Padma Bhushan awardee Sudha Ragunathan to perform in Maryland

Padma Bhushan and Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee, Sudha Ragunathan during her concert on April 20, 2024, in Chicago, Illinois. PHOTO: Sudha Ragunathan

As part of her five-state thematic concert series, “Sachchidananda Sudhamayi” in the United States, Padma Bhushan and Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee, Sudha Ragunathan is scheduled to perform compositions of Sri Ganapathy Sachchidananda Swamiji of Mysore, India, at a concert on May 4, 2024, at the Damascus High School in Maryland.

In an exclusive interview with News India Times about her upcoming Maryland concert, a globally renowned Carnatic vocalist, Ragunathan noted, “I have already internalized about 25 compositions,” while naming a few popular ones such as Gana Ganamunaku, Prasaratu Devi, Sri Pada Sri Vallabham, and a few Sapthaswaralu keertanas that she will render during her concert. She further added that in the 2–3-hour concert she will be able to accommodate about 14 compositions.

When asked about how the idea for the thematic concert originated, Ragunathan recalled, “In 2022, I visited the Datta Yoga Center in Erin, Ontario, Canada, to meet Sri Swamiji. At his request, I sang a Thyagaraja krithi and a small namavali, at which point he told Janani Raman, an ardent devotee from Chicago, why don’t you make Sudha visit all our US centers and render our krithis.”

Ragunathan went on to state that they all forgot about the conversation, and it ultimately took shape last year. After several discussions, they decided to have the thematic series in Sri Swamiji’s US centers including Texas, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, and California.

“The main challenge was these concerts focus predominantly on Sri Swamiji’s compositions and the onus was on my shoulders as to how I would take this idea forward. I was also aware these concerts would be attended not only by Sri Swamiji’s devotees but also general Carnatic music lovers. As such, I was a little nervous since we were unsure as to who the receiver will be.”

The first concert took place at the Karya Siddhi Hanuman Temple in Frisco, Texas, on April 7th with over 1500 people in attendance. The audience were very “reciprocative and absorbing” Ragunathan pointed out even though they were not familiar with some of the compositions. So, she took the liberty to explain the intricacies and nuances of these compositions to capture their interest.

To raise audience interest, she noted, “I also inform them beforehand about a few compositions like Namasankeerthanam to make it more interactive. It creates a very nice feeling and makes them feel they are part of the concert.”

Padma Bhushan and Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee, Sudha Ragunathan with Sri Ganapathy Sachchidananda Swamiji in Erin, Ontario, Canada, in July 2022. PHOTO: Sudha Ragunathan

Ragunathan is thrilled with community’s response towards her thematic concerts in Texas, Illinois, and New Jersey. Her final concert in the series will happen in San Francisco, CA, on May 11th.

Ragunathan said her Carnatic concerts in the presence of Sri Swamiji usually featured just two or three of his compositions. “But this is the first time that I have done the reverse of that, where my concerts focus predominantly on Sri Swamiji’s compositions with only one or two other compositions.”

Delving into the depths of Sri Swamiji’s compositions, she explained that they present in a wide variety of ragas, some are well known, and others are rare and some even newer ragas. According to her, some are extremely simple, and some are like Divya Naama krithis of Sri Thyagaraja with a lot of Charanams. Sri Swamiji’s compositions seem very simple when you listen, but then when you sit down and learn, you feel the real challenge. “It’s an integrated content between simplicity and variety, where one would like to keep on listening.”

Given the intricacies of Sri Swamiji’s compositions, Ragunathan described the challenge is “not to dilute the divinity of Sri Swamiji’s compositions since these wide range of ragas have complex lyrics, which are very difficult even to memorize. Even the words that are used are quite unheard of in languages such as Kannada, Telugu, and others that we sing in.”

But then she said she loves taking on challenges. “Right from my childhood I have loved challenges. My mother has groomed me that way. Even my own guru, M L Vasanthakumari Amma used to say when challenges come to you, think of it as something that you must master diligently,” she said, emphasizing, “Therefore, when you focus on the content completely, your intent becomes larger than the challenge.”

In addition to the focus, she said it also helps to “completely surrender into the grace of Sri Swamiji for his guidance.” Ragunathan who has been a devotee of Sri Swamiji since the 1990s, said she has personally experienced these miracles during her Carnatic performances in Mysore, Vijayawada, Bangalore, Chennai, and festivals such as Navaratri and Shivaratri.

During this visit, Ragunathan also participated in two music festivals in San Diego, and Cleveland. Also, at the invitation of Grammy Award winner, Ganesh Rajagopalan, a violinist, she performed at his Temple of Music in Seattle.

Ragunathan has garnered more than 135 awards and accolades and has launched over 200 music albums. She stands as the second Carnatic musician, following Bharat Ratna M.S. Subbulakshmi, to perform at the United Nations on October 2, 2016, during the International Day of Non-Violence. Her performance occurred 50 years after Subbulakshmi’s iconic performance in 1966.

In recognition of her accomplishments, Mayors of Louisville, and New York City have declared “Sudha Ragunathan Day” on 19 May 2019, and 19 June 2022 respectively.



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