Song of Surrender

Friday, 8 September 2017

Three Srirams of Carnatic Music

Random Notes 

by V Ramnarayan

If you are a Carnatic music enthusiast, chances are that you will come across the name Sriram or Shriram at least once everyday in the newspapers or social media. I refer to Sriram Parasuram, RK Shriramkumar and V Sriram, the first two performing musicians, and the third a writer on Carnatic music and a music and heritage historian.
Each of them is a leader of renown in his field, each excelling in unique ways. I happen to know all of them personally, and I have known them for longer than the time I have been actively involved in music journalism, if you can call editing Sruti magazine that.

Of  the two violinists here, I first heard Sriram Parasuram in concerts, as both a soloist and an accompanist. It must have been a couple of decades ago when my mother-in-law, a great fan of his violin playing, my wife and I haunted his concerts. Another link was Sampradaya, the archival institution I used to visit. Sriram Parasuram was its director for a while. I later got to work on a music-related project  along with Sriram, when I first saw glimpses of his deep knowledge of music and his superior aesthetics. 
The project proved abortive, but I spent many hours in his company, benefiting from his generous sharing of knowledge, and enjoying the hospitality at his home, where I gained first hand insights into his wife Anuradha's musical gifts. More recently, I have been a regular beneficiary of Sriram's brilliant lec-dems.

It is by now common knowledge in music circles that with his engineering degree, MBA and doctorate in ethnomusicology, Sriram Parasuram is probably the highest educated musician in India. He is also amazingly versatile, a concert musician in both Carnatic and Hindustani music as a violinist as well as vocalist, besides training in Western classical violin. He has been a popular presence along with Anuradha on television with a long-running programme linking classical and film music.
RK Shriramkumar is almost family to me, as he and my wife Gowri travelled together with Carnatic music icon MS Subbulakshmi. He belongs to an illustrious family of musicians, and his grandfather RK Venkatarama Sastry was his inspiration and guru. 

There have been other gurus and mentors in his life, including his uncle RK Srikantan and the Rudrapatnam Brothers. Sangita Kalanidhi DK Jayaraman was also his guru, and so was his elder sister DK Pattammal, while violin maestro VV Subrahmanyan opened a grand new world of music for him. Another major influence has been N Rajam, the renowned violinist who chose Hindustani music over the southern counterpart in which her elder brother  TN Krishnan is a leading light.
Shriram came under the benevolent gaze of MS Subbulakshmi decades ago and accompanied her in concerts all over India, and on a US tour. His violin playing, clean and traditional to begin with, has acquired tremendous polish and depth over the decades.

Belonging to the small community of Sanketis who speak a distinct dialect, Shriram is a rare blend of brahmin orthodoxy and openness to new ideas. A Sanskrit scholar and composer of merit, Shriram guides a number of top rung youngsters in the Carnatic music field, besides forging a superb partnership with singer TM Krishna. He is also one of the nicest human beings in the field.

The third Sriram of  this column is V Sriram, whom I first met on one of his famous heritage walks, perhaps his inaugural Mylapore walk. More than through his thorough knowledge of famous landmarks and personalities, Sriram impressed me with his familiarity with less known people, places and facts. I was completely bowled over when he pointed to my great grandfather's house on Luz Church Road, which now houses a commercial enterprise, and related its history.


Sriram was at the time partnering vocalist Sanjay Subrahmanyan in bringing out the music website sangeetham.com, and was soon to become a regular speaker at Mr RT Chari's southern heritage lectures at TAG Centre, Mylapore, a series that has been running for well over a decade. Sriram and I (and our respective life partners) soon struck up a friendship. I remember asking Mr S Muthiah, Sriram's senior partner in crime in matters heritage, to watch out for this new star on the horizon. "He'll become Chennai's best public speaker," I told him, and for once, I made an accurate forecast. 

With his phenomenal memory and sharp wit, Sriram has gone from strength to strength, and with several books to his credit, is probably the most prolific writer in the city after Mr Muthiah. Of late, he has assumed the role of promoting young writing talent in a fitting manner. As an official of the Music Academy, he is now also a pillar of the Carnatic music establishment!

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