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Fusion of academic and technical acumen: The celestial notes that address the inner temple of the heart By Ranga CHANDRARATHNE She is steeped in music and totally devoted. With a fine understanding of Raaga and Taala and the techniques of Sitar, she has capabilities to rise to any heights in the field of performance

- Prof. K. C. Gangrade, former Dean, Faculty of Music at Benares Hindu University.

Perhaps, the singular characteristic of Dr. Nirmala Kumaris Sitar recital is her innate ability to infuse divine notes into it. She exploits every string of Sitar to render it a divine tone, spell bounding the audience. It is indeed the amalgamation of human touch with divine music in its varied manifestations.

Her performance is an embodiment of the purest version of classical music, a mixture of academic excellence and perfect application. It is this technical perfection and deep knowledge of classical music that make her Sitar truly an instrument which can address the inner temple of heart and creates a sublime happiness in the listeners. The soothing notes that emanates from her Sitar is like a cadence of crystal clear water flapping onto a placid lake. It is indeed the purest Hindustani tradition that she wants to preserve in Sri Lanka.

Forte in Classical Music Dr. Nirmala Kumari's forte is North Indian Classical music which she has mastered in India. Having mastered the tradition of classical Sitar at the Banares Hindu University, a citadel of classical Hindustani music under legendary teachers, she entered into the arena of music as a super grade performer and an outstanding academic. What is significant in her peerless career is that she has been able to fuse the versatility of an experienced performer with the in-depth knowledge of music tracing back to the Vedic era. A significant characteristic of her Sitar recitals is that her innate ability to produce intricate matrix of notes exploiting their intrinsic music properties to the maximum, according to the diverse Raagas she performs. Her longstanding collaboration with Pundit Paban Bordoloi, A-Grade Staff Artiste (Tabla Maestro)

of All India Radio, will poise to be an another exceptional exposition of Sitar when they perform in her Sitar concert, Swaranjali 2012 on February 14 at 6.30 p m at the Lionel Wendt.

Virtuoso in Sitar A prominent feature of her performance is her sheer mastery in diverse techniques. For instance, her playing the Sitar with Gayaki quality (Emphasing on the essence of vocal music while rendering the melodic elaboration of the selected Raag) is really a difficult task for a plucking intrumentalist. This unique property of her performance is primarily due to her mastery of techniques particularly fingering on her left hand (using master techniques) which is being supported by her right hand movements. When she plays melodic phrases or elaborations in fast tempo (Taanalankara), she uses her right-hand movements which are known in playing Sitar as Da, Diri, and Dara with gusto. Her powerful strokes by her right hand are unique to her and prominent due to this collaboration in playing melodic phrases or elaboration in fast tempo and the characteristic Gayaki. Success of a classical performer is much due to the ability of the performer is Sat Sangat, that is to be in total harmony with the tablist.

It is obvious that the segment of Javab Saval or the melodic interaction or the dialogue between the main performer and the tablist can not be achieved without an in-depth knowledge of Hindustani Taala system. It should be noted that melodic interaction may occur among the short and delicate gap of a couple of notes.

Dr.Nirmala Kumaris success as a performer is due to such factors. These techniques are intensively and technically employed in Paran, Tihai and Chakradar, different types of Tabla boles (Compositions of syllabics) composed and played according to mathematical calculations. She skilfully manipulates the Sitar in techniques such as Chikari , the last string of a Gatkari instrument, (the North Indian plucking instruments) and in playing Jhala. Dr. Nirmala engages in a relative elaboration to Alap, Jod and Jhala patterns have been sprung from Chanda,Prabanda and Dhruvpad traditions having a definite form. She is a performer who always strives to keep up the autonomous nature of Hindustani classical music and also stick to Indian form or indigenous motifs of Hindustani classical music. She is also aware of the religious-sacrificial element in Hindustani classical music.

Peerless exponent

In Beethoven Hall Bonn - Germany with Pt. Paban Bordoloi On a more personal note, after reading my review of Dr. Nirmala Kumaris concert in 2007, I got a telephone call from my parents who recalled that I attended her first concert in 1987 at Tower Hall as a four year old and that Dr. Lionel Edirisinghe, the founder of the Government College of Music ( now Faculty of Music at the University of Visual and Performing Arts), who strongly insisted that he should attend her concert despite his bad state of health was brought to the concert hall in an ambulance and was put on a bed placed in the audience.

Being introduced to me by My Editor-in-Chief, Dinesh Weerawansa in 2007 who assigned me to review her Concert; I also got an impressive review of her first concert written by now my superior and Associate Editor, R. S. Karunaratne, a pioneer in Cultural Journalism which my mother sent to me by post. I was privileged to review her concert after 20 years. I was prompted to make this personal note due to the fact that a very little space has been allocated over the years to feature classical music in the print and electronic media. The fact that Dr. Lionel Edirisinghe urged attending her first concert is for me obvious that Dr.Nirmala Kumari followed pure classical tradition and belonging to the category of master musicians such as Nikhil Benerjee, an exponent of classical Hindustani tradition of music which is prominent for its autonomous nature.

Ravi Shankar, though a famous Sitarist, has, on many occasions, stepped out of the tradition. I was enlightened on this fact which was highlighted in the debate between Nikhil Benerjee and Ravi Shankar and my personal experience in attending concerts of classical music during my visits to India.

Academic acumen Dr. Nirmala Kumari Rodrigo is a Senior Lecturer in Music at the University of Visual and Performing Arts and an avid proponent of classical music in Sri Lanka.

