Monday, May 25, 2015

Udayaravichandrika/ Shrotaswini with a Nattai twist

(Dear blog, I'm sorry I've abandoned you for so long now. You deserve to be treated better. I promise to write more frequently.)


I'd always found an uncanny similarity between Shuddha Dhanyasi and Nattai. The sadharana gandharam in the former, when rendered in certain ways sounded to me like the shatshruthi rishabham of Nattai. Totally unrelatedly (or so I thought), some 10 years ago I discovered this lovely raga called Shrothaswini, thanks to a film song. I learnt that it was Shuddha Dhanyasi, but with kakali nishadham instead of the kaishiki. And then sometime last year I found this absolute gem: Prof SR Janakiraman explains so wonderfully the connection between Shuddha Dhanyasi, Shrotaswini, and Nattai. (And the way he holds the kakali nishadham - "nishcahlam" - is something to die for.) Shrothaswini is even more similar to Nattai than is Shuddha Dhanyasi coz of the former's kakali nishadham! And I also learnt from this video that Shrotaswini is probably just a fancy, new name for an old raga - Dikshitar's own - Udayaravichandrika. (Prof SRJ does not use the name Shrotaswini at all.) Up until this I'd thought that Udayaravichandrika was the same as Shuddha Dhanyasi. I think this is in fact the popular opinion, which Prof SRJ dispels.

Anyway, I was obsessing about this Udayaravichandrika/ Shrothaswini - Nattai connection over the last few days and couldn't help but record this small piece. Hope you like it.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Feature on my guru Lalgudi Rajalakshmi in Sruti magazine

Here's an article I wrote on my guru for Sruti. Many thanks as always to the editor, Mr. Ramnarayan.

Lalgudi Rajalakshmi

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Mini concert recording

Here's a short Ragam Thanam Pallavi in Simhendramadhyamam I recorded for Swaralahari.

Sunday, February 16, 2014


After a long hiatus, here's something thanks to my mom: a composition by her. She composed this several years ago but I never got around to learning it until now. It's a ragamalika in Tamil that's musically pretty simple, with focus on the words: what's lyrically interesting and special is that most of the words as you'll see are in alphabetical order.
We look forward to hearing what you have to say!

Composer: Vijayalakshmi Bhakthavatsalam
Ragas: Kapi, Hindolam, Mohanam, Tilang, Ahir Bhairav


anumane anjanai maindane
aNNal raamanin aaruyir anbane
illALai pirindhu idaruRRa eeshanai
udanirundhu kaathu ookkam aLithanai
eththanai idargaL ellaam kadandhanai
Evalpurindhu ERRam peRRanai
aiyyan raamanudan aikkiyam aayinai
oppuvamai illaa Oridam sErndhanai
audadham peranee sylam peyarthanai
akdhinai koNandhu iLavalai kaathanai

kavinoru kaanagaththE kishkinthaiadhanil
keerti peRRa kaviarasan vaali vadham adaya
kurangarasan avan thambi sugreeva rAjan unnai
koovi azhaikka thaavichendru kadal kadanthaai
kedudhikku kEdizhaiththu kamalaikku kai koduththai
kokkariththu kObiththu kottam ellaam muriyadiththaai
kaushikan sangadam sadudhiyil theerthavanai
saamaanyamaanavanaai saadhikka vandhavanai
sindhaiyil poottivaiththu sheelathhtil nee uyarndhaai
siru piLLai paruvaththil sudum enRu aRiyaadhu
sooriya pazham pidikka seeri parandhanai
selvamE, sEdanE
sainiyaththudan Eezhathai veezhthinayE

sokkanE sOrvinai pOkkidum soundarya roopane
nyAlam pORRum nyAniyE
thalaivan thAL paNindhu thinmaikku thee vaiththAi
thunbam thudaiththu thooyOnai kAththittAi
thenilangai kOmAnai thEsu izhakkachedhAi
thaiyyalai kAththu thollayai thOrkacheidhaai
thauvvaithanai naliyavittu nANiyOda cheidhiduvaai
nilam neer engilum nuNugi nee nooru seivaai
nekkurugi nErthi seidhaal naindhurugi nalam tharuvaai
nondhuvandha uLLamadhil nOvinai neekkiduvAi

