Song of Surrender

Friday, 24 July 2015

T. Sashidhar

Musicians in classical dance

By Anjana Anand

Kalaimamani T. Sashidhar chanced upon the flute as a youngster and his growing interest in music took him to Kalakshetra in the 1980s. Today he is a versatile flautist and a stickler for the classical tradition. An “A” grade artiste in AIR, Sashidaran has made Kalakshetra his home as a lecturer. His busy schedule as a sought-after flautist in the Bharatanatyam world is testimony to his talent and years of hard work. He spoke to Sruti about his life in music. Excerpts from the conversation: 

Do you come from a family of musicians?

Not at all! No one in my family is a professional musician. They are however interested in music to a certain extent and encouraged me to pursue music. 

How did your interest in music begin?

I remember that when I was young I used to listen to a lot of music and sing film songs. Perhaps hearing me sing, my parents felt that I had a future in this field. As a student of the Little Flower School for the Blind, I learnt classical music under S. Rajasekhar. Gradually, I was drawn to classical music. My first gurus were P Viswanath Rao, S. Raghu and T.N Shivakumar.

When did you switch from being a vocalist to a flautist?

I remember my uncle giving me a flute when I was a student. I used to try out melodies on the flute with no formal training. P. Viswanath Rao, my vocal guru, encouraged me to try out ragas on the flute though he was not trained in the instrument.

How did you come to Kalakshetra?

When I finished my tenth standard, I decided I wanted to play the flute. A well - wisher of the family, S. Subramaniam suggested that I join either the Tirupati college of music or Kalakshetra as these were the only two places offering courses in the flute. My parents were keen that I enrol in a degree course but I opted for Kalakshetra.

Who was your guru in Kalakshetra and what was your experience there as a student?

The late H Ramachandra Sastri was my guru. He was 74 then. He was a traditionalist and very focussed in his teaching. When I came to Kalakshetra my knowledge in music was very basic. There were a few students who were learning the flute along with me - Ludwig Pesch and G.S. Rajan to name a couple. Initially, Sir must have been wary of having me in the class as he had to figure out a way to teach me the fingering and correct me. However he never voiced his apprehensions and very quickly learnt how to instruct me. He would always make us sing the compositions we played. My earlier vocal training came in handy here. I wrote the entire notation for the compositions in Braille.

Did you continue your vocal training?

Yes. It is important for instrumentalists to be able to sing the compositions even if it is not to concert level. Even today, I follow his training with my students. My allied subject in Kalakshetra was vocal music, in which I trained under Balasaraswathy, M.D Ramanathan, Puducode Krishnamurthy, S. Rajaram and Vairamangalam Lakshminarayanan.

We had a Sangeeta Shiromani course affiliated to the Madras University. I completed the four-year diploma course and continued with my Post Graduate Diploma in Kalakshetra. I also received a scholarship to further my music training for two years after that.

Please tell us about your teaching experience in Kalakshetra.

I became a staff member in 1989. Initially, I helped my vaadyar with theory classes and teaching students for whom vocal or flute was an allied subject. 

When did you start playing for Bharatanatyam?

When I was a student, I used to play for variety shows organized by Kalakshetra. Some years later, I began playing regularly for Krishnaveni Lakshmanan. The first dance drama I played for was Bhakta Jayadeva (1987). It was a new work. S. Rajaram composed the music and I sat and listened while he composed and taught the music.

Was it a challenge to play for dance dramas? 

Yes, I found it difficult in the beginning. Even though I had the notation for the songs, it was not enough to just follow the notation. Playing for a dance drama requires much more involvement than that. It took me many years to figure out the knack to play comfortably. I realized that I first needed to listen to the whole production and be very familiar with all the compositions. It was only when I did that, that I was aware of the natural flow in the music and the production itself. Once that was done, I focussed on the time required to move from one raga to the next. In a production, each composition is linked to the other and the transition has to be smooth. I would wait for the cue for each change. I also learnt to follow the music very closely. This adds to the musicality as an accompanist in a dance drama.

Do you find it difficult to balance your career as a mainstream flautist and Bharatanatyam accompanist?

It is not difficult once your foundation is strong. I have to take care to keep my practice going even if my schedule is hectic. I feel that listening to good music regularly is important. That is the only way we can continuously upgrade ourselves. It is every musician’s individual responsibility to the art form.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Ustad Shaik Dawood

His disciples remember 


It is often said, Vidya vinayena sobhate, implying that knowledge is made more beautiful by the quality of humility. How apt this is in the context of the life and work of the ‘Tabla Nawaz Ustad Shaik Dawood Saheb’ (known as the Tirakhwa of the Deccan) one of the greatest tabla legends of the twentieth century. 

