The classical music concert dais poses a lot of challenges to artistes. They are expected to constantly raise the bar. Singing niravals, kalpanaswaras, or a ragam-tanam-pallavi (RTP) with intricate rhythmic patterns are time-tested ways to showcase one’s creativity.
However, those who come to concert halls for sheer enjoyment look for songs that are simple but linger on in the mind and heart. These are the ‘tukkadas’.
The practice of singing the thevaram, divya prabandham or pasuram, which date back to the 7th and 8th centuries, was popular because bhakti dominated the kutcheris and there was no time constraint. Also, the concerts were not confined to halls. As the concert format evolved, these pieces were pushed to the concluding section.
During the 2013 music season, vocalist Kiranavali Vidyasankar, who loves to delve deep into all aspects of compositions, presented a lec-dem on ‘Traditional Tukkadas’. Her presentation included Tyagaraja’s Divyanama and Utsava Sampradaya keerthanas, Annamacharya’s sankeertana, ashtapadi, tarangam, Dasara pada, javalis, kavadi chindu, and more. Did you know that the kavadi chindu ‘Kannan varugindra neram’ was by Oothukkadu Venkatakavi.
Small piece, big impact
But why did these songs with fine aspects of musicality and lyrical beauty come to be known as ‘Tukkadas’, which means small piece in Hindi?
“A small piece doesn’t mean trivial. Tukkadas are as rich and musical as the main numbers in Thodi, Kalyani or Kamboji,” says vocalist Radha Bhaskar, who along with her mridangam artiste-husband Bhaskar runs Mudhra, an organisation to promote classical music. In 1999, they had organised a Tukkada Festival in which veteran vocalists Bombay Sisters Saroja and Lalitha performed an exclusive tukkada concert. Mudhra revived the idea this year and ran a series of tukkada concerts by young artistes. “The limited concert time today does not offer musicians the opportunity to explore the immense variety of tukkadas. So, we came up with this unique concept,” says Radha.
Popular vocalist duo Ranjani and Gayathri presented a lec-dem on ‘Leveraging the tukkada’ at The Music Academy in 2018 and spoke about how they prepare for this section. Their rendering of viruthams and abhangs are enjoyed by the audiences. They build the sangatis in abhangs gradually, sing the alapana as in khayals in Hindustani music and take the climax to a dramatic finish.
In the past, many legendary musicians structured their kutcheris in such a way that they could accommodate at least four to six tukkadas after the main piece. People waited for ‘Eppo varuvaro’, ‘Vellai thamarai’ and ‘Kandhan karunai puriyum’ in every concert by Madurai Mani Iyer. He also popularised Muthiah Bhagavatar’s ‘English Note’ so much so that it came to be known as the ‘Madurai Mani note’. G.N. Balasubramaniam’s lilting, fast-paced presentation of ‘Radha sametha krishna’ (Mishra Yaman) and ‘Dikku theriyada kaatil’ in Ragamalika were much looked forward to at his concerts.
As a contrast, K.V. Narayanaswamy’s vilambakala or slow-paced pieces such as ‘Varugalamo’ by Gopalakrishna Bharati (Manji), Purandaradasa’s ‘Jagadoddharana’ (Kapi) and ‘Eppadi manam thunindhadho’ from Arunachala Kavi’s Rama Natakam, set to tune by his guru Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar in Husseni, were major attractions. Who can forget his sedate ‘Ali veni yentu cheyvu’, a Swati Tirunal padam in Kurinji?
While D.K. Pattammal included the medium-paced ‘Eppadi padinaro’ (Karnataka Devagandhari) and ‘Naan oru vilaiyattu bommaiya’ (Navarasa Kannada) apart from many patriotic songs by Subramanya Bharati, her sibling D.K. Jayaraman added compositions of his contemporaries such as ‘Nekkurugi’ (Abhogi) and ‘Nambikkettavar’ (Hindolam) by Papanasam Sivan, and ‘Mahadeva siva shambo’ (Revathi) and ‘Ranjanimala’ by Thanjavur Sankara Iyer. “He had enough songs, even in Sindhu Bhairavi, to choose from such as ‘Vaa vaa vaa murugaiya’ (Gomathi Ramasubramanian), ‘Karunai deivame’ (Madurai Srinivasan), ‘Gangadeeswaram’ (Guru Surajananda), and ‘Manadirkugandhadhu’ (Thanjavur Sankara Iyer),” says his senior disciple Dr. S. Sunder.
