Tyagaraja Aradhanai celebrations at Sugam Karnatica

Kakarla Tyagabrahmam (May 4, 1767 – January 6, 1847), colloquially known as Tyagaraja was one of the greatest composers of Carnatic music or classical South Indian music. He, along with his contemporaries Muthuswami Dikshitar and Shyama Shastry, forms the Trinity of Carnatic music. He was a prolific composer and highly influential in the development of the South Indian classical music tradition. Tyagaraja composed thousands of devotional compositions, most of them in praise of Lord Rama. His compositions remain very popular even today. Of special mention are five of his compositions called the Pancharatna Krithis (English: ‘five gems’), which are often sung in programs in his honour.

The Tyagaraja Aradhanai is celebrated by carnatic musicians around the world around the time of the anniversary of his Samadhi to pay respects and offer homage to this great composer.

Sugam Karnatica marked this important occasion on 19th January 2013 at 7.00 p.m. The evening started off with a short explanation on history of Saint Tyagaraja, followed by the singing of Abhishta Varadha Sri in ragam Hamsadwani. This was followed by the singing of the five Pancharatna Kritis, namely:
1. Jagadhanandhakaraka (Ragam: Nattai)
2. Dhudukugala (Ragam: Gowlai)
3. Saadhinchane (Ragam: Arabhi)
4. Kanakana ruchira (Ragam: Varaali)
5. Endharo mahanubhaavulu (Ragam: Sri)

The event continued with the singing of Jo Jo Jo Rama, Nagumo and Mangala mavani sudha, all compositions of Saint Tyagaraja, and concluded with arathi. The programme was attended by about 40 people who were treated to sumptuous prasada after the event.

Pic 1: Singing of the Pancharatna Krithis

Pic 2: Pakkavathiyam thanks to Master Suresh on the mridangam and Master Hari Chandran on the tabla.

Pic 3: Arathi

Historical Background of Tyagaraja Aradhanai

The Aradhana in its present format is not even a hundred years old. Tyagaraja died in 1847. A few days before his death, he had renounced everything and had become a sanyasi. When he passed on, his mortal remains were buried on the banks of the river Kaveri and a small memorial was built at the spot. His disciples returned to their respective villages and observed his death anniversary at their own homes. The memorial was soon forgotten and it was not until around 1903 that Tyagaraja’s last surviving disciples, Umayalpuram Krishna Bhagavatar and Sundara Bhagavatar returned to Tiruvayyaru, identified the place and had it renovated.

From the next year, efforts were made by musical stalwarts to observe the anniversary at Tiruvayyaru itself. In 1905 they conducted the ceremony in style complete with feeding of the poor and worship at the memorial as per Vedic tenets. By next year, the Tillaisthanam brothers (who were the motivating force) fell out of favour with each other and each began conducting a parallel Aradhana. Musicians aligned themselves with one or the other brother and soon two rival factions came into being. Narasimha Bhagavatar, being the elder, his group came to be called the Periya Katchi and Panju Bhagavatar’s was called the Chinna Katchi. With the passing of the Tillaisthanam brothers, the Periya Katchi came under the control of the ace violinist Malaikottai Govindasami Pillai, while the Chinna Katchi had as its moving spirit, Soolamangalam Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar, noted Harikatha exponent. The Chinna Katchi’s celebrations began five days before the Aradhana and concluded on the Aradhana day. The Periya Katchi’s began on Aradhana day and continued for four days after that. Both groups organised music performances and feeding of the poor and so the public was the real beneficiary during the nine days. On one count, both groups were united. They did not allow women to perform during the Aradhana. They also did not permit nadaswaram performances.

In 1921, Bangalore Nagarathnamma, a rich temple dancer, who was then residing in Madras, decided to dedicate her life’s earnings to perpetuating Tyagaraja’s memory. Seeing the rampant factionalism and discrimination against women, she decided to take action. In 1925, she bought the land on which the memorial stood and soon began the construction of a temple over the memorial. She also had an idol of Tyagaraja sculpted and installed in front of the memorial. The consecration of the temple took place in early 1926. But the two rival groups while not interfering with all this, refused to let her perform her Harikatha in front of the deity she herself had installed. They cited several instances from Tyagaraja’s songs where he had complained about women in general. Undeterred, Nagarathnammal began a third front which conducted its own music programs at the rear of the shrine.

