The food of life

The Hindu
Veena player Madokaram Prashanth Iyengar. Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy
Prashanth Iyengar takes the cause of the veena firmly forward. He is not only a musician but also a composer
At his recent Ramanavami kutcheri, vainika M.N. Prashanth Iyengar preceded each piece with an explanation “for audiences to understand the core implications behind the composer’s thoughts and musicality.” Before taking up the Saveri varna “Sarasuda” he said varnas are replete with raga bhava and composers here don’t relate to their expertise on sahitya. The Tyagaraja’s Pancharatna “Jagadaananda Kaaraka” contains the ashtothara shathanaamaavali of Lord Rama brought out in a scholarly kriti-format, he explained.
Prashanth is curious to learn, just as he believes in the importance of sharing knowledge through lec-dems, workshops, music appreciation courses at his Sree Rama Centre of Performing Arts. “It seems intrinsic as my mother, Padmasini Narasimhachar, my first veena guru, too had her academic and music influence from her father Sampath Iyengar, a Sanskrit scholar.”
Says Prashanth, “My mother tells me that she was shocked to see me play Endaro Mahanubhavulu on the veena when I was seven, even before formal lessons were initiated. She would finish all her domestic chores at night and peacefully practice on her veena, often stretching into the wee hours. Her gentle twangs not just brought the raga and kritis alive, but the divinity of the mellow instrument reverberated and struck a chord within me. I imbibed her technique and approach that traced the Mysore Bhakshi Subbanna Parampara. The veena always seemed a blessing to me. To all of us at home, Veena has remained more interesting than food!”
As an 11-year-old, when Prashanth played, musicians wondered if he was Veena Doreswamy Iyengar’s student. “I considered myself lucky, for, my mother’s style rested equally on the same traditionally established school that followed vocalised gaayaki approaches. Curiously it was an impressionable time when my mother thought I needed a different teacher for bringing newer perspectives into my music. My sister, M.N. Geetha, with a Master’s in Music, took me straightaway to maestro R.K. Suryanarayana. This gave me a new impetus, as my guruji often called me home at night to share his own creative masterpieces,” he says.
Far-sighted and large-hearted, Suryanarayana even advised Prashanth to “never blindly follow a guru but bring forth expressions that is individualistic. Feel the sahitya, understand the bhava even if you have to play the kriti 100 times over,” was his counsel. Prashanth is happy his guru had made him “think and feel”. Once when Prashanth had played the Bhairavi Attatala varna at Mysore, it had elicited a reaction from M.S. Gopalakrishnan. “Bring more jeeva (life) through gamakas, the divine veena can be made to sing!” Taking this advice seriously, Prashanth mastered gamakas through rigorous practice of sarale and janti varase, and the alankaras.
“Veena is a spiritual instrument, what and how you play on it matters as our music scriptures have included chapters on this Saraswathi’s instrument,” says Prashanth. “I am very sensitive to the pace of a kriti, as it has to be along its lyrical-bhava. The Tyagaraja kriti ‘Manavyala Kinchara’ in Nalinakanti says, ‘Oh my mind, why don’t you listen to my appeals.’ Can we ever play it fast?” is his query.
With a Bachelor’s in Pharmacy and Diploma in Computer Engineering, Prashanth has had his stint with Yoga too for accruing meditative benefits. He played a marathon veena concert stretching to 25-hours to create a Limca National Record in 2011at the Srirangapatna Temple premises. The workshop on veena that he spearheaded at Mantralaya early this year had a detailed discussion on the instrument by experts in the field.
Prashanth Iyengar is a composer too — has composed 90 varnas that include the 72-varnas tuned in the 72-melakarta ragas, making him the only one to compose in every single melakarta. Apart from sapta-tala varnas, he also has 20 kritis, 10 devaranamas and five tillanas to his credit. What is very special about his book ‘Varna Lakshana Ranjani’ which has 72-mela varnas and 72-Lakshana Geethes printed in Kannada, English and Hindi is the fact that it is meticulously hand-written by Padmasini Narasimhachar.
Prashanth Iyengar will perform at the Indian Institute of World Culture, Bangalore on April 20. Call 97436 44530 for details.


