Saturday, May 22, 2010

Celebration!

Well, it feels like it was just December and suddenly I find myself ending May of 2010! This year has been extremely busy for me with work and life so my spare time is considerably limited. I let Nirmala know that the Naadha Rasa blog will be a bit more sparse as I’m not able to be at many of the events and so am not reasonably able to comment upon what has been /will be happening. I suggested that she find someone else to take over duties and begin another blog and that I would keep this site for the times I was able to personally contribute.

After our conversation Nirmala was adamant, urging me to continue on nevertheless, and that people could send me information to write up. If any of you wish to assist me in this matter it would be extremely helpful and appreciated! You have our email address on the Naadha Rasa list- so, for the record, if pertinent and valuable information concerning Naadha Rasa and Nirmala isn’t here it may very well be that no one sent it to me to be added.

I would like to congratulate Nirmala and the list of Naadha Rasa young men and women who took top prizes this Spring- there was the Cleveland Aradhana with Ruthu winning in her veena catagory and most recently the Carnatic Star 2010. For those who haven’t seen this I will copy the results here for all to read and if I missed anyone, please do let me know!

Carnatic Star 2010

INSTRUMENTAL

Instrumental - Jeyani Narayan

I - Shreya Narayan (Naadha Rasa)
II - Janani Narayan
III - Sandhya Ramachandran / Sruthi Shankar (both Naadha Rasa)

Young and upcoming keyboard player - Sreya Palani

VOCAL

Group Music

According to the age catogory
I - Samyuktha/Dhatri/Srija/Charita/Vedanth/Nikita

I - Nadarasa (Naadha Rasa)
II - Sruthilaya

Geetham

I - Ranjani Hariharan
II - Priyadarsani Kanajam (Naadha Rasa)
III - Sowmya Subramanian/Divya Cherian/Neha Sella (Divya with Naadha Rasa)

Varnam

According to the age catagory

(11-14)
I - Shruthi Rajasekar- (Naadha Rasa)
II - Sandhya Ramachandran (Naadha Rasa)
III - Srividya Ganesan (Naadha Rasa)

(15-16)
I - Ganesh Raman (Naadha Rasa)
II - Mahati Pidaparti (Naadha Rasa)

Kirthi

According to the age catogory

(between ages 8 - 10)
I - Bharath Sivaram
II - Akhil Madurai
III - Priyadarsani Kanajam (Naadha Rasa)

(for age groups 11 and above )
I - Ganesh Raman (Naadha Rasa)
II - Shruthi Rajasekar (Naadha Rasa)
III - Mahathi Pidaparti / Sandhya Ramachandran / Saveri Philkana (Mahathi and Sandhya both Naadha Rasa)

(above 25 years)
I - Mythili Udupa
II - Lakshmi Subramaniayan


Padam/Javali/Tukuda

I - Ganesh Raman (Naadha Rasa)
II - Mythili Udupa
III - Priyadarsani Kanajam (Naadha Rasa)

Mano Dharma Sangeetham

I - Ganesh Raman (Naadha Rasa)
II - Mythili Udupa

Multi-media Presentation

I - Joe Lang (Naadha Rasa)
II - Shruthi Rajasekar (Naadha Rasa)

Since all the contestants did an exceptional and splendid presentation we would like to award one and all

Srividhya Ganesh (Naadha Rasa)
Shreya Narayan (Naadha Rasa)
Rohith Cherian (Naadha Rasa)
Amogh Rao Potlapalli (Naadha Rasa)


Theory

I - Ganesh Raman (Naadha Rasa)
II - Shruthi Rajasekar (Naadha Rasa)
III - Sandhya Ramachandran (Naadha Rasa)


CARNATIC STAR 2010 - Ganesh Raman (Naadha Rasa)
(Free Concert to sing in India through Carnatica ( Carnatica Brothers Organization)

Carnatic Star 2010 Runner-up- Shruthi Rajasekar (Naadha Rasa)


Nirmala has been occupied with more travel than usual, going to nearby states doing residencies, traveling to Cleveland for the Thyagaraja Aradhana, to Chicago for the National Conference of Veena, performing with a local theatre ensemble along with future musical events booked for the upcoming months of 2010. She has been the recipient of prestigious awards in Chennai, India and is being recognized all over the United States for her prowess in the Carnatic musical arena.

In April, when Nirmala performed in Desert Dreams: Naomi & Ruth, she was part of an international ensemble where she lent her veena and vocals; enhancing the beautiful story of a woman who adored her mother in law so much that she left everything to accompany her to a foreign land and ultimately play a huge part in Jewish/biblical history. Nirmala brought two of her Naadha Rasa Carnatic vocal students to sing with her during the performances- Shruthi Rajasekar and Poornima Sathyanarayanan.

Naadha Rasa has become a real favorite at the annual 3 day Festival of Nations held in St. Paul, MN. and it is especially exciting for Steve as he is able to perform veena onstage during this event. He wanted to get his veena prepared, so for the first time he completely changed every string in one sitting- it took him a full afternoon with the help of our cat Surya but he was happy to have the practice and know he’d accomplished it correctly.

Due to conflicting plans Steve and I were only able to make it to the Festival on Saturday- the day was gorgeous and warm enough to wear traditional South Indian clothing and sandals. We made it to the Park ‘n Ride lot in time to catch the bus to the venue. When we got there the sights and smells were like coming home to something familiar. We made our way through the food courts back into the far reaches of the Bazaar floor. Naadha Rasa was scheduled to perform twice on the Bazaar Stage and once on the main stage.

Nirmala was there waiting for her students to assemble and I walked around looking to see if anything had changed up since last year. The Bazaar stage was beautifully set up with a black background draped in flowing silks of turquoise and purple, all twinkling with tiny white fairy lights.

The Saturday Naadha Rasa performers were the core players of Nirmala, Sriram and Balaji, extending out to veena musicians Steve, Shruti S. and Shreya. Joe accompanied the group on electric guitar along with a trio of Carnatic singers consisting of Shruthi R., Poornima and Priya. Naadha Rasa looked fantastic dressed in tones of reds, purples and gold. Poornima stood out wearing a shade of blue that complimented the turquoise in the backdrop.

Nirmala’s thought for the day expressed to the group was “Memorize and Internalize.” Everyone was arranged on the floor when Nirmala opened the event by speaking a bit to the large audience who were waiting with excitement, cameras and video recorders in hand. She gave a very brief intro to the veena’s history, telling the people about the pieces to be performed. The first piece was a composition by Dikshitar; Shakti in Shankarabharanam with Nirmala comparing the raga to a Western E Major.

Nirmala led off with a veena solo, later joined by Sriram on mridangam and Balaji on geetham. The three were joined by the other veena musicians along with Joe on guitar and Shruthi R. on lead vocals.

The next composition was introduced as a Malahari medley- translation “A Morning Song.” The composition started as a more dramatic melody with an emotionally charged undercurrent. Kamlakar’s talented daughter Priya joined together with Shruthi R. and Poornima to lend lovely voices in proscribed areas. The rhythm duo of Sriram and Balaji were outstanding as always, knowing exactly when to drive the beat and/or punctuate along with the veena performers. I am always in awe of their single and combined talents whenever I am able to see them in various venues.

When the piece ended, Nirmala told the people listening to take with them and remember the word veena. Sriram interjected humor when he said for people to remember the word mridangam and Nirmala said in response that his word was way too long!

The audience was very enthusiastic in their applause and would continue to be so each time Naadha Rasa performed. The people as a whole were very diverse coming from a mix of cultures, yet becoming one as they listened with their hearts- I will never tire of being able to see this particular phenomena wherever/whenever music is shared- it truly is the common denominator of Universal love and acceptance.

