At 8th Cross, music that can move the mountains

SUNAAD RAGHURAM writes: North-west of Mathrumandali Circle in Mysore, perhaps at a distance of less than three fourths-of a kilometre—beyond the hordes of bleating sheep and a bovine assortment of cows and buffaloes that lounge around along the Paduvarahalli main road in carefree abandon, past the ever anchored ‘Shah Pasand’ horse carriage with its black horse tied to a tree, munching a bale of hay—is 8th Cross, Vontikoppal, the headquarters of the Sri Prasanna Vidya Ganapathi Mahotsava Charitable Trust (SPVGMC).

And it is on this road that an annual ritual takes place. A ritual as much devoted to the veneration of the legendary elephant headed Lord Ganesha, he of the voluminous middle with a snake for a belt, the remover of obstacles and the giver of good fortune, as for the sheer joy and exhilaration of Carnatic music lovers.

For it is on this small stretch of dusty road that once every year, during the month of September, a lot many of India’s finest vocalists and instrumentalists perform on a makeshift stage under a large awning set up with serial bulbs and hired red plastic chairs, for rasikas to drink the nectar of a kind of music that is steeped in a tradition of great ancientness.

And it was on this very road that my own ignorance born of a certain prejudice and a lack of exposure to the larger nuances of Carnatic music was consigned, mercifully, to the dark alleys of no return, on a gently cool evening in the company of a few friends last night.

For it was an evening during which the ‘Padma Vibhushan’, the sangeetha kalanidhi Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman, a man endowed with the arcane gift of making a drum encased in strips of wood and closed at the ends with a round casing of tanned leather with a black bull’s-eye mark to it—the mridanga—behave like a beautifully choreographed danseuse in the throes of passionate, obsessive, cataclysmic upheaval at times; a gentle, tender and delicate rosy cheeked baby suckling her loving mother in a state of inclusive calmness at other times; and a cooing damsel ensconced with the fresh whiff of romance at a few other times!

Accompanying the young and exciting Saket Raman, a Carnatic singer who has been blossoming under the tutelage of the legendary Lalgudi Jayaraman and who is surely but unobtrusively pressing the gas pedal on the highway to greatness, the 76-year-old Shivaraman was a virtual study in well rounded extraordinariness when it came to handling the mridanga.

Or was he toying with it?!

And to think that I for one, had for some reason concluded in my mind that the tabla with its almost smooth, honeyed throb and the cascade of a certain well proportioned dulcetness to it which went around in a rhythm of exquisite, well preserved depth as the singer sang his aalaps invariably in the grand Hindustani style with its endless possibilities of improvisation, was the percussion instrument to fall in love with.

The mridanga in comparison, I felt, was a little harsh and crude, not given to the possibility of acoustic refinement. Something that was put to better use during temple rituals amidst the throng of hundreds and thousands of fervent devotees as priests went about chanting mantras in praise of the deity.

But then, I hadn’t heard Umayalpuram Sivaraman, had I?

Seated in concert along with the singer Saket Raman and Sivaraman was Mysore M. Nagaraj, a violinist whose class can elevate you and deposit you on the clouds of intense musical enjoyment; in a state of meditative bliss; a child prodigy who was gifted by god, the fingers to plait a special magic out of the strings that constitute the instrument of his stupendous craft.

Even as Saket Raman began to journey through the various depths and troughs, the channels of his musical expressions, eyes closed and face contorted in a mood of intense expressiveness, it was Umayalpuram Sivaraman who, with his energy and high spiritedness, began to match the ensemble.

The music that he made from his mridanga was one that came forth with an amazing repertoire of a multitude of sounds ranging from the crisp, clear notes of methodical rhythmic repetitiveness to the deep, almost guttural, denseness of a certain set of beats to a virtual coaxing, cajoling, enticing and charming delicateness. Nagaraj on the other hand, with his curly-haired handsomeness and a stage presence that not many can come close to, created his own brand of never failing melody to match with his violin.

Shivaraman’s smile every now and then in the midst of it all; his delicate glances at his accompanying disciple, Krishna Prasad, urging him to play with confidence; the sheer speed of his wizened fingers as they went about in a frenzy of unfailing beats always perfectly in tune with the musical situation; the flourish with which he would close his rendition for either the violinist or the singer himself to take over; the infectiousness of his demeanour on stage at an age when most other regular men would prefer the comfort of their drawing room, a newspaper in hand and a cup of hot coffee by the side and the noise of the grand children’s playfulness around them!

Umayalpuram Sivaraman made my evening memorable. An evening that made me realise that in the phenomenally intricate and complex world of music, the great purveyor’s of which live in the rarefied realms of eternal bliss, I got to taste a tiny morsel.

I’m eternally grateful!

