Thursday, August 11, 2005

Seshanna, his first name was Veena

Dr. K.Rohiniprasad

Veena, the Indian lute has a long history in the annals of our culture. While the Rudra Veena was popular in the North, Saraswati Veena continues to have a pre-eminent place in South Indian music. Historical evidence indicates that the music schools of the North and South parted ways after the decline of the Vijayanagar empire. Thereafter, South Indian culture and art forms found refuge in the princely courts of Tanjore, Madurai and other centres.

The Tanjore tradition of Carnatic music continued to flourish at the court of Mysore under the Wodeyars who were appointed rulers after Tippu Sultan’s defeat. A well-known Veena player named Venkatasubbayya (d 1838) was brought to Mysore from Tanjore to teach music to one of the princes. Royal patronage continued to Venkatasubbayya's grandson Subbanna (1855-1938) and grand-nephew Seshanna (1852-1926).

Seshanna was initiated into the art of Veena playing by his father, Bakshi Chikka Ramappa. He turned out to be a child-prodigy, performing by the age of ten a complex Pallavi in front of the king and other court musicians. The young genius continued to win accolades and soon rose to eminence. At the age of sixteen Seshanna lost his father but continued with music lessons from a relative named Dodda Seshanna. He also learnt singing from Mysore Sadashiva Rao (1802-82), who was trained earlier by the Walajapet group of Tyagaraja’s disciples. Seshanna learnt Tyagaraja’s compositions from Sadasiva Rao, who was the first to bring Tyagaraja's musical tradition to Mysore. Apart from Veena, Seshanna mastered violin, sitar, organ, piano, jaltarang and performed on all these instruments. He also learnt Hindustani and European music.

The reign of Krishnaraja Wodeyar (1902 to 1940) saw the rise of eminent artists and great composers like Veena Seshanna, Bidaram Krishnappa, Vasudevacharya, Muthiah Bhagavathar and others. Other great musicians including Veena Dhanammal, Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar and Tiger Varadachariar, as well as Hindustani musicians like Abdul Karim Khan regularly performed at the Mysore Court.

Seshanna was a colossus and an innovative performer of the Veena. A brilliant composer, he left behind several swarajatis, varnams, kirtanas, Devarnaamas and tillanas that are based on complicated rhythmic patterns like Sankirna Triputa, Misra Chaapu, Chaturasra Triputa and Khanda Mathya Tala. His wrote his Kritis in Telugu and Devarnamas in Kannada. The king bestowed upon him the title Vainika Sikhamani and soon Veena became his first name.

Seshanna became a legend in his own life-time and other princely states vied with each other in inviting to perform and showering gifts and titles on him. Many sabhas, institutions, Mutts and temples honoured him. The Maharaja of Baroda invited Seshanna to a music festival in Baroda and took him in procession in a golden palanquin. The Raja of Ramnad arranged a week-long concert of the maestro in his durbar. Seshanna reportedly received more than 40 gold pieces, innumerable necklaces, hundreds of diamond rings, countless number of shawls and titles. King George V was spell-bound by his music at the Delhi Durbar. Highly impressed, he carried a portrait of Seshanna to adorn the Buckingham Palace. In 1924, Gandhi heard Seshanna's Veena playing at the Belgaum Congress session. Captivated by the music, the Mahatma cancelled all his engagements and heard him with rapt attention for five hours.

A man of great humility, Seshanna used to say that his fingers were yet to capture in full the grandeur of some of the classical ragas. He would happily and readily perform for any genuine music-lover. One of Seshanna’s disciples, Venkatagiriappa was the guru of the well-known contemporary Veena player Mysore Doreswami Iyengar. An auditorium built in Mysore is dedicated to Seshanna’s memory and hosts classical music performances.

Sangeeta Ratnakara Ariyakudi

Dr. K. Rohiniprasad

Musical performances in Carnatic style usually feature more items or ragas compared to Hindustani concert format that treats fewer ragas more elaborately. This trend was mainly initiated by Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar (1890-1967). Born into a family of astrologers in Ariyakkudi near Karaikudi (Tamilnadu), Ramanuja was told early that his destiny lay in music. Accordingly he took early lessons in music from Pudukottai Malayappaier and later from Namakkal Narasimha Iyengar and Ramanthapuram (Poochi) Srinivasa Iyengar. He made his debut at the Tyagaraja Aradhana in 1918 and started giving concerts in Madras from 1920.

Ramanuja Iyengar was influenced by great performers like Tirukkodikaval Krishna Iyer, Tiruchi Govindasami Pillai, Sarabha Sastri, Sakharam Rao, Vina Dhanammal and others. Traditional Carnatic music concerts consisted of elaborate and leisurely renderings better suited to audiences with a lot of time to spare. In the early decades of the twentieth century classical music moved from the royal courts and temples to the public platform. In a metropolis like Madras, the audiences mainly consisted of salaried middle-class who had to divide their time between music and daily routine. Though Ariyakudi was traditional and conservative, he brought modernity to his music and adapt it to the changing needs of the listeners without transgressing the limits of tradition.

Having studied the works of Vaggeyakaras and musicologists like Purandaradasa, Ramamathya, Venkatamakhi, Akalanka, Govindacharya and others, he devised a format for his concerts keeping in mind the variety that was required. He realised that the performer must be conscious of his strengths and weaknesses and keep the listeners spell-bound, making them stay on to the very end, asking for more. His guiding principle was to provide a wider choice of classical items. A good knowledge of the lyric was needed to express emotions. He strove to elevate and educate the listeners and improve their tastes. To this end, his fare would typically consist of short and crisp alapana of two or three of the ragas with. Kalpana-svaras limited and restricted to a few items based on different talas, with some measure of niraval (improvised variations in the rendering of the song). Towards the end of his performance he would include popular items from Gita Govinda, Taranga, Kshetrayya, Arunachala Kavi, Nandanar Charitram, Muthu Tandavar Padam, Vedanayakam Pillai's compositions, Kavikunjara Bharathi's pieces, Tiruvachakam, Tevaram, Prabhandam, Arutpas or Patrinthar or Thayumanavar and Subramanya Bharati. He chose a well-tuned tambura for sruti in his concerts instead of harmonium. He disproved the myth that traditional music was not pleasing to the ear. Soon others began to follow his style of presentation that brought classical music closer and made it popular with the layman.

Ariyakudi attained great reputation that lasted for over half a century. His style was such that he would not pause for long between songs or between the stanzas of a composition. Even his alapana was fast-paced. Nevertheless his poise and presentation were great. On one occasion his eminent contemporary G.N.Balasubramaniam prostrated himself at his feet out of respect. Ariyakudi could play the mridangam and became a close friend and admirer of Palghat Mani Iyer, the great mridanga vidwan. The liking and respect were mutual. When Ariyakudi passed away in 1967, Mani Iyer said "In his death, what has been lost is not only his great music but also my inspiration for creativity". Many awards and titles were bestowed upon him including Padmabhushan, Sangita Kalanidhi (Music Academy, Madras 1938), Gayaka Shikhamani (Mysore Durbar), Sangita Kala Shikhamani (Indian Fine Arts Society, Madras), Sangita Ratnakara (Vellore Sangeeta Sabha, 1932), Isai Perarignar (Tamil Isai Sangham 1950), Fellow of Sangeeta Nataka Academy (New Delhi) and so forth. His disciples include B.Rajam Iyer K.V.Narayanasvami.