This featured many women artistes and soon began eating into the popularity of the events hosted by the two Katchis. The doughty lady also filed suits in the local courts demanding the prevention of the Katchis from entering the temple as it belonged to her by right. She lost the case, but the hours of worship were laid down by the courts, dividing the Aradhana day equally between the two Katchis and her own group. Matters continued this way till 1940, when SY Krishnaswami, ICS convinced the groups to unite and it was in 1941 that the Aradhana as we know of it was first conducted. Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar selected the five pancharatnas as being best suited for group rendering so that a common homage by all musicians became possible. This idea was adopted and the choral rendition of the five songs was made an integral feature of the Aradhana.

Bangalore Nagarathnammal spent the rest of her days in Tiruvayyaru and bequeathed all her wealth to the Tyagaraja memorial, with the stipulation that women be allowed to pay their homage without any hindrance. When she died in 1952, she was buried close to Tyagaraja’s memorial and a statue was erected on the spot. The statue directly gazes on Tyagaraja’s memorial.

Year 2013 marks the 166th festival in Thiruvayyaru.

Launch of Carnatic Stars 2013

The launch of Carnatic Stars 2013 took place on Friday, 8 February 2013 at the office of the Vijayaratnam Foundation located at Menara Qi in Petaling Jaya. The event was attended by Vidhwan Sri O.S.Arun, Dato’ Sri Vijay Eswaran and Datin Sri Umayal Eeswaran, as well as representatives from Sugam Karnatica, Minnal FM and the Qi group of companies.

SK’s team at the event

The event started off with an invocation prayer and was proceeded with speeches by Datin Sri Umayal Eswaran, Chairperson of the Vijayaratnam Foundation; Ms Sumitra Jayaseelan of Sugam Karnatica, Dato’ Sri Vijay Eswaran and Sri O.S. Arun.

Datin Sri thanked the support provided by the sponsors and partners of the Carnatic Stars 2013 programme, namely Sugam Karnatica and Minnal FM. Referring to Sri O.S Arun as the ‘Prince Charming of carnatic music,’ she expressed her deepest gratitude to him for finding time in his busy schedule to be a part of this inaugural programme in Malaysia.

Dignitaries at the event

Our very own Ms Sumitra rained praise on the Vijayaratnam Foundation as the Foundation has proven time and again that it places significant value not only on physical development projects but more on intangible development projects and programmes, like Carnatic Stars 2013. She further welcomed this initiative by the Vijayaratnam Foundation and hoped that the programme will become an annual one, to attract and benefit more and more children and teenagers to explore the field of carnatic music.

Dato’ Sri Vijay Eswaran with Sri O.S. Arun

In his speech, Dato’ Sri Vijay Eswaran emphasised on the capacity building of musical talents and encouraged parents to break free from the conservative mould of pushing children into professional careers which they may not enjoy or excel in. “Our country has already lost many O.S Aruns who are sitting in banks and hospitals, simply because they were not given the encouragement to pursue music when they were young,” he said. He further noted that he has plans to incorporate music education into the syllabus of Qi-owned Quest University in Ipoh, Perak.

Vidhwan Sri O.S Arun

Sri O.S. Arun applauded the Vijayaratnam Foundation for organising such a programme and pledged his support to Dato’ Sri in other future musical endeavours. Sri O.S Arun also delighted the audience by singing a number – ‘Naan oru vilaiyaattu bommaiya’ in ragam Navarasa Kannada.

Group photo with Carnatic Stars 2013 participants

Passion burns bright (12-1-2013)


Three sisters have worked hard to inspire the young masses with their Indian artistic development programme.

LAST month, we were bunkered at the base of non-profit Indian arts organisation Sugam Karnatica in Petaling Jaya, Selangor just before the Mayan end-of-days “prophecy”, which predictably didn’t materialise.

Funnily enough, it was an apt subject matter with the Jayaseelan sisters, Sujitra, Sumitra and Subatra, since the centrepiece of the organisation’s calendar of programmes was called Samarpanam (Offering), the annual December show helmed by 150 children (after attending a two-week camp by Sugam Karnatica).

Last year’s theme, incidentally, was Apocalypse. The vedic version of Apocalypse at the Temple of Fine Arts in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur on Dec 16 drew a bumper crowd to the auditorium.

