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Guru Samarpaṇam: Sreshtaa Rajesh

Smt. Jayashree Tirumalai A

Guru Samarpanam
By Smt. Jayashree Tirumalai

Śri Gurubhyo Namaḥ

Guru Samparpaṇam - an offering from the teacher and the student to all our Jagadgurus and Acharyas. This was an event personally blessed by Jagadguru Śri Sankara Vijayendra Sarasvati Mahasvami of Kāñchi Kāmakoṭi Pīṭham, and Acharya’s grace was evident in the way the team - the wonderful teacher/student duo, and the talented accompanying artists - executed on stage.

Kum. Sreshtaa Rajesh, disciple of Smt. Aparna Balaji, enthralled the audience in her concert on Saturday, September 16th, aptly named Guru Samparpaṇam. Sreshtaa was accompanied by Sri. Mithuran Manogaran on the Violin, Sri. Mauran Manogaran on the Mridangam, and Sri. Sivachelvan Ponnudurai on the Kanjira.  Each piece emanated the thought and care with which it was put together, and Sreshtaa brilliantly brought out the nuances and intricate patterns of each facet of Carnatic music.

She captivated the audience right from the first piece, a varṇam in Darbār, which was preceded by Guru vandanam in the same ragam, and followed by Dikshitar’s Śri Mahāgaṇpatiravatu mām in gowļa. Sreshtaa delivered the intricate chittaisvaram effortlessly in the Entani Vina Vinturā kṛti bringing out the beauty of Ūrmika rāgam. She handled her first main piece in the rāgam Todi, one of the  signature pieces of the Shyama Shastri with impeccable layam, and tālam precision. The accompanying artists elevated the piece to a higher level during the Neraval and Kalpana Saram around the line, “komala mṛdu bhāshiṇi ghana sadṛsa veni”. Following her first main piece was a swiftly paced composition, Varavenum Vadivelane in the rāgam Nāgavalli in Tālam Kanḍa chāpu.

The highlight of the night was her second elaboration of Mutthusvami Dikshitar’s grand composition, Mīnakṣi Memudam Dehi, in the melodious rāgam Purvīkalyāṇi. The rendition of this song by Sreshtaa and the ensemble, was a treat for all Carnatic music lovers in the audience. Sreshtaa’s manodharmam was a testimony to the training she has had under her teacher Smt. Aparna Balaji. She presented her complex kalpanā svarams  with great ease and the elaboration for each was magnificently supported by Siva Ponnudurai, Mauran Manogaran and Mithuran Manogaran. Sreshtaa was herself immersed in their music, and was seen appreciating their music on stage. The mutual acknowledgements between the artists added to the high professional and aesthetic standards of the concert!

This piece was followed by a soothing composition, Ī Vasudhā by Saint Tyagaraja in the rāgam Sahānā, a kovur pancharatnam kriti by Tyagaraja on Lord Sundaresa. The bhavam of the song was excellently brought out by Sreshtaa.

The crown jewel of her Guru Samarpanam concert was her RTP, a composition of Sri. Balaji Rajamani who had inspired Sreshtaa to put her heart into music. Her alapana showcased the high and beautiful range of the voice that Sreshtaa has been blessed with. The tānams, the trikAlam rendition, and the rāgamālika svarams that followed at the end of the pallavi in the rāgams of Ṛiṣabhapriyā, Kokilapriyā, Rāmapriyā, Rasikapriyā, Gāyakapriyā and Ṣanmukhapriyā, were truly a masterpiece, testament to Sreshtaa talent, dedication and hard work. She did justice to the bhāvam of each of the rāgam which was soulful, and one could see the versatility in her voice training, and the nuances of each of the rāga bhāvams.

The kṛtis chosen for this concert jived nicely with its theme - Guru Samarpanam, especially the famous tongue twister Tirupugazh, Muttai Taru by Arunagirinadhar. The entire audience could feel the divine presence with the entire ensemble bringing out the glory of Lord Muruga, who preached the meaning of Om to His father. This particular piece underscored Sreshtaa’s diction and pronunciations, and left one in awe as to how she managed to perfect the lyrics and also bring out the bhakti element of each song.

Sreshtaa captivated her audience with the devotional song by Purandara Dasa, a rāgamalikā in praise of Lord Krishna. Through her concluding lively thillana in the rāgam Paras, she was able to continue to hold the audience’s attention with the trikāla sollukaṭṭu, rendered with full energy and betraying no fatigue whatsoever, even after three hours into the concert.

With the final Mangalam, Sreshtaa had truly offered a Guru Samarpanam to the divine power that has blessed her with the talent, to her teacher who has molded the love for the art and trained her, and to her parents who have stood by her and motivated her to reach this milestone. 

