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Oothukkadu Venkata Kavi, a sakala kala musician
CHENNAI, December 27: It was a chill December morning. That did not prevent musically-inclined - from lay persons to stalwarts - to queue up to the Mini Hall at The Music Academy. They had all trooped in to discover an answer to an `existential issue'. Chitravina Ravikiran gave a well-researched lecture-cum-demonstration on composer Oothukkadu Venkata Kavi, even as he sought to quash the points raised by doubting Thomas in the audience.

A well-prepared Ravikiran went about in a methodical way to establish the time-frame in which Oothukkadu Venkata Kavi had lived. Describing him as "a Maha Vaggeyakara'' and a "Sakala kala musician'', Ravikiran said an answer to the very existence of Kavi could be found by a careful study of his compositions. Terming Oothukkadu Venkata Kavi "as someone with an image of a predominently madhyamakala composer", Ravikiran pointed to personalized interpretations made by the composer in his kshetra kritis (as in songs based on pilgrimage centers such as Tiruvarur, Chidambaram, Udupi, Madurai etc).

Ravikiran reckoned that Oothukkadu Venkata Kavi had played a very significant role in the period between Purandara Dasa (1494-1564) and the Trinity. Evidence available from the compositions of Kavi and others such as Muttuttandavar and Tanjore dance composers during the Naiks and Maratha rules (in 1600-1750) suggested that Carnatic music, dance and culture were in `glorious shape' in the period between Purandara Dasa and the Trinity, Ravikiran said.

It was not as though someone had turned off the lights when Purandara Dasa died and turned it on when the Trinity were born. "What is claimed as 'Dark Age' by some musicians and musicologists was not a reality at all,'' he said.

Purandara Dasa's contributions were kept up and improved upon by several other great musicians and composers, who had taken them to greater heights of sophistication in terms of musical structure, rhythmic intricacy and lyrical eloquence, he pointed out.

Relying on lyrical references, style of compositions and their complexity, Ravikiran argued that Kavi should have lived in the 1700s.

The compositions of the Trinity, he said, were simplified, which made the music accessible to more artistes and listeners. "If we notice, the Trinity's works have a much lesser percentage of Madhyamakala, jatis, complex talas and the like,'' he said "And, most of their pieces are much smaller in size (melodically, even if they have multiple charanams),'' he pointed out. He was quick to emphasize that the Trinity were brilliant and their pieces were no ordinary ones. He made these comparisons to indicate the period in which Kavi had lived. All these had proved that the style of Kavi was clearly that of early 1700s. 'We can determine his time period to be consistent with what his descendants and disciples have mentioned and what the Music Academy Journal of 1956 has documented,'' he added.

The best method for determining the Kavi's time-frame was to use a combination of different aspects, collated from internal evidence. The strongest of evidence could be found in the reference to Tulasi Dasa, the last historic personality Kavi had mentioned, Ravikiran said.

Interestingly, the composer had used his signature "Venkata Kavi'' in only four of his 350-odd pieces. The composer otherwise had only used a secondary signature, Ravikiran pointed out. Reciting a Suruti piece, Ravikiran pointed out that the Kavi had indeed a guru. The humility of the composer was also evident in a piece where he had saluted the 63 Nayanmars. Krishna was his favourite God, though he had intimate familiarity with all deities.

During the 40-odd minute lec-dem, young Anahita gave a lovely vocal support as Ravikiran sang select portions of a few compositions of Kavi.