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Music Arangetram: Awesome Kutcheri By Ullas Rao

Jeyanthi R Ghatraju and S.Ramamoorthy

In the Ramayana era, two children presented a debut sangeetha  pravachanam (musical discourse)  titled 'Sri Rama Katha' in the presence of king Rama himself. Enthralled by the presentation, Rama asked the kids who they were. Immediately came the reply, "We are disciples of Sage Valmiki." Rama was quite moved on hearing the very name of the sage Valmiki. One could relate to the same feeling when they hear the musically talented Ullas, since his tutelage has been under the illustrious guru, Smt. Geetha Murali of the Sai Kripa School of Music. When one walked into the hall and listened to Ullas for a couple of minutes, they couldn’t help but find out who his Guru is.

The Guru is well-known for portraying a rare nuance in her renditions, giving a sedate and smooth eloquence. These fine qualities were abundant in the debut recital of Ullas Rao, which was held on 11th September at the Sorenson Centre for the Arts, Babson College in Wellesley,MA.

As the learned say, institutional inspiration (guru parampara) plays a vital role in molding an aspirant. It was greatly evident in Ullas' presentation that evening, lasting over four hours.  Introducing her disciple, Geetha Murali dwelt largely on her student's commendable sense of commitment to learn this divine art. His devoted quest to acquire proficiency in the basics of music like bhava (emotion), melodic virtuosity, and lyrical diction have been quite the contributing factors in molding Ullas into a performing artist one saw that day.


The format of the concert was well designed as it was replete with all the essential ingredients of a full-length performance, starting with varnam (warm up) leading to a grand take off. In this traditional opening song, Ullas chose Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar's composition Nera Nammiti in ragam Kanada set to khanda Jati Ata talam. Ullas sang this challenging piece consisting of complex swara patterns and difficult rhythmic structure with elegant ease. 

A well-set Ullas, next embarked on an invocation song adoring Lord Ganesha - a Tamil composition by Indra Natesan in Hamsadhwani ragam set to Adi talam. It was simple, but neatly rendered. 

Next was the popular composition, Akhilandeshwari, by Muthusami Dikshitar in ragam Dwijavanthi. Ullas soulfully rendered this song, highlighting the underlying devotion, dwelling in the lower octave mostly with occasional rising to the next octave, which is the beauty of this ragam.

Bhajana Seyarada - a kriti by Mysore Vasudevacharya in the dynamic Dharmavathi ragam followed. In this composition Ullas started with a crisp alapana and entered into the sahitya (verse) phase with utmost devotion associated with the ragam. His swift swara (note) prastharam (presentation) and the dual with the violinist were delicately poised. This was followed by the soft and fairly fast-paced Thyagaraja kriti, Entha Vedu Kondu, in the sweet Saraswathi Manohari ragam, - a rare one heard in these days. His sanchaaram (dwelling) in the anupallavi was very imaginative and lived up to the mood of the song.

After rendering Paramapurusham (Lalitha Panchamam ragam), Ullas chose to sing Shyama Sastri's composition in Bhairavi ragam set to misra chapu talam. This song is in the swarajathi genre, a master piece of the composer. Ullas started with an elaborate alapana to express his creativity in bringing out the raga lakshanas (structure) which was also the concert’s main piece. Ullas replenished the kriti with kalpana swara in the phrase Shyama Krishna Sahodhari, and with an intelligent neraval as well. The violinist followed adequately in the exchange of swaras, which was a great delight to the audience. Then came the turn of the percussionists with the thani avarthanam (solo pieces), which was full of punches and twists, keeping the viewers jubilant.