Deft evocativeness
CONCERT : Prashanth Iyengar’s veena concert was a picture of purity and clarity

Profound Prashant Iyengar
A veena concert by Prashanth Iyengar, accompanied by B.C. Manjunath (mridanga) and Ranganatha Chakravarthy (ghata) was part of the Vidyasagara Prof. M.P.L.Sastry Music Festival conducted by the MES Kalavedi, Bangalore, recently.
A heavily gamaka imbued two-speed rendition of ‘Viriboni’, the ata thala varna in Bhairavi, was followed by a short sketch of Goula, attesting to purity and clarity of notes and adorned with alternating bold strokes and soft touches. Muthuswami Deekshithar’s ‘Sri Maha Ganapathiravathu Mam’ in mishra chapu thala, presented in a bracing tempo, was supplemented with a few rounds of kalpana swaras. The Thyagaraja composition ‘Yochana Kamala Lochana’ set to Darbar raga and adi thala was another fast paced rendition, prefacing a compact alapana of Amrithavarshini. Beginning rather unusually with the madhyama, the elaboration proceeded in a series of intricate yet melodious sancharas that ran the entire gamut of the scale. The celebrated Deekshithar krithi ‘Anandamrithakarshini’ in adi thala was followed by a spate of spontaneous and alluring kalpana swaras.
The main focus of the recital was on a raga thana pallavi in Thodi. The auditorium lights were switched off during the introductory chanting of ‘Om’ and the alapana and thana as per the request of the artist, in an effort to emphasise the higher purpose of music that transcends mere performance. The fairly exhaustive raga elaboration was suffused with raga bhava and heavy classicism, drawing from extensive reservoirs of manodharma founded on impressive control and expertise. The sonorous phrases in the mandra sthayi, and the deft evocativeness of the nishada in the madhya sthayi were among the notable features of the exercise. The thana was a bright mosaic of patterns and melodies including a few in ragamalika format. The pallavi, set to khanda jathi triputa thala, was taken up for a compact interpretation along with kalpana swaras and subsequent tempo variations that reaffirmed the technical command and laya skills of the lead artists, culminating in a thani avarthana. Given the time constraints, however, a more profound exploration of Thodi without the introduction of other ragas would perhaps have deepened the impact. Exemplary percussion support by the accompanying artistes was one of the highlights of the concert, which concluded with a devaranama in Behag and Swathi Thirunal’s thillana in Dhanasri raga and adi thala.
Madhavi Ramkumar



Updated: February 27, 2014 19:00 IST

Paeans to Tyagaraja
The Hindu
Prashanth Iyengar struck a chord with the audience in Kochi with his music and presentation.

Prashanth Iyengar charmed as much with his veena music as with his traditional attire complete with a ‘namam’. After the Bhairavi ata tala varnam ‘Viriboni’, he painted the quaint beauty of Kambitha gamakas in his presentation of Kanakangi and the Tyagaraja kriti ‘Sreegananatham Bhajamyaham’. In small simple units, he sketched the picture of Saramathi raga before proceeding for a contemplative rendition of ‘Mokshamu galada’.
After giving an introduction to raga Hamsanadam, the artiste said he would be presenting the raga using Shatshruthi rishabham, as it was originally meant to be. He dexterously presented the tanam in quick sancharas to quickly follow it with ‘Bantureeti kolu’. As the decibels rose, the bustle of swaras offered many a thrilling variation.
After a brisk taniavarthanam from Balakrishna Kamath on the mridangam and Mangad Pramod on the ghatam, Prashanth presented ‘Jagadodharana’ in Kapi, after singing it in the high pitch of the veena, and a thillana in Behag. Tyagaraja Day was organised by Kerala Fine Arts Society.