Everyone went their various ways to find delicious lunch items along with looking at all the wares being offered in the many gift booths. I always find a few choice items for family members’ upcoming birthdays knowing that they will be unique and appreciated. Whenever I go past the Indian food concession I have to smile as I am so completely spoiled by the down home Indian meals I’ve been privileged to attend over the years of my acquaintance with the Naadha Rasa family! Somehow the fast food booth just doesn't cut it for me. {{laughing}}

The 12:30 performance was back at the Bazaar stage beginning with the raga Kedaragoulai and Carnatic singing- the music was lively and engaging with Sriram and Balaji adding their energies. This in turn went into the debut of the composition by Veena Seshanada: Sanjuruthi Swarajathi with Nirmala improvising a contemplative piece capturing the feel of the audience and event. Vocals joined in along with the veena musicians and Joe adding their parts to what Nirmala had begun. The music slowed towards a point giving the impression of ending when Nirmala then amped up the rhythm to an exciting and resounding finale! The overall sound was joyful and professional which added to the exotic visual appeal, therefore totally giving the rasika’s their money’s worth of admission.

Once again the performers spread out with promises to meet up at 2:30 on the side of the Main Stage. This stage was set up with the usual vague European backdrop draped with red and yellow silks, festooned once again with the tiny white fairy lights. Samskrit played and danced to Ukraine music and when the performers walked past us, Sam told the upright bass player how much he loved their music. Kamalakar and Indira were very kind and offered a home -made savory treat which we happily accepted- very delicious!

When Naadha Rasa took the stage, Sam and I had a perfect viewing spot on the floor directly in front. The opening piece was in the raga Maand- It is a Spring melody and was now the first time being performed as an ensemble. Nirmala told the audience that she had written this song when she was around the age of 12 or 13 and then proceeded to play her veena. Sunlight was shining on Naadha Rasa through a skylight brightening up the entire space. Balaji and Sriram joined Nirmala after a time and the others on stage kept tala until the vocalists came in on cue. Overall it was a happy melody spiked with intriguing percussion effects ranging from quietly calm to highly intense.

Naadha Rasa concluded with a Karnataka composition- Raga: Sanjayathi. The entire group performed this from the start and then showcased with an intense middle part starring Nirmala, Sriram and Balaji. The piece ended with aplomb to vigorous clapping and whistling. I turned to Sam and asked him how that song made him feel. He gave the idea some consideration and replied, “I’m the King, you’re the Minister and they are performing for ME!!!! That is how it made me feel!”
Well done Sam!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

CELEBRATING A BRAND NEW YEAR OF MUSICAL EVENTS!

While the United States was blanketed in snow and frigid air, Nirmala was part of the warmth happening in Southern India. The annual December Music Festival Season 2009 was underway and Nirmala performed in various venues (Chennai, Bangalore Mysore, Tanjore, and Thiruvaiyaru) garnering positive reviews.

Every now and then we got snippets of information via email regarding some of the events. Here are some of the links for those of you reading who didn’t receive the emails: You may have to copy/paste into browser address bar.

www.chennaidecemberseason.com.

http://epaper.sakshi.com/epaper.aspx (Shrini and Ramakrishnan played with Nirmala)

There was a review in a Telegu newspaper in Chennai (eenadu) where Ravi and Sriram played with Nirmala and Shrini accompanied them maintaining thalam. Unfortunately I do not have that particular link as it arrived in a pdf format only.

Nirmala said to check out Youtube:

“Thyagarja aradhana 2010” for the seven segments of the Pancharathnam singing
and also go to:

http://www.musicacademymadras.in/photos.php
(selecting December 28th for some photographs)

The most recent email from Nirmala relates she is home, rested from her travels abroad and is ready to resume Naadha Rasa classes. If the response is enough to merit, Naadha Rasa may be performing Mathe on January 23rd for the Basant Panchami celebrations/Saraswathi puja at the Hindu Mandir in Maple Grove, MN.

A very Happy 2010 to all and may your lives be enriched with overwhelming blessings on every level!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Songs From the Cave of the Heart

Saturday, November 14, 2009. The day of the Aradhana had finally arrived. Previous to this, Naadha Rasa students had been studying for months, learning new songs and adding a special veena performance to the event. Hours beyond count in class and at home had been spent by each student as they honed the notes to perfection with total dedication, sweat and yes- anxiety.

I added the word anxiety as Nirmala’s students love her and wish above all to make her proud and please her with every Naadha Rasa performance; therefore some anxiety is normal. I can speak for Steve as I lived with every hour he spent practicing… listened to him sing, stop, start again until I felt I knew the songs and could get up and sing with the group if necessary! I felt his anguish when he wondered if he’d ever commit certain parts to flawless memory- to get each inflection of gamaka correct. If this was my experience, then I imagine you could multiply it by each team member and the families who encouragingly stood on the sidelines with their loved one(s).

Steve woke up on Friday with a sore throat and found he was unable to hit the necessary notes. He steamed his head and rested for the better part of the day hoping for the best on Saturday. Friday evening he picked me up from work in Eden Prairie and we went straight to the Mandir for a group rehearsal. We walked upstairs and made our offerings and prayers to the Deities…first to Ganesh for assistance in assuring a stirring performance and then to Saraswathi for her blessing on the event.

Nirmala met the group in a classroom; listened to them sing, afterward speaking with each individual about their part and what they could do to focus upon for improvement. As always, she told the class to sit with spines straight and keep a smile on their faces. She encouraged them not to be intimidated by the group coming from Chicago to participate in the Aradhana. (The group would be here in Minneapolis for the first time carrying with them a high reputation for excellence) Rehearsal continued and then the class dissembled to go home and prepare for early arrival on Saturday morning.

Steve woke up Saturday morning with no voice whatsoever, feeling heartsick with disappointment. He steamed his head and worked on doing gentle voice warm-ups to little avail but soldiered on regardless. I felt compassion for Steve but was excited for many reasons - one being that I was finally able to wear the new gorgeous salvar kameeze given to me previously by Indira and Kamlakar! The day started out mild as we drove to the Mandir; the sun was out and the skies were blue, all making for an auspicious beginning.

We arrived at the Mandir close to scheduled agreement and the group gathered for a quick rehearsal. When it came time to set up the amps for the veena performance, there was a problem with power outlets and an amp but the situation was ironed out with the able help of sound men Joy and Stephen. (Joy and Stephen were there as IMSOM was the sponsor for this final event of the music season) IMSOM was a presence at the Mandir in hopes of membership for the 2010 season ahead so Nirmala encouraged all Naadha Rasa members to sign up and give support to our local Indian music community.

The MCs for the morning portion of the Aradhana were Shruthi N., Mahati and Ganesh. Each young person did a fine job but I have to give special kudos to Shruthi as she was (in my opinion) flawless in the pronunciation of each name/composition, etc. without hesitation. She comported herself in a manner much as someone with years of experience speaking and relating with large audiences.

The program began with Sandhya and Rohith performing a duet for the songs Valachi and Namasthe Paradevathe. Valachi’s composer is Patnam Submanya Iyer, Ragam: Navaragama Lika in Thalam: Adi. Namasthe Paradevathe’s composer is Muthuswamy Dikshirar, Ragam: Devaranji, Thalam: Rupakam. It is a special honor to begin an event and these young people rose to the occasion with flying colors. It was satisfying to hear them sing so confident, to see them smile and appear without nerves. Later, I found from speaking to their parents that the two of them had practiced hours together over Skype-the dedication they gave to study was apparent to all present! I really loved the attention detail to fashion sensibility- both performers were attired in complementary shades of oranges and cream which presented a perfect visual.

