By V Ramnarayan
It has been yet another season of jubilees, anniversaries, centenaries and more. For those of us who knew that he was teaching at Kalakshetra in 1960 or thereabouts and those who learnt songs from him then, it is hard to believe that this is Mysore Vasudevacharya’s 150th birth anniversary year. Incredibly, he was teaching and composing into his nineties. This is also Papanasam Sivan’s 125th year, and he too was composing music and leading the Mylapore Kapali temple bhajana into his eighties. It is Ariyakudi’s 125th year, too, and many of us have heard him live in our childhood. One of the dancers of pan-Indian stature to have emerged more than seven decades ago, Mrinalini Sarabhai, breathed her last just the other day at the age of 97. She too was active almost till the end.
Among the great artists still among us, Vyjayantimala Bali who is in her eighties, can still give a standout Bharatanatyam performance that can put youthful brilliance in the shade. C.V. Chandrasekhar is astonishingly fit and agile, while continuing to dance with precision even at age 80. He is also an enthusiastic and demanding teacher. 91-year old mridanga vidwan T.K. Murthy, is capable of full-fledged kutcheris even today. He was Umayalpuram Sivaraman’s senior as a disciple of Tanjavur Vaidyanatha Iyer, along with Sivaraman’s later guru Palghat T.S. Mani Iyer.
Sivaraman’s entry into his eighties has been heralded with some fanfare. He is still going strong, as brilliant as ever in his mridangam artistry, and with exemplary scientific curiosity, leading and participating in experiments to analyse and simulate the sounds of his instrument, when he is not collaborating with percussionists from other parts of India and abroad. Another outstanding mridanga vidwan, Guruvayur Dorai, turned eighty last year, and while his career has been relatively low-key, his vidwat understated, few will doubt his mastery of the mridangam. He continues to quietly add lustre to many a concert, and is a much-loved guru. P.S. Narayanaswamy, mentor extraordinaire and senior representative of the Semmangudi bani, and R. Vedavalli, an articulate scholar and teacher from the Mudicondan school, are both examples of holistic music.
Compared to them, Guru Karaikkudi Mani, just entering his seventies, is a stormy petrel, and of course, a brilliant percussionist and imaginative innovator. Sruti will be carrying his profile very soon.
By the time this issue of Sruti reaches you, we will have honoured two artists of excellent repute: Indira Rajan, the recipient of the E. Krishna Iyer Medal, and Suguna Varadachari, who receives the Vellore Gopalachariar Award. Indira Rajan, the dance guru and nattuvangam expert, is 75 years old, while Suguna Varadachari, or SV, is a mere 70. Like her late namesake, gurubehen and dear friend Suguna Purushothaman, she is loved and adored by her students. Both have been guardians of the Musiri Subramania Iyer parampara, and SV is determined to uphold the tradition as assiduously as Suguna Purushothaman did in her lifetime.
As speaker after speaker said at a recent felicitation function, SV was passed over by concert opportunities and acclaim when she and her voice were young, but many honours have come her way in the late afternoon of her life. She has made the most of these belated opportunities, and has a legion of students and admirers in India and abroad, but can any of that make up for the disappointments of the past?