She strongly believes, like in India, that the Government should sponsor the classical music and should also be responsible for creating an audience for classical music by allocating air time on radio and television as well as allocating substantial funds at national and provincial level for the propagation of classical music.

Milestones in her life Nirmala fell in love with Sitar ever since she was shown the picture of goddess Saraswathi with Sitar by her mother Merlyn Rodrigo who was a pupil of the first batch of music students of Heywood College, Colombo (now the University of Visual and Performing Arts) established by the late Dr. Lionel Edirisinghe.

On completion of GCE O/L Nirmala left for India in 1973 and joined, as a residential student, at Bhatkhande College of Music Lucknow, India.

During the first five years of her stay at the university, she learned sitar under Shri Naveen Chandra Pant and vocals under Shri Lele and Prof. Premsing Kinot.

In 1978 she passed both Vadya Visharad (Sitar) and Sangeeth Visharad (Vocal) Bhathkande Degrees.

From 1978 to 1981 she continued her study at the same College under the highly reputed sitar guru of Lucknow tradition, Ustad Illiyas Khan and completed the Bhatkande post-graduate degree course in sitar and passed the Bhathkande Degree Vadya Nipun in Sitar and then left for Banaras for further studies.

Nirmala holds the record for obtaining the highest marks at examinations during the entire period of nine years of study at Bathkhande College of Music and won the Best Results Award continuously. As a hard working student from Sri Lanka, she received special attention and blessings from her teachers.

In 1982 she was enrolled as a research scholar at the Faculty of Music of the Banaras Hindu University. Taking the study of Indian ragas and compositions as her subjects, she worked under the guidance of Prof. K.O. Gangarade, a fountain of knowledge and experience in Indian music.

In 1984 she obtained the Degree of the Doctor of Music, Performances and Compositions. She is the first Sri Lankan to have obtained this qualification from the Banares Hindu University.

She also studied Music at the University of Colonge, Germany and attended seminars on Music Ethnology under Prof. R. Gunther. At the same time she held lecture demonstrations in Indian music to the students of the said University and held many classical sitar concerts in Germany.

Since1978 she has been presenting sitar recitals on All India Radio and Indian television and various music festivals in India.

She has won several trophies and medals including the Award Sarva Shreshta Vadak which was awarded to the Best Instrumentalist in 1980 at the Bhatkhande Music Competition, Lucknow.

She has performed with great Indian tabla masters such as Ustad Afaqe Hussain Khan, Ustad Ahmed Miyan,Pt.Choote Lal Misra, Prakash Maharaj, Pt Ram Kumar,Pt.Paban Bordoloi of Lucknow and Banares.

After returning to Sri Lanka in 1987 she held solo performances in sitar at Lucknow, India at the Umanath Bali Music Festival in 1988 and in 2002, at the Faculty of Music of the Banaras Hindu University as an invited artiste from Sri Lanka with great musicians of India, on the same stage.

This she recalls was a great achievement in her life. In 1991 Nirmala was appointed as a Lecturer of the University of Visual and Performing Arts. Since then she has held many solo sitar concerts and recitals in Sri Lanka.

She is a Supper Grade Artiste of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation and Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation. She works as the Sitar Teacher at the Indian Cultural Center.

National Award for Instrumental Music from the Government of Sri Lanka and International Womens Day Award were also conferred on her.

Pundit Paban Bordoloi

Born in a small village in Lakhimpur District of Assam, Pundit Paban Bordoloi started his journey in rythm at a very early age. He received his initial training in Khol, a traditional percussion instrument of Assam. His main interest was however in tabla which inspired him to go to Lucknow, one of the nerve centres of Hindustani classical music.

Shri Bordoloi completed Sangeet Visharad in 1979 and Sangeet Nipun in1978 from Bhatkhande Sangeet Vidyapit Lucknow. He was the first from North East India to complete Sangeet Nipun from that Institute.

During that period he received advanced training in tabla under eminent exponents such as Ustad Munne Khan of Farukhabad Gharana, Ustad Afaque Hussain Khan of Lucknow Gharana and Pandit Ranganath Mishra of Banaras Gharana. Shri Bordoloi was approved as a B-high Grade Artiste by the Music Audition Board New Delhi in 1978 and approved as an A-Grade Artiste in 1983.

Besides teaching tabla to generations of students, Shri Bordoloi works as an A-Grade Staff Artiste on All India Radio, Guwahti Assam. He has performed widely in India and abroad. He has a number of books written to his credit on music in Assamese.

A solo tabla recital of Shri Bordoloi was broadcast over All India Radio on its National Programme of Music. He has also participated in various national programmes on light and folk music as an accompanist. He accompanied and played solo at the Sangeet Sangam Festival of Music, organised by the Sangeet Natak Academy New Delhi. He directed an ensemble of folk instuments of Nort East India at the North East Folk festival New Delhi. He also acted as a resource person at a training workshop organised by the Centre for Cultural Resources and Training (CCRT) New Delhi, at Shilpagram, Guwhati, Assam.

Shri Bordoloi has been invited a number of times by Spicmacay to accompany eminent musicians. He has accompanied many top ranking musicians on the tabla in India such as Pandit Singh Bindhu, Pandit Rajan and Sajan Mishra, Vidushi Girija Devi, Pandit Budda Dev Dasgupta, Pandit Manilal Nag, Dr Aswini Bhinde Deshpande, Pandit Viswa Mohan Bhatt, Dr Bhupen Hazanika, Anup Jalota, Vidushi Vani Jayaram &c. As an accompanist he has not only delighted the audience but also the artiste as well.