Monday 16 January 2017

Evening to socialise . . .

Kannum Pongal day turned out to be Socialising Evening at the Aradhana.

The VIP section alongside the stage filled up quickly at 7 p.m.: families of the biggies of the Aradhana team, seniors of the town and beyond and their guests: all dressed in their Pongal festival fest.

Chairs were arranged for the seniors and the string of concerts of some wellknown  artistes were enjoyed. And once Vocalist Sudha Ragunathan finished her recital the socialites streamed out.

So did many others who come by to check out what they treat as an evening out.

The stalls did some roaring business: especially the coffee joints - all of them served some good piping hot filter coffee.

Loud music at play

The music is certainly played extra loud; the floodlights make you sweat even on these chill late evenings and socialising gets the better of the Aradhana at Thiruvaiyaru.

The organising team has been given some nice suggestions that can make this unique event that much memorable and outstanding. But little has been done or heeded to.

One evening, a senior violinist who had to perform late in the evening strolled off into the far end of the Aradhana campus, saying she could not take the high audio levels at play inside the Big Pandal.

Younger artistes say the Aradhana certainly can do with the services of a professional audio engineer and far better equipment. 

The memorial without much life inside it

Much has been written on the design and space of the Thyagaraja memorial: the portion of the house where he lived for a greater part of his life in Thiruvaiyaru.

Much remains the same still: a shrine tended to closely only on the days of the Aradhana, the same gallery of visuals of some music maestros and what seem to be a donated collection of music albums.

Devoted artistes and music students come by and sing the saint's songs; some in deep reflection, some      as part of a pilgrimage of sorts.

It is when live music floats in this space that there is some life to it.

We are told that people can visit this place at any time of the year though the door is shut: ask for the keys in the house opposite the memorial. A signboard with this information hangs on the gate here.

Sunday 15 January 2017

Broadcasting from Thiruvaiyaru

All India Radio is a core part of the Aradhana: broadcasting the music to the far corners. It's staff from Tiruchi and from Chennai spend long hours recording the recitals over the five days of the Aradhana and put out excerpts even as the Aradhana is on here in Thiruvaiyaru.

On Saturday, two concerts went out on AIR's National Programme of Music late in the evening. They were by vocalist Sikkil Gurucharan and violinist Dr Narmadha, who is also a graded AIR artiste and Chennai staffer.

To get the radio broadcast feel to the AIR stream we drove out of the Big Mantap campus and on to the Thanjavur road, parked our car near a field and switched on the car radio. In that quiet, chill night the music had its own charm, much different from the rather eardrum splitting audio level that marks the recitals at the Big Mantap.

Space for nadaswaram artistes

In many ways, the nadaswaram community has had its own space at the Aradhana and held its own too. In the team of the Sabha that hosts the event is the maestro Aridwaramangalam A K Palanivel who is one of the two secretaries. The other is Srimushnam Raja Rao.

The nadaswaram artistes have three sets of slots in the Aradhana schedule every day besides a key space on the showcase morning of the gosti singing of Thyagaraja Pancharathna kritis.

These artistes stand out even in the crowd: smartly attired in kurtas and vestis, networking and meeting colleagues outside the Big Tent and always with a retinue of their young sishyas who have to be at hand: lugging the instruments or holding the vettalai and paaku box. 

Challenges for the organising team

O. S. Arun is checking his mail backstage. As one of the team members who manage the Aradhana he has his hands full.
So what is the toughest job at the Aradhana ?

Sifting through the few thousand applications from people keen to offer their tribute at the Aradhana. Arun says the thumb rule for selection is the learning years of the candidate ( for youngsters ) and references. The team does not encourage those who have got an opportunity here to apply in the next two years.

What about getting up the infrastructure ? The pandal, the lighting, the stalls?
Arun says this does not pose too many headaches.
" We have been holding the Aradhana for years and the regular contractors know their jobs"

Arun says that since all the team mates are artistes sifting through the applications and coordinating with them on schedules is easy.

Do they use technology to schedule the daily concerts?
No. "The old system of work is easy", says Arun, who had his time on stage on the first day here.

Saturday 14 January 2017

Posts and Thyagaraja and the Aradhana

One favourite stall I visit whenever I am here is that of the Post Department. The Thyagaraja Utsavam Sub Post Office always has its stall on the main path to the Big Pandal, holding up a postage  stamp - 15 naiya paise - actually an image of the original issued in the pre-70s.

I keep asking the Post Office staff if there is any form of this stamp available somewhere : guess this is a collectors item and some philatelist who specialises in collecting stamps on art and artistes may be carefully treasuring the collection!

The Posts at Tiruchi though are market savvy; they have now brought out acrylic stands which hold great prints of the Thyagaraja series of postage stamps.
One costs Rs 150 and the other, Rs 200.

If you wish to possess any of these, contact the Philately Bureau at Tiruchi Head Post Office any day.

This evening I got a simple but valuable takeaway here: a special Aradhana postal cancellation stamped on post cards!! You too can get this can cancellation on any form of post stationery at the Thiruvaiyaru Post Office any working day.

The Big Pandal and good filter coffee

It is the organisation of this mammoth event, the like you do not witness anywhere in India that you must credit the Aradhana team for.

The massive pandal, the extensive lighting, the big audio systems, the green rooms for artistes . . .

And even in the times of demonetisation the sponsors are here : at least going by the number of banners that festoon the Aradhana zone - banks, LIC and local businesses.
CUB bank has stationed its mobile ATM here and a new small bank, Equitas has PoS machines in their stalls as its execs market its products.

The stalls remained listless on Friday even as the Aradhana was launched ; only the food joints were abuzz. You get some good filter coffee at at least three stalls.

Pre-Pongal mood at Aradhana zone

The clouds closed in as we arrived in Thanjavur on Friday evening: we made a stopover at the village of Nanjikottai to soak in a short Pongal celebration arranged for foreign tourists by a local friend, Muthukumar.

The festival mood was thick as we then drove down to Thiruvaiyaru that evening. A familiar 9km road this, you cannot ignore how over the years the green green fields have given way to plots and houses.

Thiruvaiyaru residents were busy in the central market and shopping spaces, congested with sales of flowers and sugarcane, coconuts and bananas, Kolam powder and thoranams.

And from the far end, the music of the nNadaswaram floated. The Thyagaraja Aradhana in its 170th edition had just begun.

There was a formal launch; the collector of Thanjavur was the chief guest as was vocalist Sudha Ragunathan, whose longish and involved speech got everybody's attention.

Tuesday 21 January 2014

The pancharatna kritis morn; on the sidelines

We chose to cover the aradhana in parts on Tuesday morning. One of us went into the streets to look around and came back with a small collection of photos of rangolis of Thyagaraja.

One doesn't miss the two rangolis that the simple households opposite the main gate design for this occasion.

The mallari during the procession of the image of the saint composer from the memorial to the pandal was great and by 8a.m. the panda was full and even pass holders had to retreat.

It had drizzled in the morn; adding to the heavy dew but when the sun came up it was fierce and sharp.

But the diehard rasikas squatted on the campus, pulled out the printed lyrics circulated by Tamil newspapers and joined the gosti singing of the pancharatna kritis, said to be the jewels of Thyagaraja's compositions.

Only a few well known artistes made it to the singing this year; so rasikas who lined up the exit after the singing were disappointed.

At the dining hall of the sabha that manages the aradhana, the lunch was free today and the crowds surged in for a nice meal.