Song of Surrender

Friday, 31 May 2013

An evening with Nedunuri

By Sampreeti Malladi

Who can forget the bhakti soaked rendering of Nanati batuku by MS, set to music by Nedunuri Krishnamurthy? Nedunuri is synonymous with classicism, tradition and soulful compositions. We were fortunate to be present when this vidwan – of the Walajapet lineage of Tyagaraja’s music – shared his insights at the forum organised by the University of Hyderabad, under the Distinguished Lecture Series, 2013. He spoke on ‘The re-construction of the compositions of Annamacharya and Ramadas’.

The proceedings were conducted with wit and humour by scholar Dr. Pappu Venugopala Rao who kept the discussion focussed on Nedunuri’s contribution to the given theme. Though Nedunuri and his guru have set to music more than 200 kritis of Annamacharya, he humbly attributed all the magic in his compositions to God and the beauty of the Telugu language used by Annamayya. Venugopala Rao regaled the audience with anecdotes and poems highlighting the virtuosity of the language as also about Nedunuri who has rendered such immortal gems of Annamayya like Emoko chigurutadhramula in Tilang, Sakala santi in Bahudari and Purushottamuda vevu in Revagupti. An easy camaraderie was evident between Nedunuri and Rao, and the audience hung on to every word.

When Rao asked him about the choice of ragas for specific compositions, Nendunuri attributed it to the blessings of his guru Sripada Pinakapani. His humility was remarkable – coming from a musician who has been performing for over seven decades. He said: “The notes suggested the feeling, God suggested the raga and Annamacharya’s poetic compositions brought out the different dimensions in me”. As he sang Polati javvana in Kharaharapriya and made his way through the subtle gamakas, every flower mentioned in the song seemed to manifested itself. When he sang Okapari kokapari, the imbued sringara shone forth. Most compositions have remained unchanged.

Nedunuri seemed to dance his way through the songs as he rendered Muddugare Yasoda and Paluku tenela talli – each of a different mood and feeling. He said “Dance is integral to music, I can see dance while I sing.” It is no wonder that dancers choose to present Annamacharya’s kritis as tuned by Nedunuri.

Moving on to the compositions of Bhadrachala Ramadas, Nedunuri said that while Annamacharya’s keertanas were inclined towards sringara, the kritis of Ramadas were full of bhakti that could lead to moksha; and it was this element that had attracted him.

Rao revealed that the real name of Bhadrachala Ramadas was Kancherla Gopanna, and he is acknowledged as the aadyudu or pioneer of the bhajana sampradaya. Even though we know of only 152 compositions of Ramadas, Tyagaraja – the great vaggeyakara who cited him in many of his kritis – considered Bhadrachala Ramadas as one of the five great devotees of Lord Rama.

As Nedunuri sang Ramajogi mandu gonare swaying and clapping with childlike enthusiasm, the audience too joined him. He said, “You must convey devotion through the songs, it is important to achieve the goal of life. This is amritam.”

Nedunuri also rendered a few Tyagaraja kritis. Although Tyagaraja has mentioned the ragas for his songs, Nedunuri is credited for setting to music twelve of Tyagaraja’s untuned compositions.

The evening concluded on a pleasant note when the Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University, Hari Babu, immediately agreed to Nedunuri’s request to institute a ‘Tyagaraja Chair’ at the university. Later, the maestro made an ardent appeal to safeguard and propagate Telugu literature and the region’s rich musical heritage. The evening of music was best summed up in the doyen’s own words: “Music has no language, musicians have no age.”

Musical experiments

By Ramaswamy R. Iyer

What lovely photographs of T.N. Krishnan and Palakkad Mani Iyer in Sruti 329 (February 2012). I have some photographs of musicians on the wall in one of the rooms in my flat, and propose to add these. The Mani Iyer photograph is that of the mridangist in his younger years. As he grew older, his face acquired an authoritative, magisterial, even forbidding appearance. I would like to see a photograph in which that quality appears.

Indira Parthasarathy’s article makes very interesting reading. Without disagreeing with him, may I add a footnote to his thesis? There is indeed a need to read plays as plays, and this may apply equally to both Shakespeare and the modern playwrights that the author mentions. Shakespeare was essentially a theatre man, and he too, like Beckett and Anouilh, wrote his plays as production scripts. They certainly gain by being read as plays and being seen on the stage. However, Shakespeare was also a poet, an explorer of life and human nature through language (with which he had a love affair). Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, King Lear, and so on, are indeed plays, but they are also poetic drama. They contain some of the most magnificent poetry in the language, and there is no reason why one should not choose to read them as poetry. They are both plays to be seen and books to be read.

Radhakrishnan’s article is very clever and scholarly but it seems to me that it overdoes the cleverness and the scholarship. Shorn of cleverness and style, his point is that T.M. Krishna rendered the raga Mukhari in extremely slow tempo and that many in the audience found that difficult to take. What does that establish? Radhakrishnan proceeds to talk about a contract between the singer and the audience. I am not sure that the terminology of ‘contract’ is particularly useful. If musicians can be said to be under a contract with the audience, it is really to take the concert seriously and render the best music that they are capable of. Part of their responsibility is to enrich and enhance the taste of the general audience, and gradually accustom them to the new and the unfamiliar. Great musicians create their own audience. It took time for the beauty of M.D. Ramanathan’s and Brinda-Mukta’s music to be recognised. In TMK’s case, it was in fact his vilamba kala and ativilamba kala singing that first brought him to the fore. I was not present at the concert where he rendered an extremely slow Mukhari, but I wish I had been; I would have loved it.

I was there at the Academy where (in the 2010 season) he rendered the Bhairavi Ata tala varnam in the middle of the concert as a kriti, and (in the 2011 season) did the ‘stand alone’ alapana of Varali. I think he is entitled to experiment, but I am not entirely sure that these worked.

It was not just fashion or custom that assigned the starting role to varnam-s. They can indeed be treated as kriti-s and rendered in the middle of a concert, and this experiment may even work in some cases. For instance, Swati Tirunal’s Suma sayaka can be rendered either at the beginning of a concert like a varnam or in the middle as a kriti, but I am not entirely clear as to what this achieves.

Krishna has also been criticised for following an elaborate alapana of Kambhoji with a Kshetrayya padam rendered as a kriti with niraval and swaraprastara. Taking up a relatively light piece and giving it elaborate treatment is not unprecedented. Ariyakudi used to do this with the Tiruppavai verse Amabarame tanneere (Kalyani), and following his guru, K.V. Narayanaswamy did the same. In one of her academy concerts, M.S. Subbulakshmi gave bravura treatment to a Tiruvempavai verse in Sankarabharanam (Aartha piravi tuyarkkeda). The question is whether the piece in question lends itself to this kind of treatment. It was the view of some that the Kshetrayya padam that Krishna sang did not. I don’t entirely agree with that view. I think the experiment was worth undertaking, even if it did not wholly come off. A more serious point was that the pace of the padam did not enable the percussionists to do justice to the tani avartanam.

As for a ‘stand alone’ alapana, it occurs to me that a concert exclusively of alapana-s might be worth doing, but in the middle of a conventional concert with kriti-s, a single alapana without a kriti does not quite produce the intended effect. Further, a concert of alapana-s (if carefully selected and arranged) may well be successful, but it will cover only half of Carnatic music, namely, melody, as tala is the other half of our music. If the musician tries to remedy this by following up the alapana with a stretch of rhythmically structured singing with mnemonic syllables (say of tanam or swaraprastara) with mridanga accompaniment, what exactly is he or she trying to do? Escape the hegemony or tyranny of the kriti?