Ustad Inayat Khan, the great sitar maestro

Dr. K.Rohiniprasad

Ustad Inayat Khan

Inayat Khan playing the sur bahar

Inayat Khan's father Imdad Khan on the sur bahar

While Ravi Shankar popularized the sitar all over the world, several connoisseurs consider Vilayat Khan’s artistry unparalleled as asitar player and a complete musician. Vilayat Khan belongs to an illustrious line of sitar players from Bengal and received his initial training from his father Inayat Khan (1895-1938). Their forefathers were musicians for several generations from the 16th century Mughal era. Inayat’s grandfather Sahabdad Khan and father Imdad Khan (1848-1920) were sitar players of great repute. Sahabdad invented surbahar (bass sitar) and as a sitar player, he was influenced by Haddu and Hassu Khan (Gwalior gharana). Dhrupad and khayal vocal styles were also reflected in his playing style and choice of ragas. He also incorporated been, rabab and other new techniques in his presentation. Sahabdad was trained in the Senia sitar gharana of Nirmal Saha and initiated his son Imdad to both the surbahar and the sitar. He died when Imdad was young and the boy learnt music from Bande Ali Khan, the beenkar (Kirana gharana) and Rajab Ali Khan (Jaipur gharana). At Banaras Imdad learnt thumri style also. Imdad Khan became a court musician at Indore. Some of Imdad Khan’s old records are available today.Later his sons, Inayat and Wahid, carried on with the tradition. Inayat became a great sitar and surbahar artist. His brother Wahid Khan became a great surbahar player.

After his father's death Inayat was trained by Alladiya Khan, Allah Bande Khan and Zakiruddin Khan (Jaipur). Initially a court musician of Indore, Inayat went to Calcutta and in 1924, shifted to Gouripur in Mymensingh (now in Bangladesh), where he became court musician for Brajendra Kishore Roy Choudhury.

Inayat Khan had a great command over the ragas and the sitar, which could express any emotion. He introduced the khayal gayaki style on the sitar in what is now known as the Etawah gharana. In his 78RPM records we can glimpse his wonderful vocal-style presentation of ragas on the surbahar as well as the incredible speed and power of his sitar playing. On the surbahar he used to render alap, jod and jhala without percussion in dhrupad style, followed by the khayal type composition on the sitar with tabla accompaniment, with great improvisation in rhythm and notes with excellent layakari. His bols and right hand strokes became trend-setters for future generations. He wore his hair long and put in long hours of practice with his hair tied to a window behind him. It would jerk him awake in case he dozed off with the sitar in his hands. The rigorous training he received was handed down to his sons and thus paltas of immense speed and complexity were passed on from generation to generation. At the same time, the lyrical quality of music was preserved in the form of exquisite meends, murkis and gamaks.

Inayat Khan became a regular performer and leading sitar player at music festivals, receiving accolades from his peers as well as senior musicians. In his youth Ravi Shankar was planning to learn from Inayat Khan when the Ustad suddenly passed away. Inayat Khan’s wife Basheeran Begum belonged to a family of great vocalists and helped train her young sons after her husband’s untimely death.

Inayat Khan’s style and artistry is preserved in the music of his sons, grandsons and followers. His compositions, his jhala patterns and his right hand technique are often reproduced by his illustrious son Vilayat Khan. In his concerts, Vilayat Khan sometimes demonstrates several gats in the raga Piloo that were composed by his father and fore-fathers. This illustrates the glorious tradition as well as the evolution in sitar playing techniques and innovation.

Gana samrat Ustad Alladiya Khan

Dr. K.Rohiniprasad

Alladiya Khan with the famous harmonium player Govindrao Tembe

Alladiya Khan (1855-1946) is the founder of Jaipur-Atrauli gharana to which several modern titans belong. Born into a family of musicians in Atrauli (Rajasthan) he lost his father early. His uncle Jehangir Khan taught him dhrupad for 5 years and khayal for another 8. Until he was 25 Alladiya Khan learnt and practised music, occasionally performing but yet to take it up as profession. After initial success at Ajaygad court as singer, Alladiya Khan set off on a concert tour visiting Patna, Mujaffarpur, Allahabad, Calcutta and other places with successful recitals everywhere. His concert at Motihari resulted in an invitation by the king of Nepal, where the ustad spent two years until he felt homesick. Even during travel Alladiya Khan would not neglect music. He practised hard literally from dusk to dawn even at 51.

Alladiya Khan enjoyed royal patronage at several places. He was the court musician for the Kolhapur king, until the king died in 1922 and later moved to Bombay. At Amlata, he almost lost his voice due to hours of singing daily for a couple of years. His voice lost sweetness and he had to depend on taans. So he adopted a new style which helped him sing without compromising the purity of raga. His main disciples were his famous younger brother Haider Khan, Bhaskarbuwa Bakhale and his own sons. Khansaheb invariably started training with dhrupad-dhamar and took up khayal only after their voices stabilized and became tonally perfect. While the second son Manji Khan died in 1937, the youngest son Bhurji Khan continued to teach his father’s disciples like Kesarbai Kerkar. Among the others Mogubai Kurdikar (Kishori Amonkar‘s mother) learnt from Haider Khan while Mallikarjun Mansur learnt from Manji Khan and Bhurji Khan.

Alladiya Khan, who won the title Gana Samrat, represented what is considered by some a dissident branch of the Agra gharana. His style was in contrast to the rather straightforward Gwalior gharana. He was an artiste par excellence and knew thousands of compositions by heart and a collection of hundreds of rare ragas. Alladiya Khan developed taans that require exceptional voice control. He brought in the complexities of both dhrupad and khayal into his music. Though not as slow as Kirana gayaki, the varying note patterns provide the rhythm and enhance the characteristic relationship between the notes. He employed oblique alaps and taans without deviating from the chosen rhythm making fresh improvisations with accent on different beats during layakari. The intellectual style of presentation of traditional compositions pays a lot of attention to the beats of the taal as the first one (sam) is reached. The second stanza (antara) is usually omitted. Rare and composite ragas such as Sampurna-Malkauns, Basant-Kedar, Basant-Bahar, Kaunsi-Kanada and Nat-Kamod are preferred. In his time the ustad was revered by the likes of Bal Gandharva, Govindrao Tembe (harmonium artist), B.R.Deodhar and others while Bhatkhande considered his style of music his own and not handed down by his ancestors.

Alladiya Khan had a striking figure, tallish, somewhat spare frame, white moustache and whiskers. Like Maharashtrians, he wore snow-white dhoti, a spotless white shirt underneath an open collar dark jacket, a pink turban with a long tail, and slippers. He claimed his ancestors were Adya Gaud Brahmins who had to convert to Islam when the emperor in Delhi had obliged them by releasing their Hindu king from prison. He called himself Brahmin Muslim and therefore unfortunately, when he died after prolonged illness, other Muslims were too indifferent to attend his funeral in large numbers.

Followers of the gharana include Ashwini Bhide, Arati Ankalikar, Padma Tralwalkar, Padmavati Shaligram, Shruti Sadolikar, V R Kadnekar, Vinayakrao Kulkarni and others.

Siddheswari Devi, Queen of Banarasi thumris

Dr. K.Rohiniprasad

When a competent singer sings light classical music like thumri, it can sound as expansive and rich as a khayal. Siddheswari Devi (1903-1977) who popularised the Poorab style of the thumri endowed it with classical dignity while maintaining its lyricism and expressiveness. With a vast repertoire she became an institution by herself.

Thumris were originally sung with abhinaya but classical musicians replaced gestures with the emotional content of the song brought out by musical expression. The beauty of notes and their combinations, voice modulation and emotion-charged style of singing came to mark thumri renderings. These modern performers included Bhaiya Ganpatrao, Moizuddin, Shyamlal Khatri and others.

