Saturday, 28 January 2017


Sruti, February 2017

In recent years, old fashioned critics and rasikas have been complaining—often rightly so—about the increasing accent in Carnatic music on technical brilliance at the expense of soulful rendering of ragas in all their expansive beauty. In short, we were bemoaning the loss of rakti. I for one was finding this trend evident in a number of musicians who had captivated many of us with the great emotional quotient of their music less than a decade ago, when they arrived on the scene like a breath of fresh air. Not only were they slowly turning into automatons that could thrill audiences with briga fireworks and swara-tala wizardry, they were influencing a whole new generation of musicians, who were bent upon impressing the world with their vocal sorcery or instrumental sleight of­­hand.

Not surprisingly then, I went into this season with much trepidation, expecting more of the same from today’s established stars who had dazzled us two decades ago. I was not wrong, for many of them gave the impression of having plateaued in their pursuit of frenetic applause for their speed and virtuosity. Gone apparently was their ability to immerse themselves in the joys of “raganess”, as eminent writer Deepak Raja calls it. The whole experience was depressing, especially as the general mood was sombre, with all the disasters natural and man-made all around us. Serious doubts were being expressed about the December season continuing to be festive after our experience of the last two years, and though all of us were seeking a happy diversion from the after-effects of Vardah, the doubts lingered.

But the tide turned. Young musicians, who had, it seemed, only the other day embraced the philosophy of  Speed thrills, had evidently listened to their own inner voices or advice from caring mentors. They seem to have realised that speed can also kill creativity and damage your voice beyond repair. They thrilled us with their return to nature with a vengeance, so to speak, proving that timely course correction can save them from premature decline in their musical ability. Many young vocalists, both male and female, gave weighty performances in which raga was king. As if to prove that instrumental music was still alive and kicking, some exciting young talent surfaced in string and wind instruments as well as the whole spectrum of percussion accompaniment. A delightful new development has been the increasing presence of young women not only in violin, flute and veena, but impressive strides have also been made in percussion talent on the distaff side. The confident stage presence of the youth brigade augurs well for the future.

Possibly gaining from better education and the mentorship of their gurus, as well as the benefit of technology in accessing relevant literature, the more intelligent among young musicians are able to widen their repertoire with a proper understanding of the lyrics and their contexts. They have not neglected the more complex segments of  our music either, it seems. Some of their ragam-tanam-pallavi renderings would have passed the stern tests of experts in the field. Yet the apparent paradigm shift in their approach to music in favour of a deeply felt raga experience gives us hope for tomorrow.


Birthdays & Anniversaries

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

The Ethical Vegan Mridangam

By R. Ramkumar

In his path breaking work in the field of Carnatic percussion, Dr. K. Varadarangan, a Bengaluru-based vocalist, musicologist and wireless design specialist, has created a mridangam sans animal skin. In this conversation with mridangam artist R. Ramkumar, he explains how the "SRI mridangam" not only saves animals and trees but also provides tremendous advantages over the conventional mridangam.

What is the SRI mridangam made of? How is it different from a conventional mridangam?

The SRI mridangam is made of a fiberglass shell and synthetic drum heads. The drumhead material is a polyester film and the karane (sadham or soru – the black patch) is made using a special type of rubber. This is different from the conventional mridangam made of a wood for the shell and animal skins for the drumheads, while the karane is made using boiled rice, iron oxide powder and a few other ingredients. 

How is this different from a nut-bolt mridangam?

Broadly this is similar to the nut bolt mridangam but the clumsy and protruding hooks and nuts found in the conventional mridangam are replaced by stainless steel bolts and nuts seated neatly and un-obstructively. The clamps and parts of the bolts are covered by plastic casings on both sides of the drum. This not only prevents injury to the hands while playing but also gives an aesthetically pleasing distinct look to the SRI mridangam. Also, the drum heads in the typical nut-bolt mridangam are made from animal skin.

What motivated you to make the SRI mridangam?

The main motivation was ethical. I started this work when it dawned on me that the mridangam I used as an accompaniment to my vocal concerts was made of animal skins which meant that these animals had to be slaughtered to obtain the mridangam membrane. It was hypocrisy at its best - while I tried to portray divinity and spirituality in my vocal concerts, I was actually contributing to the murder of cows, goats and buffalos. I also wanted to avoid the cutting of trees and hence I focused on alternative shell materials and fiberglass emerged as the best choice.

