Oli Chamber concerts had their 6th performance last evening at Rasvihar, Chennai. Below is a review from a Margazhi subscriber and music aficionado, who attended the event. Also, the theme for the concert and the artist profiles are detailed below the review.

Memories of The Lotus: Review of Event 6 of Oli Chamber Concerts

17A, Sterling Road – the beautiful home of Sarangi and Rasvihar was decorated with lamps and ‘urulis’ filled with lotuses. A spacious hall with coloured “paais” and a few chairs completed the perfect ambience for Oli’s Chamber Concert.

As per the Oli tradition, Bharathi started the proceedings with her invocation at 6.10pm.

What transpired over the next two hours and twenty minutes was a wonderful musical experience– a well thought out and perfectly executed thematic presentation by Nisha Rajagopalan, Padma Shankar & Shertalai Anantakrishnan. The theme? Thaamarai –The Lotus.

Before you even read about the event, here’s what Nisha Rajagopalan had to say about the preparation for this thematic concert.

“The Theme suggestion came in from the Oli team. I had quite a few discussions with them, especially with Gowri Ramnarayan and then Bharathi. In collaborative discussion, some really great ideas came up. As I thought more about the theme, I realised there were so many different references to the lotus in so many compositions, that too in varying contexts of devotion, poetry, romance. The list of likely songs was quite long and it went through quite a few iterations – it became difficult to select the final shortlist ! On a lighter note, there is enough material to do Thaamarai – II as a sequel to this concert. I really enjoyed researching and working together to get the final thematic presentation. Personally, “Soundararajam” – was a revelation. A song that is so well known, when I looked at the lyrics with this theme in mind, it just seemed absolutely perfect and I wanted to make sure it made the list.”

About the Concert itself:

Nisha’s voice opened up beautifully and it was a pleasure to listen to her in an un-amplified setting. It was a lovely team effort that saw the accompanying artists contributing to the overall balance and impact of the chamber concert.

The opening piece was “En Manathaamarai Mel” – a composition by GNB – establishing the theme firmly.

Saarasaksha in Pantuvarali set up a good tempo for the concert. A brilliant choice was Soundararajam Aashraye in Brindavana Sarangi – Nisha’s voice really shone through as she presented the ragam. The kriti was also rendered in a relaxed tempo – making it thoroughly enjoyable.

Rama Ninne Namminaanu in Useni provided a brisk interlude before the main piece de resistance for the evening.

Kambhoji alapanai by Nisha & Padma was followed by a small virutham: “Sri Kamalaalayastha…Kamalaambike”- which was a perfect preamble to Kamalambika in Ata Talam. This was indeed a rare treat – as a piece not often heard in kutcheris.

The interesting aspect was that neraval and swara prastaram were used only as embellishments to most of the concert pieces. Ata Talam tani avartanam by Anantakrishnan was short but enjoyable.

Some more virutham singing: this time an interesting theme extolling Tamizh as Kaaviya thilagam. Switching ragas into a short and sweet “Thaamarai Putha thadaakamadi…” The pallavi simply means– “This is the lake of the lotus flowers of wisdom,
From that the honey of pure Tamil is ebbing out.” (courtesy: P R Ramachander’s translation)

And ofcourse, a Lotus themed concert would have been incomplete without the final piece rendered by Nisha – Vellai Thaamarai Poovil Iruppaal in Bimplaas.

A lovely concert which left the audience feeling rejuvenated. Gowri Ramnarayan on behalf of the Oli team had the last word as she summed up (in chaste sen’Tamizh’ that the performance truly integrated the bhakti thaamarai, mukti thaamarai, the kaavya thaamarai, leaving one with some beautiful memories of the Lotus.

 Taamarai

In Columbus Ohio, instead of lawns, the Bank of America created lotus pools around its huge building. And guess what? Business boomed. And the bank became one of the sights of the city.

No, it does not surprise us. Indian tradition has it that there are only three objects in the world that we never tire of looking at: the elephant, the moon, and the lotus.

And today, as we enjoy the beauty and fragrance of the ‘taamarai poo’ in the musical pageant that awaits us, may we remind ourselves of the symbolic dimensions of this exquisite flower, associated with divinities, and belived to be divine in itself.

Part of the symbolism and art of the three great religions born in India, Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, and the official national flower of modern India, the lotus represents values of both the early life, and the life hereafter. It brings honour, good fortune, prosperity, the promise of long life and fertility, as it can survive years of drought to re-germinate. It signals victory – doesn’t it struggle through earthy sludge and water, to bloom in the air, warmed by the sun?

In all Asian cultures, the lotus indicates cosmic rejuvenation and primordial radiance and primordial radiance. Nourished by the four elements, the padma signals the ultimate state beyond them. Yogis venerate a thousand-petaled lotus as the sahasrara chakra, while the Buddha visualized it in his dharma chakra. To the Jains it is spiritual elevation. Confucian thought admires its unsullied purity. In Japan it spells truth and immortality. The Bhagavad Gita images the lotus, growing in water but untouched by it, as the detached stithaprajna.

So, when an Indian artist carves a lotus, he doesn’t have to put it in the hands of a god to signify transcendence. When an Indian poet speaks of the countless epithets of the lotus: karakamala, padapadma, mukharavinda, sarasijanabha, vanajasana or neerajakshi, he is thinking of spiritual magnetism.

In all these bhakti and mukti, let us not forget the lotus also spells heady romance. Remember lovelorn Sakuntala tossing and turning on a bed of lotuses? What could be more apt than Kalidasa’s choice to employ the leaf of this self-sustaining flower as the medium for Sakuntala’s love letter ot Dusyanta?

We leave you with a tender Chinese metaphor: the lotus represents family bonds, because innumerable separate threads are lovingly meshed in the stalk that bears the fragrant bloom!

ARTIST PROFILES

Nisha rajagopal is one of  the emerging stars of the current generations of carnatic musicians. An accomplished vocalist, Nisha has trained under veteran gurus like Sri TRS, Sri PSN and Smt Suguna Varadachari, under whose tutelage she has gained an in-depth understanding the laya and bhava aspects of Carnatic music. Her concerts exhibit a fine balance of  verve and substance. Nisha’s resonant voice, with its firm grip on classicism, hightens the emotive appeal of both sahitya and sangita.

Padma Shankar is an upolder of the Lalgudi bani. The initial seed of her musical journey being sown by her vainiika mother, Smt Lakshmi Narayanan, Padma’s music is full of depth and classical flavour. Her bhava-laden playing and sensitive accompaniment are testament to tutelage under the maestro Sri Lalgudi Jayaraman.

Sherthalai  Anantakrishnan, a disciple of Sri Karaikkudi  Mani, is a much sought after mrdangam artiste. A sound foundation in vocal music, laid by his mother (Smt Lalitha Ramachandran), reflects only too well in his knowledgeable and perceptive support in uplifting the mood of the concert.