Born into a famous musical family in Varanasi, Siddheswari lost her parents very early in life. Her maternal grandmother Maina Devi was a reputed singer. Siddheswari was brought up by her maternal aunt, Rajeswari, herself a famed disciple of Maina Devi, Mithailal, and Moizuddin. Other famous singers from her family included Vidyadhari Devi, Kamaleswari Devi and others. Thus Siddheswari could imbibe a great deal of music, occasionally depending on the neighbours’ gramophone. She was captivated by popular singers like Janakibai, Gauharbai and others. The talent and enthusiasm of the young girl prompted Siyaji Maharaj to teach her. Having no children of his own, he was generous and affectionate, treating her like his own daughter. She practised all the basic ragas and several khayals, tappas and taranas with intense concentration and devotion. After the death of Siyaji Maharaj, she learnt from Rajab Ali Khan (Dewas), and Inayat Khan (Lahore) and later, from Bade Ramdasji (Varanasi).

Siddheswari made her unforgettable debut at a Calcutta at the age of 18 and soon received invitations to perform at Rampur, Jodhpur, Lahore, Mysore and other places. Music was her passion. She practised music all the time even as she was cooking, washing clothes, or doing any household chore. She sang in several royal durbars, music conferences and radio broadcasts. Veterans of the time such as Omkarnath Thakur, Dilipchandra Vedi, Faiyaz Khan and others had high praise for her. Once Faiyaz Khan heard her Bhairavi thumri in Bombay and was too moved to perform after her, saying “After Gauhar, the crown of the thumri rests on your head".

As her fame grew, Siddheswari joined the Bharatiya Kala Kendra in Delhi as a professor, where she was known as a sincere and conscientious teacher. She received the Presidential Award (1966), Padmasri (1967), D.Litt. from Ravindra Bharati University, Calcutta, and Desikottama from the Viswa Bharati University. She performed in Rome, Kabul, and Kathmandu. In spite of all this, she remained simple and unassuming. She admired contemporaries like Kesarbai Kerkar and M.S. Subbalakshmi. With age her voice became "temperamental and thick" but she could offset that with her emotional fervour and intensity of feeling. With simple charm, purity of notes and voice modulation, she brought out all the salient features of the Banaras style.

Siddheswari was warm-hearted, simple, and loveable, full of innocence, courage, humour, generosity, youthful zest for life and rare dignity. Her religious temperament had a great impact on her singing. She believed that music was the medium for pleasing and attaining god. Not proud of her success and always humble, her music attained mellowness and maturity. With twinkling eyes, the solitary diamond in her big nose ring flashing points of light, a warm smile on her paan-reddened lips, she was very popular among music-lovers. Her last performance was a couple of years before her death. With an unhappy childhood, she suffered from ill-health towards the end of her life too. Her tradition is carried on by her younger daughter Savita Devi and Girija Devi.

Dwaram – portal to heavenly music

Dr. K. Rohiniprasad

Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu in his younger days

Lighting up

Lighting up the world of music

Violin, the early sixteenth century Italian instrument reached India in the mid-17th century through European military bands. Early Indian violinists included Vadivelu and Balu (1786-1859), brother of the great composer Muthuswami Dikshitar. By the end of the 19th century Carnatic violin solo performances by Tirukodikaval Krishna Iyer and Govindaswami Pillai became popular as the instrument was thoroughly indigenised in technique and spirit. One of the great violinists of all time was Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu (1893-1964).

Venkataswamy, born in Bangalore, belonged to a Telugu family. His grandfather and father were commissioned army officers and his father Venkatarayudu, who played violin in the military band, settled down near Anakapalle in Andhra after retirement. As a boy Venkataswamy left school due to poor eyesight. He initially learnt violin at the age of six from his elder brother Venkatakrishnaiah and later from his brother’s teacher the great Veena vidwan Tumarada Sangameswara Sastry. Venkataswamy’s mental discipline helped him practise music for hours at a stretch. Many years later, he would warn his disciples “If you don’t practice for one day, you will notice your mistakes; if you don’t practice for two days the audience would notice your mistakes!”

Venkataswamy, a child prodigy, became an expert violin player at fourteen, winning critics’ acclaim. His attention to detail, dedication, keen grasp and intuition resulted in an extremely melodious and deceptively simple style that soon became very popular. On one occasion, the veteran Govindaswami Pillai recommended the young man as a stand-in for himself at a concert in Kakinada.

In 1919 Adibhatla Narayanadas, the multi-faceted genius and principal at the Vijayanagaram Music College appointed Naidu the professor of violin. In 1929 he was offered Music professorship at Annamalai University with good salary. But Dwaram, loyal to his patron the Raja of Vijayanagaram, declined. He succeeded Narayanadas as principal in 1936. With profound knowledge of both Indian and Western styles, he would play compositions of Mendelssohn, Bach and others for his friends.

In 1927 Dwaram made his debut in Madras through music performances that coincided with the Congress session. He regularly accompanied almost all the great vocalists of the time and performed his first solo recital at Vellore in 1938. Music critics wrote that he was too great to be a mere accompanist. A traditionalist and innovator, Venkataswamy developed a soft bowing technique combined with firm finger-play. His manodharma as well as the choice, placement and rendering of the compositions proved for the first time that violin could be as good as Veena or Nadaswaram for Carnatic music.

Dwaram’s familiarity with Hindustani music was reflected in his treatment of ragas like Subhapantuvarali, Kapi and Hindolam. Yehudi Menuhin was greatly impressed by his playing. Rabindranath Tagore, in spite of his busy schedule, sat mesmerised by his music and happily sang along with the virtuoso. Several Telugu poets wrote in praise of his music.

In 1949 Dwaram was felicitated at Madras by Governor. He performed at Delhi in 1952 in aid of the Blind Relief Association. In 1962, the President of India honoured him. Because of the war with China, all official functions had to be cancelled, but the President made an exception in this case. Later Dwaram bought a house and settled down in Madras. As an old man, he would regale little children in the neighbourhood with his violin.

Dwaram won several awards and titles including Gandharva Vidya Bhushanam, Ganakala Visarada, Sangita Kalanidhi (1941), Padma Shree (1959), Sangita Ratnakara, Kala Prapurna (1950) etc. but he never sought favours. His disciples include his daughter Mangatayaru, Marella Kesavarao, T R Mahalingam, Ammula Satyavathi and others. Statues of Venkataswamy Naidu have been erected in Vishakhapatnam and Madras. As Dr. Balamuralikrishna remarked in a TV interview, Dwaram was born for the violin.

The resonance of Omkar

Dr. K.Rohiniprasad

One of the important vocalists of Gwalior gharana was Omkarnath Thakur (1897-1967). Mahatma Gandhi heard him once and said “Omkarnathji can achieve through a single song of his, what I cannot achieve through several speeches."

Born in Jahaaj in the Cambay area, Omkarnath was the fourth child of Gaurishankar Thakur, a warrior turned spiritual recluse. Brought up by his toiling mother, Omkarnath had a very tough childhood but led a disciplined life. This helped him continue with physical exercises, swimming, and wrestling apart from music right up to his old age. He worked as a cook and later as mill-hand to supplement his mother’s meagre earnings. He learnt to read and write from some Jain monks and learnt later several languages including Hindi, Marathi, English, Sanskrit, Bengali, Punjabi, Urdu and Nepali on his own.

Omkarnath’s musical talent prompted a philanthropist to help him join Vishnu Digambar Paluskar's music school in Bombay. The boy served his teacher like a devoted son for about six years and became his favourite disciple. He used to spend nearly 18 hours a day teaching and practising. In 1916 he was appointed principal of the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya in Lahore at the age of 20. In 1918 he went to Baroda as music examiner and impressed the Maharaja. His concert at the Harvallabh-mela of Jalandhar made as much impression as that of the veteran Bhaskarbuwa Bakhle. With his compelling, resilient voice and wide tonal range Omkarnath became a highly successful concert musician, performing all over the country. His presentation of music with appropriate hand gestures was a visual treat too.

