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The making of the album Kshetra – Kanchi

In 2003/04 I was discussing with Charsur about another album in their Kshetra series. My first one Chidambaram had done well and we were keen to continue with another kshetra. My choice for Kanchi was because it offered a variety of dieties to sing and would be different from the earlier Siva based Chidambaram. The first obvious diety for Kanchi was Kamakshi and the first song was Devi brova in Chintamani. I had just heard the MSS rendition of it and completely fell in love with it. If I sang this song it could only be this version. The idea was to include from one each of the Trinity and so for Tyagaraja I went with Vinayakuni (Madhyamavati) and for Dikshitar, Kamakshi varalakshmi in Bilahari. This was also the time when the SSP (Sangeetha Sampradaya Pradarshini of Subbarama Dikshitar) bug had caught me. I had just given a lec dem at Cleveland (along with Rk Shriramkumar) on this subject and was keen to see if the songs could be sung as per the original tune. I had sung Shri krishnam in Rupavati in an AIR concert, but not entirely as per the original. I felt that, one should go forward with these versions and innovate according to one’s manodharma without changing too much of the original. In some cases the original gives a perspective that is not very common and can provide a good platform to base one’s innovations. (Like Stephen King using Clint Eastwood as an inspiration for the Dark Tower series!) In the case of Kamakshi varalakshmi I had added a few sangathis here and there in addition to rendering the chittaswaram that was available and not often sung. So the Trinity was used exclusively for the Goddess of Kanchi.

I then decided to go with Tamil songs for the other three deities to be featured – Vishnu, Siva & Muruga (Basically the murugan at Kumara kottam). My first source for Siva was Dr Prameela Gurumoorthy who was kind enough to selct some verses from the Tevaram on the Ekamranatha swamy. She gave me a choice of 2 tevarams and I chose Adutthaanai in Yadukulakambhoji. She also suggested that I preface the tevaram with a Thiruviruttham again referring to the Kacchi ekambaram deity however, she said there was an issue with singing thiruviruttham as it was normally rendered in Poorvikalyani or Bhairavi, so I chose the latter. Interestingly I did get to sing this in a concert and prefaced the Yadukulakambhoji with the said virutham in Poorvikalyani. Of course I had to make an announcement to clarify this before people jumped to the conclusion that this was one of my own zany modern innovations!

For the Vishnu song violinist S Varadarajan gave me a few verses with help from his father Shri Santhanam. I decided to sing the Adaikkalappatthu of Vedantha Desikar. This was a long piece, and so in true traditional style I just took three stanzas and set them up in Ahiri, Hamirkalyani and Surati and ignored the rest as they did with other such long pieces! This was quite a popular piece in Vishnu temples. I remember vividly chanting “Thirumagalum thiruvadivum” as well as “aaru payan verillaa” at the Lakshmipuram temple in Royapettah during Margazhi every day to get the wonderful pongal! The pongal dropped down from the Bhattar’s hands and made for good catch practice! Invariably when we dropped catches our seniors would advise us to go regularly to the temple for pongal!

Finally for Muruga the wonderful internet gave me direction to choose “Arivilaa pitthar” for the Kumarakottam Murugan by Arunagirinathar. I set the tune up in jaganmohini and rendered it in the sandha talam, that is putting the talam according to the metre of the lyric.

Recording albums with Charsur was a great experience then in the studio. It was a lot fighting and argument about the choice of songs, tempo sangathis etc. We really put in a lot of time and effort. I must have sung Kamakshi varalakhmi atleast 30/40 times before okaying the final version. These days I prefer doing live concerts even if they are to be thematic.

The above album is available online for sale at the below link


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