Ramakrishnan Keerthy

 


Ramakrishnan Keerthy


Some years ago, when the opinionated music goers were raving about this young lad who had left the USA to come to Chennai wanting to make a serious career in Carnatic music, I was initially skeptical. The reason being that I have noticed that here in India, among the TamBram community, they are very impressed with anyone who has an academic background, has lived in America, has strong Indian values, chooses to pursue Carnatic music in some form and even excels in it. For an average upper middle class TamBram, this is an irresistible combination! Another reason for my skepticism is that, they glorify somebody too soon and too much, not allowing them to go through the natural process but instead adding so much stress that it may impact their growth, also creating an unreasonable expectation from the ever demanding audience. I felt that this young man Ramakrishnan Murthy certainly had much promise but we need to be patient to ensure that the spark becomes a glow ! Time has proved that, this youngster is not a fluke or a short lived phenomenon but an undeniable winning combination of perseverance, talent & humility, all assuring him of undisputable ‘Keerthy’ !
Presenting Ramakrishnan Murthy to you!

This season, I had the pleasure of listening to two online concerts of his and the good fortune of attending two live ones! Even at the risk of being accused of writing too often about him, I didn’t want to consolidate all four concerts of his in one review, because each of them merits individual space.
The first live concert at Rajaji Vidyashram where the open air arrangement was very conducive for the rasikas who were torn between the fear of Corona & love of Carnatic music.
He started with Andal’s Thirupaavai, and being the very beginning of Marghazhi, he chose ‘Marghazhi Thingal’ in Ragam Nattai. The way he sang this first song was enough for me to realise that what we have in front of us, is the future of Carnatic Music! His ‘Marghazhi Thingal’ was so intense and complicated that what I sing will sound like a kindergarten child singing a rhyme. Seriously, how is it even fair that he gives us all a complex? While I was listening with my mouth open, I wanted to suggest to him, that he should spare simple devotion laden hymns like Thirupaavai and not show his unquestionable talent there....it kind of robs the charm of Andal’s innocent & pure poetic love for the Lord. The vision I’ve always had was of the beautiful Andal prancing around with her young girlfriends, sharing her heart’s desires to them and not some highly superior Carnatic maestro whose first hymn would have Sri Rangannathar flabbergasted and marry her the very first day! Ramakrishnan is actually trying too hard(honestly it’s not required because he is amazingly good) and maybe somethings are better to be left simple, everything doesn’t need so much of swarams, neravals, korvais, brighas, and what nots.
His next song was Swati Tirunal’s ‘Narasimham Mamava Bhagawan’ in Ragam Arabhi set to Khanda Chapu thalam. This composition has 3 charanams and I have not heard many people sing this. Ramakrishna is not one to compromise on any aspect of music, there are no shortcuts for him. He improves with every song while improvising every ‘sangathi’. In this song Swati Tirunal praises Narasimha, an avataar of Lord Vishnu. I need to mention that the other brilliant youngster Vittal Rangan the violinist is surely a highly sought after by everyone. I say this because I saw him accompanying Abhishek Raghuram at the same venue a few days ago and now Ramakrishnan Murthy. Maybe Vittal Rangan stayed at Rajaji Vidyashram all through the concert series, while all the different vocalists just came, performed & left! He looks like a schoolboy with a cute smile and his magical fingers convince me that he is someone to watch out for. He is certainly making his teacher the one & only Kanyakumari very proud!
The song that followed this Swati Tirunal composition was a Dikshitar krithi ‘Seshachala Nayakam Bhajami’ in Ragam Varali set to Rupaka thalam. This is one of the two songs Dikshitar wrote about Tirupati Venkateshwara, the Lord of seven hills. The other one being ‘Shanka Chakra Gada Panim’ in Ragam Poornachandrika, where Dikshitar in the charanam writes ‘Amrutasara Bhakshanam’ which in my opinion is the Tirupati Ladoos, he was referring to. Here in this particular Varali krithi, his mudra is a little different, where he signs off as ‘Abhinava Guruguha’. The word ‘abhinava’ means, new or young, so it could be that while writing ‘Seshachala Nayakam’, Dikshitar was in his youth.
Ramakrishnan Murthy’s main song for the evening was Sri Thyagaraja’s ‘Nama Kusumamula’ in Ragam Sri. Here Thyagaraja says that having born as a human being, we should utter God’s names which are like flowers. This song is also not sung so often but trust Ramakrishna to give you more than you expect. Just as if he heard my mind voice, he sang the familiar ‘Aadum Chidambaramo’ in Ragam Behag, a composition by Gopalkrishna Bharati in a lively and flawless manner.
After this, came the highlight of the concert, the most popular Subramaniya Bharatiyaar’s ‘Chinnajirukiliye’ in Ragamalika. Who hasn’t heard this song among Tamil music lovers? I have heard this a million times myself, I sing it too and one of my favourite memories is my brother- in-law singing this, when he came to meet my Akka for the first time, in a customary ‘Ponnupakara‘ event. As expected, she was asked to sing, and to her relief, he volunteered to sing instead of her and saved her the fear of being judged. What started in 1978 still continues, where he fulfills all that is expected of her.......A very endearing couple!!
Anyway, coming back to Ramakrishnan Murthy, he sang this as RTP and sang the complete composition, it was only then I realised that I have been singing the abridged version all these years. Remember in this same post, I mentioned that this boy doesn’t believe shortcuts. Even if it requires more research, more effort, he seeks perfection!
My Chinnajirukilye has only few Ragams, Kaapi, Mand,Vasantha, Thillang and Sivaranjani......in that order. But, Ramakrishnan had different plans...he rendered this song, in a way I have never heard before....absolutely brilliant! He sang so many verses I didn’t know in Ragam Nilambari, Shubapantuvarali and there was a trick element ...instead of pure Sivaranjani, he sang Sivaranjani in Madhyamam which becomes Ragam Neelamani, leaving us foxed! If anyone is impressed with my knowledge in music, I must confess that I needed to pick the brains of a really knowledgeable person! While we were trying to recover from this brain teaser, he concluded with another mind blowing twist....he chose to sing a verse from Thirupaavai ‘Ongi Ulagalanda’...so what is the twist? It was not in Ragam Arabhi that everyone is used to, nor in the usual way but in viruttam/ shloka format. He sang it as a Ragamalika, and if my memory is to be trusted there was a myriad of Ragams like Attana, Jonpuri, Hamir, Sindhu Bhairavi, and Surati in the end. Can one ask for more ??
Presenting Ramakrishnan Murthy to you!

About the Author:

Sandhya Shankar belongs to a well respected business family in Chennai. She is a Life Skills & Corporate Trainer by profession. She is an avid reader and a natural writer, who has written several poems and articles. She even presented her poems as a reading at the British council. She has keen interest in all art forms  and has explored many different forms of painting like stained glass and Tanjore being among them. 

Music being her first passion, she had her formal training under Terakotti Chandrasekharaiah at Bangalore and later briefly under Mrs Champa Kumar. She is a regular visitor of concerts, theatre and other live performances. Her witty reviews have gained a loyal and interactive readership for their sound technical commentary and relevance for every kind of melophile, from the casual-goer to the ragam expert, frequenting Chennai’s rich music scene.

(*The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily those of Music of Madras.)


Thirssur Pooram Kaanaan

 


Thirssur Pooram Kaanaan

In our country, everyone celebrates everything including festivals. There are certain festivals which are famously associated with certain places, like Ganesh Chaturthi in Maharashtra & Durga Pooja in Bengal. Likewise, Thrissur Pooram is an annual festival held in Kerala. It is held at the Vadakkunnathan Temple in Thrissur every year on the day when the moon rises with the Pooram star in the Malayalam Calendar month of Medam (April - May). It is a spectacular event which has lakhs of people visiting this city. A resplendent festival celebrated with a grand display of caparisoned elephants, dazzling parasols, and percussion music, the Thrissur Pooram is magnificent, merging the spiritual and cultural essence of Kerala. It is held at the Thekkinkadu Maidanam in Thrissur. This concert by the Trichur Brothers was also like the festival....spectacular !