What does ‘SRI” stand for?

SRI stands for “Synthetic Rhythm Indian” emphasizing the fact that it is the synthetic version of the South Indian Rhythm instrument, namely the mridangam.

It looks like you had to travel an un-trodden path when you started off. What were the difficulties you faced?

When I started this work I had absolutely no clue as to where this would eventually lead me to. It was quite scary to think of doing something that had no precedent, and the enormity of the task ahead was simply mind blowing. Nevertheless I decided it plunge into this, come what may! Initially I did a lot of studies on the possible alternatives to animal skin for the drum head. I did find a suitable material for it but realized the karane was a very hard nut to crack. I needed a material that bonded to the synthetic skin, was safe for the hands, was able to give sustained tone and be moldable to take a circular convex shape. I did find a material for this but processing it was a formidable task. I overcame this problem after a lot of study, thought and experimentation. My initial work was focused on the drum head, esp., the right drumhead and I started my experiments using a wooden shell. I was able to establish a proof of concept for the synthetic mridangam in about a year's time. 

One of the major tasks was to design and develop the mounting and tuning arrangement for the drumhead. Initially I designed a hoop system for the drumhead. This turned out be highly unsatisfactory form the tuning perspective. We could never align the pitches at the rim on the mridangam head at all points. If we changed the pitch at one bolt it would change the pitches at all other points as well. So after months of frustrating experiments the hoop system was abandoned for good. Then I devised a clamping arrangement for the drumhead. I tested the clamping arrangement by subjecting the drumhead to abnormally high tensions. I also designed a beater which gave 35 lakh thuds to the drumhead. The drumhead passed all these tests without showing the slightest signs of damage!

After successful trials with the wooden shell and the synthetic clamp-based drumhead, I started developing the fiberglass drum shells. This phase too had its share of woes. Initial version of the shells showed large variation of pitch with temperature. The tone of the shell was also inconsistent from sample to sample. It took more than two years to understand and rectify these problems.

With the fiberglass shell and the new clamp based drum head, I started testing for tuning stability when the mridangam was played. During this phase I took thousands of readings. It was observed that the mridangam did not detune even under hard playing conditions provided certain precautions were taken during tuning. This was yet another much needed breakthrough

How does the sound from the drum heads of the SRI mridangam compare with that from a conventional mridangam?

The sounds are quite similar although not identical. This is to be expected as both the shell and drum head materials are very different from the conventional ones. In general, the SRI mridangam produces slightly sharper tones while conventional mridangams produce what is known as a "warm" tone. But the synthetic drum heads produce excellent sustained tones and all the strokes that are played on the conventional mridangam can be played with greater ease on the SRI mridangam. It is thus less strainful on the hands. 

What about gumukis?

Most Mridangists who have played the SRI mridangam have opined that the gumukis sound exceptionally well on the SRI mridangam. The general consensus is that the gumukis in the SRI mridangam are way better than those from the conventional mridangam's left head.

What type of mridangam is this? Kutchi or kappi?

This is the Kutchi type. Thin strips of plastic are used instead of straw in the SRI mridangam. 

Do you plan to create a kappi variant?

I have not planned it at this point of time.

Are there separate instruments for male and female voices?

Yes. The male pitch mridangam covers the range from C-E and is thus suitable for male voices and for playing with many of the instruments. The female pitch mridangam covers the range from F-A. Thus, the entire gamut of pitches used in Karnatic music is covered by these two instruments. The sizes of these instruments are kept the same as the traditional mridangams of the respective pitches.

The materials used to make a conventional mridangam are said to be bio-degradable. What about the SRI mridangam?

The materials used in the SRI mridangam are - fiberglass for the shell and polyester plastic for the heads. These are not biodegradable. However, if one looks at the actual ecological impact of these materials it turns out to be really negligible. Consider this: in the US alone nearly 14 crores of PET bottles are consumed on a daily basis. That said, we will still work towards making the materials used in the SRI mridangam recyclable or bio degradable. This is not going to be easy but we will surely keep working in that direction. But most importantly the trees are saved in this process which has a huge positive impact on the environment. 

Why should a mridangam artist shift from a conventional mridangam to the SRI mridangam?

