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Mridangam Arangetram: Vineeth Godavarti

Janani Swamy and Vidya Raman

“Sri Gurubhyo Namah”- in the classical traditions, we thus honor and acknowledge our Guru as the one who removes ignorance to provide the light of knowledge.  It is also a salutation to all the Gurus in the Parampara, who are also the essence of the divine.

The mridangam arangetram of 14-year old Vineeth Godavarti on August 6, 2023 embodied the concepts of Guru Arpanam and Guru Anugraha.  Vineeth’s exceptional debut performance was above all a homage to his esteemed Guru,  the renowned Vidwan Sri K.U. Jayachandra Rao (also known affectionately as J.C. Sir), from whom he has been learning for the past 9 years.  On this occasion, this young boy accompanied veteran Carnatic vocalist Vidwan Sri Pattabhirama Pandit  and shared the stage with the ultimate maestro of rhythm, Sri Giridhar Udupa, on the ghatam and Yash Ravish, a senior disciple of Guru Tara Bangalore of the Anubhava School of Music, on the violin.

As Guru Tara Bangalore noted in her introductory remarks, “J.C. Sir comes from the tradition of the greatest giant of mridangam, Palghat Mani Iyer… a magical mix of deep scholarship and staggering versatility who invokes Nada Brahmam.  He is also a Guru who is a task master”.  J.C. Sir is much beloved in the Boston area as a Guru and mentor through his close association with Guru Tara’s Anubhava School of Music. Guru Tara introduced Vineeth as a” highly intelligent student, sharp and focused in his uptake of material”.

Without question, Vineeth’s virtuosity is the outcome of an extraordinary symbiosis of Guru and Shishya - a complete commitment of each to the other.  Every stroke of his instrument was an offering from Vineeth to his Guru and to his Guru Parampara.  Guru and Shishya were an inseparable whole as Vineeth fulfilled his Guru’s every expectation and as J.C. Sir beheld his prodigious shishya with joyous satisfaction.

From the opening Ata Thala Varnam, Viriboni, to the concluding Thillana in Paras, Naadam reigned supreme with musicality, clarity and resonance in every beat.  Vineeth demonstrated a deeply innate understanding of musical intent and aesthetic.  His accompaniment enriched each piece with evident gnanam -  from the weightiness of Begada in Vallabha Nayakasya, to the soulfulness of Janani Ninnuvina in a meditative chowka kala, the sparkling shower of sangathis and chittai swarams in Shobillu Saptha Swara and the rhythmic gymnastics of Boghindrashayinam.  The submain piece for the evening- Bagayanayya in the ragam Chandrajyothi- was rendered at a chowka speed upon which Vineeth juxtaposed an insightful blend of tempo, gaits and pauses.   In the main piece, Kalikiyundegadha in Kiravani, Vineeth skillfully navigated intricacies of laya and kanakku throughout the composition and the neraval and swaram while holding firm to the overall aesthetic.  The thukkadas, especially Chinnanjiru Kiliye, were treated with a gentle, cajoling lilt. At every turn, Vineeth made short work of the impromptu challenges and korvais from Vidwan Pattabhirama Pandit – breezily unpacking and solving the puzzles with a smile.  

The thani avarthanam was a stunning display of Vineeth’s creativity and technical proficiency. In the words of Vidwan Giridhar Udupa “there wasn’t one mistake, not one missed beat… physical strength that could have come only with intense practice…Vineeth plays with a Naadam- sound clarity of the chapu stroke and the ghumki on the left side- that is not easy to achieve for anyone let alone one so young. “  The structure of the thani was rhythmically and structurally complex- from the vinyasa where Vineeth displayed his creativity to the crescendo of a very tough mohra and korvai- “it is difficult to even put thalam to such a complex mohra.  The thishram and chathushram mel kala segments were executed perfectly and could be only done so with immense practice.”  Vineeth accepted the torrential applause that followed with a little smile and then simply went back to the task at hand.

Sri Pattabhirama Pandit described Vineeth as a perfect blend of intrinsic talent and hardwork, blessed with Guru Anugraha.  “Great presence of mind, power, stamina”. Far from setting and polishing a predetermined list of items , Pattabhi Sir “didn’t sing anything I planned” and rather followed his inspiration on the stage– in response, Vineeth played fearlessly as is characteristic of “Maha Guru” J.C. Sir’s students, earning Pattabhi Sir’s spontaneous appreciations of “Bale Da, Bale”.  Pattabhi Sir also described how Vineeth “stepped up to every challenge and naturally deciphered every korvai and mukthayam” and asserted “this was not an arangetram; this was way beyond”. 

No rasika could have been unmoved by the divine vibrations of Sri Pattabhirama Pandit’s music.  As Guru Tara noted, Pattabhi Sir is the disciple of the great Sri K.V. Narayanaswamy “the best there was” and a torchbearer of the KVN school.  Pattabhi Sir’s music is the pure joy of nadhopasanam.  His alapanai for Rithi Gowlai was beautifully soulful and Kiravani was emotionally vibrant, with every phrase a divine offering. 

Sri Giridhar Udupa’s magic fingers created such unique variations and nuance of sound that it was easy to see why he is a foremost, genre breaking percussionist in the field.  It was a pleasure to watch him encourage and support Vineeth throughout the concert.

Yash Ravish, a jewel in the Anubhava crown, as always bewitched and delighted rasika and connoisseur alike.  At every turn, his music abounds with utmost creativity and delightful flourish and earned him the joyous appreciation of the Vidwans with whom he shared the stage. 

The thunderous applause at the conclusion of the concert celebrated the joy Vineeth’s music brought us, our respect for his revered Gurus and for the generosity of the great Vidwans whom he accompanied.  We left with our hearts full,  feeling sated and inspired,  understanding how lucky we are as a community to associate with such Gurus and Vidwans and basking in the reverberations of Vineeth’s playing.  We eagerly await the great successes that await Vineeth in his musical journey with J. C. Sir.

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