They started as many do traditionally, on Lord Ganesha with a composition of Keshavananda Bharati, ‘Sumukaikadantha’ in Ragam Saraswati. It was what followed that made me coin this title. Every song after that was resplendent and a treat to the listener. It would be simpler to just list the songs and share details about the song because these brothers Srikrishna Mohan and Ramkumar Mohan accompanied by their father Vidhwan Trichur Mohan are undoubtedly a winning combination of natural talent & continuous innovation. 

This was evident in their next song ‘Sakethanagaranatha’ composed by Mysore Sadashiva Rao in Ragam Harikamboji set to Rupakam thalam. 

Mysore Sadasiva Rao lived in the 19th century and has composed hundreds of songs in diverse Ragams and Thalams, though only a fraction of them have survived. Sadly, both the details of his early life and rest of the songs are unavailable. To my limited knowledge, the only source of information about him, is the book published by Sangeeta Kalabhivardhini Sabha, Mysore, in 1954, when Mysore K. Vasudevacharya was its President. Sadasiva Rao was born in Chittoor and belonged to a Desastha Brahmin family of Maharashtrian origin. He was the Asthana Vidhwan in the Mysore court for 50 years from 1835 to 1885, therefore this Maharashtrian immigrant from Telugu country came to be known as ‘Mysore’ Sadasiva Rao. Apparently, while he was in Walajapet, he reportedly met Tyagaraja. This incident, is mentioned by Ramaswamy Bhagavatar, grandson of Venkataramana Bhagavatar, in Tyagabrahmopanishad. When Thyagaraja Swamy was visiting his disciple in Walajapet, Sadasiva Rao composed the kriti Thyagaraja Swamy Vedalina and sang it before him and received his blessings. Unfortunately, this kriti is among the hundreds that have gone missing. There is a very interesting narrative of his death. It is said that he was aware when his life would end and on that day, he sat facing north and started singing softly to himself his own composition Kamalakanta Sree Krishna, in the raga Vasanta. Then, after massaging his head with a spoonful of ghee, he withheld his breath and gave up his life. The story goes that the tambura and other musical intruments in his house reverberated on their own at that moment! Only 47 of Sadasiva Rao's compositions are available, of which 35 are with notations and the other 12 have only sahitya. The pada varna and the tillana are addressed to the king Krishnaraja Wodeyar. Like Muthuswami Dikshitar, Sadasiva Rao composed many of his kritis while on visits to kshetras or places of pilgrimage.

Thus, ‘Sri Parthasararathy’ is associated with the temple in Triplicane, Paramadbhutamaina with Srirangam, Samrajyadayakesa, Kanugoni and Kamakotipeetha sthitey with Kanchipuram, Sree Lakshmiramana with Bhavanipura,situated between the Kaveri and Bhavani rivers, and Sri Subrahmanya with Palani. He used four different mudras with which to sign off his kritis namely, Sadasiva, Sadasivakavi, Kavi Sadasiva and Varakavi Sadasiva. Interestingly, he did not use any for his thillana and for his erotic composition like the pada varna. Perhaps, the devout and orthodox brahmin that he was, he subconsciously felt he should not acknowledge overtly sringara oriented compositions as his own creations. 

Coming back to Trichur Brothers, they took the phrase ‘RajithaAmarapala’ and what we saw sheer brilliance and dedication. Both of them are able to hold their own without overshadowing each other, which is so uncommon when siblings sing together. Like in the case of Priya Sisters (or should we say Priya Sister?) or even in the case of the amazingly talented RaGa who everyone is GaGa about!

The song that followed was Shyama Shastri’s ‘Rave Himagiri’ in Ragam Thodi, set to Adi thalam. This was very enjoyable with listening to both of them taking turns to high & low pitching, which creates a great impact. It was the Saint Thyagaraja’s composition ‘Manavayalakim’ in Ragam Nalininakanti set to Adi thalam, which followed. Nothing could have been faster, as they sped with the song. Every time I hear this duo, I don’t just enjoy but also notice their steady growth in their singing prowess & innovative presentation skills. It has been quite sometime since I have heard Dikshitar’s composition ‘Hariharaputhram’ in Ragam Vasanta. Ramkumar gave some wonderful shades of Hindustani style of singing while you can just close your eyes to feel the Bhakti & Bhavam in Srikrishna’s perfect singing!

It was amusing to see both the brothers discussing during this particular juncture, almost making the viewer feel that it was a live kutcheri and forget that it was a prerecorded one. Good that, no one edited these cute moments which made the experience a little natural. They gave a soulful rendering of Gopalkrishna Bharati’s ‘PithamTheliya’ in Ragam Senjurutti, set to Rupakam. What followed was Gabbita Venkata Rao’s Rama Neela Megha Shyama’ in Ragam Yamunakalyani, set to Adi thalam. Personally I think, they sing this song much too often. Although they sing this very well, it is kind of repetitive to listen to this in most of their concerts. After all, there is so much more they are capable of offering!

There came a composition or rather a devotional poem by Poonthanam Namboodiri, who lived in the 16th century ‘Njnanappana’ in Malayalam. This is regarded as an important piece of literature in Kerala both for its poetic style & also for its devotional style towards Lord Guruvayurappan. Just like how Sant Gnaneshwer’s work ‘Gnaneshweri’ in Marathi, ‘Njnanappana’ is considered as good as Bhagwat Gita in Kerala. The story goes that Lord Guruvayurappan himself preferred Poonthanam’s ‘Njnanappana’ to his contemporary Narayana Bhattathiri’s more famous ‘Narayaneeyam’, though it much shorter than ‘Narayaneeyam’ ! 

Anyway, while I managed to get an English translation of ‘Gnaneshweri’ and read it too, I haven’t been able to lay my hands on the translated copy of ‘Njnanappana’, though it can never be the same as reading anything in it’s original language. For Trichur Brothers it must have been natural to sing in Malayalam. They ended the lovely concert with a Mangalam by Bhadrachala Ramadas’s as they always do, followed with their signature prayer to Mahaperiva, Sathya Saibaba and Anjaneyar.

While there are many technically proficient singers in the Carnatic music, in my opinion there is something magical about the ‘Voices from Kerala’, which makes them stand out. Like it’s Yesudas for the previous generation(s), it is Trichur Brothers for the current one!!


About the Author:

Sandhya Shankar belongs to a well respected business family in Chennai. She is a Life Skills & Corporate Trainer by profession. She is an avid reader and a natural writer, who has written several poems and articles. She even presented her poems as a reading at the British council. She has keen interest in all art forms  and has explored many different forms of painting like stained glass and Tanjore being among them. 

Music being her first passion, she had her formal training under Terakotti Chandrasekharaiah at Bangalore and later briefly under Mrs Champa Kumar. She is a regular visitor of concerts, theatre and other live performances. Her witty reviews have gained a loyal and interactive readership for their sound technical commentary and relevance for every kind of melophile, from the casual-goer to the ragam expert, frequenting Chennai’s rich music scene.

(*The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily those of Music of Madras.)


Marghazhiyil Rhapsody

 


Marghazhiyil Rhapsody



I couldn’t ask for a better way to begin a Marghazhi Sunday(after all the psychological games Corona played on most of us)......... sitting in the open air, with gentle sun rays filtering in through the green trees with hot filter coffee in my hand, while listening to the most melodious live piano performance, followed by a delicious ‘all’ South Indian breakfast, chatting with friends after a long time. All this was possible because of the ever warm & hospitable Anita Ratnam, who is always eager to open her house to friends, art, artists and beautiful things, no wonder she remains beautiful herself !

Year after year Anita invites a few like minded people on a December Sunday morning, to enjoy Anil Srinivasan’s beautiful music as they both join hands to celebrate Marghazhi season and this city, they both love ! Having been long-time neighbours, their relationship doesn’t just stop with sharing a compound wall but also sharing their love for art. Last year, she had organised this event at Spaces and now at her own home.