“We had people standing along the aisles and sitting at the side of the steps. We have had these numbers for the past (few) shows,” said Sujitra, the project director of Sugam Karnatica, which has already started to plan for its 2013 programme (and camp) for Samarpanam.

Sugam Karnatica has been reaching out to the new generation to inspire them with artistic values.

The trio founded Sugam Karnatica a decade ago to assist “the development of children by using the components of performing arts and the deep Indian cultural science of wisdom.”

The artistic development quest, no matter how difficult the task, will continue for these sisters (and the volunteers) at Sugam Karnatica.

As we learn, this year-end performance was an annual family affair at home until the sisters formed Sugam Karnatica and unveiled Samarpanam to the wider public in 2003. The inaugural event was held at the Women’s Institute of Management hall in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur and fronted by 30 participants from their school.

Subatra, the master trainer for last year’s Samarpanam camp, said that the facilitators may not be great dancers or singers but they have to be mentors or guides and motivators to the children as well as initiators. During the exercises, the facilitators were instructed in the modules to be taught to the children and also underwent leadership and first aid training.

“The children were divided into five groups. Each group had at least two facilitators, who helped them with their (dance) items,” said Subatra.

Last year, Sugam Karnatica collaborated with Aswara (Akademi Seni, Budaya Dan Warisan Kebangsaan or the National Academy of Arts, Culture and Heritage) for Samarpanam.

The organisation’s progress was also recognised last September when Sugam Karnatica was honoured by the EU-Malaysian Chamber of Commerce and Industry with the Europa Sustainability Awards 2012 in the culture category.

“In the last five years, we had the support of some corporate organisations, one of which is the Vijayaratnam Foundation. We receive contributions from parents but there is still shortage (of funds to continue to run Samarpanam). We cannot sustain it for much longer just relying on contributions from parents, which are based on (a) pay-as-you-wish (basis),” said Sumitra.

Sujitra, the eldest sister, stressed the importance of producing individuals with a strong cultural background.

“The corporations out there need to re-angle their (corporate social responsibility) programmes. They need to also look at (the importance of) holistic education. Like when they attend these kinds of camps: what do they learn in two weeks? What did the children learn apart from what you see on stage? Children learn better movement and coordination. They also learn a sense of responsibility and how to work in a team,” said Sujitra.

“We also had some projects that cater for the community at the camp. These are the kind of things that you can’t teach via textbooks … you just have to learn. The Samarpanam camp is experiential learning,” she added.

Apart from the camp, Sugam Karnatica organises a weekly Sugam Sunday School where the sisters are assisted by another batch of volunteers, made up of mainly mothers, who come over to make drinks, wash dishes and teach 120 kids – between four and 16 years of age – yoga, vedic studies and Thirumurai from 8.30am to 11.30am. In spite of being another project that depends on the benevolent contributions of parents and others, they have a waiting list of at least 50 for the classes after the registration was closed last November.

The year has started much earlier for Sugam Karnatica as they pool their resources for a debut project, Carnatic Stars. Thirty children, between the age of 10 and 14, will be selected by the group to be trained by carnatic (classical music of south India) singer O.S. Arun during the three school holiday breaks.

A total of 150 hours of tutoring – spanning 15 days – will culminate in a concert by the child vocalists in June.

This programme is fully funded by the Vijayaratnam Foundation and, in keeping with their aim of educating and developing the young in the arts and culture, will be accessible to children without any foundation in classical music.

Samarpanam 2011 – Larger Than Life

Samarpanam, which means ‘an offering of love’ in the Tamil language is one of the programmes carried out by Sugam Karnatica for children. It is an intensive two week cultural camp, conducted during the year-end holidays which teaches children aspects of Indian arts and culture such as Indian dances, songs and drama. After an intensive two week training, the children’s efforts are staged and parents and guests are invited to watch these children put up a show of professional standing.

All the committee members and facilitators at Samarpanam are volunteers who have come together to be a part of this camp. The facilitators are previous participants who have ‘outgrown’ the 15 year age limit which is set for the programme. The facilitators are given a free 2-day Leadership and Motivational Training by qualified instructors and speakers prior to the camp.

