Ramanavami In Bengaluru: Big Banners Have Their Concerts Back On Track
Mention Ramanavami and you visualise a characteristic landscape of music and culture in Bengaluru.
Here's a look at some of the important banners offering onsite concerts after the lull of the pandemic.
The Ramanavami season in Bengaluru is what December is to Chennai, as the city reverberates with melodies for over a month. But Bengaluru has brought in a new trend, in the excitement to herald offline concerts that have been missing for two years.
Heard of a curtain-raiser concert for a Ramanavami series? That’s what Sree Ramaseva Mandali in Chamarajpet is flagging off Sunday (27 March, 6:30 pm) as a bridge to connect the virtual concerts of the last two years and the on-ground concerts taking off this year.
Sidd Sriram will light up the Mandali’s curtain raiser, although the programming begins on 2 April, on Chandramana Ugadi with P Unnikrishnan’s vocal. This will be followed by a slew of concerts with Ranjani-Gayathri singing on 3 April.
The celebration of Lord Rama's ideals has several organisations coming together for a social, divine, and musical get-together and that makes Ramanavami a sign of India's strength.
The scare of coronavirus, though, did not miss hitting the Ramanavami banners in Bengaluru owing to the huge public gathering it attracts. For the last two years, the city that usually brings about 300 concerts in five weeks went without on-ground concerts, with a few offering an online fare.
Among the nearly 45 mandalis and samithis that are part of the frenzied festive bonhomie, only half offer classical music, dance, bhajan, and discourses as part of their Ramanavami celebrations every year.
This year, though, just a handful of them are back on track with strict pandemic rules attached to the event.
While the splendour of the waterproof zinc sheet pendal houses an eye-catching spiritual setting at the huge Old Fort High School grounds at Chamarajpet for the 84-year-old Sree Ramaseva Mandali’s 35 senior and 18 junior concerts with a 10,000 seating capacity, another giant banner, the 74-year-old Seshadripuram Ramaseva Samithi, is happy to bring back star musicians for its 18 concerts at the Seshadripuram College Open Air Theatre offered to connoisseurs free of cost even as it survives on donations without Government aid.
Meanwhile Bengaluru’s oldest, 116-year-old Rama Bhaktha Bhajana Sabha in Malleswaram, whose founder was compounder C V Subba Rao, had started off Ramanavami celebrations with classical fare along with folk, discourses, and drama.
“After smaller programmes and a solemn prayer within the Sabha for the last two years, this year we are back with our 10-day music starting on Ugadi,” says C V Venkatesh, the third-generation family member carrying on the legacy.
Back To Roots
27 March has another special as Chamarajpet Sree Ramaseva Mandali’s sustainable activities will see the inauguration of its ‘Gau Saketa’, the first phase of the gaushala website project launch.
Gau Saketa will preserve indigenous species of cows from Karnataka. “Although Karnataka is known for its half-a-dozen rich breeds, we are starting off with the scarcely available Amrut Mahal, a warrior cattle breed known for its power and strength that the erstwhile Mysore Maharajas had identified and nurtured,” says Abhijith Varadaraj, the third-generation member of the family taking forward the Ramanavami programming.
Abhijith is guided by his father S N Varadaraj even as the entire family is taking forward the ideals of Indian music and scriptures to the masses. Young Abhijith has brought in a host of features to the Mandali’s online presence too (here and here) and has the festival live-streamed by Shaale.
Sree Ramaseva Mandali was initiated by S V Narayanaswamy Rao, a true patron of music, on the footpaths of Chamarajpet. As the family commemorates the late patriarch’s 95th birth anniversary, one looks behind decades of courageously built cultural establishment to set a trend comparable to mammoth international fests across Europe. Befittingly, the road from where the Mandali operates now is named after him.
The Mandali has seen presidents and vice presidents inaugurate its music festivals with each season having over 300 artistes of national and international fame. C Rajagopalachari, the then Governor General of India, had requested S V N Rao to conduct Ramanavami celebrations only in a pendal erected for the purpose and not in any auditorium. It was Rajaji who gave Mandali the title “Temple of Music.”
“The secular Ramanavami music festival had musicians from every corner of India coming in to participate, including T Chowdiah, Lalgudi G Jayaraman, M S Subbulakshmi, and Yesudas, who have consistently performed here. Bismillah Khan, Amjad Ali Khan, Ajoy Chakraborty, and Yesudas performed to ecstatic audiences without forgetting to demand their share of the Lord’s prasada! That was the kind of secularism brought over to the music of Ramanavami,” says Varadaraj.