Anil is one of the most gifted musicians who is versatile as well as strong in his fundamentals. He runs a school called ‘Rhapsody’ which endeavours to help children enjoy music through other disciplines. It was absolutely delightful to sit there, listening to Anil take us on a trip through the nostalgic lanes. Speaking for myself, I found it very refreshing & soothing to hear him play a medley of familiar tunes. Both his Tulsidas’s composition ‘Sri Ramachandra Kripalu Bhajamana’ and Vyasatirtha’s‘ composition ‘Krishna Nee Begane Baaro’ in Ragam Yamunakalyani were like a balm to the soul. We have heard these songs sung by so many famous singers but this experience is completely different, where Anil made the piano transcend words! Having attended several kutcheris both online & in person(despite the pandemic)during this December season, hearing many different voices however good they maybe, it was a kind of relief to listen to pure music without any voice distracting me from the musical element. Be it his rendering of Sadashiva Brahmendra’s ‘Pibare Rama Rasam’ in Ahir Bhairav or a thillana in Ragams Madhuvanti & Nalinakanti, all were mesmerising. I remembered my college singing days, as he played ‘Naam Ghoom Jayega ’ from the film ‘Kinara’ starring Hemamalini & Jeetendra. The lyrics for this song were by Gulzar and music was composed by the one and only Pancham Da (R.D.Burman), it was sung by Lata Mangeshkar & Bhupinder. What a lovely combination and it used to be one of our first choices to sing during inter-college competitions and always brought us prizes. I must thank Anil for bringing back those memories. It was when he played SPB’s ‘Kamban Yemardhaan’ from the Kamalahasan starrer ‘Nizhal Nijamagiradhu’, I saw almost everyone slip into nostalgia.

He ended with Rajaji’s ‘Kurai Ondrum Illai’ and for me the only ‘kurai’ was that the concert ended.


About the Author:
Sandhya Shankar belongs to a well respected business family in Chennai. She is a Life Skills & Corporate Trainer by profession. She is an avid reader and a natural writer, who has written several poems and articles. She even presented her poems as a reading at the British council. She has keen interest in all art forms  and has explored many different forms of painting like stained glass and Tanjore being among them. 

Music being her first passion, she had her formal training under Terakotti Chandrasekharaiah at Bangalore and later briefly under Mrs Champa Kumar. She is a regular visitor of concerts, theatre and other live performances. Her witty reviews have gained a loyal and interactive readership for their sound technical commentary and relevance for every kind of melophile, from the casual-goer to the ragam expert, frequenting Chennai’s rich music scene.

(*The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily those of Music of Madras.)


Dushyanthaha, Dushyanthow Dushyanthaaha

 


Dushyanthaha, Dushyanthow Dushyanthaaha

If you have studied Sanskrit, in school, (however briefly it might have been) you would surely have learnt Vibhakti declanation. If you were like me, then the choice of Sanskrit would have been thrusted by your parents, who thought it was a ‘scoring subject’, and you would have sulked because you thought it was ‘cool’ to take French or German, having not even the faintest idea what we are going to do with these languages ! Anyway, this should indicate my limited romance with this glorious language, though I tried to rekindle my romance at Samskrita Bharati, a few years when I had realised the value of this ancient language.

Well, here we have this young man Dushyanth Sridhar, who is a qualified engineer from one the premier institutions, who had been in the corporate world, who had chosen to devote his time & life to pursue Indic studies, Vedanta, Vaishnavism, several languages(Sanskrit being one of them), possessing extraordinary memory, and above all a master story teller ! He has made it both his career and his life choice to explore, study, understand, share the countless scriptures and profound philosophy that has been the identity of our country !

What makes him different is that he has the intelligence, the technical knowledge & business acumen. During the peak of Corona, when almost the whole world had come to a standstill & many were trying to mobilise funds for artistes, Dushyanth didn’t whine about lost opportunities. Instead, he realised that the online virtual world is a new market and there was a huge demand created, which made him a primary supplier. After all, what is better than philosophy to hold on to during this uncertainty of the pandemic. He smartly used business ideation techniques to come up with a sure fire winner. Thus was born his 2 courses Bharatiya Sara Bodhini & Prabhandha Sara Bodhini, with a very nominal fee ending up enrolling lakhs & lakhs of people....now that is what I would call ‘Smart thinking’ ! By the way, I am also one among the lakhs who have enrolled for these courses 😀

Agreed, that there are other well read people, who also give ‘Upanyasams’ and they also try to make it contextual and relatable but it is my own opinion that he is the most engaging & talented of all. Now that I am done with my gushing about Dushyanth and his many talents.....let me get to the ‘live’ Upanyasam of the day at Rajaji Vidyashram. It’s difficult to write about the experience of attending an Upanyasam and it’s very different from writing about a concert. And, it is more difficult to write without praising Dushyanth, but guess I have done enough of it ...so I can share only what I understood and more tricky is what I can remember !

The topic was ‘Ramabhaktiyum Vibhaktiyum’, which sounded something new. I would have gone even if it was mentioned just ‘Ramayana’ for two reasons, this like ‘Mahabharata’ is ageless and can never become outdated (why else will modern, contemporary authors like Ashok Banker & Amish resort to retelling (it is more reselling) this epic, stating artistic licence, can’t they think of their own plots & stories?) The second reason is that the narrator’s style makes a difference.

Dushyanth explained how Sanskrit was different from English and Vibhakti was a part of Sanskrit grammar. In this Upanyasam, he took Muthuswami Dikshitar’s 8 Rama Vibhakti Krithis and wove the storyline around that. Obviously, it would not be possible to sing all the 8 krithis completely because that would become a vocal concert instead of an Upanyasam! That is where a lot planning had gone into how to deliver such a unique topic, as to where to be concise and where to elaborate.

He was accompanied in singing, by two sisters Anahita & Apoorva, who are easily one among the best talents we have with us. They marvellously wove a garland of songs taking only the Pallavi from 8 krithis, with Dushyanth stepping in to elaborate the brilliant compositions of Dikshitar, and connect these with the Vibhaktis, with references to situations from Ramayana. I need to mention the flawless singing by Anahita & Apoorva, but since this blog is about Dushyanth’s Upanyasam & not the sisters, I will have to write about them in a well deserved exclusive blog, ideally about their full kutchery. I will not even attempt to try and quote or narrate anything from Dushyanth’s discourse for the fear of not doing justice to it. Still it is imperative to share the krithis and how they connected to the Vibhaktis.

In Prathama(First) Vibhakti : When Rama is the Subject ,it is Ramaha, Ramow, Ramaaha. Where Ramaha is in Ekavachanam or singular, Dwithya vachanam is Ramow and Bahuvachanam is Ramaaha. For this Vibhakti the krithi was ‘Sri Ramachandro Rakshatumam’ in Sriranjani Ragam. Here that part of Ramayana is mentioned where Rama has killed Tataka, destroyed Parasurama’s arrogance & entered Mithila which is in today’s Nepal, married Sita, after breaking Shiva’s bow. Dushyanth here clarifies that contrary to the popular belief, Sita didn’t have an elaborate swayamvar nor were there many kings among suitors, who tried lifting the Shiva Dhanush ! I am sure he has enough to substantiate whatever he says, though it kind of deglamourises this part of Ramayana. After all we have grown up believing that several macho kings, with ripping muscles like Salman Khan, failed to lift the bow, while Rama just lifts it with his little finger and breaks it..

In Dwitya Vibhakti, where Rama becomes the object and for this, it is Ramam, Ramow, Ramaan. The song chosen to depict this Vibhakti was ‘Ramachandram Bhavayami’ in Ragam Vasantha, set to Rupakam Thalam. Here Rama is described as the king of Ayodhya, husband of Sita, one who embraced Hanuman. Practically, covering a portion of Ramayana.