I am not drawing any conclusions from these ramblings, which are purely exploratory.

On 10 March there was a T.M. Krishna concert at the India International Centre, New Delhi. It was a superb concert. There was a bit of innovation in it. Krishna sang a wonderful, elaborate alapana in Todi, and when we were expecting the violinist (Akkarai Subhalakshmi) to follow, she did not do an alapana but went forthwith into a brilliant tanam. After the tanam, we were expecting a pallavi, but Krishna sang a kriti (Sree Krishnam bhaja manasa). The niraval was so elaborate that it took the place of a pallavi. Again, it was also virtually a swaraprastara, so there was no swara singing. From the niraval, the concert went straight into tani avartanam. So instead of a conventional RTP, we had ‘ragam’ (R) by the singer, ‘tanam’ (T) by the viloinist, and a ‘kriti’ (K) with niraval. An interesting experiment which, in my view, worked.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Raga Reetigaula

By B.M. Sundaram

In the recent few issues I find some have complained that Dr. Balamuralikrishna is not using suddha dhaivata (as specified by Subbarama Dikshitar in his Sangeeta Sampradaya Pradarsini) in the raga Reetigaula. It is quite surprising that these complainants are ignorant that there are mainly two schools – one of Tyagaraja and the other of Dikshitar, where in the cases of many raga-s, the arohana-avarohana or even the nomenclature differ. Mazhavai Subbarama Bhagavatar, Chittoor Subramania Pillai, Mannargudi Rajagopala Pillai, T.M. Thyagarajan and many other greats sang this particular raga using only the chatusruti dhaivata. The kriti Bale balendu bhooshani of Tyagaraja in this raga is found only with the usage of chatusruti dhaivata, in the manuscripts of Manambuchavadi Venkatasubbayya.

Almost every raga in our Carnatic system has a number of arohana-avarohana-s, as given by different authors. One may refer to my book Palai Azhi. In the case of the raga Chintamani (Devi brova), the arohana-avarohana-s are many. T.N. Swaminatha Pillai followed one and others like Sarabha Sastri and Gajapati Rao (seniormost disciple of Annaswami Sastri) used another. This in no way decreases the stature or greatness of a musician, be it Sarabha Sastri or Swaminatha Pillai. There is no doubt that Subbarama Dikshitar has done yeoman service to our music by giving in notation a number of Dikshitar’s and some others’ compositions. But, at the same time, we cannot take his version as the final and decisive authority.

While speaking about Melattur Veerabhadrayya, for instance, Subbarama Dikshitar says that he came from the north to Tanjavur. Which was the place in ‘the north’ really? Even Tiruvaiyaru is to the north of Tanjavur! Similarly, he has given the pada varna Roopamu joochi in Todi as a composition of Muthuswami Dikshitar, whereas, all of us know that the latter never composed other than in the Sanskrit language. The varna is actually by Patnam Muthuswami Nattuvanar, a student of Muthuswami Dikshitar. The notebook containing the original is still available with the descendants of the famous dancer, Tiruvarur Rajayee.

Before complaining or writing on such delicate matters, one must get acquainted with other things related to it. Further, it is a pity that today we find very young people placing their feet on the very first step of the ladder, trying to sling mud on aged, senior and very versatile musicians who have reached the pinnacle, as if they have incarnated endowed with the “kavacha-kundala” of musical authority.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

A valued friend

By Venkatesan Srikanth

I came to know Manna through a banker friend in whose branch Manna had his bank account. I met him at the India International Centre (IIC) during a Carnatic music concert. He often sent me good and encouraging comments about my Carnatic music concert reviews through our banker friend. Our friendship slowly but steadily grew and I had the pleasure of listening to a number of music concerts in Delhi seated next to him. Particularly, he would never miss the special nagaswaram concerts organised at the Malai Mandir in Delhi during the Skanda Shashti festival. He sat through for the entire concert and appreciated the typical phrases played on the nagaswaram, exclaiming “Ithu nagaswara pidi,” in delight.

Manna enjoyed listening to the veena and arranged veena concerts at IIC. Once an artist, while playing kalpanaswara for the main song, switched to ragamalika swara-s, altering the original pallavi in different raga-s to suit the ragamalika swara-s. In my review I pointed out that had it been a ragam-tanam-pallavi the artist could do that as it was her own creation, but as she was playing a Tyagaraja kriti, she should not have taken the liberty to change the pallavi. Manna appreciated me for pointing this out. On yet another occasion, Manna complimented me for the way I had described in one of my reviews how a Chennai based vocalist had connected to the cosmopolitan audience at IIC even while singing traditional raga-s like Yadukulakambhoji and Varali.

I last met Manna at the Andhra Bhavan, just a day before he passed away, during a music concert organised by the Shanmukhananda Sangeeta Sabha. On the next two days there were music concerts by popular Chennai based artists at IIC to which Manna invited me. I could not, however, attend these concerts. A day later, without knowing that dear Manna was no more, I called to apologise, but since his mobile phone was switched off, I thought he was taking rest. I sent him an SMS asking him to call whenever he was free. There was no reply, later I came to know of his passing away.

I valued Manna’s friendship and will continue to cherish those good moments of sitting next to him and enjoying concerts at IIC, Malai Mandir, Andhra Bhavan and other auditoriums in Delhi.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Title for Mysore V. Subramanya

Prof. V. Subramanya, senior musicologist and critic, was elected President of the Sankara Jayanti Music Festival organised by the Tyagaraja Gana Sabha Trust, Bangalore in the third week of May 2013. The title of Kalabhushana was conferred on him by Dr. S.C. Sharma, Vice President of the Higher Education Council.

Artists and organisations like Dr. Gayathri Rajapure Kasebaum (gottuvadyam), M.T. Rajakesari (mridangam), Kaveri Sridhar (choral music), the Bangalore Gayana Samaja (oldest organisation), Narasimha Murthy (Veda) and M. Ananth (organiser) were also felicitated for their service to society. Eight music concerts were presented at the festival.

Rabindrik music and dance

By Tapati Chowdhurie

This is the month in which India’s first Nobel Laureate was born. Rabindranath ‘Thakur’ (anglicised to Tagore), was born on 7th May 1861. He was a poet, playwright, composer, novelist, artist and philosopher. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. He was a visionary and a polymath who reshaped his region’s literature and music. He was also responsible for ushering in the modern age of dance when he introduced the learning and teaching of dance at Viswabharati in Santiniketan in the 1920s and 1930s. It was the time when there was a search for identity through the rich art traditions of the country that the imperialists had looked down upon. The efforts of Rabindranath Tagore threw open the flood gates of creativity. Apart from formulating and popularising Rabindra Sangeet, he tried to launch a dance idiom to express contemporary life and art.

Tagore imaginatively and aesthetically mingled the ragas of Indian classical music, Baul tunes, keertans and folk music to create what is known as Rabindra Sangeet. Similarly, it was his endeavour to create a dance form which would suit his nrityanatyas. He used various dance styles to suit the subject matter and the characters. Santiniketan did not propound a conservative attitude towards any dance style. The aim was to enable the various dance forms to interact to create a style capable of standing on its own.

Tagore was not a trained dancer, but he could understand its core because of his love for aesthetic beauty and a feel for life. During rehearsals he would not be satisfied till he could convey the correct emotion for the dancers to portray through aesthetic movements. Though he did not actually dance, he was able to lead dance to a new direction. He believed that intense feelings could be best expressed through of dance. Tagore’s dance-dramas capture the intense moments of life – the emotions are universal and eternal.