Not only is the SRI mridangam ethical and environment friendly, it also offers many advantages to the mridangam players such as 1. Light weight 2. User replaceable drum heads 3. Chemically bonded karane that does not crack, fall or wither away 4. Long lasting drum heads 5. Non requirement of semolina paste for the thoppi 6. Easy tunabilty of drumheads to an accuracy of +- 1 Hz. 7. Pitch stability under changing temperature and humidity 8. Aesthetic appearance 9. Cost effectiveness and 10. Ease of maintenance.

The SRI mridangam is a state of the art instrument that completely eliminates the need for the mridangam artist to run to the repair shop. A spanner is the only tool that is required for the mridangam artist to play and maintain the SRI mridangam 

What about other Indian percussion instruments like tabla that also use the animal skin? Are you planning to make synthetic versions of the same as well?

Yes. Definitely! The tabla is expected to roll out this year (2017).

Where can one buy the SRI Mridangam?

The SRI mridangam is available for sale at our works in Bangalore. Our address is: Karunya Musicals, No. 86, “Haripriya”, Temple Street, NGEF layout, Sadanandanagar, Bangalore-560038. However, we supply to any destination in India or abroad usually through speed post. For purchase enquiries, customers can contact me at or call me on my mobile no. 9900095989. Complete product specifications, audio and video demos, pricing details and contact information are available at our website:

Monday, 23 January 2017

Close Encounters of a Musical Kind

Classical music or the other music

By Lakshmi Sreeram

Being a performer in two traditions is not easy. Sruti N. Pattabhiraman once told me, “At least use different names. It gets difficult at various levels. When, you are, for example, being considered for an award, committees don’t like it if you have two profiles.”

Let me say this straight away – and this is just my opinion - it is not optimal to try to manage two systems of music such as Carnatic music and Hindustani music (HM). Being ambidextrous here is not just redundant but could be treacherous. But, like the ambidextrous, it is rare and interesting. And it does give one a vantage point from which to view the two musical systems. And varied encounters with music and musicians.

For the worldlings of Hindustani and Carnatic music, the other might well be an alien. “You sing bhajans, don’t you? Oh, you have aalap also?” “Is there any tala structure? Do the lead performer and tabla player signal to each other when they come together as they often do with great flourish?” Plain ignorance, to lazy stereotypes to disdainful prejudice--there are a myriad hues. And it all begins with nomenclature.

“She sings both Classical and Carnataki”, my music teacher, Madhubala Chawla, told the redoubtable Mohan Nadkarni. “That is why I taught her this natyageet”. Nadkarni was a special guest at our school’s Guru Purnima celebration, when every student has to make a musical offering. Nadkarni had high regard for my teacher and before her, for her mother and aunt who ran a music school in Dadar, Mumbai, for, and by women - a small part of the movement of Khayal from the cloistered precincts of royal patronage to the great public spaces.

I had just rendered the stage song Sura sukha khani tu vimala in Keeravani - hence the relevance of my “Carnataki” background. It is another matter that it includes a to-the-South-Indian-completely-unacceptable foray into Pilu (Kapi) in its last part. But a mild to brazen departure from the main raga is a delicacy in these songs.

Carnataki and Classical?” I, all of 13 years, bristled: “Carnataki is as much Classical!” I growled inwardly, but kept quiet.

Many years later I encountered a similar question in Chennai, but here, “classical” was Carnatic. “Do you find Classical music more difficult than Hindustani music?

By then I did not much care for “classical/non classical” terminology. More about this later.

What are the moments of being ambidextrous? Singing a bandish in Yaman at my music school with other students, I looked around to see who was singing that different nishadha: it was I!! And that was because of my “Carnataki” training! In CM for the past several decades (it was not always like this) our kakali or sharp nishadha is sharper than the corresponding suddha nishadha of HM. That is because it is oscillated all the way up to the higher Shadjam. Think Sankarabharanam, Kiravani; (Kalyani demands the unoscillated nishadha as in the charanam of the varnam Niluparani stressed my guru, VVS, in one of our meandering conversations).

