Saturday, May 12, 2012
M.S. Subbulakshmi: Sri Venkateswara (Balaji) Pancharatna Mala Vol. 5, Sri Annamacharya Samkirtanas, 1979
The albums that I upload on this blog have not typically been sitting in my collection for years. More often, they are titles that I have picked up within a week or two of the posts. Lately, I've been lucky to come across two great Carnatic albums, the first of which I posted two weeks back and the second of which I present to you today. The featured soloist on this recording is Srimati M.S. Subbulakshmi, the 1968 recipient of the prestigious Sangeetha Kalanidhi award given almost every year to a Carnatic musician for excellent technique in Carnatic music. Wikipedia describes it as among the highest awards available to performers of Carnatic music. She was also the first musician to receive the Bharat Ratna, India's most prestigious civilian honor. This album is the fifth and final in a series capturing Subbulakshmi performing the songs of composer and musico-religious devotee Tallapaka Annamacharya, who lived during the 15th century, an early figure in a tradition of Carnatic composers called Vaggeyakaras. You can hear volume 2 here. His music and his entire life were dedicated to Venkateswara, the supreme incarnation of Vishnu in the Kali Yuga age, which in Hindu theology stretches from about 5000 years ago far into the future and is the age of vice. Vishnu appeared as Venkateswara out of benevolent love for his devotees. The liner notes describe Annamacharya as a deeply and naturally musical person, one who composed because music was always flowing through his consciousness. He often composed music while in a musico-meditative state called Nadoapasana.
Annamacharya's impact on Indian was substantial. He is credited as a major figure in the development of the kirtana devotional song form and is said to have written about 36000 songs over the course of his life. He also occupies an unconventional place in India's social memory. Legend has it that one day, a group of untouchables wanted to worship at the temple of his deity but were driven away. He intervened by singing a song about how all people are the same "before God... as he resides in everyone's heart." The linked explains Annamacharya's position that "God is approached by a saint and sinner and He welcomes the former and reforms the latter." This is a brahmin speaking up on behalf of untouchables by asserting that, essentially, a person is defined more by character than caste and all people come before a God who treats them with understanding rather than discrimination. The story goes that some of the people upset by his challenge to the status quo burnt all the documents containing his compositions in an act of revenge, but that the deity engraved his compositions on copper plates so that they would not perish again. The message that discrimination is base and human makes this story an interesting bit of oral counterculture. I am reminded of the split in Christianity between those who try to enforce what they see as the will of Christ versus those who strive to affect the world by leading Christ-like lives.
Radha Viswanathan: vocal support
Dwaram Manga Thayaru: violin
Kandadevi S. Alagiriswami: violin
T.K. Murthi: mridangam
V. Nagarajan: kanjira
R.H. Vinayakram: ghatam
K.S. Raghunathan: recording engineer