The main objective of Rabindra nritya-natya is to express the emotions in the songs, which is why the dance movements so blend with the rhythm and lyrical beauty of the songs. The synchronisation of song and dance imparts a magical quality to Rabindra nritya-natya. With a creative touch Tagore wove in traditional talas and body movements into his songs which gave them a different flavour and also made his dance-dramas unique.

Tagore drew on different sources for his nritya-natyas. The story of Chitrangada was taken from the Mahabharata. He did not change the story, but introduced a few changes in the presentation which made it all the more enjoyable. The story of Shyama and that of Chandalika, as mentioned by Tagore, were taken from the Buddhist literature of Nepal edited by Rajendralal Mitra. Chandalika is in prose interspersed with songs. Though Tagore has merely introduced a few tunes and rhythms and not resorted to any major changes, from start to finish the treatment of the play is different. The theme of all the three plays is love, though it is different in each.

Manipuri was the dance form which was first taught at Santiniketan. It could be the reason why the nritya-natya Chitrangada was based on the Manipuri style. Flashes of Kathakali, and folk dances of Bengal and other regions were introduced in the presentations. Later on the dance styles of the South were also incorporated.

In the dance-drama Shyama, Tagore drew upon Kathakali, Manipuri, Kathak, and Bharatanatyam as well as Kandyian dance. In Chandalika the characters of Prakriti and her mother were conceptualized to facilitate the use of rhythm patterns and dramatic movements from Kathakali and Bharatanatyam. It is said that the climax in the last scene was originally thought of as a shadow dance by the character called Ananda, though it was never enacted as such in Santiniketan. Tagore was perhaps inspired by the shadow plays of Java, Bali and Kerala. However, what was portrayed was based on the European Impressionist style – adopting the use of dim light.

It is amazing to see that Tagore has given importance to classical and folk forms in his nritya-natyas. In three dance-dramas we find two distinct classifications of characters – aristocratic and the ordinary. These, in turn, were portrayed through the classical and the folk respectively. For example, the characters of Arjuna, Chitrangada, Madana, Vajrasena, Shyama, Prahari, Uttiya and the companions are rendered in classical styles, whereas the foresters and village folk perform in folk styles. In Chandalika the characters of Prakriti, mother and Ananda use sophisticated and stylised natya while the others resort to lokanritya or folk dances which too are presented with a lot of variety. Swords are used in the group dances performed by men. Dancing with weapons is prevalent in the north-eastern region.

There is a general notion that simply performing soft swaying movements is Rabindrik dance. This misconception must be removed as it does not do justice to the creativity of the versatile genius of Rabindranath Tagore.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Heat and light

By Thanjai K. Sivasubramanian

The exchange of correspondence on the raga Reetigaula between B.M. Sundaram and T.M. Krishna was interesting. One controversy is about Balamurali singing Neelotpalanayike with chatusruti dhaivata. It is quite clear from both that there are two schools, one considering Reetigaula a janya of Natabhairavi (mela 20), which has suddha dhaivata in its scale. This is the Venkatamakhi school followed by Dikshitar. According to the Tyagaraja school, Reetigaula is considered a Kharaharapriya janya (22 mela). So it is appropriate to sing the Tyagaraja kriti Bale with chatusruti dhaivata. The question raised by Krishna is whether to sing the Dikshitar kriti Neelotpalanayike with chatusruti dhaivata. On that question T.M. Krishna is right in his assertion.

Another controversy is on T.M. Thyagarajan tuning it in Natabhairavi. In the Dikshitar school, the 20th mela is called Naree Reetigaula. So TMT tuning it in Natabhairavi – which we are familiar with – may not be wrong, with the following arohana and avarohana: R2 G1 M1 N1 D1 P N1 S, S N1N1 D1 M1 G1G1 R2 S.

A similar example is Seetamma mayamma – a kriti of Tyagaraja,  now sung in Vasanta, a janya of Sooryakantam (17th mela). In the book Tyagarajaswami Keertanaigal, published by Sri Sadguru Sangeeta Samajam (1967), the raga for this kriti is mentioned as Lalita (Mayamalavagaula janya – mela 15). Here also the prayoga changing suddha dhaivata to chatusruti dhaivata, changes the very raga .

In spite of the jarring ‘sound’ portion of the letter, which could have been avoided, the ’light’ portion of the debate is welcome. More discussion on the nuances and subtle points in music and arts are welcome and enlightening. This will enrich the content of Sruti.

I am also happy that Sruti brought out a commemorative issue on veteran stage artist F.G. Natesa Iyer. The centenary of Avvai Shanmugam ended this April, and that of Seva stage Sahasranamam starts in November 2012. I am sure readers will appreciate if special issues are brought out on these personalities.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Thou shalt not prescribe!

By K.G. Vijayakrishnan

I read the response of T.M. Krishna to B.M. Sundaram’s letter with consternation. I feel I ought not to remain a mute spectator to such discussions, being a linguist by profession and a Carnatic musician by training, when the eminent and widely admired senior musician and composer Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna’s rendering of the Reetigaula composition with chatusruti dhaivata is branded as ‘ungrammatical’.

I have written in detail on this matter of what constitutes grammaticality in my book The Grammar of Carnatic Music. As the issue is worthy of repetition, I wish to put down my views for wider dissemination. The world over, specialists are now of the view that a grammar and the grammarian who writes a synchronic grammar must not be prescriptive. The only duty of the grammar and the grammarian is to describe current practice if attested by a group of established users; he or she does not have any right to condemn any practice as ‘ungrammatical’ if it is prevalent among established users. This certainly holds for language, and I feel also for Carnatic music which is a language like system.

Let me begin with an example from language. It is a well known fact that a large population of Tamil speakers do not use the rare and beautiful consonant sound that occurs at the end of the word ‘Tamil’ as they have lost this sound which is replaced by the lateral sound which occurs at the end of the word /teeL/ meaning ‘scorpion’. According to linguists, the speech of people who attest this pronunciation must not be termed ‘ungrammatical’, contrary to what Tamil pundits may aver or Tamil orthography indicates. The only reality of a language/dialect is change; whereas usage keeps changing, writing systems rarely do.

Turning to Carnatic music, we know that the raga Gaulipantu is sometimes rendered with a suddha madhyama and sometimes with a prati madhyama. We are also aware that some established musicians render the Muthuswami Dikshitar composition with a suddha madhyama, while rendering Tyagaraja kriti-s with the prati madhyama (which is quite similar to people pronouncing the word ‘route’ to rhyme with ‘lout’ in the US but with ‘root’ elsewhere). Being a disciple of the late musicologist, Rangaramanuja Iyengar, I normally use his Kritimanimalai to learn new compositions. As a musicologist he was way ahead of his times as he tried to follow a descriptive methodology while commenting on usage/changing practices etc., but as a musician and teacher he stuck to his personal judgements. (An aside is not irrelevant at this point. How many of today’s musicians/musicologists are aware that Rangaramanuja Iyengar had given the notation for two versions of the Muthuswami Dikshitar composition Rangapuravihara in the raga Brindavana Saranga calling one of them ‘navinam’ implying that the other one is (closer to) the original in all the editions of Kritimanimalai?) He notes with reservation that the use of prati madhyama was gaining ground in the fifties. Therefore, according to him, as per orthodox practice, the raga Gaulipantu is a janya of Mayamalavagaula and hence only the suddha madhyama must be used. However, admiring the renderings of many musicians like the late M.S. Subbulakshmi, I choose to render the Tyagaraja kriti Terateeyakaraadaa with prati madhyama. I am fully aware that my guru would not have approved of it at all. Will this constitute ‘ungrammaticality’? To him, who was a prescriptivist as a teacher, it would have been completely ungrammatical and my rendering totally unjustifiable since I am very proficient in learning from (his) notation. But how would contemporary musicians generally react to my rendering? They, I am sure, will feel that Rangaramanuja Iyengar’s reaction was unduly orthodox and that the matter does not deserve condemnation. If this contemporary reaction is acceptable, it is logical to come to the conclusion that Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna’s rendering of Sree Neelotpalanayike with chatusruti dhaivata is also acceptable and hence perfectly grammatical.

