Song of Surrender

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Suguna Purushothaman: a remarkable person

By Sandhya Vinjamuri

The demise of vidushi Suguna Purushothaman on 25 February 2015 has dealt another blow to the world of Carnatic music. An ever smiling person with incredible knowledge of laya aspects of Carnatic music and with a gamaka laden sonorous, sweet voice, Suguna’s concerts were enjoyed by connoisseurs and the lay audience.

I had seen Suguna Purushothaman at the Central College of Carnatic Music in the early 1970s. My next encounter with her was in 2001 in Los Angeles, CA, U.S.A. at our music academy SIMA. We had arranged her lecdem followed by a concert with both the Sugunas of the Musiri school – Purushothaman and Varadachari – singing together. Suguna Purushothaman arrived early and while the stage arrangements were undeerway, our president Dr. Vijayaraghavan requested me to give her company. Greetiong her with a namskaram I introduced myself as Vinjamuri Varadaraja Iyengar’s daughter. She smiled and told me that she had visited my father at our house in Himayatnagar, Hyderabad in 1959 along with her guru Tinniam Venkatarama Iyer. She recalled how my father had persuaded her to taste her first cup of tea, saying it was a special tea imported from London. I was amazed at her memory. 

Suguna Purushothaman won the ‘Vinjamuri Varadaraja Iyengar Memorial’ Gold Medal four times for the best pallavi singing during the music season at the Music Academy, Chennai – in 1996, 1999, 2004 and 2007. In 2005, she also performed for the ‘Vinjamuri Memorial Festival’ conducted by SICA of Hyderabad. She readily gave me permission to record her lecture demonstration on talas. The lecdem revealed her expertise in laya. With her daughter Kumuda singing along, she demonstrated how sarali swaras could be practiced by students to improve laya gnanam by keeping the tala steady and singing in three kalas, and by changing the tala speed and singing in one kala. She also demonstrated ‘dwitala avadhanam’ by keeping two different talas in each hand as she sang and finishing perfectly at the end. She said she had learnt the art from her guru Venkatarama Iyer, by singing the Bhairavi varnam of Pachimiriam Adiyappaiahwhile putting the Ata tala in one hand and the chaturasra jati Triputa tala in misra nadai in the other. She threw light on the creation of the Sarabhanandana tala by composer Syama Sastry and demonstrated the Simhanandana tala (128 aksharas), Sarabhanandana tala (79 aksharas) and also Lakshmeesa tala (24 aksharas). She also sang a pallavi/ tillana she had composed for the demo. It was mesmerising to see her demonstrate such intricate talas effortlessly. I remember, at the end of the demo the official who proposed the vote-of-thanks remarked that he found it difficult to even keep the tala on one hand and it was truly amazing how Suguna Purushothaman maintained two different talas in two hands as she sang.

In 2011 I met Suguna Purushothaman at the Tyagaraja Aradhana in Cleveland. I went up to her as she stood outside the motel and asked her whether she needed some help. She recognized me and told me that she would like to go to the concert hall, but was afraid of crossing the road alone as she could not walk fast and needed someone to assist her. I gladly walked with her to the university hall and we struck up a pleasant conversation. That was one of the memorable days in my life when the heart was filled with joy and contentment. Such was the time spent with Suguna Purushothaman.

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