The kriti Mantrapalam by T.Srinivasan was sung next in the most humble ragam, Hamsanadam. This was followed by the acme item for any concert, popularly known as RTP (ragam-thanam-pallavi), an elegant, elaborate and ever entertaining piece. In this piece, the pallavi is a one line composition set to single cycle of talam. It gives an opportunity to the artist to bring out their all-round command of the vital aspects of singing. In this acid test of musical brilliance, Ullas showcased his talent and skill in all forms of manodharma (general improvisation), alapana (melodic improvisation), tanam (free-form imrovisation of the raga notes), punctuating it in a pulsating fashion and of course - the neraval (improvisation of the tune in the same path of the pallavi). Ullas exhibited rare competence in bringing out the complexity of speed variation in the ragamalika pallavi. Experts compare this exercise to rope-walking high above the sky; Ullas maintained immeasurable poise in switching between ragas, offering the most pleasing color to the RTP rendition. Here the role of the accompanying artists should be commended, each contributing unobtrusively in their inimitable style. Thus, it turned to be quite the RTPs ( of Richly Talented Performers).

Ullas continued his concert with quite the energy and enthusiasm, with Deena Nanu (Kanakadasa Ugabhoga) and followed it with Sri Vijayadasa's kriti, Charanava Thoro, in the attractive Abheri ragam. The artist elaborated the characteristics of the raga using free-style verses and brought out the subtle devotion underlying the composition. 

Arul Purivai, a composition by Kamala Krishnamurthy, (Guru's Guru) in ragamalika was next in line; and here again, the vocalist exhibited his versatile understanding of the various ragas (with varying arohanam and avarohanam) and clearly defined the transformation from one raga to another.


Next followed a Purandaradasa Kriti, Thiruppathi Venkataramana, in the scintillating Sindhubhairavi ragam.  Ullas added luster to his concert with a brisk and crisp thillana by Dr.Balamuralikrishna in the beautiful Brindavani ragam.  It was a short and fast piece, and Ullas made it more dramatic with his sweet voice modulation.


The concert concluded with a traditional mangalam, a composition by Saint Thyagaraja in ragam Sourashtram. It is an offering of salutatory gratitude to the Almighty by the artist for bestowing the boon of musical mastery, a thanks-giving to the passionate parents, ever-blessing Guru and finally to the enthusiastic and encouraging audience for the resounding success of a concert.

The success of  any concert depends largely on the contributions of the accompanying artists. Ullas was blessed to have his brother, Suhas Rao on the violin, Dr.Pravin Sitaram (his percussion guru on Mridangam) and Dr. Ravi Balasubramanian (on Ghatam). Although quite accomplished in their own musical journey, all three provided quite a phenomenal support to Ullas. Suhas is a well-known and multi-talented artist, one of the lead violinists of the younger generation. Gifted with dedicated approach to music; he exhibited his fine mastery in playing the string instrument, while defining his role clearly in following the vocalist as well as in solo. There was a fine touch of precision in his playing.

Dr. Pravin Sitaram, the perfection-personified Laya Master, who also guides aplomb when he plays for the blossoming aspirants, played a true replica of contemporary percussionists. His earnestness and efficient teaching mode has inspired many aspirants take to the art of playing the percussion instrument.  He was a constant source of inspiration, support and encouragement to the young artist.  His unobtrusive way of playing the instrument was so pleasant, while keeping the tempo of the concert in constant control.


Dr.Ravi Balasubramanian's contribution on the ghatam to the concert was quite significant. The chemistry between both the percussionists was quite appealing. Ravi’s playing of the ghatam was vibrantly electrifying. That he has made newer innovations with the instrument was revealed in his playing certain rare beats which were quite novel and at the same time reminiscent of the wonderful tradition set by the legendary ghatam experts like Sri Vilavathri Iyer and Alangudi Ramachandran of the yester years. He was quite a welcome and rare addition to the ensemble.

At the end of the concert,  Mrs.Tara Anand Bangalore, the renowned Guru for hundreds of the present day vocalists and violinists, spoke on the happy outcome of the concert which was veritably true. She congratulated Ullas for rendering a fine debut, Suhas (incidentally her own disciple on violin) for keeping up his art, despite his demanding academic pursuit and the dedicated parents. The proud parents proposed the vote of thanks after honoring the artists


Ullas has embarked on his musical journey in a thumping style. With continued guidance from his Guru and dedication to his chosen art form, and the Lord’s blessings, Ullas has a wonderful future ahead of him, and may his art bring forth more sweet and fragrant music to the community.

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