Vocal Arangetram of Sharanya Vunnava

Carnatic Vocal Arangetram by Sharanya Vunnava

Her Guru: Smt.Subha Ramanan

Violin: Sri Prasad Mantraratnam

Mridangam: Sri Ganesh Devarajan

Ghatam: Sri Sreenivas Ponnappan

Tambura: Kum Srinidhi Narla

Date: March 30 2018

I recently had an opportunity to experience a Carnatic music vocal Arangetram. Having sat through through several Carnatic concerts of eminent singers (view my concert experiences here), I was a bit hesitant to go to an Arangetram. An Arangetram is the first solo public performance of a classical arts form student – whether its of dance or music. Its purpose is to showcase the student’s proficiency in that art form after years and years of learning. It sets the path for future stage performances, and displays readiness to participate in higher art circles. So my expectation was that it would be a bit basic, and mostly pre-practiced. But few of my close friends motivated me to attend the event, and I am very happy I got to experience this Carnatic vocal performance. It demolished all the biases I had towards Arangetrams and really made me admire the whole process, and Sharanya Vunnava’s proficiency in Carnatic music.

Before beginning the concert, Sharanya seeked blessings from her Guru and her mother Smt.Shubha Ramanan. She also seeked blessings from the accompanying artists mentioned above, who were experienced artists in their own rights. She also humbly bowed to all present thus displaying humility and submission to the experienced artists around her.

The very first composition that was rendered was a Varnam in Kaanada raaga set in Ata taala and composed by Poochi Sreenivas Iyengar. The varnam’s “purvangam” was rendered in 3 speeds – Chaturashra 1st speed, trishra and Chaturashra 2nd speed, the “uttarangam” was rendered in 2nd speed. Singing a varnam in trishra is a difficult proposition and requires good command over laya which Sharanya and the accompanying artists demonstrated well. 

The next composition that was rendered was “Vallabha Nayakasya” set in raaga Begada and Roopaka taala composed by Muthuswami DikshitarThis kriti is dedicated to Lord Ganesha, the remover of all obstacles! It is only fit that Sharanya began the concert by invoking Lord Ganesha. A short yet brisk exchange of Kalpana swarams between the vocalist and violinist was an apt choice and well done.

Now having listened to Sharanya for about 10 min, my first reaction was that she has a beautiful voice, that is naturally rich and elegant. Also, the accompanying artists were supporting very well, by not overpowering with their expertise.

Vocal Arangetram of Sharanya Vunnava

The next composition that was rendered was “Ninne Nera Namminanura” set in raaga Pantuvaraali and Roopala taala composed by Sri Tyagaraja. Sharanya beautifully rendered this composition along with “kalpana swarams” at “veda shastra puraana vidyalache”. This exchange of “kalpana swarams” also included some mathematical patterns which were aptly sensed and flashed back by the violinist. Pantuvaraali raaga is one of my favorite raagas, reminding me of yet another favorite Kriti of Tyagaraja – “Yenna Gaanu Rama Bhajana”.

The next composition that was rendered was Sri Tyagaraja’s “Pakkala Nilabadi” set in raaga KharaharaPriya and Mishra Chapu taala. Sharanya began with a detailed Kharaharapriya raagaalapana”, followed by Violinist Prasad Mantraratnam’s melodic and chaste raagaalapana”.  I enjoyed the “neraval” at “Thanuvuche vandana monarinchu chunnaaraa” with intricate and beautiful swara kalpana patterns. It was equally well played with precision by the violinist. After a detailed rendition of Kharaharapriya, Sharanya sang a Purandara Daasa composition – “Smarane Onde Saalade” set in raaga Malaya Maaruta and Adi taala. 

The next detailed rendition was a composition called “Yeta Vunara”  set in raaga Kalyani and Adi taala composed by Sri Tyagaraja. Every time I listen to Kalyani, the raaga really mesmerises me. There are no words to describe this raaga. Do I call it majestic, do I call it versatile, do I call it beautiful? I don’t know. Anyways, Sharanya did a great job of rendering this vintage raaga in alapana, neraval and kalpana swarams at “Seeta Gowri …”, and Violinist’s replies were spontaneous and excellent. A special mention here to the Tani Avartanam section. The jugalbandi or the face off between Ghatam and Mridangam was very very good and energising. The pace started slow with each artist making their own complex patterns which culminate at the beginning of the 16 beat cycle, and slowly increased to higher speeds and short rhythmic passages and thus energised the audience. Like a fruit that takes its time to ripen and gives joy when it does, this Tani Avartanam took its time to build up to that beautiful feeling of joy.

The next composition was “Enthani Vinna” in raaga Urmika composed by Pallavi Sheshayya. The next composition was the main juice of the concert that is the Raagam Taanam Pallavi or popularly known as RTP. Sharanya took very different raagas for RTP – Mohana and Ranjani. Two very different raagas – one that evokes joy or “Haasyarasa or and one that invokes sadness or “Karunarasa. To understand more about the moods that raagas evoke, please read my article – Concept of raaga . As I sat there listening to the oscillating Mohana and Ranjani, it reminded me of two intertwining creepers, that are unique and different, yet they come together to create something, that looks perfectly harmonious, beautiful and magical.

It was wonderful to experience the mathematical nuances of pallavi rendition by both the vocalist and violinist. The pallavi was set to Chaturashra Jaathi Triputa Taala in Khanda gathi. Towards the end, raagamalika swarams in Desh, Bahudaari and Rasikapriya raagas were rendered and then the artists came back to a grand finale of rhythmic pattern of swaras in Mohana and Ranjani. 

After this Sharanya moved to a raagamaalika composition and then to a Kriti dedicated to Lord Muruga. Then she went on to sing a bhajan set in Varkari style of singing of Pandarapur – “Aho Pandari”.  This tune was very catchy, and stayed with me after the concert.  After this Sharanya rendered a Tillana in raaga Brindavani composed by Lalgudi Jayaraman and then Mangalam in raaga Sourasthram.

My overall one penny observations:

The choice of compositions and raagas chosen were excellent. There was clearly an effort made to choose challenging raagas, and their renditions. There was a lot of thought that went into this process. The RTP could have been done with one raaga, but two raagas were chosen, and that too completely different. Carnatic songs are very rich with spiritual meanings naturally. But I also felt that the choice of songs also set the stage for a very meaningful spiritual renditions that mixed with “bhakti bhava”. There was an emphasis on not only making it technically challenging, but also challenging in the “bhava” as well.

The shruti and laya mastery was perfect and maintained throughout. On such a strong foundation, the rich, bhava full rendering of compositions and raagas, made the whole concert very mature.

Special mention also to the accompanying artists -Sri Prasad Mantraratnam on the violin who did a wonderful job of depicting all the raaga nuances on the wonderful instrument – Violin, Sri Ganesh Devarajan on Mridangam and Sri Sreenivas Ponnappan on Ghatam. Kum Srinidhi Narla did a wonderful job of being steady in Tambura rendition.

Sharanya has a beautiful voice, that is very natural, and great stamina that held for more than 3.5 hours. MusicNamaste also salutes Sharanya’s Guru Smt.Subha Ramanan for guiding Sharanya and contributing to the future of Carnatic Music. She has truly imbibed the strong aspects of her Guru and added her own uniqueness. MusicNamaste wishes Sharanya all the very best in the musical journey!