Monday, January 24, 2011

Pt. Bhimsen Joshi

...is no more. But this fantastic song will live on.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sirutthai

Held back against writing about this movie for a week. But feel the need to get it out of my system.

This movie is probably among the worst movies ever made in Thamizh movie industry. It is not just a 'sumaar' movie. It is not in the category of bad movie. It is not even a 'worstu movie' category. This movie is so bad that people have to conduct research on this movie and find out how bad one can take badness to. It is so bad that it could be used for prisoner torture. It is "I want to kill myself" bad. It is "I want to poke my eyes with a knife and torture myself" bad. I was at one point thinking if this was worse than Bheema or not. It is that bad. It has a ridiculous storyline some rank bad (over)acting by Karthi as 'Rocket Raja'. And it must be said the quality of humor has deteriorated to abysmal levels in this movie. I am astounded that so many people thought this story was worth making a movie out of.

Several people who watched the movie in India warned me never to walk into any theater that played this movie. I should have listened to them. There were about 10 people in the hall where this movie played. And they all looked seriously pissed off as they walked out. In a way I am glad to hear this movie is not doing well. I would hate to think movie watching standards has sunk so low. I am hoping Aadukalam would help wash away the bad taste left by this movie.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Margazhi CD/Audio Recommendations II

Concluding the Margazhi season of posts with a part deux of CD recommendations series started here . If you are looking to buy CDs (mp3 or otherwise) on hindu religion, vedas, puranas, ithihasams, slokas, mantras etc then these recommendations would be useful to you. These CDs have been made by people who do not know to publicize their excellent work. And I would like to do my bit to help publicize it to the best of my ability (read post script at end).

1. Entire Krishna Yajur Vedam Saakhai and Samhithai

This is a magnum Opus recording. And one should thank Vedic Links for their yeoman service on preserving these sounds. It is general belief that Smarthas are the best in Veda Parayanam. This recitation is probably by the best among those Smarthas. Vedic Links have a 22 CD pack of Taittarya Saakhai and 20 CD pack of Taittarya Samhithai. As of last month they plan to release the same work in one single DVD as opposed to 40+ Audio CDs. The total cost of both packs is about Rs 3800. I purchased both of them. As luck would have it, I had only thought that I had purchased them. The Giri Traders lady had given me 2 packs of Samhithai. Now I am waiting for Vedic Links (they are located in K.K. Nagar) to release the DVD as all their audio CDs have sold out.

There are a couple of books you can buy from Nrihasimha Priya Trust (Located in Desika Bhavan near Tank/Mylai Railway station). The name of the books are Krishna Yajur Veda Taittarya Saakhai and Krishna Yajur Veda Taittarya Samhithai. They contain the text that you can follow the audio CDs with. For people who are Krishna Yajur Vedins and would like to know exactly what that means these two (book + CD) are good places to spend the rest of their lifetme reading and understanding :-)

Srimadh Bhagavadham

I had been searching for a moola parayanam (source code recitation) of Srimadh Bhagavatham and Srimad Ramayanam for close to 5 years now. Finally found a fantastic recitation by Sri Krishna Premi Swamy. What a fantastic voice he has! This is a rare recitation to get hold of. I never knew Krishna Premi did paarayanam as he is known for harikathas and discourses only. This CD set is about 37 hours of recitation. And I think he has done this recitation in a few consecutive days (this is typically done is 7 days as that is what Raja Parikshith did) and that shows in the way of some stress in his voice in the later stages. There is charm to his voice. True to his name you can feel the prema bhaavam coming out in the recitation. I also got the Moolam script/book of entire Srimadh Bhagavatham published by Gita Press to follow along. Gita press also has a literal verse-by-verse translation of Srimadh Bhagavatham as well. This is an expensive CD and should be available in Krishna Premi's trust.

Srimadh Ramayanam

Given that Ramayanam is my favorite epic and Rama is very dear to my heart, I have been searching for a recitation of entire Ramayana for a long time. Unfortunately could not locate a single CD that carried recitation of entire Ramayana. On a trip to Madras, I talked to Malolan Kannan and asked him why he was not doing a CD-pack on Ramayana parayanam. He said that such an effort would be a monumental task and would require lots of money, time, steady voice, and recording theatre availability. He said he backed off the project after recoridng Bala Kandam for 6 months.

