Song of Surrender

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Suguna Purushothaman’s homage to Musiri

By V Ramnarayan

“The years I spent learning music from Musiri Subramania Iyer marked a golden period of my life,” Suguna Purushothaman told the small audience that had gathered to listen to her programme Musiri Margam, the 19th Oli chamber concert last Sunday. “While attending one of his concerts, you forgot after the first few moments that he was singing or even that you were listening, so deep was the bliss of complete absorption in the music.” Several times during the evening, she gave us samples of the Musiri way of niraval or swaram singing, with special emphasis on niraval, on how he stressed the importance of getting the lyric right, of choosing the best possible place in the song to do niraval even among a number of appropriate lines, of how vital the meaning of the lyric was to this choice.

Rather early in the concert, she presented Musiri’s famous Mukhari and Enta ninne in that raga, but later, she also offered the delights of rare raga Kokilavarali, in which, Musiri revelled, according to her. There was a sensitive exposition of Khamas, and a wonderful Sama kriti in Varuvaro by Gopalakrishna Bharati.

Suguna repeatedly spoke of Musiri’s bhakti for Tyagaraja, taking the audience on a glimpse of the utsava sampradaya in the process. Her own bhakti for Musiri was much in evidence. She was able to laugh at her own and her peers’ inadequacies and the great patience the guru showed them. Never one to utter a sharp word, Musiri restricted criticism to smiling admonition of the multitude of angularities in the students’ interpretation of his lessons (Ellame konal…etc.) No note-taking was allowed in class, and tape recorders were a rarity (“TK Govinda Rao flashed one around after a trip to Singapore”; this with a mischievous twinkle in her eye). You repeated after the guru as he took you through whole kritis in each class until you got it right.

If niraval was Musiri’s speciality, so was his own unique brand of swara prastara, with short phrases falling seamlessly in place with the raga bhava fully intact. In fact, bhava, as we all know was his USP, though selling anything was the last thing on his mind, we gathered from Suguna Mami’s emotion-surcharged homage to a great teacher and vidwan. If the small number of sahrdayas present were a privileged lot, those who missed out perhaps because of competing programmes in the city, were really unfortunate. Hopefully, the audio recording will provide solace. Watch this space.

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