Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Of Simhendramadhyamam & Tagore

It was an evening when my father-in-law recommended an album called "Yatra" to me once again. He recommended it to me about 15 days ago once and when he played the songs on his mobile, I was impressed. The album is a reinterpretation of some compositions of Rabindranath Tagore and is largely classical, with slightly modern embellishments in arrangements. Since I am an aficionado of Rabdinra Sangeet, it did not take long for me to get hooked to it. The artists in the album are Ustad Rashid Khan and Nachiketa Chakroborthy. Ustad Rashid Khan is a seasoned classical vocalist and I do not need to add more about him. Nachiketa Chakroborthy was a surprise for me. I earlier heard him in one of the songs in Bose - A Forgotten Hero, by A.R.Rahman and he had just a line there. But in this album, he has unleashed hos classical and Rabindra Sangeet prowess. His voice resembled that of Vijay Prakash (another wonderful voice I heard in recent years), atleast for me.  The renditions by both, Ustad Rashid Khan and Nachiketa were engaging and soul stirring. 

As the tracks changed, one particular track caught my attention a lot. A very deeply evocative piece titled "Baaje Karuno surey" got me in awe of it because of the way Tagore has structured it. It had a very strong scent of a raaga that I knew but I could not immediately recollect its name. The composition was extremely moving and the renditions lived up to the mood of the composition. The moment I started humming along with the song, I was zapped to see myself land in a song that anyone would hardly expect - Kaattodu Kuzhalin, a wonderful tamil composition by Ilaiyaraaja. Once in that song, I immediately concluded that this Baaje song must be in simhendramadhyamam. I asked my wife, who too was listening to it. She, with more knowledge about Hindustani raagas than Carnatic raagas, did not know the name of the raaga but felt it was familiar. The only song she knew in this raaga is the staggeringly phenomenal composition of Ilaiyaraaja again - Saara Yeh Aalam (This song has been discussed earlier here). She confirmed that it looked like the same raaga. 

An hour after that, restlessly I was still humming Baaje Karuno Surey and i found it extremely intriguing that a carnatic raaga has travelled all the way to Bengal into Rabindra Sangeet and ended up in one of Tagore's creations. I remember reading a post by a good friend of mine, Suresh, where he discussed a song by Tagore that was inspired by a Muthuswami Diskshitar krithi. But I forgot the raaga employed in it and I frantically searched for that post again, to check if there was any Simhendramadhyamam there. There was none. So this must be another example that points at Carnatic music in Rabindra Sangeet. I wanted to explore further and googled a lot. 

The song "Baaje Karuno Surey" was indeed (and intentionally) set in Simhendramadhyamam. This post confirms that Tagore actually picked up some of the carnatic music from one of his disciples at Shanti niketan (whoa! what it must be, for a learned man like him, to express interest in something his disciple is singing and even learn it, if we can assume so). The song is inspired by Thyagaraja krithi "Needu Charanamuley" (My friend Suresh clarified that this is not by Thyagaraja; but credits Thyagaraja. any idea who is the composer, if it was not by him?). Very interesting! And I found many versions of this compositions by various bengali singers on youtube, once you search for "Baje Koruno sure". There is one by Kavita Krishnamurthy as well (is the violin by L.Subramaniam? Very beautiful). In fact, Satyajit Ray has used a very toned-down-in-complexity version of this song in one of his films. 

I am unable to could find the version of Ustad Rashid Khan and Nachiketa Chakroborthy from this album "Yatra" on youtube.

The mp3s of this album are plenty on the internet. As i rejoice at this interesting discovery (and trivia) about yet another Tagore-Carnatic connection, I would recommend the hindustani music buffs and rabindra sangeet fans to grab this album. Rabindra sangeet fans might however have some reservations because of some creative liberties taken ; purists might not like this. Nevertheless, the album does capture a good juxtaposition of hindustani raagas and some songs of Tagore, using using the two delectable voices.

PS: Initially, I did not find this track on youtube. I later found it and edited my post accordingly.