Five songs for the week — 4

Vijay Siva, Radha + Jayalakshmi, Balasaraswati, Uday Bhawalkar, Sanjay Subrahmanyam

Vishnu Vasudev
5 min readJul 23, 2023

One : Vijay Siva — Meena Nayana (Raga Durbar, Subbaraya Sastri)

I am going to pick up from where I left off last week. I had noted how rare Vijay Siva concerts are online, so having found one I ought to leave you with another piece from the concert. I first discovered this song when writing my blogpost on Subbaraya Sastri, and haven’t heard it since. One baffling aspect of Carnatic music is why some songs or some composers (usually Thyagaraja) have such a stranglehold on ragas. Durbar is a prime example of one such raga. Invariably, the only songs that are rendered are a trio from Thyagaraja— Yochana Kamalalochana, Narada Guru Swami and Mundu Venuga. So much so that two krithis by fellow Trinity member Muthuswami Dikshitar Halasyanatham Smarami and Thyagarajanyam Na Jane are completely neglected. It is clear that in this instance, Meena Nayana was selected only because of the theme (Madurai), but I do hope it is heard more often from more artistes.

Meena Nayana Neevu (Begins at 00:42:12). Vijay Siva (vocal), Melakaveeri Balaji (mridangam), Dr. R. Hemalatha (violin), Sanjay Swaminathan (vocal support)

Two: Radha-Jayalakshmi — Bhuvini Dasudane (Raga Sriranjani, Thyagaraja)

In a concert themed around unsung artistes of the past (or relatively unsung), Bharat Sundar noted that in ‘those days’, everyone sang at a brisk pace but no one seemed hurried. I disagree a bit, some of the music from back then does indeed sound super-rushed and too busy to my ear. I associate Radha Jayalakshmi with that era (50s-60s-early 70s) and that brisk pace of singing. They were hugely popular in that era (but seemed to have dropped off from public life in the 80s, focusing instead on teaching), and were disciples of GN Balasubramiam (and of his disciple TR Subramaniam), who defined briskness. To the extent that apparently the term bhriga is not found in any texts or defining works on Carnatic music theory — it seems to have come into existence as shorthand to describe ‘whatever that fast stuff is that GNB does with his voice’. I had to completely revisit my perception of the duo when I heard a concert of theirs from 1980, and this piece in Sriranjani in particular. There are bhrigas on show but the pace of both the alapana and the piece itself are liesurely, teasing out and celebrating the raga. Bhuvini Dasudane is often sung very fast even by most modern-era musicians, and this was a surprising find from artistes popular in an era known for pace.

Bhuvini Dasudane (starts at 00:14:51). Radha-Jayalakshmi (vocal), Lakshminarayanan (violin), Kutralam Vishwanatha Iyer (mridangam).

Three: Balasaraswati — Subramanya Bhujangam (Ragamalika)

I love long ragamalikas. They are my go-to sustenance, especially if I need to focus on work. This is a fantastic recording in three parts of Balasaraswati singing Adi Shankaracharya’s Subramanya Bhujangam as a ragamalika. It spans 32 ragas over an hour and a half. Apparently she used to sing this everyday toward the latter part of her life, to amerliorate poor health. It is an absolute privilege to be able to listen in on such a private enterprise, one that is so substantial and so unadorned. Balasaraswati is of course the only dancer to have received the Sangita Kalanidhi award. Less well known is that she did indeed receive it for her music rather than for her dance. The Museum of Performing Arts (MOPA) has produced a five-part series titled How a dancer received the ‘Sangita Kalanidhi’ title for music that provides an overview of her musical journey and legacy that is worth a watch.

Subramanya Bhujangam — Part 1. Ragas Hamsadhwani, Gowla, Devagandhari, Varali, Mohanam, Keeravani, Bilahari, Saveri, Kedaragowla, Atana
Subramanya Bhujangam — Part 2. Ragas Shankarabharanam, Thodi, Nattakurinji, Mukhari, Yadukulakambhoji, Chakravaham, Kalyani, Abhogi, Malayamarutham, Vasantha, Sahana
Subramanya Bhujangam — Part 3. Ragas Paraas, Kaanada, Poorvikalyani, Kambhoji, Begada, Bhairavi, Surutti, Anandabhairavi, Kapi, Sindhubhairavi, Madhyamavathi

Four: Uday Bhawalkar — Shiva Stuti (Raag Adana, Junior Dagar Brothers)

The song Veera Raja Veera from the movie Ponni and Selvan 2 was in the news some weeks ago, thanks to S. Anand. Anand, a disciple of Wasifuddin Dagar, noted the striking similarities between the song and the popular Dagarbani composition in in raag Adana — Shiva Shiva Shiva, or Shiva Stuti. Wasifuddin Dagar claimed that the song had been composed by his father and uncle (the ‘Junior Dagar Brothers’ Faiyazuddin and Zahiruddin Dagar) and first presented on tour in Europe in the late 70s. So of course I quickly checked it out and there is no doubt in my mind that Veera Raja Veera is a straight lift. Credit could have easily been given right at the start. I prefer this version by Uday Bhawalkar to the one I found by Wasifuddin Dagar. It is at a slightly slower pace, and therefore sounds less militant and more majestic.

Shiva Stuti / Shiva Shiva Shiva. Uday Bhawalkar (vocal). Other artistes unlisted.

Five: Sanjay Subrahmanyam — Bettada Melondu (Raga Narayani, vachana by Akka Mahadevi, music by Sanjay Subrahmanyam)

This is one of my favourite tunings of a vachana and one of my favourite vachanas. Sanjay Subrahmanyam has set it to the relatively rare raga Narayani, which has the same notes on the way up as the Hindustani raag Durga (SRMPDS) but has all seven notes on the way down.

The vachana is translated in the notes on Youtube, but here is the gist:

Just as there is no point in

Being afraid of wild animals having built a house on the hillside

Being afraid of froth and foam having built a house on the seashore

Being annoyed by noise having built a house in a marketplace

There is no point in being affected by barbs and praise

Having been born into this world.

I am struck by the off the cuff nature of the vachana (accentuated by the tune). It is presented as no more than an observation, a simple truth. This is in contrast, for example with Rudyard Kipling’s totemic poem If. It conveys essentially the same message, using fewer words, and with one huge difference. Kipling’s If suggest that achieving this equanimity is an enormous and rare, almost impossible task — an unending aspiration, at the end of which:

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And — which is more — you’ll be a Man, my son!

But Akka Mahadevi suggests that it is easier than all that — it is a matter of choice, of mindset, not will power or exertion. A choice that is apparent and ought to be the default setting rather than end goal. In this, her words are more Carol Dweck than Rudyard Kipling.

Bettada Melondu. Sanjay Subrahmanyam (vocal), Neyveli Venkatesh (mridangam), S. Varadarajan (violin).



Vishnu Vasudev

I write mainly about my experience as a listener of Carnatic music.