A tribute to Veene Sheshanna

Every one of us who’s been to a Bharatanatyam dance recital would have heard a tillana. Tillanas are recognisable due to their use of rhythmic syllables such as ta ka dhimi, takita jham jham. In fact, the word tillana itself is onomatopoeic. Tillanas in addition to their rhythmic syllables or jathis also have a few lines of lyrics or sahitya. The sahitya appears in the charanam or the last part of the composition.

A lecture demonstration (lec-dem) on the tillanas of Veena Seshanna was held on Wednesday, October 23, during the annual conference of the Bangalore Gayana Samaja. Mysore Subramanya, a well-known music and dance critic of Bangalore presented the lec-dem.

Veena Seshanna (1852-1926) was a veena vidwan who flourished under the patronage of the Mysore Maharajas – Krishnaraja and Chamaraja Wodeyars. The work of most Carnatic composers can be identified by their use of distinct signatures in their compositions, such as Guru Guha (Muthuswamy Dikshithar), Tyagaraja, Padmanabha (Swati Tirunal) or Venkatesha (Patnam Subramania Iyer). Veena Seshanna’s nom de plume was Sesha, or Seshadaasa or Seshagirisha.

The morning event kicked off with a brief biography of the composer followed by demonstrations of the composer’s work on both the veena and by vocal rendition. Rajalakshmi Tirunarayana, a veena vidwan from Mysore, supported by her sister, played Seshanna’s tillanas.

Beginning with the sprightly Kedaram raga, Veena Seshanna’s mastery of raga (melody) and laya (rhythm) were evident in the Thodi, Shankarabharanam, Bhairavi and Kalyani tillanas. Many of the tillanas were composed in praise of the kings such as the Behag tillana on the Mysore kings and the Thodi tillana on the king of Ramnad.

The tillanas in ragas Hindustani Kapi and Darbari Kannada demonstrated his virtuosity in Hindustani music as well. The concluding tillana played by the sisters in raga Senchurutti (Jenjutti) brought back memories of the music of old stalwarts such as M S Subbalakshmi and Semmangudi Srinivasan Iyer.

The demonstration concluded with two young music students singing a few of the tillanas. The audience thus had some of the same jathis and sahitya presented to them in vocal format.

The whole presentation was neat and crisp and the melodic strains of the veena reverberated in the hall bringing to life the musical genius of a great composer.

Chitra Srikrishna
About Chitra Srikrishna 49 Articles

Chitra Srikrishna is a Carnatic vocalist and writer living in Bengaluru. She’s the musical half of a multimedia performance duo HumRaag. She also produces RaagTime, a radio show on Indian music. Her latest program BHAKTHI explores the journey of the mystics of India. She blogs at chitrasrikrishna.com.