My plea is that all systems of notation published by established musicians/musicologists, be it Subbarama Dikshitar, Rangaramanuja Iyengar or renderings by established musicians (with established musical lineage) should be taken as statements of personal preference. There is no need to handle Muthuswami Dikshitar compositions with kid gloves just because Subbarama Dikshitar notated many of his compositions. The person notating the art object in Carnatic music merely records the practice he/she approves/follows/or tries to follow (even this is suspect given the human condition). Therefore, one set of notations may not be inherently superior to or more ‘authentic’ than other sets of notation.

To conclude, given Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna’s experience, knowledge and preferences, his decision must be respected, as it is acceptable to a sizeable population of Carnatic music practitioners, notwithstanding some voices of dissent. Of course, voices of dissent must not be stifled. Each side having had its say, let individual musicians decide for themselves. No orthodoxy can ever hope to stem the tide of change. Change is the law of life and change happens additively like a flood or avalanche sweeping aside small obstacles of dissent found in its path. I am not saying this with total approval as many things rare and beautiful disappear because of the general law of survival, which is always determined by the lowest common denominator: the strength of numbers.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Vidya without vinaya

By S. Keshava Murthy

Vidwan T.M. Krishna is one of the most acclaimed Carnatic vocalists. Goddess Saraswati has bestowed on him many prime qualities of a vocalist and blessed him abundantly, not to take away the hard work and innovative methods he employs during his concerts. In fact, he is the right role model for the younger generation pursuing this art. This statement is exclusively applicable to his ‘vidya’, not to his ‘vinaya’.

The Bangalore Gayana Samaja recently presented him in their inaugural concert in connection with their 44th Annual Music Conference. True to his tradition, he began his concert with the major raga Todi. The kriti lasted over 30 minutes.

When the concert had progressed to around 45 minutes, there developed a minor technical snag in the audio hardware, which needed a few minutes to set right. This sudden development was beyond the control of the organisers. At this juncture, Krishna exhibited unpleasant body language which did not go well with the tradition and prestige of the institution. He threw the microphone and started singing without the support of the amplifying unit.

Meanwhile, the organisers diagnosed the hitch and rectified the problem in a few minutes. When Krishna was requested to switch over to the mike, he refused and threw a tantrum, which was disrespectful of the music connoisseurs in the auditorium.

The entire concert was hijacked without the audio system and the music lovers were deprived of relishing Krishna’s music. In the history of Gayana Samaja, no musician has ever resorted to this kind of treatment to the music loving audience. This virtually amounted to disrespect to goddess Saraswati.

Numerous strong protests are being exchanged in various rasika-related sites condemning the behaviour of the artist.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Sairam and Chaitrra

Young voices
(Conversations with emerging artists)

By Sushma Somasekharan



Photo by Eshita Prasanna
Mridangam artist Delhi Sairam and his vocalist wife Chaitrra Sairam are a rare couple in Carnatic music. Sairam (DS) accompanied Chaitrra (C) in a concert for the first time 2001 and they were married in 2008. It was their shared passion, Carnatic music, that brought them together. They speak with respect for each other’s talent and their mutual influence has evidently helped them immensely in their musical pursuits.

Tell me about your journey in music so far.

C: I was initiated into Carnatic music at a very young age. Music has been part of my genes. My great grandfather was a musician in Mysore, Sri C Rangiah. My mother was my first guru. I learnt from various teachers before coming under the tutelage of my current guru Bombay Jayashri Akka. I have been learning from her for the last 12 years.

DS: Unlike my wife, I am the first musician in my family. My talent was first noticed by my parents when I used to tap on vessels and walls. My first guru was Sri TR Dhandapani in Delhi, where I lived for the first 16 years of my life. I started learning from Tiruvarur Bhaktavatsalam Sir in 1997 and have been his student since.

Please describe the experience so far.

C: Learning from Akka has been one of the most beautiful experiences in my life. She taught me how to enjoy music, the different nuances to be enjoyed and how to present the music in a way that others can experience the same joy. Without her, I would not know how deep and vast this ocean of music is. Akka gives all her students the freedom to explore different aspects of music. As I have studied psychology, music therapy is an area I would like to do further research in. I believe music has the power to heal people and I am keen to use my musical knowledge to do the same.

DS: It has been nothing short of wonderful! In fact, moving to Chennai and learning under Sir was the big break for me. I should thank Vinayakram Sir for this opportunity. When my first guru learnt about my decision to move to Chennai, he suggested I learn from Vinayakram Sir. As he was busy with other commitments, he suggested I go T.V Gopalakrishnan Sir or Bhaktavatsalam Sir. I contacted the latter first and he readily accepted me as his student. I would not have a career in mridangam if not for him; he has been my source of inspiration in many ways.

What is your schedule like during the year?

DS: I spend most of my year performing. Since 2009, I have been going to Canada to teach at Sir’s music school. I usually leave in the month of May and return in August. Apart from teaching, I also perform with artists visiting Canada. I had the privilege of performing with Sir and Sri V.V. Subramaniam and Sri V.V.S. Murari in 2009. I have performed with Sri Sikkil Gurucharan and Sri Sashank Subramanyam since. My wife also travels with me. We are part-time lecturers at this music school called Kalaikovil Academy of Fine Arts.

Your most memorable concert experience?

DS: One of them would have to be my first overseas concert tour with Smt Ranjani-Gayatri. We had 23 concerts in the USA. It was humbling to see rasikas drive for two to three hours from other cities to listen to our kutcheri, an inspiring, unforgettable experience. Another memorable experience was accompanying in a double mridangam concert; that was also my first kutcheri with him. We performed with Sri Suryaprakash at the Raghavendra temple in Tiruvallur.

C: Travelling with Akka to Europe for her concerts was definitely special. I learnt a great deal about choosing appropriate songs for the audience and venue, creating a rapport with the listeners and about being a professional artist. Performing along with her in Malaysia also holds a special place in my heart.

How has marriage to a musician helped you?

C: We both never run out of things to say to each other and it’s mainly because of music. We have so much to share and understand. Having him in my life has given a different colour to my music. His influence has helped my music to be distinct from my fellow Jayashree disciples; it is more laya oriented. As a vocalist, I was always concerned about pleasing the audience. I learnt from him that it is just as important to have a good understanding with the co-artists on stage too. Understanding the traits of the mridangam and violin players helps to enhance the concert and listening experience.

Another important lesson I learnt from him is the need to finish a song at the same speed in which I started it. I tend to get excited on stage when handling quick brigas or singing swarams in the second kalam, resulting in an increase in tempo. He pointed it out to me that such fluctuations in tempo can pose problems ideal for the mridangam player.

Do you perform together regularly?

DS: We don’t perform together regularly in Chennai. We do not want to get too used to each other on stage, too predictable, as we practise together regularly at home.

C: And that might make the concert experience a tad boring for both of us. I might expect him to cover up my flaws on stage and it is not wise for me to get used to such comforts. Performing with other co-artists will force me to work on my weaker aspects and have varied inputs to my music.

DS: However, when we perform out of Chennai, we travel together as it is also an excuse for a good holiday!