In 1924 and 1930 Omkarnath visited Nepal and won admiration, honours and awards from the Maharaja there. Refusing the post of a court musician, Omkarnath returned home to take care of his mother. As his fame spread far and wide he was invited to sing in music conferences in Mysore, Hyderabad, Bengal and other places. In 1931 he went to Italy to participate in the International Music Conference in Florence and reportedly cured Mussolini of his insomnia with music. He gave music recitals and lecture-demonstrations in Germany, Holland, Belgium, France, London, Wales, Switzerland, Afghanistan etc. As he was proceeding to Russia he learnt of his wife’s demise during childbirth and returned home.

In Bombay Omkarnath started Sangeet Niketan but took over as the first Dean of the music faculty at the Benares Hindu University in 1950. He wrote musical treatises like Sangeetanjali and Pranav Bharati. His magnetic personality, high musical calibre both as a singer and as a musicologist, compassion, administrative acumen, oratory, infinite patience and deep love for his disciples made him a larger-than-life personality as performer, composer, educationist and theoretician.

He won the Padma Sri (1955), Sangeet Prabhakar from Madan Mohan Malaviya, Sangeet Martand from the Calcutta Sanskrit Mahavidyalaya (1940), and Sangeet Mahamahodaya from Nepal (1930). His disciples include Premlata Sharma, Yashwantrai Purohit, Balwantrai Bhatt, Kanakrai Trivedi, Shivkumar Shukla, Phiroj Dastur, Bijonbala Ghosh Dastidar, Dr. N. Rajam, Rajbhau Sontakke, Smt. Subhadra Kulshreshta, Atul Desai, P.N Barwe, Nalini Gajendragadkar, and others.

Omkarnath was a great patriot and his Vande Mataram won wide acclaim. He was elected President of the Bhadoch Congress Committee, and member of the Gujarat Provincial Congress Committee. A deeply religious man, Omkarnath studied the Ramcharitamanas and recited it daily for 25 years continuously. His life was an example of morality, self-discipline and austerity. A moderate eater, strict vegetarian, fastidious in cleanliness, absolutely free from vices of any kind, and a stickler to punctuality, he set an example to other musicians and teachers. He suffered paralysis and passed away in 1967 and a postage stamp was issued in his memory.

Nadaswara Chakravarti Rajaratnam Pillai

Dr. K. Rohiniprasad

Like its North Indian counterpart the shehnai, nadaswaram is an ancient musical instrument closely associated with temples and auspicious social occasions like weddings. The strident notes of nadaswaram beckon people from afar and invite them to the location of the festivities. Generally played in the open air, the nadaswaram tradition is so ancient that specific ragas and compositions would be played at specific times in the temples. Besides worship inside temples during service, special processions of the deities are taken out on the streets, always accompanied by nadaswaram music. Nadaswaram has also become a concert instrument in Carnatic music with immense following. In fact several eminent vocalists have been inspired by nadaswaram music. There have been several great players of this wind instrument in the South, one of the best among them being Rajaratnam Pillai.

Born in 1898 in Tanjavur district, Rajaratnam belonged to a great tradition of famous nadaswara vidwans. As a youngster, he started singing very well. He underwent rigorous training in nadaswaram from his uncle Thirumarugal Natesa Pillai, the well-known nadaswaram artist. He was later taught by the violinist Thirukodikaval Krishna Iyer, Ponnu Pillai, Konerirajapuram Vaidynatha Iyer and Manpoondia Pillai. His association with the great percussionist Needamangalam Meenakshisundaram Pillai helped to improve his stature as a musician.

Rajaratnam Pillai’s name and fame spread far and wide very quickly in spite of the presence of other very eminent nadaswaram vidwans such as Semponnarkovil brothers, Keeranur brothers, Tiruveezhimizhalai brothers, Tiruvengadu Subramanya Pillai, Kuzhikkarai Picchayappa, Tiruvidaimarudur Veeruswamy Pillai, Tirumarugal Natesan and Madurai Ponnusway. Rajaratnam Pillai’s elaboration and embellishment of ragas, flawless rendition of the works of great composers and his perfect grasp and control over tala were unparalleled.

Ragas like Todi, Simhendramadhyamam, Shanmukhapriya, Ramapriya, Vachaspati, Pantuvarali and Kalyani as rendered by Rajaratnam Pillai on his a medium-sized instrument with a pleasant timbre regaled countless fans of his. His short gamaka-laden phrases, twists, swooping glides and lightning speed techniques made Todi his speciality and an all-time favourite. It was a divine experience to listen to him playing ragas such as Saveri, Bilahari, Dhanyasi, Sri and Natakuranji. The attractive timbre in the tone of his instrument was an added advantage. With limitless imagination, he became a source of inspiration not only to nadaswara vidwans but to musicians in general. His music was rich with creativity and he was always bursting with new ideas.

His fresh and invigorating music was the main attraction in the three hour-long procession of the decorated car festival of Saibaba in Madras. He would walk all the way performing delectable classical melodies on his nadaswaram to the delight of all the people around him. Similarly he used to perform at the annual Tyagaraja festival at Tiruvayyaru during the palanquin procession.

Rajaratnam Pillai’s larger-than-life image as a musician elevated nadaswaram from temple processions and to the concert platforms. His eminence as a performer in India and Ceylon led to his being called Nadaswara Chakravarthi and Nadaswaram Everest. Fellow musicians considered that the sky was the limit for Rajaratnam Pillai in playing raga alapana. He won the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award. He trained the eminent nadaswaram player Karukurichi Arunachalam.

Rajaratnam Pillai is supposed to have led a very adventurous life. He was an admirer and friend of S.G. Kittappa, the famous stage singer and personality. He also praised M.S. Subbulakshmi’s singing. After climbing to fame and fortune, Rajaratnam Pillai’s vices reportedly caused his fall from grace and early demise in 1955. With his departure it was felt that the sun had set on the nadaswaram music. There have been several generations of eminent nadaswaram players but Rajaratnam occupies a unique place among them.

Sawai Gandharva and Sureshbabu Mane, torchbearers of Kirana gharana

Dr. K. Rohiniprasad

Sureshbabu Mane

Sawai Gandharva

Kirana gharana, the renowned style of singing established by Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, was popularised by two eminent disciples of his, namely Sawai Gandharva and Sureshbabu Mane. Of the two, Sawai Gandharva (1886-1952), born Rambhau Kundgolkar, is supposed to be the first direct disciple of the maestro, while Sureshbabu (1902-1953) was the Ustad’s son. These two singers carried forward the tradition that lays stress on the purity of the notes and raga bhava.

Rambhau belonged to Kundgol, a town near Dharwar in North Karnataka. Though he did not belong to a family with musical background, Rambhau was always interested in music from childhood. In his early years, he learnt dhrupad-dhamar from a local kirtankar. During his travels, Abdul Karim Khan visited their house when Rambhau was a teenager and listened to his singing. The youngster sang Bhairavi in Khansahib’s style after listening to him just once. This impressed the Ustad very much and he agreed to teach the boy. He taught with patience helping the youngster cope with problems with his voice that was cracking as he grew up. This long and arduous training in voice culture helped Rambhau regain his confidence and control as a vocalist. The training mainly consisted of listening to the Ustad as he practised and performed. Later, he learnt from other renowned teachers like Bhaskarbuva Bakhale and Nasir Hussain Khan of Gwalior gharana. All this further polished his voice and his music.