paraman aruginil paangudan nee irundhaai
piranmanai kavarndhOnai peezhaiyil veezhacheidhaai
pundhiyil sirandhu nindraai poovayai kandu vandhaai
pemmAn rAmanai pEsuvOrai nee chendru
paiyyavE pAliththu pozhivaai ninnaruLai
pOrkaLathil pourushaththaal polindhu nee nindraai
manginaar maandaar maaruthi unaikkandu
migundhilar meendilar munvinai payanaal
moodaravar madhikkettu meimayai kandilarE
mEnmai nee kondaai maiyyal tharum ezhilkondaai
moikkindraar maandhar un mOhana rUpam kandu
mounamai maram kaatti mannavarai malaikkavaiththaai

yaman yaandum thuNivu koLLAn chiranjeevi unaikkoLLa
yukti ilan yoogithilan yOgi unnai edhirkoLLa
youvvana raajan nee vanjagarai vagirndhadhellaam
vaan pugazh vil veeran vegundu unnai vEndiyadharkE
vaiyyam vandha deivamadhai vouvvi neeyum uyarvadaindhaai
vaanaramaai vandha vaayumaindhane pORRi
agaramudhala ezhuththellaam hanumanukkarpaNikka
arivili aasai kondEn aazham ariyaamale
eengeendu iyambivittEn ichchaikondu ivvaNNam
vaayumagan pizhai poruththu vinai theerthu aruLattum

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Thooli Adidudho

"Thooli Adidudho" is a beautiful lullaby for baby Krishna, composed by Vijay. It was in 2009 that we first started work on this. After many a roadblock over 4 long years, I finally decided to publish this here. The orchestration couldn't be finished, nevertheless, just the simple backing track that Vijay Narayanan has created carries the song through so very gracefully. Thanks Vijay, for trusting me with this lovely melody. Hope I've done some justice. Thanks Vijay. N for the track, and thanks Karthik Nagarajan for rendering it with me - you've done a beautiful job as always.

Oh, and Octaves completes 7 years! Thanks people, for visiting. Thanks for keeping this going.

Composer and lyricist: Vijay S. Aiyar
Backing track: Vijay Narayanan
Vocals: Karthik Nagarajan and Sindhuja Bhakthavatsalam


thooLi AdidudhO, kaNNA thookkam dhaan varudhO
lAli pAdidudhO, mannA thAyin thaen manadhO
neela vaNNA, bAla kaNNA, neeyum thoongida thAyum aengida
thooLi AdidudhO...

pArkkum pArvai pARkadal, mazhalai mozhi pullAnkuzhal
kannam rendum kanirasam unthan uthattil vadivadhu madhurasam
ulagin seyalgaL unakku theriyum
uRangum pozhudhilum nadaththa theriyum
mAyavA, manadhu mayangida

nyAniyE nee thoongida thAlAttu geetham pAdinEn
nALaiyE un geethaiyai indha ulagum vizhiththida pAdu nee
nyAniYE nee thoongida thAlAttu geetham pAdum thAi
nALaiyE un geethaiyai indha ulagum vizhiththida pAduvAi
uRangum vizhikkuL ulagam suzhala
yugangaL siladhundhan kanavil malara
thooyavA, thazhaikkum thavamena


Monday, April 15, 2013


Here we go.
Now on iTunes!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Brindavani: a collaboration with Flautist Shri Ravichandra Kulur

