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Master musicians spend their time honing their skills and training students who they rarely get an opportunity to perform with.
One such rare opportunity to watch leading Bay Area Karnatik musicians perform together will be at the Badarikashrama benefit, “Gems of Karnatik Music,” an event to raise the funds needed to build a school in Madihalli, India. Badarikashrama has two chapters, the Bay Area’s San Leandro facility and one in Madihalli, which are run by Swami Omkarananda.
Shakuntala Murthy, who will perform at the benefit, says, “Cultural programs have been an integral part of Badarikashrama thanks to the efforts of Swami Omkarananda. For the past 10 years, my students have performed in San Leandro during Rama Navami and on other occasions. Many musical and cultural programs are held at the ashram throughout the year.”
It’s no wonder then that musicians Srikanth Chary, Padmaja Kishore, Ranjani Narasimhan, Asha Ramesh, Hema Sista, Anuradha Sridhar, Latha Sriram, Anu Suresh, Sangeetha Swaminathan, and Murthy have stepped in to help raise funds. “Gems of Karnatik Music” will begin with a ragamalika composition by Muthuswami Dikshithar performed by all the teachers. Then the program will highlight the genius of saint composer Thyagaraja through a performance of his sthala krithis, songs sung in praise of the deities at various temples or sthalas.
Teachers and their students learning at an advanced level will perform the Kovur Pancharatna krithis and the Lalgudi Pancharatna krithis.
Saint Thayagaraja is part of the well-known trinity in Karnatik music, which includes composers Muthuswami Dikshithar and Syama Sastri. These composers have created hundreds of songs that form the bulwark of the modern Karnatik music repertoire. And yet, Thyagaraja’s unique life story and his compositions hold a special place in the hearts of rasikas and musicians alike. Born in Tamil Nadu, he lived an austere life forsaking material wealth offered to him by many a king, instead choosing to spend his life in prayer, with Lord Rama always holding a special place in his heart. He composed several hundred krithis, and at the end of his life, it is believed that he attained salvation. His life story personifies the bhakti tradition in Indian classical music.
“Thyagaraja’s compositions are suitable for students of all levels,” Latha Sriram says. “My students will be singing one of the Kovur Pancharatna krithis, written in praise of Lord Sundaresvara who resides at Kovur, set in Sahana ragam.”
Asha Ramesh adds, “He appealed to the layman by composing in Telugu which was understood by many in his time. Also, he combined the lyrical and melodic structures in every song so effortlessly.” Ramesh and her senior students will be performing “Eesha Paahimam,” a Lalgudi pancharatna krithi, a set of five songs composed in the shrine at Lalgudi in praise of Lord Shiva and Goddess Shrimathi, the residing deities at the temple.
Anuradha Sridhar is deeply connected to the legacy of the Lalgudi Pancharathna krithis. “It was my great-great-grandfather Ramaier who invited Thyagaraja to the village of Lalgudi and he composed five krithis on his visit there. My students and I will perform one of them, ‘Mahitha Pravridha Srimathi.’”
Srikanth Chary says, “Five of Thyagaraja’s compositions might be sung in one recital, and yet, each will be distinct from the other. Even if you take two of his compositions adhering to the same raga and tala structure, they will still be different; the effect that he creates is almost miraculous.” Chary and his students will be performing a thillana composed by Lalgudi Jayaraman, the famed violinist.
Hema Sista and her students will be performing “Sundaresvaruni,” a Kovur Pancharatna krithi. Hema Sista and Sangeetha Swaminathan belong to the M.L. Vasanthakumari school of singing. Sangeetha says she is excited that so many musicians are coming together for this worthy cause.
On a recent visit to India, Chary visited the Badarikashrama facility in Madihalli. “The ashram,” he says, “is set amidst rolling hills and can be reached after a scenic three-hour ride from Bengaluru. Buses set out to neighboring villages every morning and bring in children who attend school at the ashram. The school itself is set to expand, and this program is an effort to bring in funds for further construction.”
Sunday, Oct. 11, 3 p.m. CET Theater, 701 Vine St., San Jose. $15, $50. (510) 651-8022, (510) 278-2444. www.badarikashrama.org.