Throughout the concert, the candor, confidence, and the stage presence Sreshtaa Rajesh displayed, spoke for the training she has undergone with her teacher. Sreshtaa along with the accompanying artists produced a high quality performance, and the entire ensemble was a treat for classical music lovers. Wishing Sreshtaa the best in reaching greater heights, and being an ambassador for Carnatic music in the New England area.


Note from the teacher

“It was my absolute pleasure to train my student Sreshtaa Rajesh, for the concert “Guru Samarpanam ", an offering to all Gurus and Acharyas. No doubt it was quite an intense concert with complex aspects of Carnatic music put together. I was very impressed with how Sreshtaa trained towards this while juggling a very demanding schedule at Brown University, a series of interviews and then her job at Lincoln Labs MIT. It was indeed a proud moment as a teacher , to see her blossom and rise up to this level to carry a traditional concert without compromising on the core aspects such as Raga bhavam, Laya Shuddham, and Sahithya Bhavam. I wish her the very best to continue on this musical journey, integrating it into her own life and growth.”

Smt. Aparna Balaji
Founder/Director, Abhyaas School of music for Carnatic Vocal , Billerica MA


A few lines from some of the artists who attended the concert.

“Sreshtaa’s program Guru Samarpanam was a beautiful offering under the guidance of Smt Aparna Balaji.  It was lovely to see Sreshtaa immerse herself and sing with great joy! I wish her the very best in her musical journey!”

Smt. Sridevi Ajay Thirumalai
Artistic Director , Natyamani School of Dance , Westborough MA

“I had the opportunity to attend the Guru Samarpanam Carnatic Vocal Concert presented by Sreshtaa Rajesh, a senior student of Smt. Aparna Balaji from Abhyaas school of music. I entered the auditorium when Sreshtaa was singing Thodi and right from the get-go, I could see that Sreshtaa was blessed with a strong voice, and she was able to traverse the three octaves with relative ease. Her raga elaborations were on point, and she attempted some complex mathematical patterns in her svaram singing. The high point for me was her execution of the Pallavi which was set in a very interesting structure by Sr.i Balaji Rajamani  and was a difficult one to sing. But Sreshtaa came through flawlessly in the way she sang the Trikaalam and then the subsequent svarams during the Pallavi. I was also very impressed by Mithuran Manogaran on the Violin who captured my attention with his silken bowing on the violin. Sreshtaa was also very ably accompanied by Mauran Manogaran on the Mridangam and Siva Ponnudurai on the Kanjira. Finally, kudos to Smt.Aparna Balaji for training another student in the Boston area with great potential. Smt.Aparna Balaji always manages to create a very interesting Maargam for all her students that provides for a very entertaining concert without sacrificing the core tenets of Carnatic Music.“

Dr. Pravin Sitaram
Mridangist , Shrewsbury, MA

“It was an absolute treat to watch and listen to Sreshtaa. Her hard work and dedication was evident in the quality of music she produced. The moment she started her first raga alapana (melodic improvisation) in Thodi, she brought out the essence of Thodi in the first two phrases and instantly made me sit up. I was sure I was in for a wonderful musical evening. She was flawless in her RTP exploration of trikalam and tisram. The structure of the pallavi was tricky and she absolutely nailed it. What was truly commendable was she made it look so easy. There was no facial expression of relief after she executed the trikalam and tisram. She created the aura that she had been doing this for several years. Way to go Sreshtaa! “

Sri Mahalingam Santhanakrishnan
Mridangist , Norwood , MA

"Sreshtaa’s music was a very sincere offering. Her teacher's guidance for adherence to parampara was evident in Sreshtaa’s kalpana portions. Sreshtaa’s dedication and passion coupled with training under a renowned teacher like Smt.Aparna Balaji is the greatest asset in her journey with music "

Smt. Soumya Rajaram
Artistic Director, Samskriti School of Dance , Lexington MA

“I recently had the privilege of attending the carnatic vocal concert of Kum. Sreshtaa Rajesh, disciple of Smt. Aparna Balaji from Abhyas School of Music. Sreshtaa has been learning for the past 12 years from Smt. Aparna, and from start to finish, the concert exemplified the wonderful and thoughtful guidance of the teacher, but also the attentiveness and dedication of the student. It was quite special to witness such a young artist, like Sreshtaa, deliver such a complete, thorough, and holistic concert that highlighted all the very important nuances of Carnatic music. The songs selected covered many ragams, talams, and composers which made the concert very enriching to the audience, especially myself as a teacher, artist, and rasika. All items were very enjoyable, but the Meenakshi Memudam in Purvi Kalyani composed by Sri Muttusvami Diksitar was the standout. Sreshtaa also did an outstanding job with a very complicated Ragam Talam Pallavi composed by Sri. Balaji Rajamani. The whole concert was beautifully complemented by the accompaniments - Sri. Mithuran Manogaran on violin and Sri. Mauran Manogaran and Sri. Sivachelvan Ponnudorai on mridangam. Many congratulations to Sreshtaa and Smt.Aparna Balaji for executing a lovely carnatic vocal concert for all rasikas.”