In Tritiya Vibhakti.......By/With Rama, it is Ramena, Ramabhyam , Ramyhi. The song to illustrate this was ‘Ramchandrena Samrakshithoham Sita’ in Ragam Maanji. Here Hanuman sings Rama’s glory & saved the life of Sita and Bharata. The phrase ‘Manjira manimandita’ in the Charanam contains the Raga Mudra, which is typical of Dikshitar.

In Chaturthi Vibhakti..... ‘For Rama’, it is Ramaya, Ramabhyam, Ramebhyha. The song for this was ‘Ramachandraya Namaste Rajeevalochanaya Varaya’ in Ragam Thodi. Here Rama’s beauty is described and also how he gave refuge to Vibhishana. Dikshitar in this composition, gives us a bird's eye view of Ramayana. While the anupallavi focusses on how delighted the Lord gets while listening to Sama veda and is the protector of virtuous people, Dikshitar walks us through the lifeline of Rama in the Charanam right from his birth to his coronation. Dasaratha raja kumaraya, indicating his birth, the phrase ‘dasa grIva pranaharaya, indicating Ravana vadha and a special mention to Rama's family- Kusalava Sita samEtAya ( is accompanied by Sita and sons Kusha and Lava)’

In Panchama Vibhakti..... ‘from Rama’ , it is Ramaath, Ramabhyam, Ramebhyha. The song was Ramachandrath anyam na janeham, in Ragam Dhanyasi Dikshitar stresses on the esoteric worship of Rama in the phrase ‘SrI hari hara-Atma rUpiNO (the one who is Shiva and Vishnu himself)’. He also humbles himself by telling that it was only by Rama’s grace that he could comprehend music in the phrase “sarasa guru guha sangIta tatva bOdhinO (the one who instructs the theory of music to the Guruguha)”

In Shashti Vibhakti, where it needs to show possession, (belongs to) it is Ramasya, Ramyoho, Ramaanaam. The song for this was ‘Ramachandrasya Dasoham Shri Sitanayakasya’ in Ragam Dharmavati. Here Dikshitar calls himself a slave of Ramachandra, who is the husband of Sita. Rama is described as the one who valued harmony, one who rewards bhakti. Rama also adheres to traditions and follows the rule book and he was the one who granted Moksha to Shabari. This kriti mentions, the four means of achieving ends (particularly in politics) are - harmony or peace, rewarding with gifts, creating rivalry and punishing.

In Saptami Vibhakti...... In/On Rama, it is Rame, Ramyoho, Rameshu. The song here is ‘Rame Bharata Palita Rajyamarpayami’ in Ragam Jyoti. When I first heard Anahita & Apoorva singing this, I thought it was Ragam Nasikabhushani. Here it is highlighted in this kriti, that the kingdom protected by Bharata is often interpreted to mean the Bhakti-Samrajyam, the kingdom of Bhakti. In other words, this means offering one’s heart to Rama.

In the last Vibhakti, which is Sambodhana ....In order to address it is Hey Ramaha, Hey Ramow, Hey Ramaha. The song sung for this is ‘Rama Ramakali Kalushavirama’ in Ragam Ramakali. Dushyanth took to explaining all these Vibhaktis so well associating them with every segment of Ramayana laced with humour, and many among the audience may thought Hey Dushyantha, Hey Dushyanthow, Hey Dushyanthaha !

I know, this post is going on & on like a mega serial, but that is how Upanyasam’s are ! There is one very interesting thing, that can’t be ignored. There are many people who believe that only 3 Vibhakti krithis are written by Dikshitar. Only 4 krithis are mentioned in the book ‘Sangeeta Sampradaya Pradarshini’ published in 1905, written by his own grand nephew Subbarama Dikshitar. Subbarama Dikshitar has stated that the last song in Ragam Ramkali is written by himself ! Subbarama Dikshitar thought that the other 4 krithis are written by other people, where they have added Dikshitar’s mudra Guruguha. Now, this is matter of debate ! It is not a rare thing that works of geniuses are often linked to some controversy. Sometimes the geniuses themselves are in middle of some controversy! Certain people also think creating controversies will make them appear as geniuses! Have I started a controversy about the authorship of these krithis? Does that make me a genius?


About the Author:
Sandhya Shankar belongs to a well respected business family in Chennai. She is a Life Skills & Corporate Trainer by profession. She is an avid reader and a natural writer, who has written several poems and articles. She even presented her poems as a reading at the British council. She has keen interest in all art forms  and has explored many different forms of painting like stained glass and Tanjore being among them. 

Music being her first passion, she had her formal training under Terakotti Chandrasekharaiah at Bangalore and later briefly under Mrs Champa Kumar. She is a regular visitor of concerts, theatre and other live performances. Her witty reviews have gained a loyal and interactive readership for their sound technical commentary and relevance for every kind of melophile, from the casual-goer to the ragam expert, frequenting Chennai’s rich music scene.

(*The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily those of Music of Madras.)


Swagatham Krishna


 Swagatham Krishna


Living in Mylapore which is very self sufficient, I need a compelling reason for me go towards Annanagar, Kilpauk, Egmore and other places. T.M.Krishna’s kutchery at Rajaji Vidyashram was a good enough reason for me.

‘Swagatham Krishna’ is a composition of Oothukadu Venkatakavi in Ragam Mohanam, which was popularised by K.J.Yesudas. This is the song that came to my mind, when T.M.Krishna announced in the beginning of the concert, that it needed Corona to bring him back on stage during the Music Season. My mind voice reminded me, that despite his self proclaimed decision to hibernate, there have been quite a few times, he has performed during the December Music Season, and I have personally attended a few of them, like a program in Krishna Gana Sabha, one in Spaces at Besant Nagar, another in Dakshinamurthy Hall at P.S.Senior Secondary School, the mega program at Lady Andal school auditorium and one at Nanganallur. If my memory is good, this is the first concert for Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, after him becoming a ‘Rasika’ and it is such welcome thing, therefore it is ‘Swagatham Krishna’ !!

As the crowd waited and watched him fine tune the two tamburas, (won’t it be worthwhile to do all this well before the concert?).... I took a random head count and it certainly was a good crowd, considering the circumstances. After he had successfully increased the anticipation, (after all wasn’t it Oscar Wilde who said ‘Anticipation is better than reality’?), he started the concert with Saint Thyagaraja’s krithi ‘Enduku Nirdaya’ in Ragam Harikamboji. Yes, it is the same Thyagaraja, who Krishna in an article in The Hindu on May4th 2017, had referred to as one who was seeking validation and as someone who was insecure. Krishna was good with the handling of this Ragam although personally one of my favourite renditions of this song is by Nedunuri Krishnamoorthy.

His next song was again a Thyagaraja composition ‘Rama Ninnu Brovara’ yet again in Ragam Harikamboji. If anyone who was just a beginner in Carnatic Music & was inattentive, they would not have realised that he has moved to another song. Agreed that this a beautiful Ragam and several artistes have explored it extensively, but this back to back Harikamboji got me wondering if he had decided to make it a ‘Harikamboji Exclusive’ concert ! No one not even Krishna himself knows what he plans to sing or do !
I am not a musicologist and still an amateur singing ‘dilettante’(impact of Shashi Tharoor’s article this morning) have found the swara korvais very interesting. Having listened to some intricate swarams by DKJ or KVN (the former had a wider repertoire of Harikamboji songs than any musician I have heard), if I were to be a judge in a music competition for Seniors, I would ask them to sing Harikamboji without a trace of Khamas or Kamboji. Was Oscar Wide was proving right ?