What changes do you see in the music scenario?

D: I think creativity has increased tremendously over the years. There are many opportunities to perform now and that motivates the performers to think of new songs or new interpretations to the old songs. Even when we look at the mridangam; back in the day, people did not play korvais as extensively as they do now. The music has evolved technically and creatively to suit the audience’s taste.

C: The need to do something new has become a must now. The audience does not want to come back to listen to the same music. Everyone demands something different; a new collaboration, or a fresh approach or a novel idea. While the current music industry offers many opportunities and platforms, it has become harder now to carve a niche for oneself. The artist has to have a distinct strength to stand out and grasp the audience’s attention.

Endangered species

By K.G. Vijayakrishnan

It is true that the system of raga-s followed by Dikshitar is severely endangered, if not almost extinct. Believe me, as a linguist and musician I face the predicament of a system becoming endangered on a day to day basis. I have analysed the sound systems of a few languages approaching endangerment rapidly and the system of veena playing so lovingly passed on to students by my guru Ranga Ramanuja Ayyangar will become extinct eventually as I am the last, but ageing practitioner with no students to pass on the tradition. Sentimentality apart, we can document it and leave it to future generations to serendipitously adopt a few ideas from the documentation. Take the lesson from language: for instance, the disappearance of Sanskrit from every day use is offset by the birth of numerous modern Indo-Aryan languages making us realise that for one beautiful system which is lost, we have many equally beautiful systems which replace it and which were enriched by the system no longer in every day use.

I wish to take up two issues related to the endangered status of the Dikshitar parampara. Firstly, the reasons for a system becoming endangered or extinct is, usually, not a single factor but several factors which act additively. The Tyagaraja tradition was more robust because there were more disciples and also because it was more popular. And the simple but tyrannical idea of the 72-melakarta straightjacket contributed in a larger measure to this state of affairs. The second issue pertains to codification/ notation in Carnatic music. Let us not forget that Carnatic music was and still is an oral culture. It is not right to assume that an oral culture is different from a literate one just in not having a widely accepted writing system. The underlying philosophies of the two systems are widely divergent.

An oral poem or narrative creates an art object which is, in principle transitory, and which cannot be pinned down to a unique ‘authentic’ art object. It varies in every telling, changing ever so minutely at each instantiation. The diagnostics of oral culture are inherent variability, transitory nature of the object created on the spur of the moment and absence of the notion of ownership and consequently, lacking the concept of ‘copyright’. Certainly these criteria are met in Carnatic music constructs like alapana, niraval and kalpanaswaram. The slightly radical extension of the idea that I am advocating is that the criteria may be extended even to the Carnatic music compositions which have known authors. Let us not forget that even these authors may have varied their rendering while teaching their disciples (at different stages of their lives). This seems to be only reasonable explanation for the fact that the same composition handed down by different disciples of the same composer have extremely variable renderings, and not just in the Tygaraja tradition. For example, nobody would want to question the credentials of Kalpagam Swaminathan and yet only in her rendering do we find the use of the anyaswara gandharam in the raga Manji. An established performer of yesteryear announced when interviewed that he/she would not even add a sangati without the permission of his/her guru. How many of us today are so ‘orthodox’ as to follow this principle? Logically speaking, if the guru has the right to modify the composition, and if the disciple is a full-fledged artist in his/her own right, he/she too can do so. In fact, the stand taken by this artist is not ‘orthodoxy’ but a misguided notion of ‘being authentic’.

By extension, the point I am labouring to make is that notation/any writing system is, in principle, exterior to the concerns of Carnatic music. At best the intention is to capture the transitory object but no one can be absolutely sure of the degree of success evidenced in the written text. It is an approximation which may or may not have captured the rendering accurately. The only thing we in the contemporary situation can be certain is one’s own taste/ one’s idiolect, so to speak. Let me give an example. In the Sangeeta Sampradaya Pradarsini, the notation for the madhyama in Veenapustaka dharinim in the raga Vegavahini is a long madhyama on the syllable ‘ta’ of pustaka. One rendering in the Brinda school of music we have heard is a gamaka (pitch curve between gandhara and panchama) on the so-called long madhayama (not indicated in SSP). My guru, feeling uncomfortable with both these interpretations, took the liberty to interpret the madhyama as short and extended the gandhara. We now have three variations of the phrase. I am sure most musicians will agree with me that the choice from the variants will be determined by factors like who one’s guru is, one’s own taste/preference, etc.

The danger of taking up a less well known tradition, in the absence of renderings one can rely on, is that the written records may be misleading. Even renderings can be misleading. What we need is training to critically evaluate a tradition and refuse to take the baggage we feel uncomfortable with. I am proud to say that even this lesson I learnt from the practice of my guru. Though he admired the style of Veena Dhanam with a religious fervour (he used to play/teach in front of the lifesize statue of the empress of veena in his music room), he critically sifted her renderings with known renderings to arrive at what seemed to him a ‘reasonable’ text. For example, her rendering of Nijamarmamulanu in Umabharanam starts with the sequence “ri ma pa” (which is what I picked up after having listened to her rendering). But R.R. Ayyangar chose to go with the phrase “ri ga ma pa” which accords well with the arohana of the raga.

Having spelt out the danger of assuming the absolute correctness of any writing system in the Carnatic music scenario, I must admit that it is a truly remarkable enterprise to want to revive a beautiful system that is on the way out. But one ought to be aware of the danger lurking in that endeavour. In a Carnatic music event if we use two distinct ‘dialects’ of raga-s of Carnatic music, the entire discourse may lack internal coherence and it may also cramp one’s creativity and spontaneity. The effort is certainly laudable.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Blame the music, not the musician

By B.R. Kumar

The Editor has expressed explicit views on the current trends in music, especially Carnatic music. As unpredictable as the game of cricket, music is organic in nature and has no shelf life – when it is born, it starts perishing. It has no absoluteness, no objectivity; it is purely subjective and defies all descriptions and definitions. It has no definiteness. There are theories and theories about music, but all these theories are born out of music! And therefore, music is not bound by any steadfast theory.

What is music at this moment may be something else in the ensuing moments. Such is its evolution. Acceptability of music at a particular time, depends upon the conditioning of our own mind. What it was yesterday and what it will be tomorrow, is beyond human comprehension. Therefore let us savour music as it is. The “is-ness” is very important and unique in all respects. In your editorial you have mentioned “unsatisfactory vocalisation and undesirable vocal habits among many singers in the Carnatic music kutcheri circuit”. The blame should not be on the individual performing artist, but on music itself.

Our stalwarts have set a path without any boundaries and hence the travellers now in this path are free to break them according to their will and wisdom. Cleverness devoid of wisdom is extremely dangerous and destructive, but wisdom can survive without cleverness. We internally stand in opposition to what is and so we feel the pain of ever evolving musical patterns.

We listeners always follow the path of what we have heard so far. We do not know the form of music that prevailed several decades ago. It is a rolling stone that gathers no mass. Let us accept what is unacceptable. That is the greatest grace in this world. Only then can we realise the inherent shining glory of the musical patterns, which was, is and will be.

Music is a multi-coloured mansion. While enjoying it, let us not unravel its foundation. Let us effortlessly enjoy music and melt and merge in its limitless form.

