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New tune for a thillana

Carnatic musician Vasantha Kannan composes a thillana in the lesser-known Kadyutha Ganthi raga

Chennai-based Carnatic violinist, composer, and guru Vasantha Kannan recently released a thillana in the rare raga Kadyutha Ganthi. A video of the composition had her daughter Calcutta K. Srividya joining her on vocals as well as violin, and her son Mohan Kannan providing support on guitar and backing vocals. The video generated a lot of interest.

Explaining why Kadyutha Ganthi has remained obscure, Vasantha says that given the vastness of the musical universe, it is almost impossible to have compositions in every raga. Sometimes, a raga that has previously not been explored becomes known through a composition and that becomes the catalyst for the raga’s popularity, which is then taken up by other composers as well. “Kadyutha Ganthi, a janya raga of Ragavardhini, does not seem to have been explored earlier for any classical composition — my thillana is the first known composition in this raga. With this in mind, I have included the structure of the raga as part of the lyrics in the charanam; and the arohanam and avarohanam are explicitly embedded in it. I have also tried to portray a holistic picture of the raga-bhava through various explorations in different parts of the thillana,” says Vasantha.

How it started

For the 2016 Marathi film Shaala, Mohan composed and sung the male parts for the song Sadaa in raga Shekhara Chandrika, while Srividya rendered the female version. Vasantha lent support on the violin. The song won the Video Music Award that year. During the lockdown, Srividya and Mohan were exploring Grahaswara bhedam in kalpana swaras with this song, leading to the discovery of Kadyutha Ganthi, which is derived by interpreting the ‘Da’ of Shekhara Chandrika as the ‘Sa’. This prompted Vasantha to compose the entire thillana. “I’m glad it turned out the way it did and doubly happy that my daughter and son are part of it and we could all do this together,” she says.

Mohan experimented by using the guitar instead of playing the traditional mridangam. “The harmonies and guitar added a different layer to the thillana, without compromising on the classical aspect of the composition,” says Vasantha.

Mohan Kannan  

Srividya says that trying to match up to a guru is extremely challenging. “Mohan and I are no different. Amma continues to guide us and at the same time inspire us with her creativity. As a guru, she can be very tough and unrelenting and keeps us on our toes all the time. In this particular instance, doing justice to her thillana was all that mattered, and Mohan and I tried our best to present it the way she had envisaged it when composing it, while adding some ideas of our own as well.”

Mohan was firm in not wanting to try and make the piece into a fusion or a commercial song. He says, “It was challenging to keep the purity of the composition intact and not let go of the purity of playing the guitar as well. I wanted to try and bring my exposure to Carnatic music as well as mainstream commercial music together in as seamless a fashion as possible. Every time I would add an idea, I would send it to amma and Srividya to see if they were happy with it. After a couple of ideas had to be thrown out the window, we all were happy with the concept of guitars and harmonies adding value to the song.” The biggest challenge, Mohan says, was to handle all aspects of recording at home, given the lockdown.

Earlier too, Vasantha had composed a song ‘Padiduvome’ in an unexplored janya raga of Shankarabharanam. “The raga did not find mention in the janya raga list and did not have a name assigned to it, and so I named it ‘Sunadam’. It is a beautiful melodious raga and I am glad I could discover it and compose in it. I’m looking forward to exploring more ragas, rare or otherwise, and composing a lot more,” says Vasantha.

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