After this, he chose to sing ‘Raase harimiha vihita vilasam’ from Jayadeva’s Ashtapati. This being Ragamalika, gave Krishna the entire field to play with and undoubtedly he played with the multiple Ragams well. It sounded like Aruna Sairam’s singing, very powerful but loud ! This was absolutely undoing the romance that the poet Jayadeva must have desired to convey. Radha’s emotions in his writing are multipolar, confessional in nature, deep in love and despair, being unable to shrug off the experience with Krishna as a casual relationship. The residual impact of their time together,her passionate longing for him and the willingness to surrender herself, and the need to be the only one special to him ....all this & more is exquisitely written by Jayadeva. Let me explain this a bit more....... these are verses in response to the verse where Radha's friend describes in detail how Krishna is enjoying himself with other gopis. Naturally, Radha becomes very sad hearing this because she feels that Krishna sees her just as he sees any other gopi, and nothing more special ! What could be more cruel than indifference from a loved one? She goes and tearfully tells her friend, her remembrances about Krishna. A beautiful description of Krishna, through Radha’s eyes is the content of this ashtapadi. She says, my mind remembers Lord Hari when he joked and performed his ‘Raasleela’.
 
Radha remembering his infatuating flute resounding with honeyed tones like the nectar, describes everything from his ear ornament, his hair with lovely peacock-tail feathers, his moon like eyes, and his lovely robes. Radha says...Oh friend, he was like a dark cloud colored with many rainbows that is how my mind remembers Hari, the one who desired for kisses from the gopis.
And so on Radha laments, as she remembers the sandal paste on his lovely forehead. Ironically, this is an erotic narrative of a sublime love ....sublime because after describing in a bodily manner, it says that this song of Jayadeva shows that the path could be any but the destination is at the feet of the Lord, where the surrender is in totality. Now, if this is the essence of the verses then the ideal tone would be one of petulance, love and pining and I should think that Radha would be secretive & coy, maybe not whisper but would certainly not shout.
Just as I was beginning to wonder, where the original Krishna (he of the mellifluous voice) was missing, he announced that he is going to sing only the first line of the song ‘Janani Ninnu Vina’ by Subbraya Sastri, in Ragam Reetigowla.. Now, that convinced me that this was not an impostor but the one & only T.M.Krishna, because only he can pull off anything with that audacious smile ! Well, I must confess this was the best of the otherwise tad disappointing concert. His brilliance was there for all to see...... that single line along with the chittai swarams saw what all things was possible. The original song has not only Pallavi, anupallavi, chittai swarams, sahityam for the chittai swarams and also 3 charanams. I am not sure if Subbraya Sastri would approve of his effort of writing a beautiful song, being reduced to a single line ......but when has Krishna sought approval from anyone?

The next song was Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar’s ‘Sara Guna Palimpa’, in Ragam Kedargowla and followed this was a Purandardasa composition ‘Jagodharana’ in Ragam Kaapi, where he asked the Ghatam artiste to stop playing. It is my unchanged opinion for years, that T.M.Krishna singing this song is the second best I have heard, the first being during my childhood in Bangalore by my own music teacher, Sri Terakoti Chandrasekharaiah. That could be nostalgia, just like how my sons will (hopefully) think that I am the best, since there have been countless nights they have slept listening to me singing this !

He ended the concert with (not with the Mangalam of course) with something I have never heard before, a Javali in Ragam Khamas, ‘Janaro Mohamu’. And, it wasn’t Google which came to my rescue, but Krishna himself after the concert, who told me what this song was ! Here I must admit, despite his many ‘colourful avatars ’ he has always been a good sport, who treats his fans & critics alike !
I have heard Krishna sing so many times and I am convinced that he is one of the best musicians but this particular concert had something missing. That tiny little thing which made this particular concert of his, short of being magical. Now, to make myself clear, he was good by normal standards. But by his own standards, or going by his earlier performances, there was something intangible that was missing, in other words that magical Krishna was missing !

I went home singing, ‘Come back as Jesus, Come back as Allah, but most importantly, Come back as Krishna ! Krishna Nee Begane Baaro !!

About the Author:
Sandhya Shankar belongs to a well respected business family in Chennai. She is a Life Skills & Corporate Trainer by profession. She is an avid reader and a natural writer, who has written several poems and articles. She even presented her poems as a reading at the British council. She has keen interest in all art forms  and has explored many different forms of painting like stained glass and Tanjore being among them. 

Music being her first passion, she had her formal training under Terakotti Chandrasekharaiah at Bangalore and later briefly under Mrs Champa Kumar. She is a regular visitor of concerts, theatre and other live performances. Her witty reviews have gained a loyal and interactive readership for their sound technical commentary and relevance for every kind of melophile, from the casual-goer to the ragam expert, frequenting Chennai’s rich music scene.

(*The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily those of Music of Madras.)

Ram(ar)Prasadam - Palghat Ramprasad

 



Ram(ar)Prasadam



It is probably only Lord Rama’s Prasadam that Palghat Ramprasad is gifted with the kind of musical proficiency & knowledge he has.
It was my first live concert of his and it was in a very intimate & lovely ambience at the vocalist Late Indira Ranganathan’s house which has been made into a Trust by her students and as a tribute to her, they have formed a platform ‘Sunaadalahiri’ where they often host kutcheris. It is a pleasant open air yet cosy setting and a small stage designed in an ethnic style where the artistes performed. I loved the ambience and think it’s extremely thoughtful to have converted this space for this purpose. Who would have guessed that there is such a place tucked away in the backyard of an unassuming house on the busy C.P. Ramaswamy Road !
Ramprasad began the concert with a song on Lord Vinayaka, which is how often people start to invoke his blessings for an obstacle free concert.
It was ‘Vathapi Ganapathaye’ in Sahana Ragam set to Adi thalam written by Papanasam Sivan. Every Hindu temple, especially in South India will have a place for Lord Ganapathi irrespective of who the main deity is, mostly at the entrance. This song is supposed to be composed on the idol of Ganapathi in the temple of Lord Thyagaraja in Tiruvarur. It is believed that this idol was brought from a place called Vathapi which was a part of the Chalukya kingdom. Vathapi is today known as Badami. This was after the war that the Pallava king Narasimha Varman of the 7th century had with the Chalukya King Pulakesi 2 where the Chalukya army was defeated by the Pallava army under the command of the army chief(Paranjothi who was later known as a servitor of Shiva by the name of Siruththondar). At the end of the war the army chief brought this idol from Vathapi as a symbol of his victory and installed it in Tiruvarur. There is also another idol of Ganapathi in the native village of the army chief (Tiruchenkattankudi which is not far from Thiruvarur) which lays claim to the same war memento. It is believed that during the dawn of war, Paranjothi worshipped a Ganesha sculpture on the walls of Vathapi fort. On the return from the victorious battlefield, he took the statue of Ganesha to his birthplace Tiruchenkattankudi in Nagapattinam, which came to be worshipped as Vathapi Ganapathi. Whichever was the real incident, we are lucky to have two wonderful compositions, one by Muthuswami Dikshitar, ‘Vathapi Ganapathim’ in Hamsadwani Ragam and one by Papanasam Sivan in Sahana Ragam on this idol, and the Dikshitar composition is more common. This made it more enjoyable to hear Ramprasad sing Papanasam Sivan’s song.

Then came an impeccable rendering of Thyagaraja’s ‘Endhuku Daya’ in Thodi Ragam set to Misrachapu thalam. Ramprasad chose the heavy Thodi and it is some time that I had listened to this kriti. In this kriti, Thyagaraja asks Rama to have pity on him. Interestingly, the saint composer uses a metaphor in the third charana, which Ramprasad chose to sing.
Jagela idi samayamu kadu jesite
E gati palukavayya Sri Rama
Nive Kani dari ledayya dina Sharanya
Thyagaraja vinuta Taraka charita nīk..(Enduku)
The meaning of this 3rd charanam is :
Why this delay or hesitation? Now is not the appropriate time to delay or hesitate and if you do so, O Lord Sri Rama, tell me who is my saviour ? O Lord, I have no refuge but you..O Lord who is praised by this Thyagaraja ! O Lord who has a history of enabling your devotees to cross the ocean of worldly existence ! Why don’t you have compassion on me?