Chithra Madhavan’s article on Chidambaram was interesting and informative. But Nandanar’s merger with Lord Siva took place in a shrine known as Tiruppoonkoor located about three kilometres away on the Vaitheeswaran Koil – Tiruppanandaal road, not at Chidambaram. It is here that Nandi moved aside for Nandanar to have a clear view of the Lord. It was here that Nandanar merged with the Lord. Nandanar was also known as Tirunalaipovar and his village Adanur is situated about five kilometres from Tiruppoonkoor. The famous composition Sivalokanathan Tiruchannidanam was rendered at this shrine.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Raga relatives

By A. Seshan

R. Vedavalli’s series on Raga Relatives is timely when exotic experiments are taking place in the fields of classical music and dance in India, with only some of them healthy. The rebel artist may earn the title of Puratchi Kalaignar, but the damage to tradition is immeasurable. The article refers to the mix-up between Bhairavi and Manji. I remember reading an article by Mudicondan lamenting the demise of Manji.

That the musician-guru-s of the past insisted on strict adherence to the grammar of raga-s is illustrated by the following episode. When she was a student, Savithri Sathyamurthi, in later years a well-known violinist and eminent guru, participated in a violin competition held at the Music Academy. The consensus of the judges was that she should be given the first prize, but it was not to be, as Kumbakonam Rajamanickam Pillai, the chairman of the panel raised an objection. Pillai said that while he agreed that her performance was the best, he could not consider her for the prize because she had oscillated the gandhara in Sankara-bharanam! Incidentally, Savithri was a disciple of Pillai.

On the raga Sree, according to Subbarama Dikshitar’s Sangeeta Sampradaya Pradarsini, ri ga ri sa and pa dha ni pa are important jeeva swara prayoga- s that contribute to the ranjakatva of Sree, but the latter should be resorted to only once, whether it is a geetam, prabandham, kriti or alapana. One cannot think of a better example of this rule than the charanam of Dikshitar’s Sree Kamalambike in the raga. While concluding the kriti, he cleverly brings in both the prayoga-s one after the other (Sundara/ deha – pa dha ni pa ma / ri ri ga ri sa). Similar is the case with the Sree segment of the navaragamalika varnam. However, Tyagaraja did not resort to the prayoga of pa dha ni pa in his Pancharatna piece or in such kriti-s as Nama kusumamula. Yet the colour of the raga comes out clearly.

As Vedavalli says, the swaroopa of a raga is revealed in the varnam-s and kriti-s of vaggeyakara-s. A good example is Tyagaraja’s Alakalalla (Madhyamavati) where, when he refers in the matu to the waving of the curly forelocks of Rama, the underlying rishabha in the dhatu also oscillates beautifully in kampita gamaka, as pointed out by Vidya Shankar (Art and Science of Carnatic Music). It is why we consider Tyagaraja as much a poet as a vaggeyakara. It is this oscillation of the rishabha that distinguishes Madhyamavati from Sree more than anything else.

Readers of Sruti look forward to further expert elucidation by Vedavalli of the nuances of the distinguishing characteristics of raga-s close to each other.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Bowing the heartstrings

By M.V.N. Murthy

A few years ago I was sitting in the Roy Thomson Hall, an extraordinary place to listen to music, in Toronto, listening to Itzhak Perlman performing on his violin with the Toronto Symphony. I was left wondering how nice it would be if M.S. Gopalakrishnan were to perform in the same hallowed auditorium. I do not know if he did perform there.

M.S. Gopalakrishnan, MSG in short, is no more. The bow that touched the strings of his violin and plucked at the heartstrings of many thousands of his followers will not sing again.

My introduction to the music of MSG was through an LP record, one of his earliest. The Tyagaraja kriti Bhavanuta in raga Mohanam seemed to acquire a new dimension in his rendering. The lilting movements in the beginning of the composition were out of this world. Even today when I listen to this it evokes the same feeling as when I first heard it nearly 40 years ago.

I started looking forward to listening to him live. The opportunity came soon enough when I heard him accompany M.D. Ramanathan along with two other stalwarts, Umayalpuram Sivaraman (mridangam) and H.P. Ramachar (khanjira) in a Ramanavami concert at Seshadripuram High School at Bangalore in the early 1970s. MDR and MSG challenged each other, a very common occurrence those days. MSG complemented MDR while adding his own embellishments. The result was happily much more than just the sum of individual potential.

The best was reserved for the next day when MSG gave a solo concert with Sivaraman and Ramachar. The concert began sedately and picked up momentum gradually and peaked with the rendering of a Tyagaraja composition in Nalinakanti, the very best I have heard in all these years. He brought in elements of the Hindustani style of playing in the end, at times the violin singing like Bismillah Khan’s shehnai, all seamlessly blended in the ethereal music of Tyagaraja. It was not fusion but a natural evolution of creativity adding a new dimension to a classical idiom. Incredible as it was, Sivaraman added his own charming beats to complete the music. I heard later that MSG had done this before in a National Programme of Music on AIR in 1967 with Trichy Sankaran accompanying him.

I instantly became a fan of MSG. In the ensuing years I followed him wherever he performed in Mysore and Bangalore. Once in Mysore, I was early to his concert and he caught me and asked me to play the sruti box while he was tuning the violin. I even carried the sruti box on to the stage and vamoosed nervously from there. Next morning he was performing in Bangalore along with vainika Emani Sankara Sastry and there I was in front. He almost laughed when he saw me and asked me if I was stalking him!

Though I was aware that he was also trained in Hindustani music, I had to wait a couple more years to listen to that part of his music. The opportunity presented itself through a concert in the Centenary Hall of the University of Mysore where I was a student. He started with Madhuvanti, then went on to play Pooria Kalyan and Malkauns for a full three hours. Another dimension of MSG opened up for me through this concert. I also saw for the first time his guru Pandit Krishnanand who was to become my guru much later. He has recorded very few albums, but the one with Bheemplasi and Pooria stands out for the beauty of these ragas.

In the early 1980s, I was working in a research institute in Bombay. I got hold of a recording of his concert which began with Bhoop. It was playful and lyrical. I was extremely fond of this recording and played it almost every evening in my hostel room. I also noticed a girl in the same hostel who would pass by and pause to listen to the same. The music must have pulled more strings than just that of the violin, since she became my wife soon after.

After we moved to Madras in 1986, opportunities to hear MSG became more frequent. I especially remember the concert at the Music Academy in 1992 when he played one of my favourites, raga Shanmukhapriya, accompanied by his daughter Narmadha.

What made MSG special? Yes, his bowing technique was extraordinary comparable to that of some of the best violinists around the world. His fingering was dexterous and produced no jarring sound. He was adept at both Carnatic and Hindustani music, brought elements of both to play at times in the same concert. However, it was the way he blended various elements of his playing into a whole that made him so special. The violin was his alter ego; it sang for him.

His concerts as a soloist left you wanting more, thanks to his superb organisation and rendition of rare ragas and kritis. I heard ragas like Viswambari and Jayantasena for the first time during his concerts. He announced the names of such ragas. In collaboration, I heard live some stand out combinations, with other instrumentalists like N. Ramani and Emani Sankara Sastry, and eminent vocalists like K.V. Narayanaswamy, M.D. Ramanathan, T.V. Sankaranarayanan and several others.

I belong to a fortunate generation, which heard not only excellent vocalists, but also instrumentalists capable of attracting huge audiences. However, going to concerts because of the ensemble seems to be passe now. Perhaps there is such a rich collection of extraordinary vocalists at present, that the quality of accompanists is not critical. The attendance in instrumental solos, with some honourable exceptions, is nothing to write home. Surely this cannot be good for the future of Carnatic music.

M.S. Gopalakrishnan, Lalgudi Jayaraman and T.N. Krishnan as violin accompanists, along with some great percussionists, often attracted crowds no matter who was the main performer. It was regarded as icing on the cake if the main performer was also one of the stalwarts. MSG and others of his ilk did not just accompany the main performers, they added to the richness of music by their own extraordinary individual contributions, while at the same time closely keeping to the style of the main performers.