Ganesh’s vocals were strong and I heard a maturing of his abilities from the last time I had attended one of his performances…he brims with promise and is headed for greatness if he continues studies and practice. Priya did an outstanding solo of Krishna Mukunda Murare and you would never have guessed this young lady used to be so shy! Mahati’s vocals were beautiful and moving as were those of Shruthi R. Both young women offered songs showcasing their individual talents and I felt extremely proud of them. Shruthi’s choice of song was very different, challenging and fascinating as to the structure involved- I’ve not heard this composition before and was enthralled. The song was Dokakuna, composer Thyagaraja, Ragam: Bilahari, Talam: Adi.

The Naadha Rasa ensemble performed Mathe and Shobhane delivering and charming to great applause. Steve could not sing anything but the lowest notes, however, he looked straight ahead speak/singing all the words perfectly as his practice had paid off regardless of illness. Congratulations to Rohith, Priya, Shantha, Joe, Shreya, Mahati, Sandhya, Shruthi, SriVidhya, Poornima, Sruthi S., Steve and Pratap!!! Overall, Naadha Rasa delivered best efforts and unified frame of mind as they sang with great fidelity and joy, marked by passion, verve and self-confidence.

It was enjoyable listening to the line-up of young Chicago musicians presenting for this event and fun to see their young mridangam artist accompany each performance. With the showcased talent rendered, it was made evident they also have a gifted guru in charge.

A special mention of one Chicago performer who touched my heart - a 14 year old singer named Hari Ravi who had me in tears at one point with the immense emotion he conveyed in his solo selection of Sri Krishnam Bhajamanasa, composer Dikshitar, Ragam: Thodi, Thalam: Adi. I sincerely believe the young man will be an unmistakable talent, promise and potential force in the Carnatic field if he continues this path in life. I spoke with his father during a lull between songs and he told me Hari has been singing since he was a small boy.

Seated in the auditorium the scent of delicious food being prepared in the kitchen wafted our way so we took time to run over and satisfy our hunger and hush our growling stomachs. When we were in the common dining hall we laughed for some time with Sriram Pidaparti who gets great pleasure relentlessly teasing me (in a good way!) It is an honor to have a resident composer in our midst - Sriram is a composer with many songs, one of which is our temple mangalam Sri Ganeshaaya.

We were delighted to discover that some friends we had invited earlier in the week were already in the dining hall and looking forward to hearing the music. Many times people promise they will come and for one reason or the other never seem to make it. Seeing Jay and Swathi with their beautiful kids added some additional ‘heart’ to our day!

Winding up the end of the morning’s presentations, the Naadha Rasa veena ensemble invigorated the audience as they performed Shakthi Sahita. The veena peformers were Steve, Shreya and Sruti S. with Joe assisting on guitar. The performers played fluently; sang their parts with zest and the result was loudly applauded by the audience. It took hours of intense study/devotion for the group to present so beautifully and they deserve acknowledgment for their efforts. At this time I’d like to make mention and give thanks to Padma for her role as adjutant- Nirmala’s go-to person for Naadha Rasa. Nirmala always manages to find a capable, competent woman to interface with her and the class and Padma radiated an aura of calm as she kept an eye on the stage and performers, checking to see where she might best offer assistance. Her presence and knowledge is greatly appreciated by all.

It would be doing a disservice if I neglected to mention our esteemed Sriram Natarajan and the delightful grooves he provided with his mridangam whilst accompanying Naadha Rasa and later with our other esteemed rhythm master Balaji Chandran for the large group performance in the afternoon. Nirmala, who possesses that rare combination of popularity and stature, was lead vocalist and produced emotional hues of vocal and lyrical beauty as always. The group of vocalists that made the ensemble complete lent considerable talent individually and collectively- Big kudos to Mythili, Pallavi, Prabha, Roshini, Sudha, Mahati, Bharthi, Shruthi, Ganesh, Veena and Shanti with special thanks to Padmanaghan Govindan on violin.

When our time at the Mandir came to a close, we were tired yet filled with a certain serenity which stayed with us driving home, throughout the evening and into Sunday.


Krishna Guha: November 25th, 2009

The Krishna Guha was originally planned to be held at the home of Pratap and Prema Mysore, who had graciously intended to host the event but the RSVP response was so overwhelming they had to move it to the Hindu Mandir in order to accommodate the scheduled dinner/ music concert.

In Sanskrit the meaning of Guha is a secret place (cave) in the heart- smaller than the smallest yet greater than the vastest spaces… it is the place where we find our true Self and in which we discover ourselves in the Divine. When one is “connected,” one’s inner peace/work is created in this Guha. On a personal level I understand this concept well, but have never before known a word given to describe it... this is the place I go when life becomes overwhelming, when I need to turn over situations I cannot control…where I look for my inner peace and the love of the Universe…a place that allows me to recharge and go on with my life and the inherent challenges it contains.

I left work late afternoon in Eden Prairie, drove home to central Minneapolis, changed clothing, and collected Steve to make our way back west to the Mandir. By the time we left Minneapolis, the air had turned remarkably frigid carried by a strong wind which found its way to every inch of exposed skin. We were concerned that we’d be late as we battled rush hour traffic in pre-Thanksgiving travel mode but upon arriving at the Mandir found that the event was running quite a bit behind schedule, so spent time visiting with Jaya, Shridar and their kids along with Kamalakar, Indira, Prasana from Rochester and other acquaintances.

Shruthi R., Priya and their friends were occupied collecting donations and handing out tickets for the dinner. Young Samskrit Natarajan loves to tease Steve and that night decided to cling to him like a vine. Steve laughingly asked Shruthi if he could trade Sam in exchange for our food ticket but it didn’t fly so we paid our donation and went inside.

There were two featured visiting artistes from India: Tanjore Murugaboopathi on mridangam and Raghavendra Rao on violin. Our own Sriram Natarajan performed on kanjira along with Balaji Chandran on ghatam and Marcus Wise had been invited to lend his talent on tabla. Nirmala Rajasekar with veena was centered like a jewel in the middle of the percussionists, surrounded by a wall of sound. Poornima was put in role of MC for the evening. It sounded like this was her first time performing as MC but she carried on at the appropriate times. She made the announcement that Nirmala will be receiving two prestigious awards at the Chennai Carnatic Music season in December 2009.

Unfortunately, this particular performance was distracting throughout by sound issues and it was evident watching the musicians on stage that they were unhappy with the situation. I will add that this is not the first time the Mandir has had this problem and it is with hope that in future there will be a working, competent sound system put into place.

By my tally, Nirmala did approximately 11 compositions and as Kannan informed me later, most of them were Tamizh in origin- they were in praise of Lords Krishna and Murugan -one of numerous names for Subramanya, son of Shiva and Parvathi. Kannan told me stories of Murugan, patron Diety of Tamil Nadu who is known as “God of War.” Kannan wanted me to understand that Murugan was one for justice and goodness, not war for the sake of war. I so appreciate the friends who relay the back stories/legends of the various Dieties. I’ve done my own research and Steve is extremely versed in Sanskrit lore but there is so much more to absorb and the gift of oral history is one I cherish- Thank you Kannan and others who continue to share these epics!

Everyone in the uncertain times we live in is affected by daily reports of gloom/doom/loss and war. Many have no outlet for their feelings or a place to keep the emotions from festering…if there is no place for expression, the feelings can then turn into despair and illness of body and spirit. Music is a wonderful way to unleash pent up energies and I dare say I witnessed some of that during the performance. Few vainaka use the lowest string to such great advantage and fluidity as Nirmala does as shown during the alapana section of the Ragam Thanam, a Tamil song Ka Va Va. Her fingers told stories open to interpretation through tones, inflections and rhythms- it felt to me as if she released much through her playing that evening.

Steve compared the violin for this section sounding at times like beams of light dancing on water. I found the violinist to be most technically accomplished as he shadowed Nirmala’s veena but was not finding myself moved by him as emotionally as was Steve. In this particular concert, veena aside, I was completely under the spell of the rhythm section. The guys appeared to be having so much fun and I believe I saw the normally very sober faced Marcus Wise actually crack a rare smile during the performance. The drummers took us for an amazing ride in rhythms with vigorous energy, coordination, and force along with continual sound dynamics.

