A treasury of tunes

Charumathi Ramachandran on the delighful exercise of setting to tune 51 of Ambujam Krishna’s Tamil songs

Around 1983, vocalist Ananthalakshmi Sadagopan took her friend and composer Ambujam Krishna to meet vocalist Charumathi Ramachandran. There, they heard Charumathi’s husband, vocalist Trichur V. Ramachandran, sing the Narayaneeyam that he had set to tune. Ambujam appreciated the coincidence, as she was leaving for Guruvayur soon after.

On her return, Ambujam gave Charumathi a composition to be tuned. That piece, ‘Om Namo Narayana,’ which she set to tune in raga Karnaranjani became very popular. Guru M.L. Vasanthakumari liked her pupil’s tune so much that she sang the song regularly in her concerts and featured it in recorded cassettes. Charumathi recently finished setting to tune 51 more of Ambujam Krishna’s Tamil compositions.

Radha Parthasarathy, Ambujam Krishna’s daughter, explains that several of her mother’s compositions had been tuned while she was alive by Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Musiri Subramania Iyer, Dr. S. Ramanathan, K.R. Kedaranathan, Ananthalakshmi Sadagopan and others. “There are 350 more that need to be set to tune. I am trying to get them done.”

She handed over 51 pieces each to R. Vedavalli, T.N. Seshagopalan and Charumathi. They were carefully selected by Sujatha Vijayaraghavan, scholar and daughter of Ananthalakshmi Sadagopan. Besides spending a lot of time with Ambujam Krishna, Sujatha was also part of many of her mother’s interactions with the composer. She says, “Ambujam mami had written notes in the margin of some songs indicating who she wished them to be tuned by. I handed over to Charumathi the songs marked for her. Charu had also expressed a desire for thematic compositions, so I selected several on Krishna that touched different rasas — sringaram, karunyam, bhakti, vatsalyam etc.” Trichur V. Ramachandran has also tuned five pieces and daughter Shubasree Ramachandran, one, as a thillana in ragas Ahir Bhairav and Brindavani.

Interesting line-up

Of those set to tune by Charumathi, some notable ones in the kriti format are: ‘Konjikkonji’ in Kannadagaula, ‘Solai malai’ in Kamboji, ‘Venduvadhellam’ in Kalyani, ‘Mohana kuzhal’ in Mohanakalyani, ‘Karam kodutthu’ in Mohanam, ‘Asaindhu’ in Nasika Bhushani, ‘Thaleney’ in Abhogi, ‘Azhaitthal nee’ in Bhimplas and ‘Vandhadaindhen’ in Karnaranjani. She has set some as ragamalikas, including a Daru varnam — ‘Aadum azhagai’ featuring Khamas, Hindolam, etc.; a Pada varnam — ‘Inbam pozhindaye’ featuring Sankarabharanam, Purvikalyani, etc.; ‘Sudhandira bharatam’ featuring Ranjani, Chayaranjani, etc.; ‘Nalliraviniley’ in madhyama sruti featuring Pilu, Abhogi, etc; and ‘Kanna kanna’ in Maund, Ahiri, etc. Some other ragas she has used include Sringaramurthy, Kanakangi, Patdeep, Manjkhamaj, Behag, Andholika, Purnashadjam, Sunadavinodini, Hamsanandi, Neetimati, Bhujangini, Misra Sivaranjani, Natabhairavi, Saramati, Rageshri and Bageshri. She also created a new raga, Radhambujam, a janya (derivative) of Harikamboji. Charumathi also created chittaswaras for many songs, some extensive and some in ragamalikas.

Suitable for dance

Charumathi is proficient in music for dance and sees many of these compositions suitable for dance. She says, “The flow of language is astounding, reminiscent of Oothukkadu Venkata Kavi in the fast passages (madhyama kala sahitya) of some songs. Her pieces are, in my opinion, Tamizh Isai revival songs as they are in chaste but simple Tamil that can reach the masses.”

Sujatha adds, “The songs are woven around the Vaishnavite philosophy with multiple layers of meaning, many allusions that might not be immediately obvious.”

To disseminate the works, Radha Parthasarathy says the pieces will be posted on YouTube with notations. “My mother never wanted to promote her own songs. She always said if they are good, they will become known.”

The author writes on classical music and musicians.

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