After this training, Rambhau returned to Kundgol to get married. He initially joined a drama company and became a popular singer like the great Bal Gandharva and thus earned the title Sawai Gandharva. Later he became a well-known classical vocalist and was called the “King of Mehfils”. However, he never blindly followed the footsteps of his mentor. Even as he continued with his performances, Sawai Gandharva trained several students who turned out to be luminaries of Kirana Gharana. They include famous singers like Bhimsen Joshi, Basavaraj Rajguru, Feroze Dastur and Gangubai Hangal. Sawai Gandharva passed away following a paralytic stroke in 1952. Before his demise, he entrusted the training of some of his disciples to Sureshbabu Mane. The Arya Sangeet Prasarak went on to institute the Sawai Gandharva Festival in Pune. Led by Bhimsen Joshi, this three-day festival pays homage to Sawai Gandharva and several prominent musicians participate regularly.

Sureshbabu Mane was born Abdul Rehman, the son of Tarabai Mane and Abdul Karim Khan. Tarabai Mane was the daughter of Sardar Maruti Rao Mane, who was the brother of Rajmata of Baroda state where Abdul Karim Khan was the court musician who taught Tarabai. They got married and were forced to migrate to Bombay where Tarabai Mane settled down. The couple had three daughters: Hirabai Barodekar (Champakali), Kamalabai Barodekar (Gulab) and Sarswati Rane (Sakina or Chotutai) and two sons: Sureshbabu Mane (Abdul Rehman) and Papa (Abdual Hamid or Krishna Rao Mane). Sureshbabu had his initial training from his father and later from his uncle Abdul Wahid Khan as well as Sawai Gandharva. Thus he imbibed the essential elements of kirana style directly from the originators themselves.

Sureshbabu became an expert in khayal, thumri, Marathi natyageet and bhajan. He had a successful career as a singer and also sang for several Marathi plays and films. He scored music for films like Savitri, Savkari pash, Nandkumar, Bhagawa zenda and Devyani Before he passed away at the age of 51 he trained his sister Hirabai Barodekar and Prabha Atre. Like Sawai Gandharva he passed on the tradition to the next generation so that kirana gayaki remains very popular even today.

Vinayakarao Patwardhan, great performer and teacher

Dr. K. Rohiniprasad

Vinayakrao Patwardhan (1898-1975) the eminent vocalist from Gwalior gharana was born in Miraj in south Maharashtra. His uncle Keshavrao provided him with initial training in music. Those days musicians were associated with various vices and never received due respect in the society. To dispel these notions, Vishnu Digambar Paluskar set up music schools so that boys from respectable families could take up music as a profession. Vinayakrao was one of the first products. In 1907, he went to Gandharva Mahavidyalaya at Lahore, where he was taught by Paluskar directly. His guru not only taught music to his students but also inculcated good habits in them. Under Paluskar's tutelage young Vinayak imbibed his principles and discipline. As a result he became one of the important singers of his times and also earned due respect for his austere lifestyle and dedication to the art of music.

Paluskar wanted his disciples to emulate his example and take up the teaching profession. Vinayakrao accepted teaching assignments at the various branches of the school at Bombay, Nagpur and Lahore.

Vinayakrao’s sweet and high-pitched voice impressed everyone including the legendary actor-singer Balgandharva. On one occasion the great Gwalior veteran Ramkrishnabuwa Vaze had thrown a challenge to singers in Pune. Vinayakrao accepted it and learnt complex ragas from Vazebuwa. Vinayakrao's fellow-students such as Omkarnath Thakur did not like this. But Vinayakrao considered the idea of learning from a veteran singer like Vazebuwa much more important than standing on false prestige. His ability to take the right step at the right time benefited others also. In the late forties as Bhimsen Joshi was searching for the right teacher he happened to meet Vinayakrao in Jalandhar. The latter advised Joshi to learn from Sawai Gandharva and it proved to be an invaluable suggestion.

Vinayakrao took up roles in Marathi musicals and was perhaps the first classical vocalist to have sung for a film. However, heeding his teacher’s admonition and advice, he later went to Pune and established a branch of the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya there. Though he was young, he decided to dedicate himself to teaching music and ignored the lure of the drama and films. He trained a number of disciples who became famous singers and teachers in their own right. They include his guru’s son D.V.Paluskar, the eminent singer.

At the time of his father's death, D.V. Paluskar was only 10 years old. Even as Vinayakrao Patwardhan and Pandit Narayanrao Vyas taught him music they noticed in the young boy a reluctance to conform fully to the Gwalior gharana. They encouraged the youngster to develop his own independent style and D.V.Paluskar grew up to be a legendary vocalist.

Vinayakrao Patwardhan’s singing reflected the simple and straightforward approach to ragas, which is the characteristic of the Gwalior style. As a singer Vinayakrao specialized in taranas which proved very popular with the audiences in India and overseas. His favourite ragas included Bahar, Adana, Multani, Malhar, Jaijaivanti, Hamir and Bhairavbahar. The energy and effervescence in his music made him a much sought-after performer. He went around the country performing in most of the important music festivals. He was a great success with the audiences. He was also one of the few practising musicians of the time who took the trouble of writing textbooks on music. In his seven-part Raag Vigyan series, Vinayakrao described the important aspects of various ragas as well as their grammar.

In his concerts and recordings his fellow-student Narayanrao Vyas accompanied Vinayakrao. Their duet concerts became very popular. Vinayakrao received the Padmabhushan in 1972. Vinayakrao also led the Indian cultural delegation to USSR and other countries. One of his disciples, Pt. L.R.Kelkar settled down in Madras and the present author happened to learn sitar from him initially. Among Kelkar’s better known disciples is the violin virtuoso N.Rajam.

Ahmad Jan Thirakwa, Tabla wizard

Dr. K.Rohiniprasad

Thirakwa as a young man

The tabla wizard

Even in the prime of one’s youth, Tabla-playing requires stamina and endurance. Ustad Ahmad Jan Thirakwa (1878-1976) defied age and continued to perform solo recitals till the end of his long life. No wonder Palghat Mani Iyer, the great mridangam artist described Thirakwa the reincarnation of Saraswati.

Hailing from Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh, Ahmed Jan learnt vocal music from Mithoo Khan and sarangi from his father Hussain Bux at a young age. Attracted by the tabla playing of Ustad Munir Khan, the boy initially learnt tabla from his uncles before he became a disciple of Munir Khan at the age of 12. Practising nearly 16 hours daily with half-hour breaks and barely six hours of sleep, Ahmed Jan managed the gruelling regimen with the help of nutritious food. As a result his stamina as a performing artiste remained unimpaired till the last year of his life.

Ahmed Jan soon became the favourite disciple of Munir Khan. His fingers on the tabla resembled the feet of a kathak dancer and soon he was called “Thirakwa”. His playing represents the Laliyana style of the Farukhabad gharana to which tabla players like Amir Hussain (nephew of Munir Khan), Nizamuddin Khan, Ghulam Hussain, Shamsuddin and others belong.

After his debut to thunderous ovation at Khetwadi, in Bombay at the age of 16, Thirakwa’s fame spread far and wide and he accompanied the greatest musicians of his time. He was appointed the court-musician of Rampur in 1936. After 30 years of service he became the head of the tabla Faculty and later Professor Emeritus at the Bhatkhande College of Music, Lucknow. Later he became Visiting Professor at the National Centre for Performing Arts and provided inspiration for Nikhil Ghosh's School of Music. He witnessed the pomp and leisurely life in royal courts, where art enjoyed sensitive appreciation and high esteem. With the end of royal patronage, he adapted himself to the hectic tempo of the modern age thus becoming a vital link between two eras in Indian music.

