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.


Blogger murali said...


would be grateful if you can guide me in locating any recardings of veena sheshanna


3:00 AM  
Blogger Gayathri said...

It would helpful if anyone could mail me his compositions in the thalas - sankeerna triputa and kanda matyam .

5:16 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home