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Kalpakam Swaminathan Weaves Divine Spell On New Jersey Rasikas
Kalpagam Swaminathan with Palghat Rajamani (Bhavani Rao in the background) Kalpagam Swaminathan (Veena); Palghat Rajamani (Mridangam)
Viriboni - Bhairavi - Adiappa - Usi thalam
Panchamathanga - Malahari - Dikshitar (S)
Yochana - Darbar - Thyagaraja (R)
Thyagarajaya Namasthe - Begada - Dikshitar (R, S)
Purahara Nandana - HameerKalyani - Dikshitar (R)
Inkevarunnaru - Sahana - Annaswamy Sastri (R, S, followed by Thani)
Meenakshi Memudham - Poorvikalyani - Dikshitar (R, T)
Sree Subramanyo - Thodi - Dikshitar (R)
Viswanathena - Samantha - Dikshitar (R, S)
Sree Venugopala - Kuranji - Dikshitar
Pranatharthi Haram Aham - Chenjuruti - Mysore Vasudevachar (R)
Ambara Chidambara - Surati - Gopalakrishna Bharathi (R)

When Dikshitar composed "Veena Pusthaka Dharini", he had in mind the celestial Saraswathi. Some times, Gods come down to earth taking a human form, so that mortals can feel the divine right here. Saraswathi is no exception, and listening to the octogenarian Kalpagam Swaminathan, la grande dame de Veena, one can't help but feel that we are being enthralled by a divine presence. As a friend of mine put it so aptly at the end of the concert, "I will talk to you later. I don't want this trance to be broken!"

It could almost be called a miracle when some rasikas, against all odds, managed to organize a house concert in New Jersey on March 30, 2008. This could also be termed an historic event, when, for the first time, on a sunny spring morning, the stage in the basement of a house in NJ was adorned by two great musicians in their respective fields - Kalpagam Swaminathan, on the Veena, and Palghat Rajamani, on the Mridangam.

The concert started with a majestic rendition of Viriboni varnam. Kalpagam Swaminathan, at the end of the concert, gave almost a mini lec-dem on the laya aspect of this piece, and what she had learnt about it from Mysore Vasudevachar. The rest of the concert almost turned out to be a Dikshitar retrospect (after all, who is better qualified to do this?). The second piece, Panchamatanga in Malahari, was delicately nuanced, bringing out the rich melody of this pleasing raga. After a brief alapana in Darbar, followed by Thyagaraja's Yochana, it was back to Dikshitar.

For those present, this meant exposure to the authentic pathanthara of Dikshitar krithis. Kalpakam Swaminathan's singing of some phrases as she played on was further evidence of the veena tradition of Dikshitar. Begada and Sahana are rakthi ragas, which contain the essence of Carnatic music. Kalpagam Swaminathan, performing some of the "pracheena" phrases in these ragas, brought sheer delight to the assembled rasikas. Thyagarajaya Namasthe was rendered in the leisurely style with all the grandeur of Begada.

The artiste must have a fondness for Hamir Kalyani. The raga interpretation and the kriti rendering were truly out of this world (she played the same raga, but a different kriti in Cleveland, to the great delight of the audience there). One can only wonder at the vastness of Kalpakam Swaminathan's repertoire.

The Sahana piece composed by the grandson of Shyama Sastri was a gift to the rasikas assembled. The succeeding kritis, all composed by Dikshithar, were played with a vistharam, befitting the quality of the composer's works, with authenticity and authority. Both Viswanathena (Samantha) and Sree Venugopala (Kuranji) were rasikas' choice. It was truly incredible to believe that a rarely heard raga like Samantha is capable of such a raga elaboration and swarakalpana. Pranatharthi Haram (Chenjuruti), perhaps, learnt directly from the composer was beyond description.

The availability of Vidwan Palghat Rajamani on that day to accompany Kalpagam Swaminathan was indeed a blessing from above. The music of a Vidhushi of her caliber, with percussion support from mridangam Vidwan Rajamani can be termed a perfect match.

The assembled rasikas were enthralled by Rajamani's percussion accompaniment, with the thani a treat that they were looking forward to.