It was around this time a year ago that this project took birth. Ravi Kulur ji - whom I'd met and performed with in Pt Ravi Shankar's ensemble in 2009 - was visiting San Diego and got in touch with me. He was going to be performing with Guruji and Anoushka. As I was just planning a casual meeting with him, it occurred to me out of the blue to ask him if he might be interested in recording something for me. Given his schedule and how big an artist he is, I really wasn't expecting him to agree, but thought of asking him anyway since I'd known him to be really nice. Ask I did, and to my absolute surprise and delight, he was more than willing. Amidst rehearsal schedules with Guruji and other artists, he was kind enough to entertain my request. At the time, what I had in mind was a ghazal I had composed - I wanted Kulur ji to play some aalaaps and interludes for it. But then I felt I needed to make more use of this unique opportunity and get him to play more. But everything other than the ghazal I had composed till then was proper Carnatic (especially structurally; and of course I didn't feel any of them was worth taking to Kulur ji). I was wondering how to create a flute-centric piece. I finally decided I had to write something new. I wanted to have a standalone flute piece with grand orchestration and may be add some vocals. With not much time left, I quickly came up a few lines in Brindavani in a thillana-esque style and decided to leave the rest to improvisation.

The day arrived and I had to meet him at the studio. Back then, neither did I have a car, nor did I drive. The studio was in Carlsbad and getting there from La Jolla was a two hour bus ride. It was probably the best bus ride I've had though. An oceanic route, combined with the excitement of my first composition to be performed by a renowned artist made it truly memorable. After the long hitchhike, I reached, and Kulur ji was there too. We began. What can I say - listening to him breeze away the flute from just a few feet away was exhilarating. We started with the Brindavani piece - his improvisations just melted me within. I felt extremely fortunate. We took about an hour and half and were done with whatever I had in mind. Thanked him, my stars, and in my mind Guruji too, for it was because of him that I met Kulur ji.

Well, that was part one. Then began the orchestration woes. As I was worrying about whom to approach, Murali Venkataraman introduced me to Eshwar Ravishankar and I really need to thank him for that. Eshwar has worked tremendously for this song and his orchestration has truly elevated it to a level I hadn't imagined. I think his arrangement has added such grandeur to this song that it has come a long, long way from its genesis in what I wrote. Amidst the various challenges of power cuts, unreliable internet, an unstable computer, and exams and other deadlines, he has given his all to this. Through the last one year Eshwar and I have discussed, argued, fought, reconciled, and celebrated, thanks to gchat and whatsapp. It was all a lot of fun and I've learnt many things.

Many thanks to Sanath for playing the mridangam on short notice when he was on a vacation in India. Many thanks also to Armando Cepeda (who's also worked with Guruji) who kindly let us use his studio for Kulur ji's recording. Thanks to Kirthana for her sweet vocals in the interlude, and last but not least, thanks to Abin Pushpakaran for the very dedicated and tireless work with the mixing and mastering. Here's hoping you all like this piece. Coming soon!!

PS: Kulur ji did also record for the ghazal I mentioned. The vocals have also been done by another gorgeous singer. I hope to release that soon as well.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Ilaiyaraja live in San Jose