Sruti differences in negotiating swaras, accent in the movement from one swara to the other, are all danger zones when one is trained in both. Sakuntala Narasimhan was probably among the earliest ambidextrous musicians and I asked her about this when she had come to my college, S.I.E.S, in Sion, Mumbai, as a chief guest for an event under our Tamil Association. “Don’t worry about srutis, just sing” she told me. That was wise advice as far as it went, when one was young and all that. But advancing on this path surely meant being aware of such nuances. Marwa has a chadhaa hua rishabah (a higher rishabha) and the Multani rishabha has such a dainty, reticent presence, the sruti value is lower. And what about the Varali madhyamam or Begada madhyamam? They have a regal identity all of their own. Many identities even!

Personally I have found the laya aspect more challenging: not the circus of calculations and korvais, but just the overall madhyama kala of CM versus the overall vilamba laya of HM. The weave in CM is much tighter and to keep that texture consistently is a challenge even when brought up only on a diet of saralivarisais, alankarams and varnams, and more so when one also knows intimately the relaxed, porous fabric of Hindustani music.

Does it not help in any way? Being able to sing both? Training in HM might be thought to give you a voice culture that will help your CM. But, the way the voice is used in the two is so different that training in one does not give an edge in attempting the other. It is another matter that a few leading Carnatic musicians have a “Hindustani-ish” glaze to their voice which finds acceptance, even adulation, among certain sections of rasikas. But this must be said-that the kind of grounding CM gives you because of the well crafted abhyAsagAnam, does help in grasping the basic musical material applicable in HM too. And the practice of plain notes in the lower ranges– the Kharaj Sadhana of HM – does strengthen the voice for all purposes. 

Going back, what is this word “classical” doing while referring to Hindustani and Carnatic Music?

More than its descriptive content, its evaluative sense jumps out – the term indubitably privileges what it qualifies.

The expression “classical music" first appeared in the 19th century to refer to works of Beethoven, Mozart, Hayden and others of that period; in a broader sense it also refers to the tradition of Western Music that has evolved out of liturgical music over the past ten centuries in the west. This is its original context.

The word “classical” itself refers to forms that are of considerable antiquity, with something of value in terms of their content and / or form. Sanskrit or Tamil are classical languages; their antiquity, the richness of literature to be found in them, all make a claim to their "classical" status. Carnatic music or Hindustani music as we know it do not have this kind of antiquity. Maybe 3-4 centuries. That is old – ask a white Australian or white American! But for us who can throw back collective memory across 5 millenia, 4 centuries is not antiquity! What the word then carries in the context of our music is its value, the weight of cultural privileging.

When did the expression “classical music” first make an appearance in this context? Not in P. Sambhamurthy’s famous series or in C. Subrahmanya Iyer’s “Grammar of South Indian Music” - they simply use the expressions “South Indian Music or “Karnatak Music”. North Indian writers too such as Sourindra Nath Tagore have not used this expression, nor have western scholars and writers. If we must have a general expression for HM and CM, it would be Sastriya Sangeet or sangeetam, which indicates that the music is grounded in shastra or is governed by a set of rules. More specifically they are simply referred to as Carnatic music, khayal, dhrupad etc.

“Art music”, as suggested by many, is more appropriate, capturing as it does the broad intent of this music. The Carnatic or Hindustani musician does not perform to fulfil a ritual (ritualistic music, folk music) or to heighten religious fervour (religious music like nama sankeertanam) or try to appeal to the greatest number of people (popular music). The Carnatic or Hindustani musician stakes claim to artistry above all.

But this is often lost sight of in our obsession with sastra and parampara!

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Bharathi Ramasubban

By Sushma Somasekharan

Young voices
(Conversations with emerging artists)

2017 started off on a great note for vocalist Bharathi Ramasubban. Looking thrilled and elated about her Outstanding Junior Vocalist Award for her performance at The Madras Music Academy, Bharathi is looking forward to an exciting musical year ahead. Her grandmother was a direct disciple of one of the famous Carnatic composers of the 20th century, Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar. Her mother was also a music student and has a Bachelors in music. After her initiation to Carnatic music through both of them, Bharathi trained with Seetha Rajan and is now a disciple of PS Narayanaswamy. 

Bharathi speaks to Sruti about her musical pursuit. 

How has your learning experience been with PSN?  

The classroom was never a formal space. With sir, I was always learning; in the car, under the pavazhamalli tree, even while buying betel leaves on Mada Street! In the midst of all the chaotic hustle and bustle, he would point out the smallest error in what I sang. “Andha sangati ya innum azhutthama padu! (Sing that sangati with more weight!)” he would say. 