Then with the help of my chithappa's recommendation, I stumbled on Sri Ranganji's recitation of the entire Srimadh Ramayanam. To say that I was disappointed would be an understatement. I feel sad to say this seeing the great effort Ranganji has put into it. But I would not recommend this CD. I bought the Source script published by Gita Press to read along. In the introductory pages of the Gita Press book it is clearly written as to how one should do a paraayanam of Srimadh Ramayanam. It says one should recite it in an even voice and in an even tone. The person must appear calm without making ungainly or elaborate gestures, and should not try to sing it in a specific tune. The tune of Ramayana will come out on its own as the person sings it and should not be forced. Ranganji unfortunately has tried to sing this in a dramatized way. As a result we have a 'parama sogamaana' rendition of Ramayana. The tone is so filled with sorrow and sadness that listening to it makes on feel as if he is crying in a great sorrow. And this CD was purchased at premium prices. This is not to take away from the great work he does at webolim. But this recitation did not cut it for me.

My search unfortunately still continues.

Narayaneeyam

I have commented previously on Narayaneeyam recitation by P.Leela and by Prema Rangarajan. However those recitations do not have all the 100 dasakams of Narayaneeyam. Certain works lends itself better to female voice than male voice and vice versa. For long time I thought M.S' voice defined Suprabhatham (although Vedavalli also has an excellent recording of it). That is until I heard TTD Veda Parayanars sing it (both live in Thirumalai and in CD form). Lets just say after listening to them I pretty much switched over from M.S to TTD (still play M.S once a week for old times sake). Similarly Narayaneeyam is synonymous with P. Leela. That is until you hear Thrissur V. Ramachandran's recitation. This CD is available with all 100 dasakams. The script/text of the dasakams is available in the internet.

Srimadh Sundara Kandam

Ah! my favorite Kandam in Ramayana. Words fail me when I try to describe the beauty of this Kandam. There are 3 different recitations of this that I will recommend. Certainly do buy the book (the most commonly available one which gives you a plan to recite SK in 1 day, 2 days, 3 days, 10 days, 28 days etc). And try to recite the entire Sundara Kandam. Since you can only recite Sundara Kandam when the Sun is rising (and not when its setting) - It took me 45 days to recite it the first time. After 7 attempts I could finally recite it in 1 day (finished exactly at 1 PM). This is a 10 hour recitation and these are the CDs that helped me the most.

1. By Sri Ranga Ramanuja Mahadesikan, Head Pontiff of Srimadh Srirangam Andavan Ashram: this is my favorite rendition by light years. This is because the recitation is also by a person who has a fantastic voice (he is a trained classical singer). He recites it evenly at a steady pace without trying to sing it. The tune and the mangalam of it just leaps out and lends itself automatically. This CD is not cmmercially available but only available in Srimadh Srirangam Andavan Ashram in Alwarpet.

2. By Raghavendra Sharma. This is a commercially available CD (mp3) in most music shops. It is very easy to follow the pronounciation of Mr. Sharma who recites it in a pleasant voice.

3. By Thanjavur Radha Krishna Sastrigal: Man.. what a wonderful voice. I only wish he had done the paarayanam of entire Sundara Kandam instead of a few selected sargams. This is also commercially available in many music stores

Visaka Hari's Hari Kathas

I bought 4 Video CDs (in DVD format) of her Harikathas. They were (a) Seetha Kalyanam, (b) Sundara Khandam (of Thyagaraja Ramayana) (C) Andal Kalyanam and (d) Prahaladha Charithram. The videos are about 2+ hours each. They contain lovely wonderous mix of both upanyasam and song recitals in classic Harikatha style. Visaka hari being a trained classical singer has a wonderful voice. And she has a way to stretch and lilt certain words to make it appear pleasing to the listener. The content of her upanyasam is very interesting but at the same time does not have the heavy technical content of her father-in-law Krishna Premi or Velukudi. It is easy listening and filled with prema bhakthi. Very similar to the next topic on this list. Among her mp3 discourses you should listen to Sabari Moksham. It will bring tears to your eyes.

