The composition again was from the Carnatic repertoire in “Adi tala” or “teentaal”.
Two of India’s oldest instruments, the Saraswati veena and the Venu (flute) were presented in a Carnatic-North Indian classical music concert by two of its finest exponents — Vidushi Dr Jayanthi Kumaresh and Pt Ronu Mazumdar. The concert was presented by the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (GNCA), whose Kaladarsana division with Dr Achal Pandya and newly appointed Director Programmes Supriya Consul seems to have a new lease of life, presenting a host of musical activities including monthly concerts on Purnima (full moon day), and folk music concerts under its “Sanjari” series. It was a welcome change to see senior artists like Padma Vibhushan Dr Sonal Mansingh and Pt Subhendra Rao in the audience; over the years, Delhi’s culture of “tehzeeb” (etiquette) in the music world is slowly being eroded with most musicians not bothering to attend the concerts of other musicians.
Jayanthi Kumaresh has an impressive musical lineage-7th generation representative of a line of musicians descended musically from Tyagaraja Swami; disciple of the illustrious Vidushi Padmavathy Ananthagopalan (incidentally, her aunt) and later, also disciple of Vidwan S Balachander who was one the finest and best known exponents of the instrument in his time. But what impresses is not only the musical matter she has received and extensively internalised; giving her the ability to effortlessly respond with a totally appropriate musical phrase during a jugalbandi. More, it’s her extensive riyaaz, which leaves one awestruck; whether in her clear “taans” or the perfectly executed “meends”, or the “jhala” or the left-right hand coordination illustrated so beautifully in the traditional “baaj” of the veena.
As Grammy nominated Pt Ronu Mazumdar, inheritor of the legacy of Bharat Ratna Pt Ravi Shankar put it “Jayanthi may be my younger sister, but musically she is my elder”. Amazingly generous words, possible only from an artist of his caliber who has already demonstrated his musical stature and has nothing left to prove. The Maihar Senia gharana that he so ably represents is known for its meticulous deconstruction of Raga, with “gats” (compositions) in rare “talas”. Anyone who has ever heard the maestro in concert knows the extent of his lyricity and melodious “soch”; yet Jayanthi, despite being a Carnatic musician where the focus is on compositions and laya, not necessarily lyricity, met each musical riposte with one equally praise worthy.
The theme of the concert was “back to the origins”, so the two maestros chose Ragas which were common to both systems of music, that predated the changes that came into the systems some 700 years ago. Many Ragas we hear today are of Carnatic origin, which have been incorporated into the North Indian music canvas, like Keerwani, Charukeshi, Simhendramadhyam. Some like Des, Jaijaiwanti and Bihag have been renamed and taken into the Carnatic pantheon. In this interesting jugalbandi, the first Raga played was the Carnatic Hamsanandi or Puriya/Sohani.
The format of the concert started in the North Indian idiom, with a short aalap, before moving into the Carnatic style, with a 6 matra (rupak tala in the Carnatic nomenclature, dadra taal in the North Indian), kriti “Paawan Guru”. Many times, jugalbandis end by being played in a very clichéd, predictable way, with easy to guess sequences; this one had a flow that was not simulated, but natural. The percussionists were masters too – Pt Abhijeet Bannerji on the tabla and Vidwan Arjun Kumar on the mridangam. Each took turns at accompanying both Ronu and Jayanthi. During the composition phase, the “chakradhaar tihais” (repetitive sequences in triples of three repeats) were maybe a trifle overdone; also sadly, the amplification of the flute was too much.
The next Raga was Kharaharapriya or Kafi, which is one of the main Ragas in the Carnatic system, but which, in the North Indian way has traditionally been whittled down to being treated more lightly and presented more in “thumri ang”. Ronu Mazumdar demonstrated his vast musical ability by presented a careful “aalap” and “jor”, in Kafi, wisely leaving the “jhala” portion, a speciality of the veena, to Jayanthi. Her knife edge cutting strokes on the “baaj”(main) and “chikari” (drone) strings created a truly hypnotic rhythm.
The composition again was from the Carnatic repertoire in “Adi tala” or “teentaal”. The “tani avartanam” or percussion interchange was exciting, with Pt Abhijeet Bannerji graciously choosing to complement the mridangam intricate “laya” work, rather than bringing in different tabla “bols” (strokes.) This jugalbandi by all 4 artists highlighted this fact – each played to bring out the best aspects of the other’s instrument. There was not a moment of boredom during the entire nearly two hour concert.
The final concluding piece again represented the epitome of musical graciousness – Jayanthi played the popular “Shri Ram Chandra Kripalu bhaj man” in Yamuna Kalyani Ragam, while Ronu played “Krishna nee begane” in Raga Aiman Kalyan. Indeed a fitting tribute to each other’s music, highlighting how similar the music is, and how the differing treatment of the notes creates a totally different sound. The magic they created was only possible as they know each other’s music so well.
The author writes on music, musicians and matters of music, and respect each other so fully that wanting to enhance the other’s presentation is inevitable; the effect of ten years of playing “jugalbandis” with each other.