Sir was a stickler for ‘azhuthamana’ (weighty) open-throated singing, it did not matter whether I was singing in the car or in class – I was not to compromise on those qualities! Sir lets his students grow at their own pace and moulds us accordingly. He always insisted that listening to the old masters and your peers was the best and fastest means of learning.

In my initial years of learning from him, I would go for classes straight from school. I would look forward to our mini coffee and tiffin ritual before singing. I had classes almost every day; for music gave me the support and reprieve I needed from all the academic pressure. Sometimes it would be a solo class or at other times, there would be four or five of us singing together. It was all unplanned and spontaneous. 

This spontaneity resulted in camaraderie amongst Sir’s disciples. He treated us and taught us the same. He taught us to be good musicians regardless of whether we decided to become performing artistes or not. When I was pursuing my undergrad studies at Stella Maris College, I was not sure if I would take up music as a full time profession but that had no bearing on how Sir taught me. He just let me grow organically.

PSN must have shared some memorable anecdotes with you about his experience with the legendary Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. 

There are so many over the years! Sir once mentioned that Semmangudi mama had chided him for referring to a piece of paper during a concert – everything was to be memorised! He also shared with me how Semmangudi mama would sing any new song that he learnt every day for almost two months before presenting it in a concert. In order to internalise the composition, he would teach the songs to the sishyas and sing with them. 

Did you start learning music with the intention of pursuing it full time? 

Not at all. I used to perform just intermittently. I also took a year off to pursue a Masters programme in Biotechnological Law and Ethics at Sheffield, UK. I think it was the time away that gave me the perspective I needed. I enjoyed studying and made some life-long friendships in the UK, but music consumed me and I wanted to return to be as close to it as possible. I tried imagining myself in a law firm or a Non-Government Organisation but I knew that would not satisfy me. PSN sir jokes about how I found my Bodhi tree in England.

I am also ever thankful to RK Shriramkumar anna for being an invaluable family friend and guide. He has inspired me through his music and interaction as I made some important decisions in my life. 

Even now, I am not entirely sure where my music pursuit is taking me, but I am loving this journey and there is no other ride I would want to trade it for. 

Your concert listening experience – as a listener vs as a performer. How is it different? 

There was a period when PSN sir used to perform chamber concerts on the 16th of every month at Mr Jagadiswaran’s residence at Abhiramapuram. It was an informal setting. Attendees included the veterans, stars of the day and up and coming musicians. He would accede to all our song requests. That, I would say, is my earliest instance of a listener striking a connection with the performer. I loved it. I wanted to soak in everything my Guru sang. 

PSN sir always says that it is by listening to her seniors and peers that a musician grows and I have benefitted greatly from this advice. Listening with viveka is essential. As a musician now, I find it rewarding to gain insights into other artists’ thinking process and artistic sensibilities. It has inspired me and facilitated my growth as a musician.

As audiences evolve, so do their tastes. How do you ensure a fresh spin on your performances while retaining classicism?  

As you know, our music is a blend of kalpita and kalpana sangita. Hence, I am consciously working on building a vast repertoire of compositions, rare and otherwise. Recently, many artists have taken to thematic presentations and I think this is great because it presents songs in a fresh way for the audiences. Apart from building a song repertoire, it is also important to think of new ways of presenting kalpana sangitam; taking new eduppus to sing niraval and swarams. For example, in the kriti Akshayalingavibho by Muthuswami Dikshitar, every line in the charanam lends itself to expansive and meaningful niraval elaboration. An artist can always explore new lines in the kriti to expand and improvise. I think this challenges the artists on stage and also provides something fresh for the audiences. 

You are involved in several musical collaborations.  
I have been a part of many of Shriramkumar anna’s lecture demonstrations and thematic presentations and sung with my fellow musicians Amritha Murali, Nisha Rajagopalan and Ramakrishnan Murthy. I was also part of a special concert along with Sowmya akka, Ramakrishnan Murthy, Bharat Sundar and Vidya Kalyanaraman for YACM’s silver jubilee celebrations. I also collaborated for a harikatha-kutcheri with Suchitra for Bharat Sangeet Utsav and learnt a couple of songs traditionally sung in the harikatha sampradaya. All these experiences have been enlightening, enriching and enjoyable.

