Shyama Sastri was born in 1762 at Tiruvarur. His favorite deity was Kamakshi, and many of his slow unravelling swarijatis were sung in her praise. Kanchi Kamakshi (this link will take you to notations in
English for this swarajati) in Bhairavi, and Kamakshi in Yadukula Kambhoji, have remained perennial concert favourites. Shyama Sastry's father and forefathers were priests at the temple of Bangaru Kamakshi. He choose to write in Telugu, Sanskrit and Tamil, and signed off as Shyama Krishna.
Shyama Sastry is revered as one of the Trinity, the other two placed on the same pedestal being Thyagaraja and Muthuswamy Dikshitar. Shyama Sastry's compositions are marked by a very studied and expansive unfolding of the raga. Singing a composition of his, musicians will tell you, is as good as trying out an alapana, exploring phase by phase the intricacies of the raga. Yet the felicity of his structure is such that even a beginner feels comfortable singing the Bhairavi swarajati, while she might feel overwhelmed if told to attempt a Bhairavi alapana. A swarajati, incidentally, is considered an excercise meant for learners, but Shyama Sastry's swarajatis are so exquisite that seasoned artistes perform them regularly alongside the heavier kritis.
On this tape, the Begada varnam Dayanidhe leaves you asking for more of the raga as your ears try to catch the elusive dhaivatam (the sixth note). Jayashri has grown more contemplative, or that is the effect Shyama Sastry has on her. A decade ago, her pace was unremittingly fast and she went in for rare ragas to engage her audience. In this album, classical aficionados will have heard all the pieces. Jayashri lovingly caresses each gamaka, rounds off each swara, reaches out for the right amount of tension in each note, and unerringly captures the essence of the raga.
Paahi sri giriraje suthe in raga Anandabhairavi is preceded by a short but pithy alapana. Next comes the gem in raga Yadukula Kambhoji. The swarajati seems to lose itself in a swoon of contemplation. It hypnotises you with its majestic pace. Devi Brova in Chintamani is characterised by the special restraint in the raga's scale itself. Janya of the Senavati melakarta, the suddha rishabham and suddha dhaivatham, and the Todi scale nishadham, together make for delicate understatement.
Kalyani forms the mainstay of Side Bm with Ninnuvina. R K Sriramkumar, the violinist, does not get the quietness of Jayashri's rendering, and his instrument sometimes sounds too screechy. I have heard very good performances from him. The mrudangam by Ganapathi Ram is full of bass, and its deep resonance matches Shyama Shastry's solemn compositions.
The kriti Kamakshi towards the end is a very sedate interpretation of raga Madhyamavati. No racing up and down the scale. While Thyagaraja's style mostly comprises a bird's eye view of the whole raga in the first two lines, with Shyama Sastri there is never any haste to discover the promised richness. The Punnagavarali composition Kanaka Shaila is brief, but lingers on with its constant reaching-out feeling.
on 21 October 2001
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