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Deccan Herald » Spectrum » Detailed Story
Music matters
Vikram Sampath
Classical music steeped in devotion, served on the platter with the coolants of kosambari and panaka, transform Bangalore into a cultural citadel during the Rama Navami celebrations, writes Vikram Sampath.
It is not quite the characteristic summer that Bangaloreans are used to. With rising mercury levels, electricity and water woes plaguing the city, the old-timers of Bangalore blame the winds of change that have rapidly been metamorphosing the climate and landscape of this once Pensioners' Paradise. But in the midst of all this transformation, the summer has kept one phenomenon constant - the ubiquitous Rama Navami celebrations across the City. I wonder if any other place in the country celebrates the birth of Lord Rama with as much fervor as Bangalore does, perhaps not even His own birthplace Ayodhya. With the innumerable Rama Seva Mandalis that have mushroomed all over the City, Bangalore transforms itself into a cultural citadel for the occasion.

Music and religion make a heady combination. In India, the arts have always been a means of an inward journey, a voyage of self-discovery and exploration. It is almost no surprise then that classical music themes, like those of dance and other arts, draw heavily from religion and mythology. It is this very sentiment that is at work in all these numerous Mandalis and their festivities. While the big and established ones manage to afford all the veritable who's who from the world of Indian classical music to regale the residents of the City with their soulful renditions, the smaller ones make do with local and upcoming talent. In a nutshell, classical music steeped in devotion, served on the platter with the coolants of kosambari and panaka, seem like the best antidote for summer.

The history of many of these mandalis takes us back to the pre-Independence era of the Old Mysore region where the festival was celebrated with a rare community spirit by Hindus and Muslims alike. One such hoary tradition that was born about 69 years ago was the celebrations organised by Sri S V Narayanaswamy Rao. With the active support of violin maestro Shri T Chowdaiah and flute wizard Shri T R Mahalingam, Narayanswamy turned his passion into reality and soon became the organiser of one of India's biggest Rama Navami festivities.

Months in advance, Mr Rao would visit Madras and book the artists for the fete. With the passing of time, artists began to deem it their privilege to sing under the aegis of his mandali.

These festivities have remained etched in the minds of Bangaloreans, especially the old timers who have lived through the regal days of the Raj and the Mysore royalty. My grandfather and his brother apparently were regulars there as they made a beeline to listen to the then greats of classical music, especially Smt M S Subbulakshmi, who is supposed to have performed for more than 25 times at the same venue, despite the rains that would lash each time she sang!

My mother (and later me) also grew up with the same awe when it came to recalling the Fort High School grounds at Chamarajapet in residential South Bangalore where these annual celebrations are held each year.

The mandali proudly recalls that almost all the maestros in the field of Indian classical music have performed at their premises - MSS, M L Vasanthakumari, D K Pattammal, Araiyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, Chowdaiah, Veena Doreswamy Iyengar, GNB, Dr Balamuralikrishna, Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ravi Shankar, Ustad Bismillah Khan, Amjad Ali Khan, Parween Sultana, Shiv Kumar Sharma and a host of other luminaries.

It is quite an ethereal experience to sit there in the sprawling Fort High School Grounds, even as artist after artist make their trip to Bangalore this season, as the fest continues for 35-40 days in a row! The April mango showers hit Bangalore around this time and there is this indescribable nippiness in the air; the smell of the early drizzle falling on scorched sand and a light breeze blowing across the pandals, even as majestic idols of Rama, Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman stand bejeweled in a huge gold plated mantap.

This year too, like always, all the well-known artists of the Carnatic music pantheon are performing at the venue. Most of these venues also give an opportunity for upcoming artists to showcase their talent and create a niche for themselves.

It is quite an ode to the spirit of Bangalore which, like a huge melting pot, welcomes, accommodates and absorbs different thoughts, cultures and streams making them its very own - adding to its cosmopolitan nature.

Where else would you have classical music festivals where both the genres of Indian classical music get showcased equally (unlike other cultural bastions of the country like Mumbai, Kolkata or Chennai which cater to specific genres only)? At the same time, you have a Mark Knofler, a Bryan Adams, an Elton John, an evening of ghazals with Jagjit Singh or a Sonu Nigam show which attracts as much crowd and public attention. It is this accommodative spirit of co-existence which makes Bangalore what it is.

As of now, the music season is at its peak. But unlike what Shakespeare said about surfeit of music sickening and killing the appetite, it is almost working the other way round for most of the City's music lovers who throng the place despite the distance, despite the evening showers, despite the daily haggling with auto drivers post-concert - in short, despite all odds!
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