Smt. Aishwarya Balasubramanian
Artistic Director, Arpanam school of Bharatanatyam , Nashua ,NH

“Sreshtaa’s Guru Samarpanam was presented at a high-level technical excellence without compromising on the aesthetic value, the bhaavam of the composition or the sowkyam of the listeners. Sreshtaa has a very impressive vocal range, perfect control over layam and most importantly passion towards the divine art form. Sreshtaa sang with ease through the entire scale without straining herself, her voice or the listeners. There is no doubt that Sreshtaa will continue to evolve and grow in the field of Carnatic music !”

Sri Sriram Rekapalli
Mridangist , Billerica MA

“Sreshtaa Rajesh presented a wonderful solo performance and has named it aptly as a ‘Guru Samarpanam’ honoring her Carnatic music teacher, Smt Aparna Balaji. Sreshtaa has been Aparna’s student for several years and has been musically nurtured with lots of love and care. I commend that she has taken time, prepared herself really well before she went up on stage to present this wonderful repertoire for the evening. Amongst several wonderful ragas and kritis that she presented, I would like to highlight 3 of the pieces that really impressed me. One was Meenakshi Memudam and it’s wonderful rendition. The heart of Carnatic music lies in its monarchical aspect of manodharamam, where in spontaneity carves the path for the ragas to flow for the next several minutes. Sreshtaa did an amazing job of singing her manodharmam and with such clarity that she established her understanding of the raga Purvikalyani. The second piece was of course, the RTP, composed by Sri Balaji Rajamani in Khanda jathi Triputa Talam. In RTP, one could hear a euphonious raga swaroopam, be it in Alapanam or the Tanam, and the smooth transitions to the other ragas in ragamalika kalpana svaram - using ragas with the suffix “Priya”. With this beautiful structure, Sreshtaa clearly enjoyed herself singing this composition. She was very well supported by some of the world class musicians who regularly play in the December Season in Chennai. Sri Mithuran Manogaran generously supported Sreshtaa through his melodic violin and encouraged her with his nods and smiles throughout the performance. Words fall short to praise Sri Mauran Manogaran (on mridangam) and Sri Siva Ponnudurai (on Khanjira). My humble pranams to both of them who created magic through their korvais, jathis and theermanams in the Tani Avartanam. As a dancer, I could not stop enjoying myself, the devaranama Devaki Nandana, a Purandara Dasa Krithi in Ragamalika and Adi Talam. Simple yet so heartwarmingly sung!

Congratulations to Smt. Aparna Balaji for training her to this level. It takes a lot of nurturing, patience and understanding the needs of each student and to groom them to arangetram level. This was definitely reflected in the repertoire where Smt. Aparna Balaji has helped Sreshtaa choose the right pieces that only brought out the best in her singing!”

Smt. Deepa Srinath Bungale
Artistic Director Vaibhava Dance School. Bedford, MA

Sreshtaa displayed a true sense of artistry and reverence during her recent Guru Samarpanam. She calmly and gracefully navigated a heavy repertoire, bringing out the nuances of raga bhava while staying true to her thalam/layam. She presented stunning renditions of a Thodi sub-main piece, Poorvikalyani main piece, and Kharaharapriya RTP, handling these ghana ragas with the vintage flair and dexterity of beloved yesteryear artists. With a wide vocal range and powerful voice, Sreshtaa brought out the meaning of the beautiful lyrics in each song, while enjoying the music along with her co-artists. Her Guru Samarpanam left the audience with a deep sense of satisfaction, and she is sure to enjoy a long journey in singing, learning and creating.”

Kum. Mahathi Athreya, Student Mentor, Abhyaas School of Music 

“It was evident throughout Sreshtaa’s Guru Samarpanam that she is the type of artist to rise up to any challenge presented to her. Sreshtaa performed a set of complex pieces with intricate ragas, nadais, and patterns. She smiled through it all while nailing each piece with her extremely flexible and piercing voice. She showed great command of the heavy Ghana ragas in her repertoire, demonstrated a steady sarva laghu in the nereval and svarams of all her pieces, particularly during her main piece (Meenakshi Memudam in Poorvikalyani) and RTP (Kharaharapriya). The latter half of the Guru Samarpanam was just as impressive, as Sreshtaa performed iconic pieces  showing her impeccable vocal range and control of rhythm, leaving the audience enthralled with her unlimited energy throughout the performance.”

Kum. Amritha Pai, Student Mentor, Abhyaas School of Music.


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