Mentionable highlights of the evening were compositions by Tyagaraja: Samaja Vara Gamana; Ragam: Hindolam. Papanasam Sivan: Senthil Andavan, Ragam: Kharaharapriya and by Sriram Pidaparti. (Sriram as I’ve mentioned many times before is our Mandir composer) It was fascinating to hear an instrumental interpretation of his composition in praise of the presiding Deity of this Mandir: Varadaraja (Vishnu) in the Ragam: Saraswathi.

By the end of the concert people with children long past their bedtimes had already departed for home and the rest of us found our way to the dining hall. The place was freezing; however, the food was hot and delicious and the company was excellent. Steve and I were joined by Ameeta Kelekar, the president of IMSOM, with whom we shared a scintillating conversation. Michelle Kinney dropped by to say hello and later Kannan found his way to our table. Leela came over to see how we were doing and we thanked her for the remarkable work she does with the food preparation for Mandir events. Bless you Leela!!!

Lastly, I wish to thank all the friends and folks who made a point of coming over to me, thanking me for writing the Naadha Rasa blog and telling me how much they enjoyed it and looked forward to reading it. My heart is sweetly touched and I really appreciate all your kindness and generosity of spirit. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Dancing in the Light

Vijaya Dasami- September 28, 2009

On September 28th Steve and I went over to Nirmala’s home to celebrate Navarathi. During conversation with some of the women attending it was explained to me that Navarathi is to be considered a woman’s festival among other things. Navarathi literally means "nine nights." The festival is observed twice a year, once in the beginning of summer and again at the onset of winter. In this case the energy of God is in the female form of Mother Durga- the remover of miseries/shortcomings of life. She is also referred to as "Devi" (goddess) or "Shakti" (energy or power).

The nine days of Navaratri are divided into sets of three days to worship different aspects of the goddess. On the first three days, the Mother is adored as supreme power and force- as Durga the Terrible, the Destroyer. One prays to Mother Durga to destroy all impurities, vices, defects. She is the power that protects your spiritual practice from its many dangers and pitfalls.

Once you have accomplished your task of breaking down unhealthy habits, the next step is to work on and acquire positive qualities in place of the eliminated qualities. Divine (spiritual) qualities have to be acquired and this is where Mother Lakshmi comes in, as one must cultivate and develop all the auspicious qualities. She bestows limitless divine wealth and is the purity aspect of God. Thus the worship of Goddess Lakshmi is performed during the second set of three days.

When one succeeds in removing the undesirable aspects, and develops pure, divine qualities, one becomes ready to receive the light of supreme wisdom and to receive divine knowledge. At this stage comes the devout worship of Mother Saraswathi, who is embodiment of divine knowledge. The music of Her veena awakens Truth and the sacred Om. She bestows knowledge of the Supreme, musical sound and full knowledge of the Self. Therefore, the worship of Saraswathi, the giver of knowledge, is the final three days of the celebration.

The tenth day, Vijaya Dasami, marks the joy /victory of the soul at having attained liberation while living in this world, through the bestowing of knowledge by the Goddess Saraswathi. This was the day we celebrated at Nirmala’s. It was early evening and upon walking into her home we were graced by the scents of feast dishes that had been carefully prepared and set upon a table. Her living room had a large alter comprised of a lifetime collection of deities and dolls, which in front of was placed offerings and flowers- lovely rugs lay on the floor for Naadha Rasa students and the many newcomers who were there to begin their studies under her guidance.

Every year at this festival Nirmala personally gifts the group a new vocal song to learn and sing. This year, as always, her home was overflowing with regulars and newcomers to Naadha Rasa. The song she introduced to them was Mathe; in Kamas ragam, composed by Muttiah Bhagvatar. For Veena students the new Veena composition was by Dikshitar -Namasthe Paradevathe; in the raga Devaranji, Roopak Thalam.

I spent time listening to the singing and having conversation off and on with adults gathered in the kitchen area. The two tiny tots Arjun and Sritan were especially fetching in their outfits. Sritan was in a white dhoti topped by a white sparkly kurta and his pal Arjun was in a fancy burgundy and gold kurta with matching trousers. At one point Kamlakar held both kids so I could quickly snap a few shots to capture the moment. Candice and I sat together basking in each other’s company discussing the meaning of Navarathi, foods we enjoy, along with clothing and color choices. I ate early as I had come straight from work and was starving- many people brought food to share ranging from lentil/ rice dishes, cucumber yogurt to deserts and every single offering was absolutely delicious. Home cooking and the love that goes into it beats any local restaurants hands down!

Raj, Ram and I had a conversation regarding the future of education, discussing the idea of physical colleges becoming redundant as everything will most likely be web-based, thus making college a more affordable proposition for the majority. We talked about the pros and cons of this happening along with discussion of our present economy and job situations. Joe walked in on the college discussion and agreed with my stance that education as we currently know it will be undergoing some major changes in the not so distant future.

Towards the end of the evening Nirmala blessed all her students and some associates with kumkum and gifts. To my great surprise she called my name, blessed me for working on this blog and gave me a gift from herself combined with an unbelievably lovely salvar kameeze in all my favorite colors (turquoise, brown-gold greens studded with tiny sparkling mirrors) from Kamlakar and his family. I felt extremely honored and had to compose myself so as not to cry in front of the group. I feel completely blessed to have the Naadha Rasa family in my life and to share the holidays and festivals, the music and visits to the Mandir- to share the joy in watching the students grow and taking delight in their accomplishments. Thank you Thank you Thank you!!!! All Blessings to the Naadha Rasa family and friends and the new endeavors in each one’s lives.


September 27, 2009

Steve and I missed Nirmala’s concert at the Cedar Cultural Center as he had some recording commitments to attend to. Later in the early afternoon we went to St. Paul and joined Nirmala’s husband Raj at the viewing and visitation for Shivanthi’s father M. Sathanandan. It was a very sad event- he was deeply loved and admired by all, which was in evidence as we saw many friends and familiar faces from the Mandir in attendance. It was our first experience with a Hindu visitation ceremony and I found the placing of flowers on the body to be a meaningful and beautiful aspect of honoring the body of the soul who has transitioned from this life to the next.


September 26 (Hindu Mandir)

This is the date for the 2009 Saraswathi Pooja at the Hindu Mandir. On previous years for this festival marking the end of Navarthi, the Sathanandan family- as sponsors for Saraswathi -would have been present hosting the event for devotees. With the unexpected passing of Mr. Sathanandan, the family requested Nirmala, Raj and Shruthi to take over the duties of sponsor. Nirmala was already booked to play for this event so she made arrangements to shift timings a bit in order to be present for the entire Pooja.

Steve and I came early to make our rounds with the Dieties and ran into Candice, Ram, Sandhya and Arjun who invited us to be part of their family Abhishekam with Vishnu. One of our favorite priests was doing the ceremony so it made the intimate gathering and blessings all the more special. Earlier, Steve had purchased a pooja offering for Saraswathi and we in turn invited Ram and family to be part of our Abhishekam Archana.

We listened as Anu Krishnan performed a lovely ragamalika leading into the event and then we sat on the floor with fellow devotees and watched as the priests took our collected money gifts from the slotted silver tray and poured water though the tray over the small Deity of Saraswathi which sat before the Saraswathi mini-temple. The representation of our offerings mingled with the energy of water was a beautiful thing to contemplate. Milk, orange juice, rosewater, fire, incense, bananas, bells and flowers in shades of peach, white, yellow, pink and orange was offered during the ceremony while the priests sang and chanted.

