I have, in the past, written a few times on Shruthi Adelaide’s Thyagaraja aradhana event and thought there wouldn’t be much to add this time. How wrong I was. Started as an hour-long program in 1993, this has grown in style and scope over the years and this year it was a full-day fare with local, inter-state and international performers.
This aradhana is an annual homage to the great composer of Carnatic music, Sadhguru Thygaraja, who is said to have scripted and tuned over 24,000 krithis, most of them in praise of Lord Ram, and reported to have had the Lord’s darshan owing to his unbounded devotion to Him. To mark the day the music legend attained his samadhi, musicians from all over South India assemble in their hundreds at his birthplace Thiruvaiyar and sing his songs all day long. On the 173rd anniversary this January, the music marathon lasted five days. So, the celebrations in far-off Adelaide for a whole day is commendable.
The day started with the singing of pancharatna (five gems) krithis by local ladies preceded by unchavarthi (seeking alms), a daily routine of the ascetic composer in his days. This was followed by singing of short compositions by groups of music students ranging from three to thirteen. After treating the tastebuds of the audience with a decent lunch, it was feast for ears when Melbourne’s Rangan Brothers presented a rapturous concert for over an hour and half. For the past several years these young men are provided a platform at the prestigious annual Madras Music Festival, the ultimate seal of approval in the Carnatic music echelon.
Then came the pinnacle of the day – a stage play presented by TV Varadarajan and his United Visuals troupe from Chennai, entitled “Sri Thyagarajar: Trials and Tribulations”. I was wondering how a biopic of a 19th Century composer of Carnatic music from Tamil Nadu would click in Adelaide. My fears were blown out of the water just after a couple of scenes. This 24-scene musical narrates a series of incredible incidents in Thyagraja’s life that is wholly consumed by his ceaseless devotion to Lord Ram, with each incident inspiring him to create a composition. The back-stage audio technician did a sound job of punching a few lines of the songs at the most appropriate spots in between the dialogues, in what became one of the hallmarks of the show.
TV Varadarajan, besides playing the lead role, had the onerous job of directing the play as well. For a veteran Tamil newsreader for decades and a seasoned actor in many a TV serial, it looked as easy as singing in the rain. The soul-stirring script, penned by V.Srinivasan, former editor of the premier Tamil weekly Vikatan and ace music critic for some 40 years, brought tears to many in the audience. Yet there were a few funny lines that bore pearls of wisdom and brought peals of laughter. The music score was by the top-notch singer Bombay Jayashree; it took the play to another level. With such a stellar cast, is it any wonder that this play has been staged in India and overseas on 143 occasions?
Adelaide stole a march over her eastern big sisters – Sydney and Melbourne – by presenting this play first in Australia thanks to Shruthi’s treasurer Srirama Srinivasan who, after seeing the show in Dubai a couple of years ago, was keen on getting it here, putting some six months of follow-up.
Due to cost considerations the troupe came with only half of its members and seamlessly co-opted ten locals to play many of the roles after ‘training’ them through internet. All of them took their parts like the proverbial ducks to the water. The troupe’s stagehands made good with what little props and backdrop facilities were available and ensured it was a professional show.
On the whole, the life story of a classical music composer was a class act in itself.
To mark its silver jubilee Shruthi honoured everyone who worked on its committees in the past 25 years.
READ ALSO: An Adelaide tribute to a legendary musician