Although this metaphor is used to describe the state of mind of a ‘Gnani’ or a realised person who is untouched by the sorrows and the changes which is characteristic of the world. Thyagaraja has deviated in the interpretation, nevertheless a valid one. As in Thyagaraja’s other kritis, charanams though differing in lyrics, follow the same music pattern as in the first one, which is why all these 3 charanams are not sung in concerts, because it sounds repetitive and often the second charanam is omitted. Ramprasad was very emotive which got the audience feeling, that with such divine music, Rama would have definitely listened to Thyagaraja’s pleas !
His next choice was Muthuswami Dikshitar’s ‘Arunachala Natham Smarami’ in Ragam Saranga set to Rupaka thalam.
It is obvious that this song is dedicated to Lord Shiva as Arunachala in Tiruvannamalai where his manifestation is in the form of an Agni Lingam, an emblem of fire. This song belongs to a set of compositions by Muthuswami Diksthar called the Panchabhutalinga Kshetra Kritis. Dikshithar describes Shiva as resembling a crore of rising suns but also as a source of mercy.
The ambience was conducive to enjoy Ramprasad’s meditative rendering of this song. The focus is on the purity of the composition, which appeals to me. Careful listening will make one enjoy the repeated use of sound ङ्ग (nga) in the charanam as much as I did !
In the charanam of this song, Dikshitar writes ‘aprakta tejomaya lingam‘ which means he manifests as the extraordinary fiery linga. Another word is aprameyam which means Shiva is inestimable or immeasurable. This is a reference to the appearance of Shiva as an endless tower of fire the origin and end of which Vishnu and Brahma search for in vain. This manifestation is celebrated during Kartikai Deepam when a fire is lit on the hill, perhaps commemorating the volcanic eruption that is said to have given rise to Arunachala. Ramprasad had made a thoughtful choice of this song, it being Karthigai month and the Karthigai Deepam festival coming the next week.

What followed was a lively composition in Ragam Hindolam by Papanasam Sivan, ‘Maa Ramanan’. This song is so popular that I have heard it in lots of concerts by very senior artistes. One memorable performance of this song was by Unnikrishnan, whose voice melted anyone’s heart. But that was so long ago, here Ramprasad gave a scintillating performance.

Next he sang a Kannada song which I had never heard before, though I brag of my Bangalore childhood. Then Google came to my rescue and I found that it was a Kamalesha Vittaladasa composition in Ragam Purvikalyani set to Kandachapu thalam. I loved its simple lyrics appealing to Raghvendra Swamy who took samadhi in Mantralaya. Ramprasad’s diction was perfect and it was very pleasant.

Ramprasad chose Ragam Bhairavi as the central edifice of this concert, laying a solid foundation with an elaborate alapana, then embellishing with exquisite neravals. It was ‘Yaaro Ivar Yaaro’ by a Tamil poet Arunachal Kavi (1711-1779)from his musical drama ‘RamaNatakam’. Vidushi Vedavalli used to say that it should be sung as ‘Aaro Ivar Aaro’. The music of this drama was composed by Arunachala Kavi’s disciples, Venkatarama Iyer and Kodandarama Iyer. This musical-drama contains 197 songs and 278 viruththams (devotional verses. From this, Ramprasad presented a song where the poet describes the emotions of Rama when he first sees Sita. Originally it was sung in Ragam Saveri, no one knows, not even Google when this changed to Ragam Bhairavi.
‘Who can it be? What is her name?’ Rama wonders after getting a mere glimpse of Sita. ‘In this beautiful Mithila which abounds with clouds and wealth, who is this standing the andhpuram balcony?’. He is smitten by the vision of Sita. ‘With her beautiful moon like face turned towards me, is she looking at me? Perhaps our relationship in a previous life is why she presents herself to me today’.
This is not love at first-sight that the poet describes, but recognition at first-sight. Vishnu born as Rama recognises his consort Lakshmi born as Sita and the love that they have for each other from time immemorial resurfaces. Modern youngsters who think they are rational, may scorn the theory that Vishnu is born as Rama and recognises his wife Lakshmi born as Sita but the same people will recommend you to read Dr. Brian Weiss’s books on the same theory, ‘Many Lives, Many Masters’ and ‘Same Soul, Many Bodies’!
Many think that this is a song sung by Sita upon seeing Rama, but if one were to read the first charanam (which is never sung) where there are certain attributes which can only describe a woman, it is undoubtedly Rama who is singing this in the musical drama.
Ramprasad concluded the concert with an exquisite Javali, ‘ Saramaina Mataleno’ by Swati Tirunal in Ragam Behag , which has been a popular choice for many Bharatnatyam artistes. If there is surprise as to how Swati Tirunal being from Kerala knew Telugu, we must in good faith believe that he was a linguist and a genius. Anyway, I think the context of this Javali, is a conversation between the nayika and her lover who is probably trying to defend his actions for having ignored her, and tries to make clever arguments, when she intervenes and asks him to stop throwing such pretentious(saramaina) words (matalu)...
And in the first charanam, she says that it is her great fortune that the moon has helped her by lighting her way when she comes to meet with her lover, and in the next line, she probably calls attention to her lot when she is not united with him, even though being with him brings them both such joy. Ramprasad could bring all this in front of our eyes with the appropriate bhavam.
It was a wonderful evening, and there was a good number of masked people, who had come to listen to his singing.....they surely went back very fulfilled and completely happy. I am glad that I didn’t miss it !

About the Author:
Sandhya Shankar belongs to a well respected business family in Chennai. She is a Life Skills & Corporate Trainer by profession. She is an avid reader and a natural writer, who has written several poems and articles. She even presented her poems as a reading at the British council. She has keen interest in all art forms  and has explored many different forms of painting like stained glass and Tanjore being among them. 

Music being her first passion, she had her formal training under Terakotti Chandrasekharaiah at Bangalore and later briefly under Mrs Champa Kumar. She is a regular visitor of concerts, theatre and other live performances. Her witty reviews have gained a loyal and interactive readership for their sound technical commentary and relevance for every kind of melophile, from the casual-goer to the ragam expert, frequenting Chennai’s rich music scene.

(*The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily those of Music of Madras.)

MonArkay of Music

 


MonArkay of Music

If you are an old resident of Mylapore, you will remember certain popular landmarks such as ‘Shanti Vihar’ Hotel for hot and soft idlis and this was before the Sangeetas, Saravana Bhavans which multiplied by the year at every available corner ! 

You will remember ‘Rex Fashions’ as a landmark place for clothes and this was before the Mall culture began and online shopping became a habit !

You will remember Vivek &Co for all home appliances and this was before Amazon came to rule everyone’s life ! 

You will remember the only beauty parlour around to be ‘Kanya’, this was before the Green trends, Page 3s, Vurves, YLGs were everywhere! 

You will remember ‘Thanithora Market‘ being a landmark for your veggies and this was before the Kovai/non-Kovai Pazhamudircholais cropped on every road, sometimes opposite each other ! 

Today, if you ask someone to wait for you at a Pazhamudir, your meeting may never happen unless you actually give the accurate latitude & longitude of the place! 

Ofcourse you have Google Maps but landmarks are not simply addresses or locations but they have a history, a time tested reputation and above all local connect & sentiment ! 

Like having rosemilk in the shabby little store called ‘Kalathy’ brings a lot of memories along with a lot of calories ! 

Today, that is what Arkay Convention Centre has achieved ...it has become a landmark for music concerts and other events. It has held its own might inspite of being surrounded by giants such as Music Academy, NGS, Parathsarathy Sabha, MFAC and people search for concerts at this venue only because of the quality of programs that they offer. 

It is a well known name where people come out of their choice despite of it being on top of a commercial building and parking their vehicles being a challenge. I have not come across a regular kutcheri goer who doesn’t know Arkay Convention Centre. That speaks a lot about the credibility and quality of this organisation. It has been the launch pad for many aspiring (and now successful)artistes 

Arkay celebrated the10th anniversary of their ‘Madhurdhwani’ which has largely been a platform for a lot of talented artistes. This was on 21st November in an intimate gathering keeping the pandemic precautions in mind. 