Nirmala appeared in the Mandir dressed in a beautiful sari of tangerine-orange with gold and burgundy trim. She, Sriram and Balaji set up their area in front of the Diety and Steve helped with some sound and cord hookups. A tiny little Bharatanatyam dancer in gold and dark periwinkle colored attire performed a new dance she had recently learned for Saraswathi and several elders took turns singing songs. When these folks finished it was time for Nirmala to begin her concert.

She began by saying what a great privilege it was for her to play for this occasion and then dedicated her veena and performance to Saraswathi. During the course of the evening she performed at least seven full compositions to much applause. She mentioned her Guru Kalpagam’s August birthday of 88 years and how she was a woman who GAVE rather than being concerned with receiving. Kalpagam gave Nirmala a new song this year when Nirmala was in Chennai- Saraswathye Bhagevathye Samrakshyoham; Raga- Chaya Gowla, composer Dikshitar. The sahityam say to Saraswathi “You are in every raga.” The feel of this piece of music was ancient and hypnotic as Nirmala’s intuitive talent lifted the souls of those listening to a higher plane in accordance with the devotional aspect of the event. In several of the selections she kept her rhythm section very busy and they performed aptly to much audience appreciation. It was heartwarming to watch the priests sitting over to the side with beaming smiles on their faces, leading me to feel that this must have been a welcome highlight of their Navarathi experience.

Beyond the range of the usual human emotions lies the emotion of peace and serenity. ”Shantha Rasa” represents complete harmony among mind, body and the universe. This is a state where the mind is in rest, a state of tranquility. It was in this state at the end of the evening that we walked out the doors of the Mandir and headed for home.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

In this Time of Passing....

September 23, 2009

Today we just got word that Mr. Sathanandan, the father of a dear friend and a supporter of Naadha Rasa unexpectedly passed on from this world. Shivanthi Sathanandan and her family are Mandir sponsors of Saraswathi and have in the past invited Nirmala and Steve to play veena for different events. Steve felt it such an honor to meet Mr. and Mrs. Sathanandan and have them invite him to play veena for 2008 Saraswathi Pooja. Nirmala will be playing there this Saturday for the 2009 Saraswathi Pooja.

As Pavan wrote in his email to all of us at IMSOM:

Our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Sathanandan's family and loved
ones and we ask you to keep their family in your prayers during this
difficult time as well.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Summer Falls into Autumn~

Well- Labor Day has come and gone and once again I am a bit late in my posting! People are trying to tell me summer is over and to get ready for winter but being the eternal optimist I refuse to listen and keep taking each lovely day as it unfolds. It feels wonderful to arrive home after work and see all the butterflies and bees busy in my flower garden. The zinnias I planted in spring are blooming in varying shades of red, yellow, peach, pink and white so the yard is a riot of color. The day temperatures are still in the 70s and 80s which is the same as when we attended the Ganesh Chaturthi on weekend of August 22- 23rd.

It was really fun to go to the Mandir and see our friend Kamlakar sitting on the floor making small “Eco-friendly” Ganesh statutes from the Mandir pond mud. He and another gentleman were using a common mold from which the statues were stamped- when the image was produced, Kamlakar took mesh bags filled with rice flour, turmeric and kumkum powder and lightly dusted the statues. The statues were being created in preparation for the weekend celebration and were freely given to each family who attended- a small temple donation was suggested and everyone appeared happy to contribute.

If you should like to see photos of Kamlakar as he worked using this process please go to http://www.hindumandirmn.org/MediaGallery/tabid/59/Default.aspx (copy/ paste link to your browser) and look for the Ganesh Chaturthi event. There are many fantastic photographs and slide shows on this page taken by the very able and talented Baskar Gopalan who is the Mandir’s official photographer. Many thanks to him for his dedicated energies in making our memories available to us in this easy to visit format!

I would further like to make mention that Kamlakar grew many Tulsi seeds into plants and sold them to raise money for the Mandir- he reports that this fund-raising was quite successful. This is what it takes- a tiny seed (idea) that produces a plant (in this case Tulsi) which then bears fruit (money for a good cause) once again keeping in the vein of my Garden analogy!

Steve and I attended early morning poojas and took part in the exciting and colorful parade around the Mandir- Ganesh statues of all sizes were carried and men with fancy sticks drummed rhythm while people shouted, sang and danced. Very exhilarating indeed! Steve wore a dhoti and was one of the very few in doing so therefore we decided he could do a shout-out for the South Indian Ganesh lovers amid the considerable North Indian crowd. (Smile)

On Saturday, August 29th Naadha Rasa met for lessons in the morning at Nirmala’s home and we welcomed her and Shruthi back from their recent jaunt to India. Nirmala looked fantastic but informed us she was actually severely jet-lagged and working hard to recover as she needed to teach class and then immediately after go attend the Mahadevan concert at the Mandir.

She gave the class some updates on future lessons and events and then proceeded to give the following analogy which falls into- (you guessed it!) my garden theme:

· It (music) is all about practicing- keep listening and keep practicing. Practice and listening=Skill. Commitment comes from within and is an internal process.

· Studying vocal music is like a KITCHEN GARDEN- you till the land of weeds (keep your throat healthy and clean)

· Put up a little fence to keep out hungry bunnies (take care of your vocal cords)

· Go to the market and find your seeds (look for a vocal teacher)

· Plant, water and fertilize (Practice Practice Practice)

· Weed some more (do not neglect lessons and Focus)

· Sunshine and rain (Attend and listen to concerts-let other influences come in to help you grow)

· Harvest the fruits of your labor (Your vocal ability improves and Practice pays off!)

Shruthi was given the great opportunity to sing in front of an audience in India with Nirmala playing veena- the venue was held at the Rama Krishna Matt in Chennai. The attendees were musical pundits (among which present was Swamiji -the President of all the Matts "spiritual retreats" in India) who listened carefully and after the concert let her know how much they enjoyed it and encouraged her to keep practicing. (Words of Wisdom from the Elders)

Nirmala encouraged the class to “sing with their hearts” and that it is “always about the raga”- to plunge in with blind faith and let the music come through. She went on further to say that to succeed it takes three things:

Faith in God
Honesty
Hope in Self


Adding a bit of humor she told the class that when she is invited elsewhere to teach she has the students play “air veena” which made the kids (and especially the guitar players) in Naadha Rasa laugh loudly.

While the lessons were given I spent some time in the kitchen catching up with Raj as he is usually much occupied with work and business- it was lovely to see him and we spoke for some time on the devastation of the Minneapolis tornado and of his son Neeraj newly enrolled in first year of college. After Nirmala’s class was over Steve and I gave her and Shruthi a ride to the Mandir so we could attend a Carnatic vocal concert by Professor S. Mahadevan.

The Professor is a vocal classmate from Nirmala’s formative years and it was easy to see the relationship in their personal styles. Ganesh R., a former Naadha Rasa student was the MC for the concert and he admitted beforehand that he was nervous about having been given the privilege to speak. Sriram and Balaji along with violinist Swaminathan Nadarajan were the musical accompaniment for Mahadevan’s concert. The concert led off with an invocation to Ganesh and went forward for several hours. Mahadevan was completely engaging with the audience- smiling from the heart, using his body to emphasize tala and singing with a vocal timbre that was pleasing to the senses. Balaji and Sriram provided just the right amount of light rhythm in spaces allowing the vocals to dominate with violin shadowing.

During the concert there were multiple sound problems but Mahadevan was a true pro (like Nirmala) and kept on singing throughout. As I stated above, it is really easy to see that he and Nirmala come from the same training background. I’ve observed her in similar situations watching her handle challenging situations moment by moment with grace, ease and a constant smile. I also observed how both performers carry the music within their bodies and let it come through with expressive movement rather than sitting like a statue for the length of a performance- absolutely delightful! Nirmala and Mahadevan were so fortunate to share such a marvelous teacher and we are fortunate to now have them in our world passing on the zeal, passion and knowledge!