Shaik Dawood was born in Sholapur on 16 December 1916. His prodigious talent in rhythm at the age of three compelled his father, Hashim Saheb, to buy him a tasha (kettledrum) to play with. At eight, he started learning the rudiments of tabla from Anna Maharaj. Ameer Qawwal, who owned a qawwali group, took him as a tabla player and simultaneously initiated him into vocal music. Destiny brought Dawood to a concert where he was completely mesmerised by the tabla of Mohammad Khasim, a highly reputed tabla maestro from Sholapur, a zamindar and a patron of classical and Sufi music. Khasim Saheb’s acceptance of Dawood as a student was a life-changing event for the lad. Over the next decade, Dawood learnt from him traditional classical tabla with its full range of kaidas, relas, chakradhars, gats and the art of accompaniment. He was also taught the rare technique of playing laggi using the thumb to render gamakas on the dagga.

Khasim’s house was always a resting place for any great musicians journeying between Mumbai and Hyderabad. They performed at his house while he accompanied them on the tabla. Observing young Dawood’s dedication, hard work and commitment, Mohammad Khasim gradually started asking him to accompany the visiting musicians. Dawood did full justice to his guru’s faith, sharing the stage with these icons, impressing everyone with his art of unobtrusive accompaniment and humble demeanour despite the acclaim and appreciation he received. This was to become his hallmark in professional circles later in life. By the early 1930s, Dawood, although in his teens, was already the preferred accompanist for some of the biggest names in Hindustani music like Abdul Karim Khan, Faiyaz Khan, Bhaskarbua Bakhle, Sawai Gandharva and Wajid Khan. With concerts becoming frequent in Hyderabad, Roshan Ali Mooljee, the producer of Deccan Radio, persuaded Dawood to shift his base to Hyderabad and join him as a staff artist. This opened a new chapter in Dawood’s life.

The knowledge, experience and reputation he gained under his guru Mohammad Khasim was substantial enough to make him a top grade artist in the country. Not one to let concerts drain his energy or his desire to learn more, he began learning tabla from Ustad Alladiya Khan. The sheer quality of that decade-long taleem propelled him to the upper echelons of the tabla world. After the demise of Alladiya Khan, he learnt from his gifted sons, Mohammed Khan and Chhote Khan. At the age of 41, Dawood became the disciple of Mahboob Khan Merajkar, an erudite scholar well versed in tabla. The fact that Shaik Dawood enrolled as a disciple at the zenith of his career speaks volumes for his humility and respect for knowledge.

Dawood started teaching early in life and continued to do so almost throughout his life. He always taught one-to-one, and produced over 150 students, many of whom are professionals today. Arthur Koestler once said, “Creative activity could be described as a type of learning process when the teacher and the pupil are located in the same individual”. Dawood Saheb’s creativity and poetic bent of mind were reflected in his prolific compositions of jodas for traditional gats and todas, and for kaidas and gat relas besides his own gats.

The tabla maestro always supported up-and-coming, young musicians. He never insisted on fees from his students. From his students he took a one-time guru dakshina of just 251 rupees during ganda bandhan (a ceremony where the Guru ties a sacred thread around the wrist of the student signifying the acceptance into discipleship). He never gave anxious moments to his co-artists or organisers by arriving late to concerts. His philosophy was “Janata Janardhan” implying that the audience was always supreme. He was always present at the venue an hour in advance irrespective of whether the event was big or small. In an age where arriving late was considered fashionable, when organisers sometimes protested by cancelling the events altogether, Dawood Saheb remained strictly punctual. 

Even so many years after his demise, artists still remember his simple and genuine nature. Eminent tabla maestro Sheshgiri Hangal narrates an incident when many iconic classical vocalists and instrumentalists including Shaik Dawood visited Madras for a prestigious music festival. Sheshgiri Hangal was to accompany Gangubai Hangal but he suddenly fell ill with high fever and was in no position to provide tabla accompaniment. At Gangubai’s request, Shaik Dawood readily agreed and accompanied her on the tabla. After the concert, when the organisers approached Dawood with a remuneration higher than the contracted amount, he politely refused to accept it insisting that it must go to Sheshgiri Hangal and that he was only offering his services as his duty towards his colleague.

Dawood Saheb was a man of his word. Once he gave his acceptance, he would not backtrack under any circumstances. It is said he once did not accompany Basavaraj Rajguru despite repeated offers of higher remuneration simply because he had already promised his availability to an artist and event of lesser repute and scale. In yet another instance, Dawood sent his senior student to accompany Nazakat Ali and Salamat Ali at a large event because he had already committed himself to a concert in Hyderabad at the same time. It is difficult to imagine what the star brothers thought of Dawood, but a few days later, another concert of theirs was organised for which Dawood Saheb was indeed available to play with them. Today, that concert is heralded as one of the greatest musical events in the history of Hyderabad and is remembered for the lightning fast drut Ektaal tarana and Shaik Dawood’s accompaniment.

The tabla maestro was awarded the Hindu-Muslim Unity award for his tremendous social impact through music. He also received the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi award but the national Padma awards eluded him. he reached his heavenly abode on 21 March 1992. It is indeed a matter of great consolation that the vast repository of tabla knowledge has been passed on to his worthy son, Shabbir Nisar, who has started The Tabla Nawaz Ustad Shaik Dawood Academy of Music in his father’s memory. Plans are afoot to launch his birth centenary celebrations this year in a big way.

