Touching new musical 'lows'

Ragas

Not many people in the audience even realised they had been treated to a rare musical feat by Dr K Saraswati Vidyardhi in the midst of her recent concert.

Accomplished : Saraswati Vidyardhi

She had sung the anumandhrasthaayi in its entirety, a very rare achievement in music. She is regarded as probably the only Indian vocalist capable of this. And if most of the audience missed it — as they generally do whenever she renders it — you really can’t blame them!

It takes a person highly knowledgeable in music to detect the anumandrasthaayi exposition. Also, it’s hard to discern because it happens in a flash — gone before you even know what hit you. Anumandhra is the octave below the lower/mandhra, and extremely difficult to reach.

Which is why Saraswati has received rich praise for this achievement from stalwarts like Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Jasraj, N Ramanathan, SAK Durga, Sripada Pinakapani, etc.

Endowed with a mellifluous and always shruti-aligned voice, and known for her lucid and bhaava-suffused renditions of ragas and lyrics, she is also grounded in music theory. With a doctorate in Carnatic music, she works as professor, Department of Music, Andhra University, Vishakapatnam, and has authored several papers on music theory.

This soft-spoken, low-profile singer says, “I love teaching. It’s also a way of learning — because preparing for classes makes you learn a lot and moreover, students’ questions stimulate further study. Also, in the process of guiding research scholars, I uncover interesting aspects of music.”

She is credited with the conducting of an orchestral ensemble entitled Raga Thaala Malika Janthra Gaathra Sammelan at a CCRT workshop. A noteworthy composition of hers is Raaga Thaala Mudra Pallavi in Simhanandana Thaalam — the longest of ancient music’s 108-thaalams or rhythm cycles — with 128 beats per each cycle or aavartham.

She has worked on projects about Kshetrayya padams, aata thaala varnams, rare ragas, etc. In fact, she has a penchant for lesser-known melodies and tries to include at least one rare raga in each concert — like Kokilavarali, Swararanjani and Prabhat. “I also like to render compositions of Annamacharya, Ramadas and Narayana Theertha, tuned by my guru Nedunuri and his guru Pinakapani,” she adds.

A winner of gold medals and other prizes from her student days, Saraswati is a Top Grade artiste with Doordarshan and AIR. She has two books pending publication — The Unique Style and Personality of Sripada Pinakapani and Thaana Deepika. Among her several albums are Varnaamrutham and Karnaamrutham.

Her musician-father I V L Sastry was her first teacher, followed by violinist-vocalist I Vijayeswara Rao. She received advanced training under Sangeeta Kalanidhi Dr Nedunuri Krishnamurthy. She underwent voice-culture training under Prof V B Gadre.

She attributes the chaste classicism of her music largely to the uncompromising adherence to tradition that her guru Nedunuri insists on.

 Her anumandhrasthaayi mastery makes for an interesting, inspiring story. After Saraswati practised the three octaves to perfection, she began to aspire higher.

“Why not attempt the anumandhra octave?” she wondered. It was admittedly an ambitious thought. After all, most vocalists find even the entire mandhrasthaayi, challenging. As for anumandhra, even seasoned singers would at most touch a note or two, and rarely at that.

But Saraswati was determined. And ready for the hard work and risks. As the first step, in 1994, she commenced rigorous mandhra saadhana or kharaj, something generally recommended by teachers for stretching vocal chords and muscles. “Next, I  progressed to anumandhra octave beginning with nishadham (ni), moving to da, pa, and so on.”

The first obstacles — few months down the line — were coughing bouts and swollen vocal chords. Advised by her doctor for complete voice rest, Saraswati took a one-month mauna vrat. Later, she resumed anumandhra saadhana — from five-minute durations she gradually proceeded to longer periods. Finally, in 1998, she sang anumandhrasthaayi in its entirety in Raga Shankarabharanam.

Currently, Saraswati is exploring rare ragas, researching esoteric aspects of Carnatic music, and contributing to a forthcoming centenary tribute to Pinkapani.

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