Sunday, August 9, 2015

19 Porcelain cups, water & 2 sticks

He was sitting among the audience waiting patiently for his turn to come.  He arrived before the start of the first event and his program was scheduled as the third that day. The distinguished elderly man was appreciative of the quality and presentation of the first two programs, expressed through by his generous applause. The Bharatanatyam presentation followed by the Westren Classical Music on Violin-Piano were indeed of excellent quality. The artistes and the audience enjoyed the wonderful atmosphere in the auditorium. The cream of music performers and music lovers that formed the gathering sat through the two events fully engrossed, having been moved into a divine world of music and performing arts.

The three events that were organized on that morning (2nd August 2015) were a medley of diverse forms and the stage arrangements required to be modified to accomodate the requirements for placing the instruments and sound system implements. The veteran artiste climbed the platform and sat in his place for playing his part in the day's scheme of things. It appeared as if he needed help to reach there, but he managed on his own. He opened his bag and took out his wares; 19 porcelain cups and two sticks. A small bucket of water was ready. The 19 porcelain cups of varying sizes were arranged in a semi-circle in front of him. The biggest was to the left and the smallest to the right. He transferred small quantities of water from the bucket to the shining cups and checked the sound that emanated from them using the two sticks. From time to time he would look to the violin accompanist (his son) sitting to his right for confirmation of the sound.  A gentle nod of the head by him was fine; otherwise there would be either addition of a little more water to the bowl or removal of a little water from it. In about five minutes he was ready for the concert.

He started by thanking the audience for their patience and said he is now old and can play for about 45 minutes instead of the allotted one hour.  But as he started his session with the two sticks in his hands, he was a different man.  Impact of age was nowhere to be seen and it was sheer artistry all the way.  Irrespective of the tempo, slow or fast, neither his hands nor the sticks showed any impact of age in their movements.  At some stages he dispensed with the sticks and his fingers were enough to generate subtle movements. He was a transformed man now and nothing mattered to him except his concentration on the performance.  As and when an item was concluded and the audience applauded, he acknowledged with grace and moved to the next item.  He showed his artistry for over an hour and not a soul stirred in the auditorium.  When he concluded, there was a standing ovation.  Lunch was being served in the adjoining place, but many music lovers ignored it and thronged to him to salute him and appreciate his vidwat and artistry.

Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III was the King and ruler of the state of Baroda during 1875-1939.  He was a progressive and visionary King and the state of Baroda developed as a modren state under his rule.  He was the founder of Bank of Baroda (1908) which is one of the premier banks in the country today.  He was a patron of music and fine arts.  Ustad Moula Bux was a well-known musician in his court and founded the "Academy of Music" in Baroda in 1886. The Academy later became a music college and is presently a part of the Maharaja Sayajirao University. This Ustad Moula Bux experimented extensively in music and is credited with the introduction of "Jalatarang" in music concerts. Jalatarang denotes waves created in water. Ustad Moula Bux desired to show his proficiency in Jalatarang to the Mysore King Chamaraja Wodeyar and presented a recital. The recital received high acclaim and appreciation in the king's court. "Vainika Shikhamani" Veena Seshanna who was one of the foremost music experts in the Wodeyar's court learnt playing "Jalatarang" in an astonishingly short time and showed his mastery to the King. Jalatarang was thus introduced in South India. History has also recorded that Veena Seshanna visited Baroda and mesmerized Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad with his mastery in playing Veena. Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad heard the Vainika Shikhamani's concerts on three consecutive days. Maharaja gave a palanquin which was used by his mother as a special gift to Veena Seshanna to show his extreme appreciation.

Anayampatti Subbaiyer was one of the top musicians and Asthana Vidwan in the court of Maharaja Chamaraja Wodeyar.  His eldest son Anayampatti S Kuppuswamy popularized Jalatarang further. His second son Anayampatti S Dhandapani was a highly respected and accomplished Jalatarang player.  

Kalaimamani Anayampatti Subbaiyer Ganesan, whose concert we had the privilege to attend last sunday and mentioned above, is the younger son of Anayampatti Subbaiyer and younger brother of Dhandapani Iyar. Shri Ganesan was basically a vocalist and violin player and worked as a senior artiste at the Pondicherry All India Radio station before his retirement. After the demise of Ganesan's father, the then Paramacharya of Kanchi Mutt advised Ganesan to continue the family tradition of playing Jalatarang. Thus the 19 pieces of porcelain bowls used by his father and elder brother found a new artiste in Shri Ganesan. When Shri Ganesan started playing jalatarang, he was well past the age of fifty years, but his being a vocalist and violin player helped him learn playing Jalatarng very natural. This has made him an acknowledged expert in popularizing and keeping the tradition of Jalatarang alive.

Water levels in these porcelain bowls is the yardstick for determining the wave length and swaras. A minor error can result in huge distortions during a concert. The bowls are made from strong, vitreous, translucent ceramic material that is biscuit-fired at low temperatures and then glaze fired at high temperatures. These are difficult to find and make a set for playing in a concert. I asked Anayampatti G Venkata Subramanian, Shri Ganesan's son who played violin in the concert, whether he is thinking of continuing the family tradition of playing Jalatarang.  He said he is reluctant to venture as he is afraid that breaking any of the bowls that have been used for over hundred and fifty years now.  But the tradition may wean on him one day.        

It was not just a concert; it was a concert with history behind it all the way.  It brought in the names several illustrious veteran musicians and music connoisseurs and patrons.  Of course, the lunch that followed was as tasty as the memories of the concert and other events.  This Music festival arranged in memory of Veena Seshanna and birth centenary of Swaramurthy V N Rao at Bengaluru Gayana Samaja had many such invaluable moments. 


  1. lot with good historical proofs of talents of veterans indeed

  2. Your inquisitiveness to know things in greater detail and ability to narrate the knowledge gained in an absorbing way is just amazing.