Arkay Convention Centre has hosted so many concerts through these 10 years and giving opportunity to showcase real talent. 

The event had many celebrated people such as Sriram Parasuram who often sings Jugalbandhi along with his wife Anuradha Sriram. He is better known for his Hindustani singing than his proficiency in playing the violin or Carnatic music. It was very interesting to hear him felicitating Mr Ramakrishnan, with several anecdotes which were both amusing & gave us a better understanding of the man who established this institution.  Sriram also elaborated the effort behind ‘Institution building’ and commended Mr Ramakrishnan. It needs a special kind of person who creates something for others to benefit. After listening to Sriram Parasuram’s engaging speech, I told myself that I must attend one of his lecdems next year(after all this year has not been in our control). 

Right after this, we had an upcoming artiste Manoj Krishna singing a song penned by Vairamuthu’s son Madan Karky, set to tune in Ragam  Khamboji by Rajiv Menon..... a man with many talents.  I was so caught up with the lyrics which was about the relationship between Man & God.  

It was Rajiv’s turn to felicitate Mr. Ramakrishnan and he was generous in that. Also while at it, Rajiv exhibited his knowledge in a variety of subjects, sharing with us his experiences as a child, where began his personal journey with music. He narrated as to how as a young boy, his family had to often move cities & school because of his father being a Naval officer. This proved to be a hurdle in learning music in an uninterrupted way. He said that one needs to be very fortunate like him, to have a mother who used to light the God’s lamp every evening when he returned from playing with his friends and he used to hear her reciting Lalita Sahasranamam followed by one hour of singing Carnatic Music. I am not sure if my children would agree with him, because I see them only with their AirPods/ earphones denying the possibility of even accidentally hearing me chant or sing ! Probably, that is because their mother is not an accomplished singer like his mother Kalyani Menon and also when Rajiv was young, there was no such thing as earphones or AirPods !

His mother’s influence was evident when he sang few lines of ‘Kaana Vendamo’ in Sriranjani Ragam written by Papanasam Sivan. Apparently he had earlier thought the song was composed by Gopalakrishna Bharati.  I was so impressed with Rajeev’s varied knowledge and enthusiasm for gaining more. 

He spoke of how understanding the lyrics or sahityam was important. He mentioned that Regional Films divided people by having separate categories for them whereas Carnatic Music transcends borders. For example Carnatic Trinity though having lived in Tiravayaru, mainly sang in Telugu. 

He spoke of King Krishnadevaraya and his contribution to music, for which the irrefutable proof being his own Telugu composition 

Amuktamalyada, an epic poem in Telugu. 

Krishnadevaraya was an emperor of the Vijayanagara dynasty  in the early 16th century. Amuktamalyada translates to A garland of pearls. Considered a masterpiece, Amuktamalyada describes the story of the wedding of Lord Ranganayaka of Srirangam and Goda Devi also known as Andal who was the daughter of Periyalwar and was an Alwar herself (who says that women were not given equal status in ancient India?)

What Rajiv brought forward was that while Krishnadevaraya was from  Karnataka’s Vijayanagara empire, he wrote this masterpiece in Telugu and the poem was about Andal who lived in Srivilliputhur in Tamilnadu and she wrote Thirrupavai in Tamil and married Lord Ranganayaka in Srirangam, Tamilnadu. So, what are we fighting about borders ? 

He spoke about Hindustani Ragas (it is not Ragam with a m for them) in Carnatic Music.  It was indeed very an engrossing speech by him, where he stressed the need for cross fertilisation among states. I couldn’t more agree with him when he said that we need to cultivate good rasikas more than cultivating artistes. After all, what are artistes without rasikas ? Speaking for myself, I am a confirmed Rasika for years to come.

It was an evening ending with many artistes coming together in a virtual presentation expressing their felicitations for ‘Madhurdhwani ‘ completing 10 years and expressing their good wishes to the hero of the day Mr. Ramakrishnan.

About the Author:
Sandhya Shankar belongs to a well respected business family in Chennai. She is a Life Skills & Corporate Trainer by profession. She is an avid reader and a natural writer, who has written several poems and articles. She even presented her poems as a reading at the British council. She has keen interest in all art forms  and has explored many different forms of painting like stained glass and Tanjore being among them. 

Music being her first passion, she had her formal training under Terakotti Chandrasekharaiah at Bangalore and later briefly under Mrs Champa Kumar. She is a regular visitor of concerts, theatre and other live performances. Her witty reviews have gained a loyal and interactive readership for their sound technical commentary and relevance for every kind of melophile, from the casual-goer to the ragam expert, frequenting Chennai’s rich music scene.

(*The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily those of Music of Madras.)

Malare Mounama ?

 


Malare Mounama ? 

It was a humid Friday afternoon on September 25th, when my maid tells me that she is not coming to work for the next few days.... now that is a crisis for me, so I jumped and asked her the reason. Pat comes the answer, ‘Amma don’t you know that SPB died? My husband & I are devastated and depressed.’ Now, this is the magic of SPB with which most of us have grown up with and this is the same magic we can never outgrow! 

This has become a personal loss for millions of people and the Indian film music world for he is truly irreplaceable!!

They call him a legend and how else can they describe a man who made his debut in playback singing in a 1966 Telugu film ‘Sri Sri Sri Maryada Ramana’, and last for 54 years in the most dynamic & competitive film music industry. 

Who would think that a boy from Konnetammapet, Nellore with a surname Sripathi Panditaradhyula, will also through his remarkably expressive singing make us love,laugh, cry and live with an entire range of emotions. Today he gave us emotion which he never given before, that of a feeling of helplessness and feeling of emptiness. I know scores of people who have used his songs as their emotional crutches. The man who made us rich with his music leaves this world poor by no small measure. 


It is very common to have really long surnames among Telugu people, so Sripathi Panditaradhyula Balasubrahmanyam became Balu to people close to him and the one & only S.P.B. to the world. 

I am not here to give the list of innumerable awards he received, the number of songs he sang, the number of languages in sang in etc,etc. That would be mere statistics and there are some who are above statistics & the number game. His undeniable talent & his success were there for everyone to see. He and Yesudas were the only singers popular beyond their home states and that is what we call beyond boundaries. He had an emotional appeal and probably that contributed to the now existing palpable grief among people . He was one of the most versatile singers Pan India. 

Now there could be many to counter this statement with names of wonderful singers such as Rafi, Kishore, TMS, PBS and more. I repeat, that he was easily one of the most versatile singers, and one who was never intimidated to sing in any unfamiliar language or a new genre. The proof is in the fact that, one of the most listened to classical based songs in AP and TN were not from Carnatic stalwarts,but from a single Telugu movie ‘Shankarabharanam’ and these were sung by a classically untrained singer SPB. To take the challenge of singing all Carnatic based songs and to deliver them fabulously is no small feat. I used to often wonder, when the central character of the film was a famous Carnatic Music exponent, then why would the music director K.V. Mahadevan choose to risk using a classically untrained singer like SPB, when he could have used any other acknowledged, recognised Carnatic vocalist. Like always, I answer my own questions (I know that sounds crazy)... I felt K.V. Mahadevan must have made this choice because when it comes to emoting and giving that extra feeling to a song, there is almost none who can come close to him. His trademark was that little laugh or call it chuckle which was so very real & lovable that certainly was in favour of Kamalahasan’s romantic roles. 

I think this was possible because of 2 things, one was he totally enjoyed every song he sang and another is he was quite a cute actor himself. He has played significant roles in several films and some in the lead role where he was sensible enough to choose what suited him rather than running around trees or fighting a dozen goons. Both onscreen and in real life, he handled himself with dignity and humility. I am convinced that SPB was a die-hard romantic himself (have the same feeling about Swati Tirunal). How else can one explain the ability SPB had to make romance, love, yearning all so tangible & bodied ? He must have been a sincere lover who was passionate about his singing...all this giving him the power to make already romantic people like me, dreamy & idealistic deluding myself that pure love is still out there waiting for me! 