After the concert Steve and I went upstairs to quietly visit the deities and then left for home. Steve immediately went to his lessons and began practicing. Practice Practice Practice


September 12, 2009 at Hosmer Library in Minneapolis, MN


Nirmala has been holding classes for upcoming Naadha Rasa events, encouraging those attending to really practice in order to be prepared when the dates arrive. She has a veena performance today being held at Hosmer Library from 2-4 p.m. Sriram and Balaji will be accompanying her as usual and the place will no doubt be packed as they are a very popular item with that particular kutcheri. She prefaced this gig with a KFAI in-studio performance last Sunday morning on Dan Rein’s show Century Song.

Later that day.....
Saturday’s event was a true concert pleasure. Roy (Head Librarian at Hosmer Library) introduced Nirmala by saying she paints music with color and transports audiences to South India through her veena.


Nirmala welcomed the very diverse audience by telling everyone that in India (this very day) there is being held an event honoring the Veena. (the Viswa Veena Yagna) In her own way with this performance at Hosmer you might say she was a conduit in bringing the Spirit of the Indian veena celebration here to a cozy library in Minnesota. (Smile)

She opened the concert with a 2nd Century Varnam called Nata Korinji. This Varnam is unique in that it combines literature and musical notes together. As she played I noticed two young Hispanic brothers in the audience attempting to play “air veena” which made me smile thinking of what Nirmala had just told the class the other day about that very thing. She played a beautiful raga where the devotee asks Shiva where and what to do regarding his life path and then says to the god- “Without you I am nothing.” Nirmala played her set with a judicious blend of fast and slow phrases, all with consummate ease. Her faithful rhythm men Sriram and Balaji gave the audience a taste of their drumming “duels” bringing the concert to a rousing finish!


September 13, 2009 India Fest 2009


India Fest 2009 started with the unfolding of the American and Indian flags in the tranquil lovely setting of Lake Phalen in St. Paul, MN. Naadha Rasa was chosen as the opening act and they began their set around 12:30 to a rather sparse crowd. The day was sweltering and jokes were made that it felt as if MN got a taste of what India was like on a normal day. As a result, many of the people there opted to stay in the shade of trees or in the comfort of the Park Pavilion overlooking the music stage below.


We (the rasikas) sat on blankets under a tree close to the stage- it was fun chatting with Kamlakar, Indira, Ram and Candace and watching little Shritan running around with Arjun. Sudhagar joined us on the blankets while Shantha sang on stage and we discussed Indian temples and clothing stores before and after the Naadha Rasa performance. Samskrit N. entertained us with his ideas on art and how drawn he is to Pablo Picasso’s Blue Period…pretty good for a kid in first grade! Candace brought up some very thoughtful ideas on how to bring in financial help for Naadha Rasa which was tabled to be discussed in the future.

Nirmala opened the set with Vande Ma Terum and encouraged the audience to sing with her. The second song was Parukulle, the third song was Krishna Mukunda Murare and the fourth was Shanti Nilava Vendum.

Shalini Thadani, the MC of the event, complimented Steve on his introduction for Shanti Nilava Vendum and how he pronounced all the words with an ease that she would have feared taking on! I will add that I was very proud of how confident he appeared and sounded and that his vocals are also coming across stronger each time Naadha Rasa performs. He spends many hours in practice with both singing and playing veena and it is really showing.

As the day progressed the crowd swelled and the performers didn’t disappoint- many of the acts were in the nature of dance and we were treated to two inspiring performances by Sriram N.’s wife Suchitra and her troupe. It was wonderful to see the traditional folk dress of the different Indian states and how the dances varied. We had some food and did a bit of people watching- many park regulars stopped from their walks and biking to take in the festivities and thus hopefully enhanced their otherwise normal routine! Steve and I left in time to make it to St. Kate’s to take in an amazing IMSOM Hindustani flute concert. We didn’t make it to the end as I was pretty exhausted and had to get up early for work the next morning. All in all- a fantastic way to spend time on a glorious September day.



September 20, 2009 VSA Arts of MN Autumn Auction and Cabaret at OM in downtown Mpls.


Another fantastic day for a Naadha Rasa event- everyone met at the new OM restaurant at 1:00 p.m. in order to set up for the afternoon’s performance. Nirmala had been asked by the event organizers if she would bring her ensemble to round out the silent auction which was being held to bring in money for physically challenged children- one of the main items auctioned was art work from children in India specifically created for this charity. The food items to be offered later were being prepared by Nirmala’s friend and the OM’s most revered chef –Mumbai native Raghavan Iyer. (He is a certified Culinary Professional and member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals)

OM restaurant is brand new and when walking into the place you are immediately struck by the openness and size of the building. There is an airy first level (where hand painting was being offered for today’s event) and a wrought iron staircase with wood floors leading downstairs to a very large, hugely pillared, marble floored room complete with water feature. The water feature was richly tiled and filled with floating candles- hanging directly above was an enormous 15’ crystal chandelier which sent light glinting off in all directions.


Naadha Rasa had a platform set up next to the water in order to give a perfect view to everyone in the room. The wall to ceiling windows upstairs could be seen from below and were covered in three shades of light silks- gold, dark pink and blue. The dining areas were set apart with sheer gathered curtains of silk with objects/statues relating to India set in various places of viewing interest.

The performers accompanying Nirmala for this prestigious affair were Sriram N., Balaji, Steve, Shruthi, Priya, Sandhya, and Joe. Kamlakar, Shritan, Ram and I were the Naadha Rasa support team for this occasion. Little Shritan’s behavior was good as gold- he was all dressed up in a tiny boy’s dhoti, shirt and scarf and paid careful attention to all the large people moving around in his world! The girls were wearing the proper bling for the occasion, sparkling as brightly as the chandelier overhead.

Before the music got underway there was food and drink being served by gracious waitpersons grandly decked out in black garb. A very nice guy named Blayne saw to it that Steve and Nirmala had food saved for when they were done performing as neither one eats before a gig. The menu was delightful- hors d'oeuvres of “Mumbai crackers” and coconut shrimp- dishes of Tandoori chicken kabob, a fantastic vegetable tray with chutneys and curries, Aloo Tika, Methi lamb chops and hot naan bread.

Craig Dunn, the event organizer- along with MC RicK, kept the timings in place and when 3:00 rolled around Naadha Rasa took the stage. Naadha Rasa opened with Krishna Mukunda Murare and Nirmala then went into an introduction for an 18th Century composition in a 5 note raga called Amirtha Varshini. Nirmala explained that compositions come with different colors represented by the artist performing the piece. She then proceeded to shower the audience with her particular beautiful color on the veena and was met with applause- Balaji and Sriram gave the audience a treat with their trademark “drumming duel” which was rigorous enough to bring a pair of blind women forward... where they then happpily moved to the beat with enormous smiles on their faces. Nirmala closed with a Gujarati composition by Narsing Mehta titled Vaishnav Jan- she explained it was Gandhi’s favorite song- the theme salutes everyone helping one’s fellow beings to get on in the world. The audience loved this, applauding and whistling when Naadha Rasa finished the song and ended their performance.

Afterwards the silent auction was held- Nirmala bid on some cookies for the group but failed to win. She was finally able to take a breath, mingle, relax and have some food before leaving for her next appointment of the evening. Naadha Rasa people met outdoors, chatted a bit and said our so-longs as all headed for home, breathing in the warm breeze, feeling the low autumn light on our heads. We got home and were met by the sight of a small black squirrel munching on the sunflowers blooming in our backyard garden. Another shared day of perfect Grace.






