BANGALORE: An elaborate raagam, taanam, pallavi, played without any vocal support is a challenge for most Carnatic instrumentalists. And, an insurmountable challenge on percussion instrumentalists. But, one that an all-women band playing pakkavadhyam and upa pakkavadhyam have conquered. Sukkanya Ramgopal is an established and popular Ghatam player. Over the years, she realised that ghatam players were restricted only to the accompanist role and their sounds were never
“Ghatam and even upa pakkavadhyas such as morsing and kanjira are ignored by the main artistes and the organisers of various music festivals. Most of the jugalbandis are always between the tabla and mridangam. It is then that I decided to explore the sound of my chosen instrument, the Ghatam,” she says.
Her journey led her to introducing the concept of Ghata Tharang. “It was not easy at all. In fact I was doubtful about the whole project. Ghatam is an instrument where reaching a shruthi-perfect stage by itself is very difficult. So, playing a raaga on it was initially challenging. After much experimentation, I realised that I was getting somewhere. It was not a futile journey, after all,” she says as she recalls her attempts. She formed a band with only women players called Sthree Thaal Tharang. Initially, she worked only with upa pakkavadhya instrument players — Kanjira and Morsing.
Later, as a group, they stared working with the sounds of veena and violin. Only after the confluence of sounds reached the exacting standards of Carnatic music did they venture to perform. “The response from both peers and audience members stunned us. We were encouraged to work on the content,” she says.
Her devotion to music and respect for the Carnatic Music Trinity, and the other great composers who followed them, never led Sukkanya to play keertanas in her concerts. She soon recognised the limitations of the instruments. “Well, we do not want to play keertanas, which generally traverse three octaves, only on a single octave,” she explains.
That did not stop her from composing music that adapts to percussion instruments. Compositions such as ‘Anandam’ in Kunthalavarali ragam, ‘Shambo Shiva Shambo’ in Revati ragam and ‘Panchakshari’ in Valachi ragam in Kanda Chapu talam were written by Sukkanya to suit the demands of the instruments. Over 20 compositions have been written in the last few years for Sthree Thaal Tharang. “My favourite has always been the song Anadam and we play this piece in every performance. We have even played raagam, taanam, pallavi,” she says.
Her group members include: J Yogavandana on Veena, Sowmya R on Violin, Ranjani Venkatesh on Mridangam and Bhagyalakshmi M Krishna on Morsing.