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Veena Arangetram: Sahana Venkatesh

Rayadurgam Ravikanth and Vidya Raman

Sahana Venkatesh’s Veena Arangetram

On Sunday July 22, 2018, Sahana Venkatesh, student of renowned vainika and Guru Smt. Durga Krishnan dazzled the audience with an enchanting rendering of classical music in her Veena arangetram at the North Andover High School, North Andover, MA. She was ably accompanied on the Mridangam by our own Sri. Mahalingam (Mali) Santhanakrishnan and on the Ghatam by Dr. Ravi Balasubramanian. Sahana has been a dedicated student of veena for more than 10 years. On this day, in the presence of her Guru(s), family and friends, she treated the audience to a delightful rendering of mesmerizing classical music.
Sahana started the afternoon with the Bhairavi Ata tala varnam. The varnam was rendered in four kalams, and her swara sthanam, along with her steady kala pramanam, displayed her confidence and composure from the onset of the concert. As she plucked her veena strings to the perfect shruti, it created a peaceful “Nada Brahman” atmosphere.

Next was an invocation to the Lord Ganesha, “Tatvamariyama” in ragam Reetigowla, a Papanasam Sivan’s composition invoking the almighty Lord Ganesh’s blessings. This was followed by Muthuswami Dikshitar’s composition in Nattai, “Swaminatha Paripalaya”. Sahana displayed her mastery of kalpanaswaram through rapid and complex swara patterns in perfect thalam on the veena.

For one of the main pieces of the evening, Sahana chose Saint Tyagaraja’s ever melodious “Samanamevaru Rama Nee” in ragam Karaharapriya.  Her raga alapana highlighted the unique aspects of this rich ragam. It was as though her fingers gracefully glided from one fret to another making the Karaharapriya ragam so serene, exploring both the traditional and non-traditional notes. She followed the alapana with the song that was set to Rupaka thalam, which brought out the bhakti mood for the evening. Sahana embellished this piece with creative neraval and complex kalpanaswarams, culminating in a grand korvai.
A brisk “Emi Neramu” in Ragam Garudadhwani, enhanced by the fabulous accompanists, set the pace for the next main piece. Sahana then embarked on Tyagaraja’s “Nidhi Chala Sukhama” in Ragam Kalyani. Her raga alapanai, displaying her maturity and emotions, revealed her mastery in playing veena effortlessly. Sahana knew exactly when to use lot of “meetal” and when to play the gamakha in the same pluck of the string. With her skillful dexterity of her fingers, she brought out the nuances of Kalyani and excelled in improvisations through kalpana swaras including koraippu. The song displayed influence from the famous “Lalgudi” bani, a difficult bani (style) to play in veena, which her Guru has aptly instilled in her in addition to Dr. Chitti Babu’s style of playing veena. This was followed by a scintillating Tani Avarthanam (percussion solo) by Sri. Mali Santhanakrishnan and Dr. Ravi Balasubramanian. The duo performed with unflagging energy all through the arangetram, embellished the overall concert, and moved the audience to a completely different level. Needless to say, the effort by the trio brought on thunderous applause by the audience.

Sahana continued with no pause to treat us to a wonderful composition, “Bhogindra Shayinam” in ragam Kuntalavarali in kanda chapu thalam.

The next piece was a ragam-tanam-pallavi in the ragam Saveri.  The alapana was excellent and crisp, as it brought out the essential melodies and depth of Saveri. Once again, Sahana’s dexterity and command of the technique were evident in the way that she traversed the octaves and interspersed the raga exposition with base speed and madhyama kala phrases. The tanam was executed perfectly, starting with the slower tempo and gradually moving to the higher tempos. The tanam, with its free improvisation superimposed with a sense of meter, is particularly suited for the Veena and is a much-anticipated part of any Veena concert. Sahana did full justice to this part by the dynamism she brought to this part and the percussionists joining in served to fill the auditorium with a wonderful sense of immersion in Saveri. This was followed by the Pallavi “Bhavayami Raghuramam, Bhavya Sugunaa Ramam” in Adi talam, which was executed to perfection with a neraval followed by trikalam. The kalpana swarams were built up as a wonderful sequence of first kalam and upper kala swarams in Saveri. This was followed by beautiful ragamalika swarams in the same ragams as in the eponymous composition of Swati Tirunal. A Ragam Tanam Pallavi is a veritable test of technique, understanding of music and focus and Sahana displayed her mettle and passed the test with flying colors.

The post pallavi section of the evening consisted of Syama Sastry’s “Palayasumam Paradevate” in Arabhi, a ragamalika rendition of Bharathiyar’s “Chinnanchiru kiliye”, “Om namo narayana” in the relatively rare ragam karnaranjani, “Venkatachala Nilayam” in Sindhubhairavi, “Kommalo koyila” in Misramand, Thillana in Yamuna Kalyani, concluding with “Maitreem bhajatha” as the Mangalam. While this section is meant to be “short” pieces, Sahana showed intense focus and did a wonderful job of bringing out the melodic beauty of each of these popular compositions. That the audience thoroughly enjoyed this part of the concert was evident in the enthusiastic applause and acknowledgement they showed at the conclusion of each piece. 

Sri. Mahalingam Santhanakrishnan on the mridangam and Dr. Ravi Balasubramaniam on the ghatam provided stellar support throughout the performance. The challenge for the percussionists is to enhance the overall performance without overpowering the main instrument. Their skill and experience were obvious in how they perfectly complemented the main artist. The sensitive accompaniment during the tanam and the electrifying tani avartanam exchange between the percussionists was greatly appreciated by the audience.

The accomplishment of this milestone is, first and foremost, a tribute and testament to the skill, erudition and generosity of the Guru. Guru Durga Krishnan, who does yeoman’s service to the Indian cultural scene in Boston, deserves all the credit for grooming Sahana. Thanks to her training with Guru Durga, Sahana has imbibed the best of this art form as shown not only by her skill in handling the Veena but also by her aesthetic sense and sense of proportion evident in her music.

Sahana was blessed to have numerous accomplished musicians and Gurus in the audience. Sri. Vaikom Gopalakrishnan, Dr. Radha Ramji, Smt. Tara Bangalore, Smt. Sunanda Narayanan and Dr. Revathi Ramaswamy all had effusive words of praise for the high quality of the music and the diligence and focus that was evident all afternoon.

Best Wishes to Sahana as she continues to pursue this ancient art form.

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