I know this post comes very late - I just didn't have the time to sit and write about it, and moreover, for a while after it was over, I was in a stupor and was unable to put anything of what I felt in words. Nevertheless, I thought I should say something about the concert here for the record, since it was easily one of the most cherished musical experiences I have ever had. On March 1st I witnessed a dream concert: "Maestro" Ilaiyaraja was in San Jose with his entire team of amazing musicians. From Chitra to SPB to Hariharan to the no-name stars in the orchestra, the show was nothing short of magic. Four decades of musical brilliance came alive in the 5-or-so hours. The orchestra was impeccable, the singers masterly and fervent, and the man - Raja - himself, stood there truly like a king, bursting with all the years of well-earned and rightful pride and authority. It was an unforgettable evening and I was so emotionally charged - like all the other die-hard fans I'm sure - that I had a "hangover" for almost a week after the concert. I would be doing injustice to the concert if I start talking about any one or two songs, and it would be impossible for me to write in detail about every song. Still, I'll just go ahead and say that pottu vaiththa kadhal had me at the edge of my seat from start to end and sundari kannal and thenpandi chemmaiyile brought tears. If you closed your eyes, you'd think it was the original casette playing (but with the recording boosted up and digitized to modern standards). The rushing violins in sundari kannal were transfixing and the trumpets just so grandiose. Chitra, my idol was her usual adorable self, and SPB was giving us some glimpses of Raja's genius by narrating some anecdotes during composing and having the orchestra play for us some short, isolated bits to highlight the strength of those particular sections. Mano was jovial and entertaining and was a true sport when Raja pulled his leg about his Thamizh years ago when he was learning Shenbagame (although I wonder who *wouldn't* have been a sport with Raja), and Karthik had a great stage presence. The four women who were part of the chorus and also had some solos/ duets each were amazing too. Unfortunately I don't know their names - except for one of them, NSK Ramya. Overall, wonderful evening and the heart felt heavy as it came to an end. Some people were put off by Raja's quirks - they felt he was being too arrogant and not respectful of the people who had paid a lot to watch him. Well, some of his comments were indeed uncalled for - like when he asked "idhu dhaan neenga vaazhara latchanama" or something to that effect when people were whistling/ loudly cheering to some of the songs. But then he's extraordinary, and for all the years of joy he has given us, I don't think I have anything to grumble about and will take anything from him in return for his out-of-the-world music.
We've always known this man to be superhuman, but seeing him live, listening to him sing, pray, pour his heart out, love, cheer, and also admonish, scold, and rant was truly something else. An evening I'll remember for a long time to come.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Another playback song

Here's a glimpse of another song I sang a few lines for in a Telugu film "Chinna Cinema", composed by Praveen Lakkaraju with lead vocals by Srinivas Josyula.

I also sang a couple of lines for a montage song in the same film:

Quite excited that I get to share credits with SPB on the same album! Probably the closest I can get.
Listen to all songs here:

Friday, February 15, 2013

Of rakti, scales, and hedonism

!Rambler Alert!

The motivation for this piece really was the question, "What ragas do I like, and why?" I don't think I can come up with even a remotely satisfying answer to that. In fact, I'm not sure if it's even possible to answer this, but I've found it quite interesting and stimulating to mull over the question (like a zillion other pointless ones) and I believe I stumbled upon some intriguing observations. Well, at least intriguing for me. Right from when I was a child, I've been drawn to certain ragas that I believe have a certain kind of "personality". But rather than trying to characterize this personality, which seems daunting, let me try to explain with examples. When I was little, Hamsadhwani was an absolute favorite. Natural, I guess: it's undoubtedly a "happy" raga, and the very first krithi I learnt was in this raga (Vinayaka). As I grew older, Hamsadhwani started seeming kinda mundane, but I believe my new preferences were still similar in a sense: for many many years now, I've died for Bahudhari, Hamsanadham, Nalinakanthi, Ranjani, Dharmavati, Varamu and Bindumalini. This is surely not an exhaustive list, but you get the idea. All of these have an almost visceral effect on me: I feel physically exhilarated/ stimulated/ touched; and Nalinakanti is the most strongly evocative of these (Check out this (compositionally very simple) piece, that I can listen to endlessly, while almost feeling my heart leaping.) On the other hand, ragas like Thodi, Begada, Reetigowlai, Bhairavi and to an extent even Sahana, don't have this effect. I respect and revere them. I fear (yes) and love them, but I'm not sure they give me the kind of "high" that the former set of ragas give me. The difference in preference was way stronger when I was younger - I just wouldn't be able to appreciate these latter ragas. I guess age and experience have helped me mature - I'm glad that now there are certain pieces in Bhairavi for instance, that I absolutely love. Based on these preferences, many connoisseurs of Carnatic music might not consider my breed "serious"/ "deep"/ "pure". Here comes what's most interesting to me. I feel that the former ragas are in a sense hedonistic. The focus is on strong emotional appeal, if not always pleasure. Well, I could say that ultimately it all comes down to pleasure in some sense: even Shubhapantuvarali evokes a kind of a pleasure - through its heaviness - but that's different from the pleasure that Nalinakanti brings about. Ragas like Bhairavi on the other hand seem to be somewhat on a "higher" plane. And it seems to me that this hedonism has been systematically curbed - just like hedonism in general. Pedagogically, we are (may be tacitly) encouraged to appreciate the more "serious" ragas like Reetigowlai or Bhairavi. They take musical maturity, conditioning, depth and involvement to appreciate. Of course, I need to keep throwing disclaimers throughout this piece that these claims are not grounded in any kind of experiment - neurological or sociological - but are just strong-ish hunches I have.

