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Lavani & the Tanjore link
CHENNAI, January 21: Bombay Jayashri Ramnath gave a lecture-cum-demonstration for the Music Academy on the morning of December 31, 2014. The lec-dem was on Bahattara mela ragamalika of Lavani Venkata Rao. She presented it beautifully by giving instances from the history of music and Lavani tradition of Maharashtra. She also demonstrated with her disciples - Keerthana and Poornima - a few lines of the lyrics with raga mudra in each chakra by singing the first and last chakra with the raga mudra and the composer’s signature.

Jayashri’s presentation was simple, lucid and enlightening. She made it a lot livelier by interspersing it with a little concert of a sort, more to drive home a few points.

Bahattara mela ragamalika was composed by Lavani Venkata Rao in 72 melaragas in Marathi. This is a Narasthuthi composed on Sakaram Saheb of Shivaji ‘s lineage and his son-in-law. This melakartha raga composition was set to tune by Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer. Around 17th century, many Marathas came and settled down in Tanjore. Narrating all these, she pointed out how the Tanjore court flourished with dance, music and literate court musicians during this time. The tradition, known as Hiravali tradition, prevailed. Also, the languages such as Marathi, Sanskrit and Telugu were most popular compared to Tamil. Hence, according to her, the Lavani form of singing should have originated from Maharashtra. And, it was made popular by Lavani Venkata Rao. Jayashri went on to elaborate the history of Tanjore court music.

Origin of Lavanya
Lavanya means beauty, grace and aesthetics. The word is synonymous with the Marathi word Lavani, which originated from the Sanskrit word Lavanya. Deep Lavani and Bahat Lavani are the vivacious form of folk music singing in Maharashtra. Venkata Rao mixed the Lavani with Tanjore culture, Jayashri explained. Lavani Venkata Rao and Mahavaidyanatha Iyer were disciples of Manambhuchavadi Venkatasubbiah, who was the direct disciple of Saint Thyagaraja. Hence, Lavani Venkata Rao, it was pointed out, was of Thyagaraja’s lineage. Each of Thyagaraja’s disciples was endowed with a unique music talent and became reputed composers. Later, Mahavaidyanatha Iyer had composed a 72 melaraga malika on the Lord Pranatharthihara of Tiruvarur along with his brother Mahavaidyanatha Sivan with chittaswarams similar to the Bahattara mela ragamalika of Lavani Venkata rao. This composition on Lord Pranatharthihara in Sanskrit was made famous by M.S. Subbulakshm's singing.

Nirguna cult
Lavani is a kind of folk song sung in Marathi. Some of the Lavani compositions are based on philosophical or Nirguna cult. Shringara Lavani, based on erotic elements, is yet another type. There are two distinct forms of Lavani performances known as Phadachi and Baithakichi Lavani. The Lavani sung and enacted in a public performance before a large audience in a theatre atmosphere is called Padachi Lavani. When the Lavani is sung in a closed chamber for a private and select audience by a female singer, it came to be known as Baithakichi Lavani. Most texts of the Lavani are sensual in nature. Rare are the Nirguna ones.

According to Jayashri , female singers drape themselves with a long nine-yard zari saree, and adorn themselves with dazzling ornaments. They are accompanied by the percussion instrument dolki with a high frequency and quick tempo. The Lavani singing, she explained, had three parts such as mora, karvai and alap with brighas, bringing the essence of the Lavani. Sometimes, the female singer was accompanied by a male voice, Jayashri pointed out.

Best lec-dem
Bahattara melaramalika started with the first raga Kanakangi as “Sriman Jokari Raja Vishnu sama”, and in one of the sahityas, mention has been made of wearing nine-yard silk saree. And, in the 72nd melaraga Rasikapriya, Venkata Rao signed the composition with his name as “Rasikapriya Bahattara mela sri Venkatasuya Vani”. One by one, the ragas from Kanakangi, Ratnangi, Vanaspati, Sarasangi, Sankarabharanam...and Rasikapriya appear in each of the lyrics. Venkata Rao did the job of a porter in the Tanjore railway station during the day. In the evening, he used to entertain with his Lavani singing. He also seemed to have started a school, and many students were trained in Tanjore with Lavani singing. Jayashri aesthetically presented the lec-dem and made it interesting with anecdotes from the history. She must have done quite a research to present such an interesting lec-dem on not-so-popular a subject such as this one, and provided enormous information. Not surprisingly, Bombay Jayashri’s lec-dem was chosen as the best by the Music Academy this season.