A popular and frequent performer on the radio, Thirakwa was constantly in demand at various music conferences all over the country. Though a solo tabla artist, he accompanied maestros like Allahbande Khan, Rajab Ali Khan, Alladiya Khan, Wahid Khan, Allauddin Khan, Bhaskarbuwa Bakhle, Faiyaz Khan, Mushtaq Hussain, Hafiz Ali, Ali Akbar, Bismillah Khan, Begum Akhtar and others. His favourite was Faiyaz Khan. The admiration was mutual as Ustad Faiyaz Khan used to say of other accompanists "Na huva Thirakwa" (Thirakwa is irreplaceable).

Proficient in all the styles of tabla including his favourites Delhi, Farukkabadi as also Poorab and Ajrada, Thirakwa epitomised success due to correct and sincere training, long and continuous years of practice, regular physical exercises, and nourishing food. His fame resulted from his authority on music as well as his dignified and accommodating nature. Thirakwa’s popularity never waned since he practised rigorously, maintaining his unmatched mastery even after he crossed ninety. Although his voice in normal conversation grew shaky with age, he could recite complicated and jaw-breaking tabla-bols and parans with steadiness and strength. His disciples include Lalji Gokhkale, Prem Vallabh, Ghulam Ahmad, Chhote Gokhale, Nikhil Ghosh, Ahmad Ali, Ram Kumar Sharma and others. Honours like the Padma Bhushan came to him naturally. With a wealth of reminiscences and a good sense of humour, Thirakwa could imitate many vocalists as he recounted interesting episodes and anecdotes about the colourful events of the past. He wore black achkan and cap and would appear with blackened moustache, surma-lined eyes and a silver-capped walking stick. His death in Lucknow on the eve of his departure to Bombay saddened all music lovers.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Dhanam – the riches of Veena

Dr. K. Rohiniprasad

Veena Dhanammal (left) with her daughter T. Lakshmiratnam
and grandson T. Vijayakrishnan

Dhanammal (1868 -1938), the great veena-player belonged to a lineage of musicians and dancers at the Tanjavur court. Her grandmother Kamakshiamma was a well-known vocalist and dancer while her mother Sundaramma was trained by Subbaraya Sastry, son of Shyama Sastry. A precocious child, Dhanammal had a fine, sweet voice that blended with the veena. Dhanam learnt music from her mother as well as Sathanur Panchanada Ayyar, Alasingarayya, Balakrishnayya, Dharmapuri Subbaraya Ayyar, Baldas Naidu and Saidapet Tirumalachariar. Though veena was considered a family heirloom, it was felt it had some inadequacies. However young Dhanam was inspired and enlightened by two distinguished veena artists, Ramachandra and Kalyanakrishna. The youngster noticed endless possibilities on the veena for higher musical expression. Neelakantha Sastri, another great contemporary of Dhanam, helped to train her.

With the veena as the only interest in her life, Dhanam’s boundless energy and dynamism brought her fame even while in her teens. Her repertoire of more than a thousand songs by seventy composers in six languages outlined her musical perspective and aesthetic sensitivity.

Dharmapuri Subbarayar, a composer of javalis became a great fan and patron of Dhanam and placed at her disposal his wealth and powerful influence. Similarly, the blind musician Baladas Naidu of Wallajahpet, an expert on Kshetrayya’s padams and Saidapet Tirumalachariar helped Dhanam fashion new patterns as it were, on old fabric.

Dhanam’s concert in Madras (1900) and other recitals in Malabar, Vijayanagaram and Bombay established her as the greatest veena player and a musician among musicians. She would play on a small veena without plectrums and the resulting volume would be low. But her clear and flawless technique was devoid of any metallic clang. With systematic and profound raga elaboration that were based on exalted tradition, elegant poise and the measured cadence of tuneful notes she became the greatest exponent of slow and majestic music.

Dhanammal’s raga alapana was brief but very suggestive, its various facets shining with glorious lustre. She would render complex ragas like Athana, Surati, Begada, Darbar and Khamaj, alternating her playing with her singing. With clear grasp of the raga system she could expound the beauty and grandeur of every raga on the veena. Her sublime tanam rendered in a deliberate, well-ordered plan and perfect resonance showcased her genius and supreme mastery over the instrument. Perfect in thought, word and deed, she developed an individual veena-playing style of her own, with delicate gamakas and emphasis on the mood of the raga. She avoided tanpura and mridangam accompaniment, believing veena to be a complete instrument.

With prolific creative faculty, Dhanammal often sang while playing on the veena. Her voice was sweet, clear and powerful and remained uniform over three octaves, merging admirably with the veena. Her pronunciation in six languages was flawless and she rendered them with feeling.

Great musicians and music lovers frequented her house for her Friday concerts. Raja Nawab Ali Khan Chowdary, a participant in the Simon Commission and the Raja of Tehri heard her performances in Madras and appreciated her proficient rendering of Hindustani ragas. Abdul Karim Khan visited Dhanammal’s house regularly in spite of the language barrier. Before performing Khansaheb would say "Buddhi ma ko bulao!”

Dhanammal’s brother Narayanaswami was a famous violinist. She taught music to her four daughters and her grandchildren Balasaraswathi (bharatanatyam), Brinda and Mukta (vocal), T Viswanathan (flute) and T. Ranganathan (mridangam) rose to fame. Her style is perhaps considered too pure and profound to satisfy today’s preference for speed and fireworks.

Towards the end of her life Dhanammal’s eyesight failed. There were some recordings, but due to some dispute, the originals were later destroyed by the recording company.

Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, legendary vocalist

Dr. K. Rohiniprasad

The Ustad in concert

With his disciple Sawai Gandharva, who in turn taught contemporary giants like
Gangubai Hangal, Bhimsen Joshi and others

One of the present day icons of Indian classical music, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, belongs to the Kirana gharana that was founded by Abdul Karim Khan (1872-1937). Karim Khan belonged to a family of illustrious musicians. At a young age, apart from vocal music, he learnt to play the sarangi, sitar, tabla, jaltarang and several other instruments. Karim Khan left his native place Kirana near Kurukshetra in 1890, never to return. He attained cult status after he came to Maharashtra via Baroda and trained several disciples including stalwarts like Sawai Gandharva, Sureshbabu Mane, Hirabai Barodekar, Roshanara Begum et al. They in turn trained musicians like Gamgubai Hangal, Feroze Dastur, Bhimsen Joshi, Prabha Atre and others who became torch-bearers of Kirana gharana. In his time, Karim Khan’s admirers included Lokamanya Tilak, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Rabindranath Tagore and others.

Karim Khan was initially a court musician in Baroda. He fell in love with and later married Tarabai Mane, the Maharaja’s niece, who was one of his disciples. As a result he was forced to leave Baroda. The couple settled at Miraj in south Maharashtra. Karim Khan established music schools at Belgaum, Miraj, Pune and in Bombay. He also pioneered the selling of tickets at classical music performances for collecting funds in aid of these schools. Tarabai left him in 1922 but worked hard to help her five talented children Sureshbabu Mane, Hirabai Barodekar, Kamalabai, Saraswati Rane and Krishnarao Mane. The separation was a shock to Karim Khan, and his music reportedly changed as a result, expressing pathos and sorrow. Others attribute this to the influence of Rahmat Khan of Gwalior gharana.

Karim Khan is one of the earliest Indian musicians whose recorded music is available for us. He recorded 32 songs first in 1905, each of 90-150 seconds duration, in Bombay at S. Rose & Co. – a place near the present Rhythm House. Some of them were reissued by HMV in 1994. After initial reluctance, he was persuaded to record for the German Odeon company in 1932-36. These included about 25 songs, each of 4-5 minutes duration, featuring classical, light classical, Marathi natya sangit, bhajans, Kannada songs as well as instrumental music for the Been. In the presence of Sir C.V.Raman, he demonstrated his musical theory of notes with the help of 2 veenas in a public meeting.

