Award-winning composer Jyotsna Nithyanandan.
Members of the Ankur ensemble.

By Subhadra Devan

THE legends of Parameswara, Hang Tuah, Hang Li Po and Mahsuri get fresh life under the Ankur music ensemble, with a choir as well as dance and theatrical elements to spice up a new show, titled Under The Kayon Tree.

Ankur, in Sanskrit, means sprout, but for Ankur Ensemble’s musical director and award-winning composer Jyotsna Nithyanandan, it spells an analogy of new beginnings in a new place.

“As Malaysians, we have come from many places and as seeds we have been planted here, and our seeds of culture, language and traditions have sprouted from this fertile soil and has now grown into a strong tree with a beautiful amalgamated culture, which can be truly called Malaysian.”

The Ankur Ensemble will perform original compositions for Under The Kayon Tree, set for its debut next month as part of the Shantanand Festival of Arts in Kuala Lumpur.


“The Kayon Tree is based on the mythological Pohon Beringin or Tree of Life. The Tree of Life is a mythological concept of a tree that supports and nurtures all forms of life, from the smallest insect to the other creatures that inhabit the forest.

“I chose the stories of Hang Tuah, Hang Jebat, Mahsuri, Hang Li Po and Parameswara as these, to me, represent the nation’s past as well as the present. For example, the story of Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat is a story of friendship, loyalty and conflict. Who is right and who is wrong is subjective, and I believe that these issues are two sides of the same coin, which exist in all of us and stays relevant no matter the decade,” she says.

As for the music, she wanted to create a movie score effect with it, along with using dance and theatre to frame each piece.

“This time, thanks to the support of CIMB Foundation, I was able to incorporate some new instruments in the ensemble such as the harp and cello, as well as the traditional rebab apart from the Western violin, Indian violin, gambus, sitar, gendang, erhu, flute, piano and a choir, all with homegrown musicians!” she says of the show, which features 15 musicians and a 20-member choir.

The choir piece was arranged by Ann Salina Peter, from the acapella group The Vochale Project, who also trained the singers.

“Another interesting piece is a percussion item put together by tabla player Prakash Kandasamy of the Temple of Fine Arts, Mohd Hisharudy Mahmud of White Percussion and Jack Wan of Hands Percussion.

“The idea is that although we may speak different dialects but we are unified by the same language of rhythm.”

The stories will be narrated onstage by well-known singer, director and teacher Shanthini Venugopal.

Scheduling rehearsals has been a daunting task for Jyotsna but she has likely grown accustomed to the juggling after the ensemble’s first showing in 2013.

“I have been composing for many years now and people often ask me ‘so what kind of music do you write?’, and I would launch into a lengthy explanation which got me thinking about who I actually am as a composer. This was also the subject of my master’s dissertation in University Malaya in 2015.

“I feel that like me, there are many musicians like Hands Percussion, Rhythm in Bronze and others whose music is what I believe to be what Malaysia would sound like if it were a piece of music.”

For Jyotsna, Under The Kayon Tree is not just a music show but also a musician’s voice that aims “to communicate thoughts and hopes through music.”

Fact Box:

Under The Kayon Tree

When: Sept 9-10, 8pm

Where: Shantanand Auditorium, Temple of Fine Arts, 116, Jalan Berhala, Brickfields, KL

For more info, call 03-2274 3709 (TFA) or visit

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