Song of Surrender

Friday, 21 September 2012

Generation Next

By KS Kalidas

R. Sankaranarayanan

Twenty six-year old R. Sankaranarayanan, a talented mridangist, is the son of R. Ramani Bhagavatar, grandson of Papanasam Rajagopala Iyer – elder brother of Papanasam Sivan. Pozhichalur, a sleepy village near Pallavaram, a Chennai suburb, was a beehive of nama sankeertanam activities where more than a dozen famous bhagavatar-s would congregate frequently for long nama sankeertanam sessions. Sankaranarayanan was born in this village, in a house reverberating with devotional music. Initiation into bhajan-s when he was only three years old helped the boy develop purity of kalapramana, so essential in concerts.

For about three years, Sankaranarayanan played on the dholki (essentially a North Indian instrument with free sruti). Once he had the good fortune of accompanying the Paramacharya of Kanchi for an abhang and was rewarded with a garland of cardamom worn by the sage himself! By the time he was eight, the child had been on an all-India tour with the devotional singer Pithukuli Murugadoss. Ramani’s bhagavatar friends advised him to teach his son the mridanga as his strokes were deft, fluent and resonant. Sankaranarayanan started his mridanga lessons under his paternal uncle Papanasam Kumar. When the latter joined AIR-Madurai, Sankaranarayanan continued his lessons under Melattur Balasubramania Bhagavatar and Pammal Krishnamurthy Iyer.

Mridanga vidwan Srimushnam Raja Rao discovered the talent of Sankaranarayanan in 1992 and took him under his wing. He also persuaded Ramani Bhagavatar to shift to Chennai so that his son could learn and perform in the city. The family shifted to Chennai in 1996.

Over the years, Sankaranarayanan has accompanied many stalwarts like vidwans M. Balamuralikrishna, T.V. Sankaranarayanan, N. Ramani, T.V. Gopalakrishnan, Sikkil Sisters, and N. Ravikiran. Playing about fifteen to twenty concerts a month, he willingly accompanies junior musicians. Many artists specifically ask for his mridanga accompaniment. He has toured widely in India and in Australia and Singapore.

Sankaranarayanan won the first prize in the National level mridanga competition of AIR in 2001 and was automatically awarded ‘B’ grade. Two years ago, he was upgraded to ‘A’, bypassing the intermediate ‘B-High’ grade, a rare feat. His awards and prizes include ‘Best junior mridanga artist’ from Mylapore Fine Arts Club (1999) and Sri Krishna Gana Sabha (2000), ‘Best young mridanga artist’ from Narada Gana Sabha (2003) and ‘Best Performer’ from Parthasarathy Swamy Sabha (2004). He also won ‘Gopinathan Endowment Award’ twice at the Music Academy (2000 and 2002) and ‘Umayalpuram Sivaraman Endowment Award’ from Indian Fine Arts Society (2007). His titles include ‘Mridanga Naadamani’ from the Kanchi Math (1996) and Yuva Kala Bharati from Bharat Kalachar (2007).

Sankaranarayanan has cut a number of CDs playing for vocalist Savita Narasimhan and other disciples of Chitraveena Ravikiran. He is particularly close to his guru Raja Rao and Ravikiran because both are in the forefront in propagating Oothukadu Venkatasubba Iyer’s kriti-s. It was Sankaranarayanan’s grand uncle Papanasam Kunjumani Bhagavatar (disciple of Needamangalam Krishnamurthy Bhagavatar in the lineage of Venkata Kavi), who helped bring out the composer’s kriti-s in book form. Sankaranarayanan’s remarkable lineage can be traced to Papanasam Sivan on the one hand and Venkata Kavi on the other.

A southpaw, Sankaranarayanan has a pleasing stage presence. His dexterity and clarity of strokes immediately grab the listener’s attention. Rather loud initially, he has mellowed down to an extent now. As he gains in concert experience, the soothing aspect should become more pronounced in the future.

Like many other artists in the music field, Sankaranarayanan has pursued Sanskrit learning and is at present doing M.Phil. He is planning to proceed further to the Ph.D level. Sankaranarayanan’s all-time idol is the late mridanga and khanjra maestro Palani Subramania Pillai whose recordings he is never tried of hearing.

(Reproduced from Sruti 300, September 2009)

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