(PRABHAKAR BETRABET was a senior disciple of Shaik Dawood. Now a disciple of Shabbir Nisar, he has been performing and training students in Bangalore and the U.S.A. for over 25 years.

SANDEEP HATTANGADY, based in Durham, U.K., has pursued tabla for nearly two decades, learning from eminent tabla gurus including Prabhakar Betrabet. He has performed widely in India and the United States.

Betrabet and Hattangady have co-authored the book, Tihaai, for students of tabla and music. 

GOURANG KODICAL is a veteran tabla vidwan, who learnt his art from Shaik Dawood in Hyderabad, after initial coaching by Shashi Bellare of Mumbai and Dattappa Garud of Bangalore. Kodical has performed in India and abroad for decades, accompanying some great stalwarts.)

Throughout the article, the authors respectfully prefixed the honorific `Ustad’ to their guru’s name

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Celebrating the Trinity in Melbourne

By Shobha Sekhar


Tyagaraja festivals are conducted in various parts of the world especially where the Carnatic music loving Indian diaspora has a strong presence. Over the past 29 years, Ravi Ravichandhira OAM, Festival Artistic Director, has ‘upgraded’ the tribute to include all the three great vaggeyakaras – Tyagaraja, Dikshitar and Syama Sastry – known as the ‘Mummoortigal’. As it is one of the largest festivals organised in multicultural Australia, it is recognised by Tourism Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria, Australian universities and Government bodies.

This year the Mummoorti Vizha (11 and 12 April) blossomed into a multifaceted festival with the participation of intermediate and sub seniors in ensembles, senior students and resident artists in solo segments, as well as eminent artists from India performing Bharatanatyam and Carnatic music.

The festival opened with vocal ensembles presented by TYME (Talented Young Musician Ensemble) comprising vocal, violin, veena and percussion students from top ranking music schools in Melbourne. TYME under the leadership of Shobha Sekhar (vocal) and Murali Kumar (instrumental) came alive with four groups – Intermediate, Senior Boys, Senior Girls and Instrumental. The songs included Syama Sastry’s swarajati in Todi, the rare Jhampa tala Bhairavi composition Sarievvaramma, Muthuswami Dikshitar’s Raka in Takka raga, Guni janadi in Gurjari and Tyagaraja’s Gandhamu and Niravadi sukhada. The participants enjoyed the vibes of congregational singing as well as bonding with friends across diverse music schools. Another major stride was the inclusion of music students from the University of Melbourne and NMIT who participated in the TYME segments.

An additional feature introduced this year was the Mini-Concert series by emerging musicians. Pragadeesh Shanmugaraja, Raghuveer and Narayan Kasthurirangan, Sakthi Ravitharan (all vocal), Thanukirthi Sekhar (veena), Arushi Ramesh (student of Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi and a New Zealand resident), Manisha Jothin, Anita Das and Narayan Ramakrishnan (all violin), Pavan Gopinath, Satheepan Elankumaran, Arjunan Puveendran, Mithun Ranjanan and Sai-Nivaeithan Ravichandhira (all mridangam) regaled audiences with their skills and enthusiasm. 

The Pancharatna singing segment was given an additional boost by Guru Karaikudi Mani’s special korvai preludes and instrumental (for swarams) music for the Nata and Varali kritis. Impressed with the presentation, Vidwan Mani said that the “perfectly sruti aligned ensemble” should be broadcast for listeners in India. 

In the Bharatanatyam segment, Rajeswari Sainath’s impeccable jatis highlighting her grip over laya, and Vyshnavie’s enactment of the navarasas and her gymnastics-like swift movements wowed the audience.

Resident artists featured included Shobha Sekhar (veena), Sundari Saripalli, Murali Kumar (violin solo), Uthra Vijayaraghavan, Ahilan Sivanandan, Rama Rao, Sridhar Chari (flute). Narmatha Ravichandhira, Jayshree Ramachandran and the Iyer Brothers (veena duet). The teachers not only performed but encouraged all the participants with their unflagging presence 24x7.

The emcees Narayanan Ramakrishnan and Arjunan Puveendran had researched into the meaning of every song rendered and intelligently filled all the ‘gaps’ between segments with their wit and information.

The icing on the cake was the “grand finale presentation” titled ‘A Tribute to the Trinity’, by the Mysore Brothers Nagaraj and Manjunath (violin) in concert with Karaikudi Mani and sishya Ravichandhira (mridangam).

The Mysore Brothers played awesome music, with sukhabhavam oozing in their raga segment and racy forays in their swara kalpanas. The mridangam maestro Mani delighted us with his unique ‘vivaram’ and complex rhythmic patterns during his tani. He was very ably supported by Ravi Ravichandira. The kutcheri was one of its kind – to be cherished forever.

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