Tyagaraja’s tambura

When I entered the Sri Prasanna Venkatesa Perumal Kovil in Madurai on that January evening in 2016, I had no idea of the what I was about to see. I don’t think other members of the group I was travelling with did either.

The only clue that there was something important in the temple came from Sriram’s, our group leader’s, rather enigmatic statement that there was a surprise waiting for us there. He wouldn’t say what it was though, and went of in search of the priest.

I looked around trying to guess what the ‘surprise’ could be. Was it the 12 ft tall Hanuman idol? Was it the Perumal idol in the sanctum? Or was it something else? As I looked around trying to figure out the ‘surprise’ in the temple, Sriram beckoned to our group to gather around a small shrine on one side. It was a simple shrine with two framed pictures — one of which I recognised as that of Tyagaraja (1767-1847), one of the greatest composers of Carnatic classical music — and two old tanpuras or tamburas.

Tyagaraja, Tanpura, Tambura, Musical Instrument, Saint Thyagaraja, Prasanna Venkatsa Perumal Temple, Madurai, Musical Heritage

Tygaraja’s framed portrait and tambura is on the left, while Venkataramana Bhagavathar’s tambura and framed portrait are on the right.

As the priest bustled around getting the shrine opened, Sriram casually announced that the tambura on the left used to belong to Tyagaraja. You could have heard a pin drop at the silence that followed. Continue reading

My “now” song: Allahvai naam thozhudaal

Do you ever have a song, an idea, a story line, or an image stuck in your head? And it just refuses to go away? For some time at least? I have this with music — it could be a song, an instrumental piece, a jingle, a background score, etc. That particular piece of music becomes my “now’” song, and the “nowness”  (pardon my English here) could be for any length of time.

My current “now” song: Allahvai naam thozhudaala composition by Nagoor Hanifa and sung by T.M. Krishna.

Surprisingly, it was Twitter which introduced me to this gem, and I still can’t get over that. I was home on sick leave from work that weekday in October with a fever and body ache. Restless and unable sleep, I logged into my Twitter account to do ‘time pass’.

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The incredible music of the Thar at Suryagarh

The sight of a canopied seating and fresh juice organised by the Suryagarh team was a welcome relief after a morning spent exploring the Thar. Set up outside an abandoned human settlement, the location and timing of the ‘refreshment pitstop’ was perfect. Much as I love the desert, I was getting dehydrated pretty quickly.

As I made my way to pick a glass of juice for myself, I heard some music being played in the distance. Music that was both familiar and unfamiliar, if not strange. It was familiar because I recognised the instrument, and unfamiliar because I had never heard it played outside of a Carnatic classical music katcheri (concert).

Juice forgotten, I changed directions and headed towards the music and the musician, Sumar Khan, who was playing the morsing or the wind harp, a wind percussion instrument.

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Discovering Vadnagar

I visited Vadnagar because of a photograph.

Yes, really. It was a random photograph that had popped up when I was browsing through an equally random photo-stream. The photograph was of a grand and towering toran or a decorative arch with the caption, “Kirti Toran, Vadnagar”.

My first reaction was where is Vadnagar? I mean, I knew that Vadnagar was in Gujarat and also that it was India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s native town, but where was it? When a location search revealed that it was only about 40 km from Mehsana, I was stunned, for at that time, I was planning my North Gujarat trip in December 2014 at that time. And Mehsana was to be my base ! I took this happy coincidence as a sign that I needed to visit Vadnagar. 🙂

And visit I did, but without realising at that time that what I thought would be a quick trip to see the Kirti Torans would turn into something more. Vadnagar, Solanki Dynasty, Kirti Toran, Gujarat Continue reading

The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2015

I received an Asus Zenfone 5 for review just a couple of days before the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival (KGAF) began giving me the perfect opportunity to test out the phone camera, something that is very important for me in a smart phone. Enjoy reading my KGAF post, but do let me know what you think of the photographs too.


Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2015, KGAF 2015, Mumbai, Iconic Arts FestivalWhen I ended my post on the 2014 edition of the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival (KGAF) last year, it was with mixed feelings. Though I had liked the installation / visual art on display, I hadn’t particularly enjoyed the way the events (or rather the heritage walks I had participated in) had been organised and conducted. I was upset enough to write a post on all that was wrong with the way the heritage walks were organised.

KGAF 2014 had also ended with uncertainty about the 2015 edition of the festival. A Kala Ghoda resident had filed a case complaining about the inconvenience and nuisance caused by the KGAF and the Bombay High Court was considering shifting the venue elsewhere.

Over the last one year, I followed the news on all developments pertaining to the KGAF and read the arguments and the counter arguments, the demands made and the compromises offered… till one day, I saw the announcement for the KGAF 2015. At Rampart Row. And to be held as usual from the first Saturday of February.

That was on 7th February and I visited the KGAF on that very day. And then again on the 8th. Then the 10th, the 12th and finally on the 13th. I went alone and with friends, attended programmes and also met up more friends. Want to see what I did at the KGAF 2015? Read on…

Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2015, KGAF 2015, Mumbai, Iconic Arts Festival

These colourful ladders were not part of any installation. I just saw them lined up and had to take a photo. Never say no to colour !

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The incredible music of Salim Khan and Sikander Langha

It has been almost 3 weeks since my Suryagarh trip, a trip that will go down as one of those trips of a lifetime. Being able to see the incredible monsoon desertscape, to visiting lesser known and popular sights in Jaisalmer, to the food feast laid out for us, to the pampering … everything was special.

But the reason that makes Suryagarh really special was an experience that stood over and above everything else and one that remains with me even today — the incredible music I heard at Suryagarh. Right from the Padhaaro Mhaaro Desh (please click on the song to hear it being rendered by Meelu Khan and Maqsood Khan) that welcomed me to the hotel or the performance of Manganiar musicians during dinner on the first day or the Langha musicians performing during dinner on the second day or hearing Algoza for the first time or discussing Rajasthani folk music…it was music, music and more music all the way.

Langha folk artistes, Kahnoi sand dunes, Jaisalmer, Suryagarh

Langha musicians performing at the Kahnoi sand dunes

Music is a quiet passion for me. While I enjoy hearing new kinds of music and am always open to hearing different kinds of music, I rarely seek music, local or pre-recorded, during my travels and Suryagarh was no different. But music was everywhere at Suryagarh and one that enveloped me in its melodious magic. While all the music I heard was truly incredible, two performances stood out for the sheer quality and for the interaction I was able to have with the musicians concerned.

I’ll introduce them to you a little later but for now let us call them the singer at the sand dunes and the musician at the window. Because that is how I first saw them and heard their magical music. My interactions with both of them left me feeling truly blessed and like the chosen one 🙂

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