In the evolution of Indian classical music, Carnatic and Hindustani, MSG will be remembered by musicians and listeners alike, as a colossus who walked both streams with equal ease, as one who tugged at the heartstrings with his bow.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

A new dress code for men dancers

By S. Santhanam

I recently saw a breathtaking dance show by students of Kalakshetra led by Leela Samson. It was a treat to watch, but one question came to my mind about the costume of the male dancers. The boys wore the traditional dhoti in the panchakaccham style designed aesthetically, while the upper body was bare except for an ornamental chain and a vanki adorning the biceps. This is the traditional costume of a male dancer today.
 
Topless male dancers remind me of ancient times when dancers usually performed in the courts of kings and in temples. In zamindari times, plebians had to remove their upper cloth in the presence of the zamindar; ordinary citizens had to shed their upper cloth when they entered the court of the rajas. In the temples of Kerala, the custom of men removing their angavastrams and tying them around their waists as a mark of humility before the Lord is in vogue. Rules prohibit the wearing of shirts and kurtas inside the temple. In Kerala even today the temple musicians perform on instruments like the panchavadyam and chenda wearing a dhoti and no upper cloth.

Times have changed and these customs need to be given a relook. It would not be a bad idea to think of elegant costumes for male dancers which will reflect the tastes of contemporary audiences, and shed the plebian image.

Monday, 13 May 2013

A singer who sang the praise of his peers

By Vamanan

(Part 2 of a tribute to PB Srinivas)

Those where times when Kodambakkam resounded to all the Dravidian tongues and a dash of Hindi if you like, and films switched languages with ease (dubbing from language to another being a busy secondary industry), and Srinivas was not short of opportunities though recognition was in short supply. Srinivas had a mellifluous base voice, soft and staid but capable of subtle inflections (savour the ‘malligai’ in the later career-making hit, ‘Kaalangalil Aval Vasantham’, which sails so softly along G-R-S- R - G - R- S, like a closely woven string of jasmine buds. The king of Carnatic music in films, G. Ramanathan more than understood this aspect of the singer’s art and gave him some dainty songs. ‘Inbam pongum vennila’ in which the clarinet and strings shimmer with Srinivas and Sushila in Veerapandiya Kattabomman, ‘Kaniyo pago karkando’ in which Srinivas and MLV played melodic mesmers and of course the Subramanya Bharati winner in Kappaloattiya Thamizhan, Kaatruveliyidai Kannamma (which starts off from Mohanam and woos the suddha madhyamam and kakali nishadam in winning romantic strains). M.B. Srinivasan came up with a winsome melody from the Harikambhoji scale in the communist-powered debacle, Paadhai Theriyidhu Paar, pitching Srinivas and S. Janaki to a bewitching melody based on Gnanpeeth winner Jayakanthan’s rare lyric, Thennankeetru oonjalile. We may no more be able to witness the sparrow cradling on the coconut frond, but here is one ditty that will rock melody lovers for all time to time. Adi Narayana Rao, known for his predilection for the Hindusthani idiom, came up with winsome light melodies in Adhutha Veettu Penn, a storyline that came to Tamil from the original Bengali (Paasher Baadi) through Telugu (Pakkinti Ammaai). But none of all this made much difference to the singer’s career! Not until ‘Kaalangalil Aval Vasantham’ (Paava Mannippu), with its awesome pauses and lovely interludes on the harmonica, and an unforgettable lyric (Kannadasan taking off from Krishna’s assertion in the Gita that he is Margazhi among the months and concluding it with the reason for the hero’s enthusiastic song – ‘She has made me a poet’!). The song rode on the wings of a success and a musical wave of a new ‘light music’ and made a hundred flowers bloom for PBS.

Covering the torso

By V.P. Dhananjayan

S. Santhanam has a valid point in arguing about having an upper garment as part of the costume for male dancers. I hope he witnessed my performances at the Music Academy in Chennai some years ago when I experimented wearing a well designed upper garment (see photo). Some people liked it while others privately advised me not to wear it. But none openly came out in public with any opinion or criticism. Unfortunately, people are afraid or reluctant to comment on such matters. I am glad that Santhanam has now expressed his opinion and opened a discussion on this important subject.

Let me set the ball rolling.

In south India we have the tradition of men wearing the angavastram, either to cover the torso or to tie it around the waist as the situation demands (as mentioned by Santhanam).

There were not many male Bharatanatyam dancers when the Sadir and devadasi system existed. The male nattuvanars generally wore the angavastram on their bare torso. When stalwarts like Ram Gopal, Uday Shankar, U.S. Krishna Rao started dancing on stage they invariably followed the male figures depicted in ancient sculptures including that of Lord Nataraja who is the symbol of the natya tradition and our cultural emblem.

Male dancers with good chiselled figures can as well dance with bare torso and rasikas do appreciate and enjoy the performance. Otherwise it is better to camouflage the body a well designed costume.

Male Kathak dancers always wore an upper garment because of the colder climate in northern India. On the other hand, the Manipuri drum dancers do not wear an upper garment, probably because they were also attached to the temple (age old customs). Of course situations have now changed.

“Old habits die hard”, the Chennai audience is used to the idea of male Bharatanatyam artists performing without an upper garment. Had anyone liked my idea they would have appreciated it, and male dancers would have followed my experimental venture.

Personally I prefer to dancing without the upper garment as there is great felicity in dancing with abandon. In fact, women dancers envy the men because they have umpteen knots from head to foot, whereas men can dance around freely.

Last but not the least, some ageing men like me need to cover our loosening muscles so as not to embarrass the rasikas.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

A singer who sang the praise of his peers

By Vamanan

(Part 1 of a tribute to PB Srinivas)

He first sought distinctiveness in appearance by wearing a fur cap. In recent years, the cap made way for an even more colourful turban. This was his second coming in the wake of a media boom, a wave of nostalgia and some institutional recognition. He was president of the Tamil Nadu Iyal Isai Mandram for a few years. With his zari-embroidered orange headgear, P. B. Sreenivos (that was how he spelt his name) made the Woodlands Drive-in, and after its acquisition by the government for a public park, the Krishna restaurant of New Woodlands, both busy spaces frequented by the public, his haunt. Down the decades, he would also barge into Carnatic music cutcheris and public functions to lavish his warm poetic praise on up and coming artistes. One memory is of his paeans to the just-then rising ‘Mandolin’ U Shrinivas. Even competitors who eclipsed his career received a good share of his plaudits!

And as he lay in the pandal outside his house for members of the public and friends and admirers to pay their last respects, you couldn’t miss the curious lifelike expression on his face. Peering at him for the last glimpse of his visage, you could hear an inner voice mutter, ‘‘PBS, enough! Now get up and let’s hear you starting off on your pieces of philosophical wisdom, such as “Music without melody makes you sick,” or Gane gane par likha hai gane valon ka naam (On every song is writ the name of its singer).

Vocalist Madurai G. S. Mani rushes in from Coimbatore to bid adieu to a dear friend of more than half a century and leaves with the words, ‘‘It’s difficult to find another like him. He was such a great rasika.’’ Janaki, who had become the singer’s wife when he was just 19, is calm in the face of her bereavement and calls his passing auspicious. ‘He lived a carefree man; he has departed just as he lived’. The singer who had had close brushes with death – he once described to me with glee how he was catapulted from behind by a cow with fierce horns on the busy Mada street in Mylapore – but the final leavetaking was the closest that life, or death could come to any man. He had just sat at the dining table before taking his last breath. He had achieved effortless death, anayaasa maranam.

