Clarity and technical prowess are the two words that come to mind when one witnesses a performance by senior veena vidushi Jayanthi Kumaresh. Recently she performed for the centenary celebrations of the legendary K.V.Narayanaswamy and included a good number of his favourites in her song list.
Jayanthi, who is known for employing innovative methods of manodharma, demonstrated her creativity in putting together appealing alapana sections. For instance, her Lathangi alapana that preceded the kriti ‘Pirava Varam’ lasted only about three minutes but painted a wholesome picture of the raga.
The veena captivates listeners especially through the technique of pulling on frets to access higher swaras, and achieve a more pleasing melodic quality. Jayanthi judiciously made use of this technique to highlight the prayogas surrounding the jeeva swaras like madhyamam and dhaivatam in Lathangi. She played a long set of one-avartana swaras leading up to the nishadam or upper rishabham, exploring several ideas. The final swara passage, studded with vakra phrases and jantai patterns surely was the result of deep concentration and an innate control over laya.
Latangi gets its due
She followed the same holistic approach when handling Nalinakanti subsequently. The raga, which some may dismiss as inappropriate for improvisation, was dealt with expansively by Jayanthi who left no stone unturned to extract the maximum potential from this relatively less explored raga. The kriti she chose was G.N. Balasubramaniam’s ‘Nee paadhame gati’. This was preceded by a brief yet clear outline of Mukhari for the timeless kriti ‘Enraikku shivakripai’, which was poignantly sung by KVN in several of his kutcheris.
The main raga for the evening was Kiravani. Even here, her approach to manodharma was designed in a way that pushed the boundaries of the instrument. The tanam section was quite engaging as she showcased several right-hand plucking techniques, skilfully varying the frequency and pattern of meetus to weave new sets of rhythmic interpretations for the same raga to add more shades to it. A diverse spread of meetus was laid out as she progressed slowly, leaving the listeners sufficient time to grasp each theme in the tanam as she pointed out with her right-hand the speed and pattern of the phrases that were about to be played. The Tyagaraja composition ‘Kaligiyunte’ was played with kalpanaswaras that stood out for their invigorating kanakkus.
Need to explore more ragas
While the senior artiste is unmatched in terms of quality and technique, one cannot help but wonder why certain themes and ragas (like Kiravani and Nalinakanti) are often repeated as the main pieces in most of her kutcheris. While her approach has transcended cultural boundaries and enhanced the instrument’s worldwide appeal, rasikas look for variety and there is inquisitiveness as to how certain ragas would sound when explored on the veena. It would be satisfying to hear Jayanthi take up a more diverse set of ragas and kritis, especially as main pieces, given that she possesses a rich and vast repertoire of compositions.
Considerable understanding and restraint are required to play percussion instruments along with the veena. Bangalore Arjun Kumar and Trichy Krishnaswamy, who accompanied Jayanthi on the mridangam and ghatam respectively, provided competent support. Their engagement during speedy kalpanaswaram sections is to be appreciated. A collaborative feature where the percussion artistes follow the chief instrumentalist during kalpanaswaras was also included by Jayanthi before the tani avartanam. The concert ended with ‘Smarajanaka’ in Behag and a thillana in Dwijavanti by Lalgudi Jayaraman.