E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: The 49th music festival of Sri Prasanna Vidya Ganapathi Mahotsava Charitable (SPVGMC) Trust—popularly known as Vontikoppal Ganesha music festival; still more endearingly called ‘8th Cross Ganesha” by Mysoreans across the world—is underway in Vani Vilas Mohalla in Mysore.
In itself, this might not strike non-Mysoreans as anything remarkable. But, hang on, there are so many ironies that abound here.
One, this is no ordinary music festival. This is not your usual “orchestra” belting out bawdy film numbers. This is a classical music festival, as classical as it can get. Two, a small stretch of a road no more than 100 metres attracts some of India’s biggest names year after year to show their wares. And three, ordinary people get a ringside view of the action for free.
“8th Cross” artistes span generations: Dr N. Ramani has performed here. So has his son Thyagarajan. So has his grandson Atul Kumar.
“8th Cross” artistes span genres: Carnatic is par for the course, of course. But Ronu Mazumdar comes here to play the bhansuri. Pandit Vishnu Mohan Bhatt comes here to play the vichitra veena.
“8th Cross” artistes span cities: Mysore Manjunath and Mysore Nagaraj (violin) and Mysore-born N. Ravi Kiran (gottuvadyam) are regulars as many homegrown artistes are, but N. Rajam comes here from Benares. Kadri Gopalnath (saxophone) comes from Madras. As does the vocalist and harikatha expert, Madurai T.N. Seshagopalan.
There is the possibly apocryphal story of M.S. Gopalakrishnan going into a shell long years ago—not doing concerts, not meeting anybody, not appearing in public. SPVGMC functionaries somehow landed up at his residence and the legendary violinist was soon unveiling his magic in front of coffee pudi angadi on “8th Cross”.
In short, for those who lament the passing away of classical music, the flood of top-quality music on “8th Cross” , bang in the middle of the road, is a reminder that even nostalgia is no what it used to be.
And it’s not just the oldies. Young engineers and doctors who learnt music in the lanes and bylanes of Vontikoppal, also get a platform to show their “offline” skills.
Two nights ago, IT man Pattabhirama Pandit (in picture, above) sang for four hours from 7 to 11 and delayed folks going home saying, “Don’t go! I am just warming up. I will sing raaga, thana and pallavi (RTP) in Raaga Keeravani, at 9 pm!”
On Saturday, a group of IT engineers gave a ‘venu-veena-violin’ performance.
Then there is Pandit Rajeev Taranath, disciple of Ali Akbar Khan, who performed a jugalbandi with Mysore Nagaraj on the violin. Taranath, who holds a PhD in English literature and has written acclaimed critiques on Shakespeare’s works, threw it all and went to learn sarod from Ali Akbar khan.
Well known for his delineation of raaga as much for his proficiency in English literature, Taranath is a sprightly 77 years working out at Talwalkar‘s on Temple Road. Replying to the felicitation before he started playing at 8th Cross, he started with the magical (to Vontikoppal ears) invocation:
“Nanoo Vontikoppal navane (I too am from Vontikoppal).”
What makes the 8th Cross Ganesha music festival so special?
For one, it is the respect which comes with age.
And for another, it is “taste”.
The SPVGMC Trust has steadfastly refused to dilute the offering regardless of the pressures. (Its Ganesha idol, too, if you will notice, is not some gaudy monstrosity.)
But a key reason has to be its location in the mind’s-eye of residents of Vontikoppal, Jayalakshmipuram, Gokulam.
Like the Tour de France, a sport which comes to the people rather than people going to it, the artistes come to 8th Cross, to where the people live instead of the people having to go to an auditorium to hear them.
For 15 days, the little street is off-limits for motor traffic. Working men and women return home to find some superstar playing in front of what used to be Naganna-na angadi.
City buses, with a pivotal stop at Shanku‘s bakery behind where the idol is installed, rev up to raga alapana and swara.
Life still goes on amidst the music.
Or is it the other way round?
As the singers and artistes take their positions after a namaskara to the diety behind and the audience in front, the programmes invariably start on the dot (6.30 pm) with a varna.
With monsoon on the way out and winter on the way in, the elderly come armed for both: an umbrella and a sweater.
Africans studying in Manasagangothri hop over to Just Gelato; American and European yoga trainees flock to Hotel Authana or The Sixth Main. Chinese students staying in Paduvarahalli cross over with their cycles.
8th Cross is a veritable Global Village.
As the singer warms to an alaapana in Kalyani, children from Matru Mandali school in their uniforms cross “8th Cross” after practicing their programmes for this year’s Dasara. Next, tiny tots in their karate attire pass through the footpath trying their latest chop on anybody who comes in his way.
When it is nearing 8 o’ clock, a couple of elderly men furtively take a small walk to the vacant plot behind Amba Bhavan to ease themselves. As the artist start their main raga in Ananda Bhairavi, yoga students, while walking through, grab some chairs sit mesmerised by the music and postpone their dinner at Green Leaf on Kalidasa Road to 9 0’clock and beyond.
Around 9.30 pm when honorary secretary C.R. Himamshu, grandson of the legendary violinist Piteelu T. Chowdiah, stands up to felicitate the artistes, a couple of Iranians, unrecognisable without their Hayabusa motorcycles, walk through to the Austrian cafe, Edelweiss, after buying Iranian bread from Loyal World on Temple Road.
Around the same time, granddaughters and grandsons on their Activas and Scootys arrive to take home Ajji and Paati, by now fully wrapped up in shawls and mufflers. Since the singer has just now started their eternal favourite thukkadas like Krishnaa nee begane baaro, Venkatachala nilayam or Bhaagyaada lakshmi baramma, generation next has to wait a bit longer.
Finally when it is time for mangala, Pavamaana in Raaga Souraashtra another day, another evening of music has gone into the soul as the crowd wade through to take prasada and leave home.
The 49th year is perhaps just as it was in the first year; same raaga, same devotion, same enchantment. Only the artistes are different.
It goes on like this in Vontikoppal.
Year after year.
And sometime around Dasara, donors and sponsors, regardless of the size of their contribution, will get invited to a business-like oota at Eswarana devasthana (Eswara temple) on Adipampa road for making this year’s musical bounty possible.
Soon, it will be time for next year, the 50th.