Much of this has been attributed to the Illyaraja SPB combination. Much has been spoken about their partnership and their split. They were definitely a winning combination like Leander Paes & Mahesh Bhupathi or like Bollywood writers Salim-Javed or better example for Carnatic Music lovers is Ranjani- Gayatri. Sadly like the first two pairs, Illyaraja- SPB had differences, where SPB was more graceful. When Paes & Bhupathi broke up neither did well individually, same was the case after Salim Khan & Javed Akhtar broke up(of course RaGa are still together & will remain so) but in the Ilayaraja & SPB split, only one of them was affected, SPB was still wanted across South India by other music directors. Ilayaraja no doubt used SPB & S.Janaki extensively, both these Telugu speaking singers were complementing each other.

It’s unthinkable that the succulent voice which sang for Vidyasagar”s music direction ‘Malare Mounama’ from the Arjun Sarja’s film Karna has fallen silent. Many film songs have been based on Kaanada Ragam and one of my favourites is this one, incidentally a non Illyaraja song.

SPB was matchless with his little laughter, a stifled sob, those inflections were his USP. 

It is common knowledge that MGR wanted to replace TMS, since MGR was a megalomaniac who is reputed to be unforgiving to anyone who doesn’t suck up to him. But,TMS was too valuable because it was his voice & the curated lyrics which played a catalyst in MGR’s political career. So, the search for a good replacement was not easy. It was then that MGR who was sitting outside a recording studio in the garden, to beat the heat inside(there were no air conditioners those days) hears SPB singing a Telugu song and seeks him out. But, on the day of the recording SPB was unwell and couldn’t sing, so he thought he had lost a chance not having turned up at the recording, that too for an MGR song. But, MGR waited till SPB got better & recorded the song ... probably MGR could identify talent & skill, like he did in the case of mentoring Jayalalitha to be his heir. 

That was how SPB sang ‘Ayiram Nilave Vaa’ under the music direction of K.V. Mahadevan for MGR’s film ‘Adimai Penn’ .... and rest is history ! After this song, there was no looking back for him and he was the busiest singer in the whole Indian film industry, for the many decades to come.TMS ‘s loss was SPB’s gain. SPB had arrived ! 


How many know that, he had recorded the most songs on a single day by any singer? A whopping 21 songs in Kannada for the composer Upendra Kumar in Bangalore from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm on 8 February 1981. Can anyone beat that ? 

And in all this, what stands out is that every single person who has met him is amazed by his humility & simplicity ...this is something no one has contradicted. If he was pretending to humble & simple it would be difficult to be consistent and sometime, somewhere his arrogance would have been exposed but that never ever happened. We have lost a wonderful singer with some exemplary qualities which many other artistes in every field can emulate. 

People loved working with him not just because of his immeasurable talent and success rate but also his goodness. 

It happened when K. Balachander wanted to remake his Telugu hit film ‘Marocharitra’ in Hindi as ‘Ek Dujje Ke Liye’ he realised that he has to make a few changes in order to reach out to the Hindi audience and therefore cannot dub the film in Hindi, which would have been a cheaper option and it is a well known fact that K.B. always worked on a shoe string budget. During the remake there were two things K.B was adamant about not changing and that was the hero Kamalahasan & the male singer SPB. He had to fight to have his way, with the music directors Lakshmikant Pyarelal who were not excited about using a non Hindi speaking SPB. KB was clear that both Kamal & SPB were irreplaceable. And boy, did it pay off... SPB went on to win the National Award for the song ‘Tere Mere Beech Mein’. It is important to note that the same song is sung by Lata Mangeshkar in the same film both being solo versions. If it is the music direction which was the winner or Raag Shivaranjini then Lata could have won the award. But it was SPB who had everyone crying with the pathos in his voice. After this movie, the Kamalahasan’s acting coupled SPB singing almost convinced me,that true love means jumping of the cliff together. And the film ‘Punnangai Mannan’ completely convinced me !! 

I even found the cliff to jump from and am still waiting for somebody to join me on the top of the cliff ! 

I am a loyal fan of Lata but I have to admit that SPB made Lata’s singing appear mediocre and made Lakshmikant Pyarelal eat humble pie for doubting his talent. I still maintain one has to be a romantic to act like Kamal and romantic to both sing that song like SPB and to enjoy it too ! And Lata’s life was devoid of romance except for some stray rumours. 

His debut in Hindi which got him a National award had him singing for Salman Khan. My candid assessment is that, this helped Salman’s films to be successful because by himself Salman was no Kamalahasan to carry the films with his wooden acting. I was amused to see channels saying that SPB was better known as Salman Khan’s voice... I am sure SPB himself would have been amused, the confident humorous man that he was ! My opinion is that it is Salman who owes his early success to SPB‘s singing for ‘Maine Pyar Kiya’, ‘ Saajan’ and ofcourse ’Hum Aapke Hai Kaun’, in which Madhuri Dixit contributed along with SPB to give Salman another hit. 

SPB was not better known as Salman’s voice, he could be anyone’s voice.... it can be Vijayakanth, Ramarajan or even Mohan. Remember Mohan of ‘Payanangal Mudivathilai’? Would anyone watch Mohan’s films for his acting, if it was not for SPB giving him some of the best songs? It was not only a genius like Illyaraja who made super hit songs with SPB, but even music directors like the plagiarist Bappi Lahiri who benefitted that extra thing that was the magic of SPB, who could transform any song because he just loved to sing and being a linguist helped immensely. Rest of the singers were only cloning him, yet didn’t try to imitate his humility. 

His acting in Guna, Avvai Shanmughi, Keladi Kanmani, Minsara Kanavu,Priyamanavale, Kadhalan & some other Telugu films were definitely as effortless as his singing. 

In a field, where almost everyone has had clandestine or brazen relationships, and almost everyone is accusing everyone in the #Metoo campaign, to remain spotless and dignified is so respectable. I am glad, I lived in an era of his music and also had the taste to enjoy them. 

He has often mentioned that Rafi was his idol, his inspiration and like him, he understood the mood of the song, relished the lyrics, studied the actor in the scene, the context, the entire package and there was no song which was too difficult for him yet he didn’t take any song lightly and do a half hearted job. 

Many are paying lengthy tributes while many others are speechless. I could keep writing so much more because this is not about an ordinary man but a ‘Gentle Giant’, whose life and million anecdotes to go with it, can never be uninteresting. If a person has rendered more than 40,000 songs, and all of them are brilliant and each one has a story to go with it, then imagine how much more can be written. Probably, I should write as a serial and give it the detailing that it deserves. 

I am guilty of quoting my grandmother, who was an ardent devotee of Lord Rama. She used to tell us stories from Ramayana and when she fell short of words to describe Rama, she used to say that there is no simile, no metaphor, no synonym, no example to describe Rama ... one doesn’t say Rama was like this or that or like someone, because there was no one like him before him or after him. We can only say someone is ‘almost’ like Rama,even that is difficult. He is his own example ! 

I say that there was nobody like SPB before him, and there will be none ever after !! 

About the Author:
Sandhya Shankar belongs to a well respected business family in Chennai. She is a Life Skills & Corporate Trainer by profession. She is an avid reader and a natural writer, who has written several poems and articles. She even presented her poems as a reading at the British council. She has keen interest in all art forms  and has explored many different forms of painting like stained glass and Tanjore being among them. 

Music being her first passion, she had her formal training under Terakotti Chandrasekharaiah at Bangalore and later briefly under Mrs Champa Kumar. She is a regular visitor of concerts, theatre and other live performances. Her witty reviews have gained a loyal and interactive readership for their sound technical commentary and relevance for every kind of melophile, from the casual-goer to the ragam expert, frequenting Chennai’s rich music scene.

(*The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily those of Music of Madras.)

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