Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The Travelling Dikshitar!

A Muthuswami Dikshitar project that began with a phone call from Mumbai has now grown into a teaching initiative that promises to take Dikshitar’s kritis to students, wherever they may be, writes G Ravikiran

It all started with a call from Mumbai. A good friend asked me for a thematic concert on the kritis of Muthuswami Dikshitar. Since the concert was a couple of months away, I felt this was a great opportunity to enhance my repertoire and immediately went to my guru, TM Krishna anna.


What followed that day was a torrent of rare gems by Dikshitar. I did not know this at the time but I was about to embark on a wonderful journey.

At the time, I was hosting a show for Worldspace satellite radio and decided to do a Dikshitar special, which helped me collect valuable information about the great composer. I began learning more of Dikshitar’s kritis and the more I learnt, the more I was enchanted by the sheer grandeur of his work… the intricacies of the raga, the historical contexts and the endearing sahitya.

Krishna anna exposed me to the Sangeetha Sampradaya Pradarshini, which is a 100 year old compendium of Dikshitar compositions, and it helped open up more doors of learning.

It occurred to me then that the number of Dikshitar kritis rendered in kutcheris today was very few – it may have increased over the past few decades but was still nowhere near the repertoire available. As a musician, it was clear to me that the only way a new kriti could see the light of day was when more and more musicians were willing to sing it on stage.

And the best way to ensure this was to create a platform exclusively for Dikshitar’s compositions and invite musicians to perform a given set. This was how Guruguhaamrta was born, in 2009.

The initiative then needed to take the next step. Concerts were fine – they were drawing the crowds, the musicians were sincere about the kritis – but something was amiss. How could we ensure future students of music would continue learning from and performing Dikshitar kritis?

The answer was to take Dikshitar kritis to the students, the aspiring musicians and future generations.

I wanted to conduct a small experiment first, since I was unsure whether students would respond to the initiative. We held a workshop at Sringeri. And an hour into the workshop, I knew I was on the right track.

An enthusiastic group of 20 students enjoyed the lessons and demanded more. In 48 hours, they learnt and presented these kritis in front of an invited audience. We then travelled to Bangalore, Mangalore, Dharmasthala and within Kerala.

My aim was and is simple: to take this concept to students, wherever they may be. So far, Guruguhaamrta has trained approximately 200 students. And they learn more than just Dikshitar’s compositions. They are taught about the man himself and his life.
Admittedly, it has not been easy. Teaching a relatively rare composition demands patience and perseverance from both the teacher and the student. Making time for workshops amidst my own concert schedules is also a challenge.

There are certainly times when you wonder if the effort is worth the reward – the travel and the long hours of repeating phrases until it is properly absorbed can be quite exhausting. So, what is it that keeps me going?

Last month, we held a workshop in Mangalore with over 75 students participating. The first kriti I taught was Srinathaadi Guruguho Jayathi. After a strenuous four hour session, they sang in unison. And as they sang the charanam culminating in “maayaa shabalitha brahma rupo…” the room reverberated with music.

Not a word was spoken for five minutes after the singing ended.

At that moment – all my doubts were laid to rest.

G Ravikiran is a Chennai-based Carnatic vocalist

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