Sunday, Oct 22, 2017 | Last Update : 07:02 PM IST

‘One for the Geetams, this Vijayadashami’

THE ASIAN AGE. | VASUMATHI BADRINATHAN
Published : Oct 2, 2017, 1:28 am IST
Updated : Oct 2, 2017, 1:29 am IST

Sriganatha stood at the forefront. Created in Malahari raga, this tiny composition attains grandiose proportions for me because of several reasons.

Purandaradasa
 Purandaradasa

Another Vijayadashami has come and gone. The day of new beginnings which is also marked as the auspicious day for starting to learn music and dance. In the dance classes, we rehearsed months before we put up a fine act.

We did the same with the music classes. Unfailingly on top of the list was the geetam.  I dedicate this piece to this modest little composition that is an unmistakable entity in the manual of Carnatic learners.

Repeated several times, the few geetams that are learnt in the early years of training are left behind but not forgotten. It was a must in every Vijayadashami.  No one asked why. No one knew why. One just sang. Now decades later, the geetam comes to mind again. This Vijayadashami, I remember Srigananatha, the first geetam I learnt during my initial training. That simple little piece of composition would always adorn all the Vijayadashamis I ever knew. It would take less than a minute to go through the lines. All other geetams took a little longer than this one. One would run through them, mechanically. This Vijayadashami morning, Sriganatha like its companions, was prominent in my mind.

Why would a little geetam occupy my thoughts so much? I was reflecting on the usual songs that one would sing during the earlier glorious Vijayadashami days that I used to spend with my gurus.

 Sriganatha stood at the forefront. Created in Malahari raga, this tiny composition attains grandiose proportions for me because of several reasons.

 It is slim and quick, its brevity making for a charm of its own. Before you knew you began, it was over, leaving behind the melody in your mind.

The simplicity of the geetam cannot be taken as a measure of the frailty.  Ensconced in its straightforward structure, the geetam then is opens up a small but also an enchanting window to the big world of swaras and ragas.  

A Srigananatha is outwardly easy, uncomplicated. It offers a gist of the nature and colour of Malahari raga. The m-p-d-s-s-r ascent leaves you in no doubt about what swaras are in and what is not. And the sweeping descent of r-s-d-p-m-p comes cascading down, leaving ample scope for those famed microtonal inflexions of Carnatic music. The swaras align themselves within the gamaka, intrinsic to the Carnatic form. You learn by imitating them and you master them with intuition. That was my journey of the geetam. Decades later, when I taught my daughter the geetam, I rediscovered the humble composition in a different light.  If you have a grip over Sriganatha, you have the entirety of Malahari in front of you, like a painter looking at a finished piece and seeing scope for another.

It leads you to think further on the raga, to explore its finesse. One would say the same about Varaveena in Mohanam or Janakasuta in Saveri.

When I learnt Panchamatanga the less-heard compostion of Dikshitar, it was like a second tryst with Malahari raga, with the trademark craftsmanship of Muthuswamy Dikshitar in the song.

Every Vijayadashami if a geetam is sung, it is an unmentioned acknowledgement of the significance and merit of a tiny but towering creation in the world of Carnatic music.

The first was learning the three Malahari compositions Sriganatha, Padumanabha and later Panchamatanga from my mother.

Followed by this was teaching the geetams to my daughter. We owe most of these precious treasures to that man whom we hail as the Sangita Pitamaha, the grand sire of music, the Purandara dasa.    

Dr. Vasumathi Badrinathan is an eminent Carnatic vocalist based in Mumbai. She can be contacted on vasu@vasumathi.net

Tags: vijayadashami, dance classes