Pancharatna Kritis

September 24, 2015, Chennai

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Pancharatna KritisThe Saturday after Good Friday, I logged on to at about 9AM and tuned into their live broadcast of the congregational performance of Tyagaraja’s pancharatna kritis at Cleveland.

With about 270 performers on stage, including a host of mridangists, violinists, flautists, vocalists, vainikas and more, the show was grand. Jagadanandakaraka commenced with all its grandeur and went on in full flow.

I was transported to a different era; the early 1970s where radio broadcasts were the only window into the Tyagaraja Aradhana celebrated at Tiruvaiyaru. As a 9 year old, I remember waiting bated breath for my (then) favourite sri raga pancharatna kritis to be rendered, holding my impatience through the varali kriti; I remember hearing the broadcast on a little hand held radio transistor as I was riding with my father and a group of his friends to Tiruneermalai or some such place near Chennai.

As a little boy, the grandeur of the ceremony was perceptible even through the broadcast and I simply loved the music.

I was jolted back to the 21st century reality of the internet as I gauged the visual content of the broadcast. The only limitation of the broadcast was that it featured only one static camera view. But the audio quality was decent and I reckon, you don’t look at a gift horse in its mouth. (daanam kidaitta maattin pallai pidungi parka koodaathu).

The festival organizer intervened at the end of the varali kriti to deliver a note of thanks and an appeal for support. It was through this note that we learned of the statistics surrounding the Indian diaspora’s music festival.  100+  musicians from India, scores of NRI musicians all set to deliver a week of round the clock Karnatic Music (and Bharatanatyam) performances. A full-fledged hospitality department that had booked the adjoining motels for a full week and a mega-kitchen that served sumptuous vegetarian fare free of cost to guests. A budget close to a half a million dollars.

One is grateful to founding volunteers such as Cleveland Sundaram, Balu, Toronto Venkataraman and others who have taken the festival from its beginnings some 30 years ago to the dizzying scale at which it is run today. After all, the broadcast on ekucheri was able to transport me back to that moment in the 1970s when I, a 9 year old boy was waiting with bated breath for the congregational rendition of the Sri-raga pancharatnam to begin. The aradhana in its own way has become a symbol of Karnatic Music legacy in North America.  Cleveland today owes its name recognition in South India more to the Aradhana than to the Cleveland Clinic or to Case Western Reserve University!

Note: Although the practice of offering a homage to the composer commenced the year after his passing, the ceremonial rendition of the pancharatna kritis did not commence until 1949.  I am not sure how the name pancharatna came into being. Subbarama Dikshitar has notated 4 of these kritis in his Sangita Sampradaya Pradarsini, complete with sangatis. In fact, jagadanandakaraka, as notated by him in 1904 or so has its full set of 13 sangatis.

The  pancharatna kriti rendition tradition at the Tiruvaiyaru aradhana is only about 62 years old. Interestingly, the Cleveland tradition of rendering the pancharatnams is about 31 years old now!

About the author

Kanniks Kannikeswaran