Thani Avarthanam or Restroom Break?

It’s almost like a switch is turned on and two things happen. People get up from their seats and head towards the doors in two different directions. Most of them make a beeline towards the restroom while some presumably head towards the canteen in the opposite direction. I am attending a classical concert at the Gayana Samaja while I watch this scene unfold in front of me. Ranjani and Gayatri are the main artistes of the evening. The auditorium is overflowing with music-lovers. Before the concert begins, all the seats are taken. The stragglers end up standing near the doors while a few scramble around for floor space to sit. The sisters give a melodious concert transporting the audience to another world.

This piece is not a review of the concert but to draw attention to an age-old problem at carnatic classical concerts. I have one gripe with the audience and that’s to do with how they behave during the thani avarthanam segment of the concert. 

What is a thani avarthanam? It is not a restroom break. It is also not a ‘let’s eat vada-bhajji break’. The thani avarthanam is a segment of the concert where the mridangist plays complex rhythmic patterns either as a solo player or with other percussion instrument players such as morsing, kanjira and ghatam. It is a part of the main song’s rendition by the artiste(s) and concludes with a mohra and korvai. The mohra is like a crescendo which ends with a korvai that is played three times before the vocalist begins singing from where he or she left off. 

The thani avarthanam is the mridangist’s place in the sun where he or she reveals his expertise to the audience. It is the result of the musician’s years of hardwork and training. Like the voice or the violin, the mridangam is this artiste’s world and the performance is a labour of his love. In the concert by Ranjani Gayatri, the organizers SRLKM had done a stellar job by trying to accomodate as many people as possible in the hall. They had notices put up on the wall for the audience to make the concert a more pleasurable experience for all. One of the pointers was requesting the audience to leave the hall at the end of a song and not while the artistes were performing. But for all the writing on the wall there were many who couldn’t care less.

The mridangist’s solo performance lasts for fifteen minutes at the most. So why can’t we hold ourselves back for the additional time and give our percussion players their due respect on the stage?

Listen to a thani avarthanam by mridangam legend Umayalpuram Sivaraman and Guruprasanna on the kanjira.


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