This year’s stars in the Mandali programming include vocalist S Shankar, Lalgudi Krishnan and Vijayalakshmi on violin, flautists Pravin Godkhindi and son Shadaj, MS’ great-grand-daughters S Aishwarya and Saundarya, and global violin maestro L Shankar, while the 75 years of Indian independence will have a special rendering directed by violinist Mysore Manjunath for a 75-musician ensemble on a four-level stage. Awards will be given to Vishakha Hari and violin-duo Ganesh-Kumaresh.
Sri Rama Bhakta Bhajana Sabha, Bengaluru’s oldest banner with a 116-year-old history, had its founder compounder C V Subba Rao appealing to his patients in the early 1900s for contributing towards the Sabha, but never accepted a fee. "The Sabha took root in Bethamangala in Kolar District and subsequently came to Bangalore (now Bengaluru)," explains the current President C V Venkatesh, grandson of Subba Rao. "We haven’t missed a single Saturday bhajan in these 116 years and our 10-day Ramothsava starts on Ugadi every year," says Venkatesh.
Explains Venkatesh recalling his father’s effort, "Since it was a dream that magnetically pulled Subba Rao towards a sincere endeavour to serve the Lord through spiritual melody, he took an assurance from my father, Vasudev Rao, that he would run the Sabha with absolute devotion, with no superficial glamour attached to it, but with a good measure of cultural arts that would define our State of Karnataka. My father was advised to keep aside one month of his salary for the purpose."
Rama Bhakta Bhajana Sabha started with Devaranama and Namasankeerthane more than a century ago, but gradually included all cultural arts including Carnatic music. "Those were days when we even had Madhav Das and Prahladachar take part in our Saturday’s bhajane," says Venkatesh.
"To commemorate our continued existence, we have Dasavani and Pravachanas in our programming this year apart from Carnatic concerts. Sameerachar and Raichur Seshagiri Das for Dasavani, Vivek Sadashivam on Carnatic, Mysore Ramachandrachar on Dasara Padagalu, and Yakshagana by Mahaganapathi Yaksha Gana Mandali are some of them performing while the fest, from 2-11 April, will be inaugurated by Pejawar Swamiji,” says Venkatesh.
Caught Between Audiences And Artistes
The organisers have been caught between the audiences and the artistes for the last two years. Says Ramakrishnan, Secretary, Seshadripuram Ramaseva Samithi, “The situation gets edgy because of the artiste line-up and the bookings done months in advance. We are catching up with the centenary celebrations of Veena Doreswamy Iyengar and maestro vocalist R K Srikantan this year. So we have their students Veena Geetha Ramanand and vocalist M S Sheela coming over, while a tribute to Saxophone (late) Kadri Gopalnath will be the inaugural concert for our 18-day concert schedule beginning 10 April, 6:30 pm, with Sridhar Sagar’s Sax booming in the open air at the Seshadripuram College premises.”
The Samithi thrives with only donors and sponsors stretching bigheartedly for the love of music. “Goodwill has been our strength to celebrate Lord Rama for the last 74 years, with donors being generous. We have been grateful to our top-rung artistes too who are compassionate towards the cause of music that we are taking forward. MLV then used to perform for Rs 750 as a package offered to the entire team!
"Many of the star performers take just one-fourth the amount from us, as our concerts are free,” says Ramakrishnan, adding that flautist Chandan Kumar, Vinay Sharva, vocalist G Ravikiran, Sikkil Gurucharan, and Kanchana Sisters will be part of the Ramanavami concerts this year.
“While vocalist Vidyabhushana is one of the biggest draws since 30 years, MLV’s presence has made history to the Sabha and is now taken forward by Sudha Raghunathan. The concluding concert on 27 April will also be an interesting ‘Laya Lavanya’ by Anoor Anantha Krishna Sharma‘s Talavadhya Ensemble,” he says.
While the Seshadripuram Ramaseva Samithi looks back at 74 years of non-stop concerts offered during Ramanavami with a special platform for the upcoming musicians, Ramakrishnan recollected how much the founders C D Gopala Iyengar and his son Ramarathnam had knocked on all doors to have a Ramanavami banner in the heart of Bengaluru. “The seeds were sown for senior advocate Krishnamurthy and his son Tarakaram to take over later,” he said.
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