One of the characteristics of the Kirana gharana has been an emphasis on melody or swar rather than laya. His phenomenal popularity is due to expansive alapchari which unfolds the raga note by note with tantalising languor. Besides khayal singing, the Ustad is also very famous for his soulful rendition of thumris. In this genre, his approach differed from the Purab ang and the Patiala styles. His thumris like ‘Piya Ke Milane Ki Aas’ in raga Jogiya and ‘Piya bin nahi avat chain’ (briefly rendered by K.L.Saigal in Devdas) in raga Jhinjhoti still retain their magic so many years after his death.

Karim Khan’s visits to Mysore, (where he was honoured with the title ‘Sangeet Ratna’) brought him in contact with Carnatic music. As a result he pioneered the rendering of Carnatic ragas like Abhogi, Kirawani and inducted sargam into Hindustani music. He inspired several South Indians to listen to, appreciate and learn Hindustani music. He spent life like a saint, wandering from place to place giving performances and training disciples. In 1937, on his way to Pondicherry he broke journey at a small station and sang his prayers in Raga Darbari before going off to sleep for ever.

Karim Khan was one of the earliest to attain national stature as a classical vocalist and he is remembered through the present day luminaries of his gharana. His music is available on cassettes.

Chowdiah, bowing to genius

Dr. K. Rohiniprasad

Born in Tirumakoodalu, Chowdiah (1895-1967) the great violinist was the son of Agastya Gowda. His mother Sundaramma who was herself a musician initiated him into the art. Believing in the prediction by a seer that he would become a famous musician, young Chowdiah abandoned regular school. This enabled him to concentrate on music lessons. After early training from his uncle, Chowdiah became the disciple of Bidaram Krishnappa, the legendary vocalist at the Mysore Court. He undertook rigorous and painstaking practice at the gurukul for fourteen to sixteen hours a day. Under Krishnappa’s tutelage from 1910 to 1926, Chowdiah became competent enough to accompany his guru. He finally made his debut with a solo concert in 1926. He continued to imbibe music by regularly attending concerts by veterans like Govindaswamy Pillai.

Chowdiah's violin accompaniment for Ariyakudi’s concert in Madras brought him into limelight. True to the words of Yehudi Menuhin, Chowdiah the violinist “burst abruptly into view”. Chowdiah's association with Ariyakudi continued for several decades. Chowdiah soon started accompanying other reputed vocalists including Palghat Rama Bhagavatar, Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar, Musiri Subramania Iyer, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Alathur Brothers, G.N. Balasubramanyam, Madurai Mani Iyer, M.S Subbulakshmi and others. Percussionists like Dakshinamoorthy, Palghat Mani Iyer, Palani Subramanya Pillai enjoyed playing with this highly rated violinist. Chembai, Chowdiah, Palghat Mani Iyer reportedly performed over 2000 concerts together.

An eminent solo violinist and a brilliant accompanist, Chowdiah’s fascinating finger-play and bowing techniques, clarity of expression and creative approach made him phenomenally popular. He became well-known for his rich imagination and skill and provided inspiration to many young violinists during his lifetime. In his concerts as an accompanist, Chowdiah was much respected and admired as he would always encourage and support the main performer. In 1939 he became the court musician at Mysore. An eloquent speaker, he could engage the attention of audiences very well. As a performer he was so popular that he could hardly bathe in the river during one of the Tyagaraja aradhana celebrations as he was mobbed by fans.

In the early decades of the twentieth century, vocalists started adopting a lower pitch. With no amplifiers or loudspeakers, accompanying a powerful vocalist and a percussion instrument on the violin in a large auditorium required real effort in those days. Violins were not originally designed to meet this requirement. To match the change in the volume of music, Chowdiah tried to improve the volume of the sound from his violin. As an innovator and man of ideas, he developed with the aid of a craftsman, seven-stringed and nineteen-stringed violins. The additional strings resonated to the sound of the bowed string and produced greater volume. The agreeable and voluminous sound that resulted impressed everyone, including veterans like Veena Seshanna. However, with the advent of electronic amplification, these innovations gradually lost their relevance. It was no longer considered necessary to own such an expensive high-quality instrument.

Chowdiah established the Ayyanar College of Music in Mysore and Bangalore. In honour of his guru, Chowdiah built the Bidaram Krishnappa Rama Mandira in Mysore. He produced eminent disciples like V. Sethuramiah, R. K. Venkatarama Sastry, Mysore V. Ramarathnam, Kandadevi Alagiri Swamy and C. R. Mani.

He received several awards including Sangeeta Rathna (Mysore Court) and Sangeetha Kalanidhi (Madras Music Academy), Ganakala sindhu (Mysore Sangeeta Parishat) apart from felicitations by Kanchi Paramacharya, Satya Sai Baba and others. He composed kritis and tillanas with the pen name Trimakuta. He served as a member of the legislative council for the Government of Mysore. Chowdiah also acted in a film during his life. His death in 1967 was widely mourned by music lovers.

Musiri, great Carnatic vocalist

Dr. K. Rohiniprasad

Musiri Subramania Iyer, one of the giants of Carnatic music of the twentieth century was born in 1889 in Bommalapalayam in Trichy district of Tamil Nadu. His father Sankara Sastry was a Sanskrit pandit of modest means. Inspired by the singing of S. G. Kittappa, the famous stage actor/singer, Subramania Iyer decided to become a musician. Taking up music as professional was risky those days unless one rose to the top. After receiving initial training from S. Narayanaswamy and the violinist Karur Chinnaswamy Iyer, Subramania Iyer became the disciple of T.S. Sabesa Iyer who belonged to Tyagaraja’s tradition. Manambuchavadi Venkatasubbayya, a close relative and disciple of Tyagaraja had trained eminent students such as Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer. Sabhesa Iyer was one of the direct disciples of Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer.

Subramania Iyer’s first recital at the age of seventeen in Trichy impressed the organisers who presented him with a gold medal. As he made his debut in Madras in 1920, Subramania Iyer’s name was linked to the place Musiri near Trichy and the prefix stuck to him. Thus Musiri soon became a well-recognised name amongst musicians. His music and his gramophone records became very popular in the Madras Presidency, Thiruvananthapuram, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Calcutta and Delhi.

As a vocalist, Musiri specialised in the slow tranquil tempo of music. With a beautiful high pitched voice and perfect tonal purity Musiri was a great exponent who brought out the emotional content of the raga and the compositions. His neraval (spontaneous variations in the redering of the composition) was very appealing. His immortal melodies include "Nagumomu", "Pahi Ramachandra Raghava", "Thiruvadi Charanam.", "Entha Vedukondu Raghava" and others. Since he happened to be one of the few knowledgeable and highly literate musicians with good command over English, he was appointed the first principal of the Central College of Carnatic Music in 1949.

Musiri received several honours and awards were including `Sangeetha Kalanidhi' (Music Academy of Chennai, 1939), Fellow of the Sangeeta Natak Academy (1967), Padma Bhushan (1971) and so forth. He was the Honorary Secretary and Treasurer of Sri Thyaga Brahma Mahotsava Sabha, organising the annual aradhana of Tyagaraja at his samadhi in Thiruvaiyaru.

A legend during his lifetime and after, Musiri remains a colossus in the world of Carnatic music even today since some of his recordings are available. He was also a great teacher who taught several disciples like Mani Krishnaswamy, T. K. Govinda Rao and K. S. Venkataraman who became good musicians in their own right.