This Bhairavi-group of ragas are what are usually referred to as "rakti" ragas. (Some like Thodi are also "ghana" ragas, and may be not all ghana ragas are considered rakti ragas, but I won't go into that here.) Vidushi R. Vedavalli lucidly explains what rakti is in this Sruti article. Basically, rakti ragas are defined more by the raga "swaroopa" or form, rather than by the swaras alone. I like to think of this idea as holistic: in rakti ragas, the whole is more than the sum of its parts. For some more philosophical jargon (sorry, can't help flaunting my disciplinary bias): rakti ragas don't reduce to the swaras, and don't supervene on the swaras. They have a distinct identity that emerges in terms of phrases, usages, prayogams, gamakams etc. and the mere scales of these ragas cannot fully capture these facets. My feeling is that the aptitude for these ragas is rooted in a deep reverence/ musical intelligence/ musical discipline. I feel it's unlikely for someone to say they get a plain "kick" out of, say, Huseni. (Of course, a LOT depends on the kind of notes too: Begada roughly belonging to the major scale certainly sounds happier than Huseni, so rakti apart, I'm sure a "theory" about preferences needs to be more nuanced and account for this point. Clearly, I am glossing over details, but given the sloppy theorist that I am, let me proceed anyway.) But interestingly, I feel in musical experience that involves tremendous amounts of conditioning - as is often the case with a Carnatic rasika - it is so hard to distinguish between "pure emotion" and "conditioned emotion". I mean, someone might say they are really touched by Begada and argue that they are as touched by it as I am by say, Nalinakanthi (I'm quite sure my dad would say that, and he was never trained in music - but he's of course a self-trained listener and rasika). Of course, mental states are entirely personal and we'll never know, but I'm still going to (audaciously) try to argue that Begada-appreciation is finer, more nuanced and more conditioned than Nalinakanthi-appreciation. To bring back the hedonism metaphor, the liking for the latter seems kinda "baser", less refined as far as music goes. Now what's curious about this is that as Smt Vedavalli says, the very meaning of rakti is that which is "pleasing and engages the mind joyfully": "ranjayati iti raktihi". Ha, so much for my insistence on almost the reverse. I have a half-baked response to this as well, but I'll spare you for now and move on.

One thing that's common to my "adrenalin-pumping" ragas is that they're all scale-based. I have no idea why. It's also indeed puzzling why/ how a "characterless" Chandrakouns/ Charukeshi/ Gambheera Nattai/ Srothaswini tug at my heart way more than any standard rakti raga that's supposed to be full of character. Well that's the question at the heart of this piece and evidently, I still don't have a clue as to how to answer it. It's also very curious that usually, in almost everything I do, I'm way more analytical than emotional. So is it probably that these scale-based ragas are actually intellectually stimulating for me? And this intellectual stimulation is somehow translating to emotional appeal in a way I can't tell? Likely. All I can say I guess is that I like the non-traditional appeal of these ragas.

It's of course heartening that many top notch artists indulge in a Charukeshi or Srothaswini for an RTP (yes, "indulge"; and that word can only be used for these kind of ragas: you can't possibly "indulge" in a Bhairavi lest you make her angry). Right now, I'm getting back to a breathtaking Charukeshi RTP by Jayanthi Kumaresh.

Oh, and check out this interesting blog post by Sanjay Subrahmanyam on this topic.