாசம் சிவன் in Sri Ranjani.  The lyrics were powerful and SS added luster through his rendition.

As a concluding piece SS sang மனமே கணமும் மறவாதே which was first rendered by MS acting as Naradhar in the movie Savithri but my mind went to the time I listened to this by DKJ in a recording.

With pavamaana, SS rang down the curtains of a 31/2 hour concert that left the listeners gasping in admiration and awe.  If I am forced to use only one word to describe the concert it would be “Outstanding”.  

My prayers that Sanjay and the other artists live long to continue to enthrall the listeners world over.  God Bless

(Disclaimer:  The names of the kritis and ragas are to the best of my ability.  If there are any errors, I am willing to correct them)


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