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Something from the Kerala king's treasure

Balamurali stumbles upon a Swathi Thirunal treasure, and comes up with an album that pieces together a forgotten tillana

Swathi Thirunal Krithis
Rs 60

Dr M Balamuralikrishna recently chanced upon some Swathi Thirunal (1813-1846) compositions in a handwritten book over 100 years old. This tape is the result of that discovery.

Swathi Thirunal Ramavarama of Travancore lived for just 33 years and was known as a scholar-king who brought to his province modern ideas of education and administration. During his short life, he created classical compositions that continue to be sung to this day. He wrote in Sanskrit and the four southern languages. His love for Hindustani music prompted him to compose khayals and dhrupads, and he got to write in Hindi and Brajbhasha too.

Balamurali’s guru Ramakrishnayya Panthulu had learnt from Susala Dakshinamurthy Shastri, who was a disciple of Manambuchavadi Venkatasubbayya, a contemporary of Thyagaraja and Swathi Thirunal. Dakshinamurthy Shastri had written down in Telugu several Swathi Thirunal compositions in a notebook marked ‘Kerala Raja Kirtanani’. Some songs found in the book are well known, others rare. Did the book just have the words or the notations too? The jacket doesn’t make that clear, but credits Balamurali with the music. Did he set the songs to tune? The structures are intricate and sound like vintage Swathi Thirunal.

Balamurali renders five compositions in all. Side A features Saveri, Kalyani and Vallabhi. The last is a Hindustani-style composition. It echoes some Behag phrases; we couldn’t find Vallabhi mentioned in any raga directory. Is it a new raga created by Balamurali? Side B has Ramanavibho in raga Arabhi, a composition he has been popularising, and a tillana in raga Bhupalam. The tillana is an attractive stacatto composition with very few gamakas. Balamurali deserves thanks for salvaging it from obscurity. Coming to the music, his voice sounds good, but the tape is not totally free from gimmickry.

Delhi P Sunder Rajan accompanies him on the violin, Vellore Ramabhadran on the mridangam, and Tripunithura N Radhakrishnan on the ghatam.

Vasantha Iyer

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