300-year-old thillana still A musical wonder

The band members of Agam and vocalist Sharanya Srinivas, who have made covers of this piece tell us why it appeals to youngsters even today
300-year-old thillana still A musical wonder
Sharanya Srinivasan(Singer); Swathi Thirunal; Agam band members

Chennai

Every raag, which is considered to be of ‘male’ gender according to Hindustani music has a female counterpart known as ragini — one such duet is Malkauns-Dhanashree. In the hands of Swathi Thirunal, the latter underwent an enchanting makeover and emerged as a thillana that has bowled over many a music connoisseur over the years. Set to tune by the late Lalgudi G Jayaraman, the mellifluous composition evergreen but why has it appealed to numerous young musicians now, nearly 300 years after it was first written, to make covers of it?

Agam, which was one of the pioneers in recording and performing a cover, tells us. “In 2010, we wanted to start playing live and the Dhanashree thillana was the first song we chose because there’s so much in it,” begins the band’s keyboard player Swamy. “It’s a very happy raag and musically, we were evolving into Carnatic progressive rock at that time so it fitted our requirement,” he says.

During a jamming session, lead guitarist Praveen began playing a riff to which Harish lent vocals and everything just fell into place perfectly, Swamy recalls. He says, “We always play this song second during our live shows because it’s one of our most popular. The most humbling and overwhelming factor is that of late, the audience has started singing it with us — whether it’s in an auditorium or club, the younger kids start head-banging and the older crowd also enjoys it.”

Apart from Agam’s version, Mahesh Raghavan and Sharanya Srinivas’ interpretation of Dhanashree thillana has garnered many fans. “When we were brainstorming about what to do next, I suggested this composition not because of how popular it is but because of a gut feeling that it would do wonders,” explains Sharanya. She learnt how to sing it from her aunt and guru Padma Narayanan and it’s remained a favourite because the tune is very catchy and all the notes all stand out in some way, she says.

“Mahesh sent me the basic track and I had to sing over it. Once it was mastered in his studio, it sounded really good and had punch to it. This is exactly what we wanted since it had to be appealing and catch the youngsters’ attention — Mahesh’s way of infusing EDM into Carnatic music really worked,” smiles the singer.

Sure enough, an all-women dance troupe called Team Lasya took notice of the cover and choreographed a fusion of Odissi, Kathak and Bharatanatyam to it. Ragamalika, who’s a member of the troupe, says, “All of us work in the IT sector so we formed this team to take part in an inter-corporate dance competition. Of late, many people are getting back into classical music or dance instead of Western so we thought of creating a fusion that will showcase modern elements with traces of tradition for the competition,” she shares. The girls won second place and victory inspired them to continue upholding Indian heritage through dance and music.

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