Samarpanam has always been a charitable programme and it had been maintained as such in the year 2011.

”Imposing”, “Impressive”, “Standing out from the crowd” – these are words that come to mind when we hear the phrase ‘Larger Than Life.’ Chosen as the theme this year, Larger Than Life is represented by the mighty elephant, adored and revered the world over as the biggest land mammal on Earth.

Nature of Elephants
Elephants are venerated by many communities due to various reasons. Among the reasons is the nature of elephants itself. Elephants are strong, intelligent, have excellent memory and exhibit close family ties and social complexity. They also have strong individual personalities that affect how they interact with other elephants, how others perceive them, and how well they are able to influence members of their group.

Elephants in Religions
Many religions show reverence to elephants. Hindus worship Lord Ganesha, who has an elephant head. He represents perfect wisdom and is highly loved and worshipped by his devotees. Ganesha is considered to be the remover of obstacles and a bestower of prosperity in the Hindu religion.

In Buddhism, the ‘Precious Elephant’ is one of the Seven Jewels of Royal Power and is the symbol of the strength of the mind. Exhibiting noble gentleness, the precious elephant serves as a symbol of the calm majesty possessed by one who is on the path. Specifically, it embodies the boundless powers of the Buddha which are miraculous aspiration, effort, intention and analysis. The stupa is symbolic of the mind of the Buddha with a basis of strong elephants.

Elephants in Cultures
Elephants are a part of many cultures around the world – India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Africa. It represents royalty, power, wisdom, fertility, longevity, strength, honour, stability and patience, among other attributes.

Elephants in Crisis
However, despite all the nourishment and positive vibes we beget from elephants, conservationists warn that they could be an extinct species in just 15 years if these animals are not protected. Poaching for ivory and other parts deemed to be of medicinal value has caused a sharp decline in the elephant population, showing a 50% decline in the past 40 years. This rate is alarming and if elephants are not seriously conserved, the coming generations may only be able to see one in zoos or on television. The effect of this on the ecosystem is enormous.

Samarpanam 2011 – Larger Than Life was conducted from 3 – 16 December 2011 and culminated on 17 December 2011 with a bombastic show. This year, 150 participants, ranging from 4 to 15 years were brought together for 2 weeks under the theme ‘Larger Than Life’ where elephants were highlighted.

The show that highlighted the glory, the magnificence as well as the plight of elephants, was performed by 150 children. The 3 hour show enthralled the entire audience at Kompleks Kraf Kuala Lumpur.

The show started off with a rich elephant poacher having a meeting with his executives, ordering them to find new ways to outsmart the wildlife authorities who are working hard to put them out of business.

The show carried on with the elephant poacher and his assistant traveling to countries which have high elephant population – Africa, India and Thailand.

In Africa, they see a tribal dance by the natives featuring wild animals.
Where else in India, they come across a temple celebrating Vinayagar Chaturthi. During their visit to the temple, they hear the chanting of the Ganesha Pancharatnam, a parade of the 16 forms of Ganesha.

In Thailand, they come across Muay Thai warriors and traditional Thai dancers.

In the route of their travels, they also came across a gypsy community, where a gypsy lady saw the past of the elephant poacher in a crystal ball. He happened to be the guard in Kailash and witnessed the mango lila between Ganesha and his parents.

Besides this, the duo also swung by a school concert where they were entertained by a choir and choral speaking featuring elephants.

Later, they met with 6 blind men coming across an elephant for the first time, and was baffled by the way they each ‘viewed’ the elephant differently.

Finally, the elephant poacher had an awakening dream where he wakes up with the realisation that what he is doing thus far is wrong and vows to repent.

The intangibles acquired by the children during the 2 week camp cannot be measured by way of words. Self- confidence, boost to self- esteem, leadership, overcoming stage fright, teamwork, people skills, realizing individual talents and not forgetting elements of culture and heritage are among the values and qualities gained by our participants.

Lessons in elephant conservation and the fact that the world does not belong to humans alone was emphasised to the participants. We have attempted to instil qualities of compassion to all beings.

We at Sugam Karnatica are happy to see our culture, our tradition and our ancient wealth of knowledge slowly but surely trickling down to our young generation. Emphasis is not only given on Indian culture but also world issues in order to keep our children grounded as well as abreast with the latest issues of importance in the world.