YouTube video: courtesy Nagarathna Sitaram



Photographs: Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman in concert with Saket Raman (vocal) and Mysore Nagaraj (violin) at 8th Cross, Vontikoppal in Mysore on Saturday, 24 September 2011 (top); after the concert, Sivaraman poses for pictures with rasikas and their grandchildren (below)


Also read: At 8th Cross, even Ganesha loves a good concert

At 8th Cross, a 24-day musical extravaganza

500 TV channels, and not one for classical music?

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9 Responses to “At 8th Cross, music that can move the mountains”

  1. Ontikoppal Says:

    correction: accompanying disciple, “Krishna Prasad” alla Adamya Ramanand. . .

  2. Not A Witty Nick Says:

    Are you sure about the accompanying disciple’s name? Don’t think it is Krishna Prasad!

  3. the colonel Says:

    move mountains,
    bring rain,
    cause miracles…….

    get real

  4. Law of Omerta Says:

    Yeah, right!

    And if the musicians vocal chords dont move the mountain, we can always depend on the Reddy brothers to send in thier earth diggers…

    the nasty mountain will move, one way or other…

  5. prakash Says:

    Unless our Karnataka sangeetha along with folk lore with different kinds of dances is introduced in curriculum instead of Bhagavadgeetha as our Kageri is shouting, the younger generation will never get a touch of it’s own culture.

    From my childhood I wanted to sing loud.
    From my childhood I wanted to play tabla.
    and that jugalbandi….. wow what an art

    We are incorporating useless songs of national integration as music, kung fu from china and japan and english and forget our classical music, martial arts like kalaripayattu and instruments. Why? Because some migrants have come!? To celebrate democracy. This is hippocracy.

    instead of singers I listen to noise and abuses today.

    But alas ,nowhere I got a chance to find a true Guru in busy streets of cosmo metro sexy pubby unwanted noisy Bengaluru.
    and still I am a feeble and nervous speaker.

    It’s in schools that people like me would get some chances.
    Even now I am illiterate of my own Mysuru heritage looking feebly at comments at some children chanting filmy songs in Sa re ga ma pa and karaokeing it. Very much yes.
    And all the characters I am in touch with who had to spend their childhood under Malayali teachers and learning Hindi and English to laugh and scream at Bollywood movies – adopting hindi as forced lingo on ourselves, and just to send numerous meaningless messages and smileys on orkut and facebooks.

    And for this our high court stays supreme court order of making Kannada medium mandatory for about 18 years now.
    I would have been a much better person and would have learnt german, persian ,chinese along with english if we had Kannada medium . Now I feel a useless person looking for lost years due to migrants and laws to comfort them where I have been thrown into some colony in my own country without any rights and happiness.

    I really enjoyed the video. Thanks.

  6. Objectivist Mantra Says:

    @ Prakash, I am shocked by your comment.

    Music is universal, it should not have anything to do with regionalism, linguistics, nationality, race, caste, creed, religion, etc.

    It is sad that some commentators insist on degenerating music and all other forms of art by evaluating it through the narrow prism of their own prejudices.

    of course, i am completely non-musical person, I don’t listen to any kind of music. For me music is simple and plain noise. I don’t listen to Bollywood or Hollywood or the so-called classical music.

    But I do admire other forms of art.

    And I never tend to analyse the arts that I admire through the prism of my regional or caste or nationality related biases. It is time we Indians got over our prejudices.

    We need to become a part of the global community and that can only happen when we start recognizing the universal nature of all arts.

    I completely fail to understand why should any art be identified only with a particular region. A Chinese or a German or an African, or a North Indian can also enjoy and admire music that has originated in any South Indian or North Indian state.

  7. prakash Says:

    @Objectivist Mantra,
    ayyo karmakaanda .Lifeu Ishtene. Ninnathavra questionsge answer maadode life aagogide.Okies.

    Yes why do people with narrow English prism call Karnataka Carnatic dude?

    In my childhood born in middle class I wanted only one prism dude. because you know small child can learn a few things at a time, write a few things. cannot order french books , may not understand mandarin to appreciate pictorial scripts invented by great old early man, cannot sing other languages with ease dude but wants to sing dude , wants to express dude and so on dude.
    middle class dude, not odeyars dude.
    small small children dude. show some mercy dude.

    my father was not born in London and my mother was not from America to be global, but one used to earn and other used to cook and l am unhappy that the wider prism of Kannada which could have permanently defeated all your cravings of globalisation and admiration was replaced by half baked Indian English prism in my life , yes I would have been more globalized than now if I had studied in more local atmosphere.

    I as an outsider can still appreciate salsa and shakira singing in spanish or latin but here our schools don’t teach us a thillana or gamaka to showcase for world!

    this is what happens because of some maneyodaka thaleyodaka people like you dude.
    messi dude.

  8. the colonel Says:


    my father worked very very hard to hardly earn anything and my mother she worked very very hard, home, sewing, washing starching, ironing, packing, going to the kirana store with a few paisa in her hand for the evening meal, breakfast and lunch.

    but whats with your prism. Its your eyes and the brain behind. Thats It.

    So Change For The Better.

    if not no skin of my nose.

  9. Doddi Buddi Says:

    Prakash, Colonel, Obj Mantra

    Take it easy guys!

    As Colonel says,

    move mountains,
    bring rain,
    cause miracles
    have a drink
    goto heaven and back

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