The variety in M.L. Vasanthakumari’s post-tani session consisted of interesting collections of Dasara padas and tarangams, among others. For the evergreen ‘Baro krishnayya’ by Kanakadasa set in Ragamalika, and ‘Muralidhara Gopala’ by Periyasamy Thooran in Maand, the ugabhoga and shlokam preceding them gave her fans the hint of the songs.
Meera Bhajans, songs from Tamil epics (Vadavariyai Matthakki from the Silappadikaram), Annamacharya’s compositions such as ‘Cheri yashodaku’ and the most popular ‘Kurai onrum illai’ by Rajaji added colour to the inimitable M.S. Subbulakshmi’s concerts.
Senior vocalist Rama Ravi traces the origin of these songs to the times when royal kingdoms ceased to exist, and the musicians relocated to various places for livelihood. “The concerts shifted from the courts to the stage and needed to be re-structured to present a variety in a limited time. Musicians with a dance background such as the duo, Brinda and Mukta (from the illustrious Dhanammal family), introduced padams and javalis, which were usually a part of dance performances, in their vocal concert,” she says.
Rama points out how musicians such as Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, who is credited with creating the kutcheri format as we experience today, tuned verses from bhakti literature such as Andal’s Tiruppavai pasurams and presented them in concerts.
“Not only music concerts, short pieces such as Bharatiyar’s ‘Theeradha vilaiyattu pillai’, which offers enough scope for abhinaya, were introduced in dance performances. Even thillanas such as Veena Seshanna’s composition in Thodi later gave way to those in ragas such as Desh for enhanced appeal,” says Rama Ravi.
According to senior veena artiste Kalyani Ganesan, “After the tani avartanam that involves intricate arithmetic calculations, these creatively presented viruthams come as a breather.” She recalls how once during a concert, after a grand tani, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer said, “Marandhu poche” (I’ve forgotten), and even as the listeners wondered, began to sing Bharati’s ‘Aasai mukham marandhu poche’.
“Thillanas give an enticing finishing touch to a concert. But for instrumental music, we prefer well-known songs that can be easily identified by listeners. Just because these songs do not have alapana or kalpanaswaras, they are not less important,” says Kalyani, who usually concludes her concerts with Papanasam Sivan’s ‘Karpagame kann parai’ in Madhayamavati, as an offering to the goddess of Mylapore.
Creatively composed thillanas
While Lalgudi Jayaraman had an amazing variety to offer in this section with lovely interludes such as the one at ‘Pinnalai pinnindrizhuppan’ in ‘Theeratha vilaiyattu pillai’ and his own thillanas, M.S. Gopalakrishnan used to present pieces in ragas such as Darbari Kanada and Hamsanandi with touches of the Hindustani style. The latter, along with vocalist S. Kalyanaraman, used to render ‘Hari gun gavat’, a Meera bhajan set in the raga Dipali to the delight of connoisseurs.
Any regular concert-goer during the Music Season will remember T.N. Krishnan’s ‘Jingle bells’ on his Christmas day concert at The Music Academy, as the penultimate tukkada as well as his ‘Sri Venkatagirisam’ (Surutti).
Today a lot of contemporary verses with social messages are also being included in the tukkada portion. T.M. Krishna set to tune and sang a kavadi chindu on Babasaheb Ambedkar, written by Perumal Murugan.
Though there are a wide variety of tukkadas to present in the post-tani session, not many artistes strive to make this an exciting part of the concert. Maybe because, the duration of Carnatic concerts have shrunk. But when sung in madhyamasruti, and in ragas such as Nadanamakriya, Chenchuruti, Brindavani, Madhuvanthi, Desh and Bageshri, the ‘small piece’ can become the pièce de résistance.
Any regular concert-goer during the Music Season will remember violin maestro T.N. Krishnan’s ‘Jingle bells’, the penultimate tukkada in his Christmas day concert at The Music Academy