Ramayanam by Balakrishna Sastrigal

Listening to Balakrishna Sastrigal in Ayodhya Mandapam is like watching an MJ concert at Wembley stadium. The venue and the artist and the topic are made for each other. One of my earliest memories of listening to anything in Ayodhya Mandapam is Balakrishna Sastrigal's Ramayanam. As a little boy I would accompany my grandma and she would sit in the outer part of the mandapam on the sand and I'd lie on the sand with my head on her lap and listen to this. That discourse is available on mp3 CD in many music shops. I was emotionally moved when I saw it in Giri Traders. Just hearing him affectionately call "Raama" moves you back in time. When I hear the words "anubhavichu paadirukaar" - I think of him. Even a small child will fall in love with raamayanam when they hear him tell that story. If you want to have a small kid interested in Ramayanam this is the CD you are searching for.

Selected Velukudi Upanyasams

Given the theme of this post (see post script below), I wanted to particularly call out some fantastic discourses by Velukudi. When I think of Krishna Premi, I always wonder what 'bhagyam' must he have done to be what he is and be blessed with a family where both his son and daughter-in-law have so much knowledge and talent. With Velukudi, I see pure genius. A proof that god exists. That kind of 'kadaksham' to say the words he says is humanly impossible. It is not just about his sharp intelligence or his uniquely gifted voice but the way he conjures up several different events and converges it to a dharmic point.

In the spirit of the theme of this post, I'd recommend his discourse on Vidhura Needhi (Vidhura's rules on how to live life), Yakhsa Prasnam (I listened to this live in Ayodhya Mandapam), Srimadh Bhagavatham, Srimadh Sundara Kandam and Valmiki/Kamba Ramayanam. They are all available as CDs (mp3) from Kinchitkaram trust. These are only a small subset of the great body of work he has done. But these are rare gems worth listening to several times.

Vedic Matras For Pregnant Women

Last but not the least. Prof. Thiagarajan (HOD Sanskrit Department, University of Madras) has undertaken great effort to preserve the ancient sound of vedas and some of the rare segments of the Vedas. In a CD titled "Vedic Mantras For Pregnant Women" he has Veda Parayanars reciting certain rare Yajurveda Anuvakas and Santhana Gopala Gayathri Mantras. This is just one item in a great series of CDs that Prof. Thiagarajan and music composer Manickavinayagam have organized.

Post Script: This year while making recommendations I thought I should make recommendations along a particular theme. And so decided on a 'slokas/mantras for pregnant women' theme. Which is what this post is. Essentially a "What sort of religion based Sloka/Mantra CDs would I recommend to a pregnant woman". However, it is not necessary that one has to be pregnant to listen to these CDs. Men can listen to it as well :-). These are valuable to listen to or recite during normal times as well.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Ghee flowing down the elbow

Sarkarai Pongal in general is a toxic calorie eplsoion. Sarkarai Pongal with ghee. The Ghee must overflow so much that by the time you transfer it from your hand to mouth the ghee should have trickled down to the elbow.

Recently discovered that adding milkmaid (concentrated milk) to sarkarai pongal makes it Maha awesome

Footnote:

Day 27 Thirupaavai called as the 'Koodaravalli' day is when industrial quantities of sarkarai pongal is made (see bolded letters below) at home.

கூடாரை வெல்லுஞ் சீர்க் கோவிந்தா! உன்றன்னைப்
பாடிப்பறைகொண்டு யாம் பெறு சம்மானம்
நாடு புகழும் பரிசினால் நன்றாகச்
சூடகமே தோள்வளையே தோடே செவிப்பூவே
பாடகமே என்றனையப் பல்கலனும் யாமணிவோம்
ஆடையுடுப்போம் அதன் பின்னே பால்சோறு
மூடநெய் பெய்து முழங்கை வழிவாரக்
கூடியிருந்து குளிர்ந்தேலோ ரெம்பாவாய்!

One of the better interpretations of the sentence is: As Yashoda is about to consume food with a little bit of ghee in it. She stops midway and watches Krishna. She is so mesmerized by the little one's beauty that she forgets to eat the food. And she is lost in admiration. And the ghee slowly trickles down to her elbow.