Sunday, July 19, 2009

RAJA GOPURAM MAHOTSAV: BELIEVE IN ORDER TO ACHIEVE

I’m a bit late with this update to the Naadha Rasa blog. For some time it has been feeling to me as if there aren’t enough hours in the day to fit all the things together that I wish to accomplish and when I let the momentum of that thinking take over, much falls by the wayside. It is now the middle of July and I’m finally getting my thoughts together, reflecting upon a phenomenal experience that I along with many others was so privileged to be a part of.

The Hindu Mandir commemorated the completion of the Temple construction on the weekend of June 26th-28th, naming it the Celebration of the Divine Gateway. It was an occasion which drew people from all over the United States, Canada and as far away as India in order to come together to witness a once in a lifetime event.

A bit of history (as written by Shashikant M. Sane, MD and paraphrased by me) is in order to understand the significance of this particular Mandir. It existed in dreamtime 30 years ago and was birthed into solid reality with ground breaking ceremony in 2003. The land was carefully purchased and the Mandir was constructed according to principles laid down in VAASTUSHASTRA under artistic direction from Padmashree Muthiah Sthapathy. In order to harness the maximum amounts of Cosmic Energy the temple was placed at the highest elevation on the land with the adjacent land sloping east and to the north where the fresh water reservoirs and water brooks are located. The central Deity of Sri Varadaraja faces east and the rays of the rising sun stream through the main doors shining brightly on his face during the summer months. The initial groundbreaking ceremony took place according to the principles of Vedic Astrology using the appropriate rising star constellations (Nakshatras) for the main Deity Varadaraja Vishnu, the city of Maple Grove and the Hindu Society of MN.

The mini-temples housed within the Mandir contain Deities which have been sanctified by the aforementioned waters and brought to life through the Praanpratishthaa Mantras and continuous services called Mandala Abhisheka- they are then able to exhibit the Eternal Divine Glory and bless devotees in perpetuity. The temple structurally represents the various parts of the human body and is spiritually integrated such that the entire temple becomes a living organism worthy of worship. The central Vigraha/Sculpture in each temple represents its Heart and Soul which is none different than the same Supreme Divinity called Brahman. The final piece to the Mandir came about with the completion of the Gopuram (tower).

I arranged to leave work early on Friday so as to attend some of the opening events- I had brought a favorite salvar kameeze to change into before departing and my female co-workers gathered around to exclaim over the colors and fabric- my bindi was of great interest as well! (Smile) On our drive, Steve and I exclaimed over the brightness of the blue skies, reveling in the moderate heat of a long anticipated summer. We got to the temple, threw our shoes in the coatroom and headed upstairs to be part of a pooja in the central area, chants and bells invoking Sri Ganesh and Sri Vishwaksena to eliminate obstacles and bestow auspiciousness. The floor was covered with blue and gold cloths, laden with offerings of fruit, coconuts and brilliant flowers, surrounded on each side by a good attendance of devotees. A man next to me introduced himself as a Hindu from Afghanistan (for the most part a Muslim country) who worshiped only Krishna, telling me he liked to keep it simple by worshiping one god. The priests and congregation offered prayers to Vishnu and then walked about to each mini temple offering up prayers to each Deity.

***At this point I want to interject with a HUGE THANKS to the gracious and lovely Leela for pulling rank and getting the kitchen opened a bit early so we could have a much needed meal- neither Steve nor I had eaten anything substantial during the day so we had to get our energy back on point for the remainder of the evening.

After some delicious food we spent time in the Yaaga Shaala- priests chanting/ringing bells while we gathered around sacred fires absorbing the energies. After the poojas had been completed the priests then led a procession around the temple blessing the completed Gopuram. We walked back into the temple and suddenly saw Nirmala’s parents, Chandra and Ram who were here visiting from India. It was delightful to see them again and feel how excited they were in anticipation for the Naadha Rasa concert which was to take place in the upper temple later in the evening.

We walked about and some of the people we immediately came upon were: Balaji & family, Sriram N. & family, Jaya & family, Sandhaya & family, Venkat & family, Kamalakar & family, Ganesh along with Mahati and Ram and our friends Pavan and Pooja. There was many more Naadha Rasa “family” who showed during the evening which made it feel like a true fellowship of Spirit. Please don’t feel left out if I’ve missed any names as I was feeling a tsunami of emotions and wasn’t able to catalogue everyone and everything. I love to write but must also be able to be part of the experience I find myself in and that’s when pen and paper gets put aside!

There were two musical offerings on Friday evening- one was Nirmala presenting Carnatic Indian music and the other was Pooja, Pavan and their ensemble presenting North Indian music. Nirmala was grandly introduced as a world famous artiste with references to her performance at Carnegie Hall and places of note around the globe. She was dressed in a purple/gold sari with pink & white roses in her hair sitting in the center stage in a pool of ambient light coming from the skylight above. Shruthi and Mahati sat directly behind Nirmala keeping tala. Both young women were radiant additions with Shruthi dressed in complimentary shadings of blue with deep pink roses in her hair and Mahati in a very becoming red and cream combination. Balaji and Sriram sat on either side of Nirmala appearing like solid musical bookends!

I sat on the floor in front of the stage next to a woman with whom I’d had a previous conversation. She introduced herself as Suma, sharing with me a gorgeous scrapbook she had put together of previous Mandir events and we spent time poring over pictures before the concert got underway. Jaya was close at hand as well with an obvious cell phone pointing in the direction of the stage. I inquired if it was Srini sitting in India on the other end and she laughed saying "yes." We all miss him a lot and when he joins us via phone it makes the distance between us more bearable. Those are the times we remember to thank the God/ess of technology! (Smile)

Nirmala began by greeting the large audience with a brilliant smile along with a few words of welcoming/invocation to Ganesha and then led off with her veena exploring an 8th Century composition in ragamalika (garland of ragas). She proceeded to then perform approximately eight compositions ranging from Purandara Dasa (Grandfather of Carnatic music) and Tyagaraja to a North Indian bhajan for Krishna. Among the concert highlights was a beautiful alapana which included quotes from a variety of some of Nirmala’s favorite songs. At one point in a song for Krishna, Nirmala appeared transported while singing “how beautiful the mind can be” spontaneously executing gripping and elegant notes with her veena, punctuated with gorgeous vocals pleading and cajoling her love for the Deity. Another surprise was the joy of hearing a recently discovered Tamil song from text manuscript dating back to 7953 B.C. by Sri Chakra Raja Simhasaneswani. The melody was haunting and gripping... conveying the timeless magic that is music. Nirmala’s virtuosity and ability to give expression to any composition is definitely her trademark in this writer’s opinion. The Mridangam and Ghatam added color to the concert with Sriram and Balaji showing their awareness as to what percussive support a veena concert requires. As always, kudos to both of these fine musicians!

Pooja and Pavan with ensemble were next rendering an enchanting program of Hindustani vocals and instrumental arrangements. I cannot say enough about the talent of these highly pleasing accomplished individuals who took the evening to a grand finish.

On Saturday morning we woke up early to pouring rain and made it to the temple around 9:30 in order to locate a close parking space. Steve brought along an expensive white with gold trim dhoti that Shobana had gifted him at the end of our last trip to India. He came with the intent to have Venkat assist him in correctly maneuvering it into place and Venkat rose to the occasion. He arranged the material so handsomely that Steve got accolades off and on during the day from various friends and strangers! We hurried ourselves to the Yaaga Shaala for poojas dedicated to purification of the site and location. We, along with others, sat around the three ritual fires-our bodies bathed in wind and smoke listening to the chanting of a variety of priests. There was one young priest who appeared possessed by a spiritual fervor as he chanted- his intensity was palpable and as consuming as the fire before him. And once again, to my utter delight, there were live Nadhaswaram and Thavil attending the day’s temple rituals, leading and punctuating the chants. We went inside to observe some of the poojas and rituals involving the Murthis. The Murthis had been removed from the pools of water they had been bathing in and were placed upon a covered floor with pillows under their heads in wait for the opening of third eye ritual.

