Song of Surrender

Thursday, 29 January 2015

An Educator with a Mission

A centenary tribute to VV Sadagopan
By TK Venkatasubramanian

The two Vishnus (Paluskar and Bhatkhande) provided the foundation to the credo that learning-and-performing music is not contradictory to thinking and theorizing about it.

A major concern among educators and researchers is how to enhance the understanding of Indian performing arts in general, but music in particular, as a field of analytical, university-based study.

For a student, who pursues music as a university discipline, both knowledge in music and knowledge about music are essential. In other words, music education requires a basic training in music followed by performance experience of decades and guidance to produce quality research in various sub-disciplines of music. Training enables one to acquire the skill to perform, while knowledge about it points to gaining an academic understanding.

The final goal of a university system is research, where the student is trained to understand the subject individually all by himself and put it to collective scrutiny by standard university disciplines.

The moot question is whether the universities are supposed to produce concert artists or quality researchers. Concert artists have emerged rather than are produced, but researchers can be moulded and guided. Serious research in music departments is a desideratum.

The life and achievements of Professor VV Sadagopan, whose centenary year this is, gives us an idea of the emergence of an artist and an educator who wanted music for all!

A comparison of the career graphs of GNB and VVS reveal  similarities as well as differences between two brilliant youngsters who followed two different paths to excellence.

GNB’s graph shows a brilliant student phase (1931), recognition by the Music Academy (1937), entry into the tinsel world (1940), conferment of the Sangita Kalanidhi title (1958) and finally appointment as the Principal of the Swathi Tirunal College, Trivandrum in 1964.

VVS’s career began with a triple First class in BA (1934), migration to Chennai with an ICS dream (1935), accidental entry into films as a singing star in Navayuvan, Adhrishtam and Madanakamarajan, a reasonably successful concert career in the 40s and 50s, directorship of music studies at Gandhigram (1956-59) and finally a professorship in Delhi University during 1959-75.

Both GNB and VVS must have gone through the twenties triangle of the times (Quarter-Life Crisis as against Mid-life crisis), with the three questions- Who am I? What do I want? How am I to achieve it?

Both entered music field, when sampradaya was being recast in a post-industrial  modern world, through an effort to put in the authentic form of the real music of the country, driven by nationalism. The social milieu and performance had changed, new patrons were in place of the old, new sensibilities informed the ‘reception’ and ‘representation’ of music and a middle class elite of Madras constituted the modern canon of sampradaya. Concert etiquette was typified by Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar.

While examining the Carnatic tradition, Sadagopan realised the importance of devonational music. The tradition, in both  the South and North, bequeathed the rich legacy of Bhagavata music. In its main form, it was musical worship of a high order. There was enough space for the most gifted musician, the less gifted as well as the layman. Besides a variety of musical forms, it had place for drama as well.  The Dasa tradition gave us the distilled essence of ragas, bhavas and talas. The Trinity gave us kritis, and the post Trinity generation transmitted the tradition in a scholarly manner.

Sadagopan’s ideas on sampradaya and change are reflected in his appreciation of Ariyakudi.
“The significant contribution of Ramanuja Iyengar to Karnatak Music, was to demonstrate that Sampradaya in its best sense was something organic and dynamic, which had its roots firmly in the soil of the musical wisdom of the past, but stretched out to receive all new ideas that could happily blend with the old. He was  a great living link in the continuing and vibrant tradition of Karnatak Music. Not only did he adapt himself to the times, but also left his impress on the era. He was a great reconciler, reconciling the past and the present, tradition and innovation, abandon and deliberation. In sastraic terms, he was a Bhavukottama.”  Iyengar reconciled the contradictions between sastra and sampradaya of the early 20th century music field.

VVS felt the impact of the role of publishing manuscripts and treatises. In fact the main difference between Gurukula and Institutionalised teaching, was this, at that stage. He noticed that neither the concert environment nor the universities offered a forum for resolving contradictions between theory and practice or aesthetic perception (Lakshya) and intellectual abstraction (Lakshana).

He advocated that sastras were to be studied in original, with a caution that sastras incorporated changes with changing times. His friendship with Dr Premalata Sharma of Benares University is the best example of his professed faith in the fundamental research of sastras. He went on to classify sastrakaras as those who handled high art themselves, those who perceived it from secondary and tertiary sources, and compilers who were bhasha gnanis. Raga, prabanda, tala, mela , swara and sruti needed to be researched comprehensively in a holistic manner and not in a piecemeal way. All these ideas landed him in his ultimate mission Tyagabharati , during 1966-80.

VVS strove to combine the finer values of gurukula with the methods of modern scholarship of the 1960s and 70s. He visited several overseas centres like Moscow (1966), Belgrade (1969) and Perth (1974) during this period. He came to the conclusion that before any instruction on forms and formalities of the particular musical culture, or sub-culture began, we should devote ourselves to the drawing out of inner joy or ananda. He once suggested we greet each by saying ''anandam'' rather than ''good morning'' or ''good evening.'' Children should grow with joy, courage and freedom and a discipline born out of these attributes. The fundamental principle is joy, suggestion must be the method, the emphasis should be on the imaginative and creative experience of music and teaching should follow a “flow-form-flow” spiral. He was clearly in favour of lakshya (aesthetic perception) over lakshana (intellectual abstraction) at school, college or university.

Joy is the natural state of any child. It is the motivation for self-expression, as well as the means. It is the subject as well as the object. Joy must be traced, tapped and used. Joy also has a base in rhythm. It has roots in the imagination of the child, which can conceive all the wonders of the world. Music as an expression should be the starting point of music education. This should be followed by an awareness of the level of musical perception.

VVS identified three broad stages as the fundamental, the functional and the professional.

For a child, rhythm and movement come first. Melody comes next, simple tunes with a dominant rhythmic element can be easily learnt. Every language has nursery rhymes, nonsense rhymes and playful jingles. Music should be introduced through story-telling and dramatics. Group singing is also important, because it gives us the joy of sharing.

In short, Thyagabharati is a mission in Integrative Music Education. Over the years, it has spread its service to reach growing children everywhere, in schools, homes and social circles. It would be appropriate to produce an extract from the writings of Professor. Dimitrje Stefanović of the Musicological Institute, Belgrade.

“Sadagopan considers children his friends and works with them, so that they all take equal part in this work which teaches them the joy of singing, playing, and dancing together” He is sure that by teaching others, we teach ourselves, that through systematic musical education, important results can be reached. This visit of a rare tireless, good, great but also modest man, who is so affectionate to music, will long remain in our memory.”

Sadagopan authored Folk Music and Dance in Tamil Nadu (1955), he edited the Indian Music Journal during the period 1964-80 and wrote under the pen name of Nandan ( A musical pariah).

His skill as a tunesmith came to the fore when he composed music and notation for Ambujam Krishna in Gitamala I. He created a few compositions like Sada enadu in Manohari, sung by Ananthalakshmi Sadagopan and Palukina matalu vinaleta in Sankarabharanam and Kandan karunai purindu in Vachaspati.


VVS tuned Kamba Ramayana songs for TKC in the pallavi-anupallavi-charanam format and gave a three- hour concert. We could count only four disciples of his, including my father the late Dr TV Kuppuswamy, KR Sundaresan, Leela Omacherry and Sri Ram Bharati. He was a guide, philospher and friend of my father and remains an inspiration to me and those who knew him well.

Dr TK Venkatasubramanaian is a historian and mridanga vidwan

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