Though a tradition-bound musician, Musiri played the lead in the Tamil film Tukaram in 1938, raising some hue and cry amongst the puritans of the day. Though the film is now lost, his songs are still popular. As a result of this experience he came to detest the people and the atmosphere associated with films. His wide circle of friends included eminent musicians like the vocalist Semmangudi, Budalur Krishnamurthi Sastri, the gottuvadyam vidwan as well as several doctors, lawyers, engineers and civil servants. They included ICS officers like S. Y. Krishnaswamy, C.V. Narasimhan and personalities like T. T. Krishnamachari, V. C. Gopalaratnam, V. L. Ethiraj, K. S.Jayarama Iyer, K.V. Krishnaswamy Iyer and other big wigs of Madras who would not normally condescend to mingle with mere classical musicians. It is not clear what his formal educational qualifications were, but Musiri was obviously a man of culture, charm, and polish and old world values. He was a connoisseur of English literature too.

From the early 1930s until his demise in 1975, Musiri lived in Mylapore area in Chennai and the road has been named after him.

Pandit Vishnu Digambar Paluskar, Guru of Gurus

Dr. K. Rohiniprasad

Today people can simply enrol themselves in any school of classical music and obtain degrees. This has been possible because of the foresight and untiring efforts of pioneers in the field like Vishnu Digambar Paluskar. Bringing it out of royal patronage, Paluskar made Hindustani music available to everyone. A commemorative stamp was issued in his name in 1973. It is unfortunate that there are no recordings of this great man’s music.

Vishnu, the son of a Keertankar named Digambar Gopal Paluskar, was born in 1872 at Kurundwad. From his childhood, Vishnu learnt singing and accompanied his father during concerts. During Datta Jayanti festivities, a bursting cracker blinded him permanently. Dr. Bhadbhade, who had tried in vain to save the boy’s eyes, arranged for music lessons with Balakrishna Bua Ichalkaranjikar, a teacher trained at Gwalior. It was hard and strenuous instruction under the old taskmaster until 1896. With no regular courses or lessons, everything depended on the moods of the teacher. Vishnu’s success, in spite of these difficulties, as well as his closeness to his patron, the Raja of Miraj caused jealousy among the other students. They created a rift between the teacher and Vishnu, who had to leave Miraj. After performing successfully at the Maharaja’s court in Baroda, he toured Saurashtra, Gwalior, Mathura, Bharatpur, Delhi and the Punjab. For the public concert in Saurashtra, he charged a nominal fee, departing from tradition.

At Mathura he studied the Brij dialect thus improving his understanding of some of the finest compositions in Hindustani music. After his sojourns to Amritsar and other parts of the Punjab, he founded the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya at Lahore in 1901. A turning point in the history of modern music, this was the first school run without royal patronage. It was run by public support, donations from the rich and funds raised by the concerts of Paluskar. The school trained pupils in music and inculcated respect for the art and a missionary zeal. Students like Omkarnath Thakur, Vinayakrao Patwardhan and Deodhar became legendary performers and teachers.

The activities of the school expanded as Paluskar founded a branch of the Mahavidyalaya in Bombay in 1908. Later he shifted the school at Lahore to Bombay along with the printing press for music books. His efforts around 1915 to house the school and a hostel resulted in heavy debts in spite of his concert earnings. In 1924, even as he was performing elsewhere, the property was attached by the creditors. Meanwhile, Paluskar started an ashram in Nasik and moved there in 1924. He travelled widely in India and Nepal but his poor health prompted his patrons to shift him to Miraj, where he passed away in 1931.

With an attractive voice and musical sensitivity, Paluskar was a great musician and teacher, with uncompromising moral courage and awareness of the social values of art. He did not hesitate to prohibit smoking in his concerts even by maharajas. He amended the texts of some khayals when he considered it necessary and systematised the theory, notation system and syllabi of music lessons. Apart from countless music lovers, he was respected by the likes of Lala Lajpat Rai, Lokmanya Tilak, Gopala Krishna Gokhale, Mahatma Gandhi and Annie Besant. His Ram dhun, "Raghupati Raghava" was sung at the Dandi march in 1930. His "Vande mataram" was sung at every Congress session.

Out of Paluskar’s twelve children, only one, Dattatreya, survived. Unable to learn music from his father, who died when the boy was only eleven, Dattatreya was trained by his father’s disciples and rose to great eminence before his untimely demise in 1955.

Sangeetha Bhupathy Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer

Dr. K. Rohiniprasad

Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer (1896-1970), the renowned Carnatic vocalist, was the guru of the great singer Semmangudi. Son of Shri Rama lyer, himself a good singer, Viswanathan was trained initially by Umayalpuram Swaminatha Iyer, a direct disciple of Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer. Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer had learnt from a direct disciple of Tyagaraja and thus Viswanatha Iyer represents the fifth generation of the Tyagaraja School. Young Viswanathan also learnt from Thanjavur Rangappa Iyer, a ghatam exponent.

In his teens, Viswanatha Iyer sang at the Ramanavami celebrations at Kumbakonam. The gathering comprised of musical exponents, experts, artists and music-lovers. His self confidence, good voice, lyrical exposition of the ragas with daringly lengthy alapana and authentic rendering of the compositions pleased the audience. This led to other recitals in temple festivals, gatherings at the Sankara Matham etc. The pontiff of the Matham became the first patron of young Viswanathan, who sang frequently for the seer.

His first recital in Palghat, arranged by the well-known mridangam artist Chattapuram Subba Iyer was very well appreciated and the organiser was congratulated for his discovery of the talented young man. Similarly Viswanatha Iyer’s recital in Tanjore district was organised by another mridangam artist Alaganambia Pillai. The success of this performance led to another on the following day. As the music party was about to return, the accompanists Tiruchi Govindaswamy Pillai (violin) and Alaganambia Pillai noticed that young Viswanatha Iyer had been paid remuneration for only one recital. The enraged senior musicians rushed back from the railway station and extracted further payment from the organisers on behalf of the young vocalist and still managed to catch the train. Viswanatha Iyer remained indebted to his senior colleagues for ever for taking care of him during the early part of his career. Accompanists like Govindaswamy Pillai always had a soft corner for him.

Viswanatha Iyer specialised in singing Tyagaraja’s compositions fully and correctly. He would spend a few days at the samadhi of Tyagaraja at Tiruvaiyaru every year, singing for a few hours. Viswanatha Iyer was the first to sing the five pancharatna kritis at the annual Tyagaraja festival and this has now become a tradition. While his repertoire mainly consisted of Tyagaraja's compositions, he also sang nearly all the compositions of Muthuswami Dikshitar, Syama Sastri, Patnam Subramania Iyer, Gopalakrishna Bharathi and others. He took special pains to practise the more difficult kritis of Tyagaraja, rendering authentic versions and mastering the special techniques in tala.

Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer excelled in detailed raga elaboration with phrases that would enrich the pattern of presentation. He could sing the same raga alapana for half an hour one day, and for one minute the next day, but both would seem complete. He became a legend in his own life time, winning titles like Sangeetha Kalanidhi and Sangeetha Bhupathy. He greatly admired Hindustani musicians like Abdul Karim Khan and Kesarbai. Listeners would discern the influence of Hindustani music in his recitals. Viswanatha lyer was an accomplished mridangist as well.

He never sought high positions, wealth or influence and avoided sycophancy. He preferred the company of friends, singing day and night his favourite compositions. With lovable sense of humour, he would regale listeners with musical anecdotes without any ill will or malice. He would freely joke about his own failings too.

He preferred to dress in silk with gold buttons on his kurta, jari angavastram and dhoti. He loved English movies and himself acted in a Tamil film "Nandanar" along with the noted singer K.B.Sundarambal, delighting the audience with exquisite music. His famous disciples include the renowned Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, his own son Maharajapuram Santhanam and Mannargudi Sambasivam Iyer.