We were decidedly hungry so made the decision to leave and went downstairs to have a deliciously prepared lunch and to visit with friends before Naadha Rasa performed. During that timeframe we had another great adventure which was a once in a lifetime opportunity-most likely never again to be offered/repeated. We had been talking to the lovely Shivanthi Sathanandan who insisted we do the 101 step climb to the top of the Gopuram. Steve and I, Nirmala, Shruthi, Sriram P., Sandhya & Ram walked, singing songs, step by step up a slightly swaying scaffolding until we reached the pinnacle. We surveyed the land surrounding the temple, marveling at the breathtaking beauty, the sun’s warmth and the feel of wind caressing our skin. There were multi-colored flower petals in containers for us to pick up and throw as we individually sent our personal blessings to the event. The feelings of friendship with those of us gathered were magnified ten-fold as we shared this powerful spiritual experience.

The Naadha Rasa singers chosen for the Mandir performance were: Jaya, Steve, SriVidhya, Poornima, Sandhya, Mahati, Nandini, Shruthi, Shanta and Shruti I. Earlier in rehearsal Nirmala gave her pep talk encouraging all to take the Spirit and spread it! She emphasized what a great honor it was to be chosen for the Raja Gopuram Mahotsav….and, as always, "EVERYONE SMILE!!!" She told the girls to spread out the edges of their skirts prettily for stage effect and for Steve to do whatever it took with his dhoti but to "just keep it on!" Ha ha! As for Nirmala, she looked beautiful as always in a pink/goldish green sari trimmed in gold.

Naadha Rasa were arranged on stage with Steve, Jaya, SriVidya and Poornima in the back and front line up presented Sandhya, Mahati, Nandini, Shruthi and Shruti I. The compositions they chose to showcase were Sri Rama Jaya Rama, Krishna Mukunda Murari and Sita Kalyana. The ease and fluency with which they performed was notable and I could see the tireless and intense self-study and effort really paid off when these singers were put to the test. I am very proud of each and every one of you!!! I must also compliment everyone on the way the individual introductions were handled- the only exception being the percussion musicians who were pretending to be shy and reluctant to introduce themselves when offered the mic!!! (Smile)

It is my pleasure to compliment Sriram Pidaparti on Temple Glory, his most recent composition for the Hindu Mandir. He performed it on stage accompanied by Shruthi, Shruti I., Ganesh, Mahati and Nandini to thrilled applause. It is an honor to be a friend of whom I feel is a true resident Temple Composer. It has always been most apparent to me that Sriram offers his devotion, love, soul and heart to the Mandir with each piece he has written. When talking with him he told me he feels the Spirit of the Divine in the musical notes of composition and that the lyrics are of high importance as they attempt to put into words feelings of the Soul in its attempt to join with Spirit.

Later in the afternoon there was time downstairs dedicated to cultural programs and we were implored to attend. One of the performers not to be missed (Sri Siva Chandra) was here for the event from India- he is also the guru of our friend Venkat’s daughter Srilalitha. We found our
seats and had a delightful time watching kids represent the Mandir Deities, others performing the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu including the Kalki avatar who is yet to appear on earth, Bharat Natyam dancers and most especially Sri Siva Chandra dancing on a brass plate showcasing perfection of skill in Nritta (pure dance).

We thought to go home but before leaving I wished to make one last visit to the Yaaga Shaala and found fire poojas being made along with Nadhaswaram. Steve and I decided to stay for the rituals and later went downstairs for dinner. We eventually made it home around 11:00 that evening.

On Sunday we arose early to make it in time for the poojas so arrived at the Mandir by 8:00. It was very sunny and windy- so windy that the ashes from the fires in the Yaaga Shaala blew all over us and the other devotees sitting in the area. Bells and chanting put me in a calm receptive mood, ready in anticipation for the ceremonies yet to occur. We went back into the main temple space and immediately Prema (one of Nirmala’s ex-students) grabbed Steve and told him she wanted to invite him to be part of the procession of the Uthsava Murthis around the outskirts of the temple proper. The Deity he helped carry on his shoulders along with the other men was Sri Dattatreya, a powerful three-headed god, the incarnation of the Hindu Trinity.

I was walking alongside Steve when I heard my name being called, turned around and saw my friends the Damania family who are also Hindu Mandir Saraswati Sponsors. They invited me to help carry Saraswati with them and the others in their group so I became an official participant of the procession. It was a personal privilege which turned an already outstanding morning into an extraordinary blessing. Saraswati is the Deity sacred to Nirmala and to Steve as he is dedicating himself to the study of Veena which is Saraswati's instrument of choice. There was a couple from North Dakota helping to carry and we had a highly pleasing discussion- they are living and working in an area with no Mandir available so this was a very happy event for them to come to and be a part of. I did ask their names but forgot to write down immediately so have to apologize if they read this. I am not the best with name recall but give me a face and I almost always remember if I’ve seen it!

The temple had a black and white cow and a brown calf for the ceremony- at one point the procession halted and the animals were lead up to the Yaaga Shaala where they were showered with flowers and holy water from the priests standing on the top of the temple where we had stood the day before. When the animals were led back to the yard the procession re-started and we took the Murthis up into the temple through the Yaaga Shaala where it had originally begun. People were lined up on each side of us who were carrying the Murthis, coming forward to touch the wooden planks and throwing handfuls of flowers over our heads. I heard a singing voice ringing clear as a bell, greeting the procession with songs as we entered the temple and instantly recognized the voice as belonging to Nirmala. At that moment I felt as if some unearthly and unknown light was illuminating me and all those present sharing the experience. Unforgettable.

We took the Murthis to their proper mini-temples, gave our personal poojas, found our group and then went downstairs for lunch. After eating we went back up to the main temple, took part in Aarathi for all the mini-temples and sat for the ceremonial acknowledgement of Sponsors, Committees, Shilpis and Priests. A shining highlight was Sriram Pidaparthi’s composition Temple Glory sung this time by Sriram, Ganesh, Shruti I. and Nandini after which brought a close to the three day long celebration. Without a doubt this weekend was a momentous occasion in my life with momentous emotions and realizations. I am blessed.

Additional Notes:

I wanted to mention how happy we are to see Ram walking with the cast removed from his foot. It healed perfectly and no need for surgery was required as previously thought. It was also fun to see/talk to all the little Naadha Rasa kids and hear Sam tell me, “ I think my dad played well and best of all, REALLY FAST!” I truly enjoyed observing Neeraj take control of the Mandir tours and hearing how he smoothly incorporated his own bits of lore to the fascinated sightseers. Congrats on being a college man, Neeraj- apply yourself but don’t forget to have fun and joy on a daily basis! It was a pleasure to see Shanta and Sudha, the many Naadha Rasa parents… all that was missing was the physical presence of Srini along with the Three R’s! (Roopa, Raghu and Ruthu) They were certainly with us in Spirit.

On July 18th Steve and I were among those present to honor the Bharatanatyam Arangetram of Srilalitha Akurati at the St. Paul Student Center. She performed in a way that belied her age, giving depth to emotional arenas more given to dancers seasoned with years of living. It was a night of stunning achievement for this bright young dance star. Her skill and dedication to the art is unmistakable and there is no doubt Srilalitha will be a real Presence in whatever endeavor she chooses to undertake in her life. It was a joy to be part of her debut, to see Nirmala, Ram and Sriram P. honored on stage in her group of Gurus and to see her dance to Sriram’s Velasithiva maa gudilo-keertana composition. Our own Sriram Natarajan was one of the four stage musicians for the occasion and he was magnificent with supporting the much defined Bharatanatyam rhythms required. Thank you Venkat and Sujatha for your ongoing inspiration, support and invitation to this auspicious event!