Born to P.B.V.L. Phanindraswami, an inspector of cooperatives and Seshagiriamma, in coastal Kakinada, Srinivas grew up in the sprawling house of his maternal grandparents. He was in his early teens when Naushad Ali bowled people over with a new wave of film music with Rattan (1944) and Anmol Ghadi (1946). The young Srinivas, who used to tear up posters and sell them to waste paper buyers to see films, was intoxicated by Naushad’s ditties. In the early fifties, along with G.K. Venkatesh, a gifted sitarist and Kannada film composer and music director M.S. Viswanathan, who brought out Srinivas’s best in Tamil cinema, Srinivas made a trio of musicians who swore by Naushad as their god of music. Even as he lapped up the songs of Muhammad Rafi, Mukesh and Lata Mangeshkar, Srinivas dreamt of becoming a playback singer himself, his artistic ambitions fuelled by maternal uncle Kidambi Krishnamacharya, a drama actor and director.

His disciplinarian father would have none of it, and set academic goalposts like a degree even after he tripped twice in his school finals, and was experiencing nightmares over his Mercantile law paper in his B.Com. Thanks to tutorials in Madras, PBS finally cleared it only to have his father demand a law degree! Taking that as another opportunity to be in the home of all four southern film industries, he capped the (year in which he scarcely attended law college) by winning an inter-collegiate music competition there. When his father came up with an astrological card to thwart his singing ambitions Srinivas quietly questioned the success rate of astrological predictions and gained the green signal from the astrologer and his father.

Enter Emani Sankara Sastri, veena virtuoso and one of the music directors of Gemini Studios in charge of Hindi films. Just about eight years elder to the 20-year-old Srinivas then, he was a family friend who hailed from a small temple town near Kakinada. Recognising Srinivas’s lovely voice and yen for Hindi and Hindi film music, Emani started employing Srinivas as an assistant. Emani proved a loving benefactor who tended to the younger friend like a father, showering him with warmth and affection. At the famous Gemini canteen, “Emani would eat just a little but lovingly watch me gorge myself’! Though Srinivas learnt no classical music from the veena exponent, Emani encouraged the musical flowering of Srinivas without insisting on purity of genre. A few decades hence, Emani was to witness the mature Srinivas compose and sing a ragamalika tribute to Tyagaraja. Srinivas even stumbled upon a new raga, which he named Navaneeta Sumasudha and a ‘diamond key’ to identify the swaras of melakarta ragas.

Srinivas got to sing a few snatches of song in ‘Mr. Sampath’, Gemini Studios’ Hindi remake of ‘Miss Malini’, with Shamshad Begum, Geeta Roy and Jikki.

When veteran Kannada film personality made ‘Jathakam’ in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada, he had P.B.S. singing, ‘Mooda nambikkaiyaale’ in the tune of Muhammad Rafi’s ‘Ye zindagi ke mele’ (from the film ‘Mela’). Srinivas’s way with languages began to work for him from the start, and he sang two songs in all three versions of Jathakam.

Those where times when Kodambakkam resounded to all the Dravidian tongues and a dash of Hindi if you like, and films switched languages with ease (dubbing from language to another being a busy secondary industry), and Srinivas was not short of opportunities though recognition was in short supply. Srinivas had a mellifluous bass voice, soft and staid but capable of subtle inflections (savour the ‘malligai’ in the later career-making hit, ‘Kaalangalil Aval Vasantham’, which sails so softly along G-R-S- R - G - R- S, like a closely woven string of jasmine buds. The king of Carnatic music in films, G. Ramanathan more than understood this aspect of the singer’s art and gave him some dainty songs. Inbam pongum vennila in which the clarinet and strings shimmer with Srinivas and Susila in Veerapandiya Kattabomman, Kaniyo pago karkando in which Srinivas and MLV played melodic mesmers and of course the Subramanya Bharati winner in Kappaloattiya Thamizhan, Kaatruveliyidai Kannamma (which starts off from Mohanam and woos the suddha madhyamam and kakali nishadam in winning romantic strains).

M.B. Srinivasan came up with a winsome melody from the Harikambhoji scale in the communist-powered debacle Paadai Teriyidu Paar, pitching Srinivas and S. Janaki to a bewitching melody based on Gnanpeeth award winner Jayakanthan’s rare lyric, Tennankeetru olaiyile. We may no more be able to witness the sparrow cradling on the coconut frond, but here is one ditty that will rock melody lovers for all time to time. Adi Narayana Rao, known for his predilection for the Hindusthani idiom, came up with winsome light melodies in Adutta Veettu Penn, a storyline that came to Tamil from the original Bengali (Paasher Baadi) through Telugu (Pakkinti Ammaai). But none of all this made much difference to the singer’s career! Not until Kaalangalil aval vasantam (Paava Mannippu), with its awesome pauses and lovely interludes on the harmonica, and an unforgettable lyric (Kannadasan taking off from Krishna’s assertion in the Gita that he is Margazhi among the months and concluding it with the reason for the hero’s enthusiastic song – ‘She has made me a poet’!). The song rode on the wings of success and the musical wave of a new ‘light music’ and made a hundred flowers bloom for PBS.

Format and content

By Captain Mohan Ram

I read with interest the cover story Star Turn by T.T. Narendran in your February issue but beg to differ with him on one basic aspect. I heard Sanjay and T.M. Krishna recently at Gayana Samaja, Bangalore. I believe the format, structure and content of their Bangalore concerts were similar to what they had adopted in the Madras Music Academy.

Sanjay was rock solid, conventionally classical and excellent as usual. He started with a brisk Kanada varnam, followed by Pantuvarali, Sankarabharanam, RTP in Kanada again and a superb rendition of a pasuram on Tirukoshtiyur in ragamalika. The concert was like a sumptuous wedding feast with lots of dishes and perfect balance between them. One came out replete and happy.

Krishna’s fare in contrast was almost a-la-carte, starting with Todi swarajati, alapana of four ragas, followed by an Arabhi tanam and Tsala galla, tani in a tala left to the audience’s choice, two superb delineations of Baro Krishnayya and Krishna nee, followed by a moving ragamalika to the sloka Ramayya Ramabhadrayya and a few concluding pieces. Each piece by itself was magnificent but the overall result (to me) was a question mark.
 
Sanjay should include more Kannada sahityams in Bangalore performances. Audiences here relate to the music of the Dasas and long for lyrics they can readily understand. Except for a quickfire bridge piece in Mukhari, practically every major offering was in Tamil. Here, he might take a leaf out of Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar’s book. Iyengar was a master in gauging what the audience wanted and provided it without deviating from classicism.
 
Krishna was brilliant. After Mali and MDR, he brings to us in full the beauty and majesty of vilamba kala. Young audiences who normally prefer fast paced music are mesmerised by Krishna’s slow paced rendition.
 
The beauty of the Iyengar approach was perfect balance in tempo, contrasting ragas, and the feeling that everything was in its place. Carnatic music has been blessed with many trendsetters like Mali, magnificent but moody and unpredictable, and GNB who elaborated ragas in far greater detail than Iyengar ever attempted. They ventured into uncharted areas but still adhered to the time tested balance and structure of the Iyengar concert format.

Let us hope Krishna will continue to dare and push the envelope further and further. However, not all experiments succeed. I believe that the format he is currently adapting in concerts is not working well. Individually beautiful flowers randomly arranged do not make a glorious garland.

Format and content go together to make great music. They are two sides of the same coin. I cannot agree with Narendran’s contention that format is secondary and content is all.