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Music for the mind
SINGAPORE: Sudha Ragunathan took a sabbatical during the December season of 2015. Marghazhi in Chennai is incomplete even if one in the senior rung is missing. With the floods playing havoc as well, the season that went by proved a damp squib! However, Dame Luck smiled on me this month and took me to Singapore on work. I was delighted to know that Sudha Ragunathan was performing for SIFAS at the Esplanade on April 2 and went scurrying to get a ticket.

And, wasn’t I lucky that I could catch her there? After getting myself a good seat, I just glanced around the auditorium that was slowly becoming a flurry of activity. Like a balloon that grows bigger and bigger with the slow influx of air, the crowd began swelling and was actually overflowing. That is really setting great expectations indeed! And, this was perhaps the best crowd that I have seen in recent times at Singapore for a classical concert. Must have been a little over thousand and as the compere announced, there the lady walked in grandly and took a bow. Draped in an elegant white and maroon Kanjeevaram, Sudha looked resplendent, bedecked with simple matching jewelry that offset her saree so very well!

And then the great moment began. Resting and being away from the scene in December seems to have done good for Sudha – she was really in great form that evening! Her voice was at her command, and she swept the octaves with ease. Anahata, the mystical sounds of music, was the theme, and it was truly mesmerizing. For three full hours, I sat as though in a trance. The vasantha daru varnam was something that I hadn’t heard earlier at all. A Ganesha kriti in Mohanakalyani followed and the crowd simply went into raptures while Sudha and Embar Kannan exchanged swaras. Splendid team work, I must say! That was really and literally music to the ears!

Endharo mahanubhaavulu in Sriragam kept me happy. A familiar kriti to me, and I hummed in my mind, along with her. Sriramachandro in Sriranjani (misrachapu tala), a kriti of Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar, with neraval at Sita Kalyani Mahotsava brought vivid images of the Lord before my eyes. That is the sheer beauty of her music – you definitely get a peek into heaven! A brief yet gripping raga alapana preceded the song, as a true harbinger of what was to come.

I always wonder how the artistes sitting on the dais, absorbed in their own music, also understand the audience’s expectations. And, Sudha tops on this aspect truly! How is it that she is able to read our minds? The mind sought the divine, and there comes a Thamizh kriti in the raga Rasikapriya, Arul seyya venum ayya.

While I was contemplating on what would be the centerpiece – may be a Kalyani or a Sankarabharanam, Sudha surprised all with Kambhoji. What a brilliant rendition! She built the raga brick-by-brick, and constructed a temple that housed the presiding deity ‘O Rangasayee, who was extolled by the kriti that followed. It’s still ringing in my ears - that was the power and resonance that it had, replete with neraval, swaras and koraippu. As time was racing by, I thought the thani avarthanam would lead the way to tukkadas. But no, it did not, and there again was a twist, a surprise. There was a short ragam, thanam and pallavi in Shubapantuvarali.

It was a Saturday, and Venkatesa Perumal stood there adorned with jewels and in all splendur. Ragamalikai swaras in Priyadarshini and Vasanthi further embellished the pallavi.

And after that, the audience was intoxicated by the divinity that came about when she sang Jagadhodhaarana and Kaatrinile varum geetham. The voice had become supple and pliable and oozed with emotion. When she concluded the concert with a virutham and Kurai onrum illai, the audience still did not have enough but it was already 3 hours and time to wrap up.

The standing ovation showed how much the audience loved the concert. I watched a dance recital and stayed on for two concerts. Somehow, the imprint that Sudha left with her music is something that can’t be expressed. It needs to be experienced!

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