I recently watched Padmashri Smt. Aruna Sairam's thematic presentation in the 2016 Margazhi Maha Utsavam on YouTube.
In this Thematic Presentation, as per the title '7 SWARANGALUM 5 ISAI ARASIGALUM', she presented famous compositions and described the various attributes of the 5 queens of Carnatic Music in her opinion. These 5 extraordinary ladies who paved the way for modern women musicians are: MS Subbulakshmi Amma, DK Pattammal Amma, ML Vasanthakumari Amma, T Brinda Amma and NC Vasanthakokilam Amma. In a way this was a lec-dem type concert which was very engaging and appealing, and I also found it very nice since International Womens Day was just a week ago!
She began her presentation by stating the main reason why she believed those 5 outstanding women were queens in their own right, and the reason for that, was that even though all 5 were contemporaries they each left their own mark on Carnatic Music, their own brand some may say. I strongly agreed with her points, as these 5 women did indeed leave a lasting impression on Carnatic Music, and even on people that didn't enjoy Carnatic Music, For example, even for people back then and people nowadays who don't enjoy Carnatic music that much, they still knew about these 5 singers sue to their contribution to CM. For example, in basically every household, you can hear MS amma's suprabatham being played, or you can hear MlV Amma's renditions of the tiruppavai in temples and etc. In one way or another the voices of these women have touched our lives.
Now onto the concert portion:
Aruna Sairam started off by stating that before she could talk about any of the other women, she had to first talk about MS Amma and then stated that the countless number of pieces MS Amma has sung have been amazing. She then started singing what she thought reminded her and everyone one else of MS Amma, this was none other than the famed Suprabatham. The singing of the suprabatham at the start of the concert was very pleasing, as not only is it a very known song but it is also a prayer song, which is nice to start of any concert with, like a sloka. She then progressed onto the next piece which was was 'Vandinam Muralum Solai' a pasuram written by Thondar Adippodi Azhvar, in the ragam Thodi. This is a beautiful piece, and Aruna Sairam did justice to it, her expression and Bhakthi was very nice to listen to. Her sangathis to this was also very beautifully done, and accentuated the already beautiful poetic sahitya/lyrics of the pasuram, describing the magnificence of Srirangam.
She then went on to talk about the relationship between her and the stalwart T Brinda Amma. As most might know T Brinda Amma was Aruna Sairam's guru, but what many might not know is that when Aruna Sairam started to learn T Brinda was already 60! Aruna sairam described the start of this guru sishya relationship, as a girl knowing nothing, learning from a woman who knows everything (Carnatic music and just general life experience). She also described T Brinda's singing as introverted and very peaceful. It was a nice touch, adding her personal experiences with T Brinda Amma, and then started singing 'Ehi Annapurne' a beautiful krithi, in ragam Punnagavarali, by Muthuswami Dikshitar. T Brinda was known for her Padams and Javalis and the same emotions were brought out in this krithi by Aruna Sairam. Like the songs before this krithi was also a famous krithi of T Brinda.
Like Aruna Sairam stated, the picture brought to mind when MlV Amma starts singing, is that of a door opening, revealing a variety of shining gems scattered on the floor in an artistic manner. That is MlV Amma in a metaphorical sense. She also states that MLV was an expert in Manodharma sangeetham, and knew all the 'kannaku and valakku' of singing manodharma sangeetham. She then started singing the famous pasuram from saint Andal's Thiruppavai 'Margazhi Thingal', in ragam Nattai. The devotion of this piece was brought out and suited the atmosphere perfectly as this concert was in Margazhi. An interesting thing was the combination of Kalpana Swarams, to demonstrate the artistic prowess of MLV Amma. Usually krithis are taken to use for Manodharma sangeetham, and pasurams are just sung by themselves like slokas, so it was refreshing to see a new take on it.
Aruna Sairam began this portion of her segment by reminiscing with the audience about DKP Amma's singing. She described it as 'Azhuttam and Shaantam', 'stressed and peaceful'. She also pointed out the part that DKP Amma played in popularising the beautiful Papanasam Sivan compositions. She then began singing a Papnasam Sivan composition, 'Nambi Kettavar', in ragam Hidolam. This composition brought out the serenity that one finds when listening to DKP Amma's singing. The slow pace of the song and bhava of Aruna Sairam's singing accentuated this composition, which left me thinking about DKP Amma's bhava when singing.
Aruna Sairam stated that the life of NC Vasanthakokilam Amma was very short, and she reached the feet of the lord when she was only 32. But even though she left so early, in that short period of time she established herself as one of the great stalwarts and made a mark on Carnatic Music, which is what makes her such a remarkable woman. She then said that the voice of NC Vasanthakokilam Amma was golden, and unlike most people who had to warm up their voices before reaching very high notes in a concert, NCV Amma was able to do that immediately at the start of a concert and hold it there, showing the range and strength of her vocal range and calibre as an artiste. Smt Aruna, then sang 'En Palli Kondeerayya' a famous composition of Arunachala Kavi, in ragam Mohanam. This well known composition reminds everyone of NCV Amma, and Aruna Sairam sang it very gracefully. Like NCV Amma, Aruna Sairam sang this song with bhava and it was full of emotion!
Conclusion- The Wonderful Paamalai
Smt Aruna Sairam, then ended this thematic katcheri with a Paamalai, (a sort of mashup if you want to call it that), of very famous songs of these 5 great women. 5 songs which represented them and their brand the most. A paamalai, is a Tamil word meaning 'a garland of songs', and it was a very fitting tribute and end to the show.
The paamalai started off with-
- DK Pattammal Amma- Eppadi Paadinaro: Ragam- Karnataka Devaghandari, Composer- Sudhananda Bharathi
- ML Vasanthakumari Amma- Kaaranam Kettu Vaadi: Ragam- Poorvi Kalyani, Composer- Gopalakrishna Bharathi
- T Brinda Amma- Thiruvotriyur Thyagarajan: Ragam- Athana, Composer- Ghanam Krishna Aiyyar
- MS Subbulakshmi Amma- Sabapathikku: Ragam- Abhogi, Composer- Gopalakrishna Bharathi
- NC Vasanthakokilam Amma- : Ragam- Shanmukhapriya, Composer- Gopalakrishna Bharathi