Song of Surrender

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Alathur Srinivasa Iyer

Who’s who in Indian classical music

By V Ramnarayan


It is a sign of our times in a very Carnatic music sort of sense that the centenaries of so many musical luminaries are being observed, indication that many of the practitioners of the Ariyakudi concert format would have turned 100 over the last couple of years.

Celebrations were conducted worldwide in 2012 in memory of such great artists of the last millennium as Palghat Mani Iyer, Madurai Mani Iyer, T Brinda, and TK Rangachari.

Mannargudi Sambasiva Bhagavatar, Alathur Srinivasa Iyer of the Alathur Brothers, Mayavaram Govindaraja Pillai and Alangudi Ramachandran were some of the other would-be century makers of last year.

Born on 21 January 1912 to Lakshmi Ammal and Angarai Sankara Srautigal at Ariyalur Trichy, AS Srinivasan was to reach the pinnacle of the Sangita Kalanidhi in Carnatic music as Alathur Srinivasa Iyer in 1965, a year after his younger vocal partner Sivasubramania Iyer, his guru Alathur Venkatesa Iyer’s son. And thereby hangs a tale that we’ll come to later in this account.

Srinivasa Iyer was one of eleven children. The Sankara Srautigal family lived in the tiny village of Angarai on the bank of the river Kaveri, very close to Srinivasan’s place of birth. Of the eleven children, three went on to pursue careers related to Carnatic music. Angarai Viswanatha Bhagavatar performed Harikatha, AS Panchapakesa Iyer wrote books on music and Trichy Raghavan became a mridanga vidwan.

It was Srinivasan’s deep interest in music as a member of the local bhajana groups that led to his first guru nagaswara vidwan Sivanandam Pillai taking him to Alathur Venkatesa Iyer, who had a formidable reputation as a music teacher. Srinivasan was only 12 then. He was to spend the next 12 years in gurukulavasam.

Venkatesa Iyer’s family had moved from their native Tiruvaiyaru to Alathur, where he acquired a rich repertoire of kritis. In time, Venkatesa Iyer shifted to Trichy, where he taught many students, some of whom went on to achieve success on the concert platform, or in the movies, as in the case of MK Tyagaraja Bhagavatar. Chengalpattu Ranganathan achieved greater fame as a teacher than as a performer. His son Sivasubramania Iyer or Subba Iyer and Srinivasa Iyer were to team up as possibly the greatest duo combination in Carnatic music as the Alathur Brothers. It is of course obvious that they were not siblings. The Brothers debuted at the Tyagabrahma Utsavam organised at Kanchipuram by Naina Pillai. The boys had been recommended by the venerable Kumbakonam Dakshinamurti Pillai.

The Alathur Brothers became famous for their mastery of the rhythmic aspect of music, their complex ragam-tanam-pallavi renderings, and their expertise in Tiruppugazh. To learn the intricacies of pallavis in chhanda talas and conquer the challenge of Tiruppugazh, they made a sabbatical visit to the Madras home of mridanga wizard Palani Subramaniam. They were so adept at these arts that they gave exclusive Tiruppugazh concerts. Palghat Mani Iyer was an admirer and willing accompanist of the Brothers.

The Music Academy originally announced the 1964 Sangita Kalanidhi award to Srinivasa Iyer, who insisted his guru’s son should first be so honoured. With Subba Iyer demurring, the problem was resolved by a draw of lots, which favoured the younger Subba Iyer. Srinivasa Iyer was to receive the award the following year, but before that Subba Iyer passed away. Srinivasa Iyer accepted his award with a heavy heart, but satisfied that his guru’s son had preceded him.

Srinivasa Iyer performed solo for the next 16 years, much encouraged by the support of Palghat Mani Iyer. His first concert without his erstwhile partner was at a Pillaiyar temple at Tanjavur, accompanied by Lalgudi Jayaraman and Palghat Mani Iyer. He was a caring teacher, who guided the likes of Chengalpattu Ranganathan, Tiruppunturutti Venkatesan and Bangalore Vijayalakshmi.

It was said of Srinivasa Iyer that music was his life and that Tyagaraja kritis were his worship. With a vast repertoire, he sang in a structured manner, unmindful of the need for applause on stage. He was an advocate of proportion and balance in concert music. Self-effacing to a fault, he did not believe in promoting his career. He was respectful and supportive of his accompanists all his life. He and his wife Parvati, daughter of Valadi Krishna Iyer, had five children.

No comments:

Post a Comment