Gowri Ramnarayan aunty and I have been part of two  projects together. The first, her pet project, Oli Chamber Concerts was a yearlong celebration of the music of senior and young musicians in a mic-less, unamplified set up. This was a chance to enjoy pure, true sound and we visibly found musicians and listeners being more sensitive to it. 

Gowri aunty, Anjana Anand and I collaborated for ‘Sakhi’, a confluence of dance, theatre and music to showcase friendship across cultures. I had to act and sing! I learnt all about body language and dialogue delivery. I thoroughly enjoyed learning what great poets and writers like Rumi, Kahlil Gibran and Vikram Seth had to say about friendship. My personal favourite was a kathakali padam in Navaroj that showcased the friendship of Krishna and Draupadi.

Lastly, indulge us and your readers. What is your go-to raga or song when you’re seeking a little comfort? 

My go-to raga or kriti keeps changing with my frame of mind. This week’s raga seems to be Bilahari. My go-to song for the last six months has been Kamalasanavandita a nottusvara of Muthuswami Dikshitar’s. Medha, my 8 month old daughter is in love with it.
When I am feeling low, singing anything with my tambura calms my mind. Sometimes, while driving, listening to my favourite masters cheers me. I do have to admit though, listening to these giants is a bittersweet experience. The initial euphoria or bliss is quickly followed by a case of blues due to the unattainable standards that they have all set!

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Monday, 16 January 2017

Assam Shrestho Award for Indira Bora

By BuzyBee

Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee and veteran Sattriya exponent Indira P.P. Bora received the prestigious Assam Shrestho Award 2016 for her lifelong contribution in the field of classical dance from The Telegraph Media Group. The award was presented to her by Rupali Ganguli, CEO and President of Apollo Hospitals Eastern Region, at  Guwahati in November 2016

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Thakur Jaidev Singh - Buy Now

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Lalitha Kala Vedika honours artists

By BuzyBee 

Lalitha Kala Vedika organised a two-day event to celebrate its 21st anniversary in mid-2016 in Chennai. On the first day dedicated to classical music, the Lalitha Kala Vedika Gold Medal was presented to Sudha Ragunathan, and  the Sri B.V.S.S. Mani Cash Award to Malladi Suribabu. Justice AR. Lakshmanan presided over the function, and Pappu Venugopala Rao and N.V. Subramaniam felicitated the awardees. The function was followed by a vocal concert by Amritha Murali. On the second day, the Lalitha Kala Vedika Gold Medal was presented to Leela Samson, and the Smt. B. Lalitharatnam Cash Award  to Krishnakumari Narendran. R. Nataraj, MLA of Mylapore, presided over the function. 'Sruti' S. Janaki and ‘Cleveland’ V.V. Sundaram felicitated the awardees. The function was followed by a Bharatanatyam programme by Narthaki Nataraj.

ITC Samman for violinist N. Rajam

By Shilpi Sambhamurty

(photo by Shilpi Sambhamurty)
The ITC Samman 2016 was conferred on violin vidushi (Dr.) N. Rajam during the 38th ITC Sangeet Sammelan held in Kolkata from 2 to 4 December 2016. A stalwart of  Hindustani music, Rajam is one of the seniormost disciples of the late Pandit Omkarnath Thakur of the Benaras gharana, and follows the gayaki ang. The award was presented by Sanjeev Puri, COO of  ITC Ltd. in the presence of Ravi Srinivasan, Executive Director of ITC Sangeet Research Academy, Kolkata.

The ITC Samman comprises a citation, shawl, flowers, sweets, and a cheque for one lakh rupees. The award was first presented in 1978, and the list of recipients includes eminent musicians like  Satya Kinkar Banerjee, Jamini Ganguli, Jnan Prakash Ghosh, Mushtaq Ali Khan, D.T. Joshi, V.G. Jog, Asad Ali Khan, Girija Devi, Ali Ahmed Hussain, T.N.  Krishnan and L. Subramaniam.

A musical homage to Ariyakudi

By Alepey Venkatesan

Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, a doyen of Carnatic music, may truly be hailed as the musician of the 20th century, not only in light of his monumental contributions to the growth of concert music but also because he was a margadarsi (inspiration and role model) for other great musicians who appeared on the scene in the trail he blazed.

The significant contributions of  Ariyakudi include the unique style of singing he fashioned, the modern concert structure/format of which he was the architect (a structure/format which has stood the test of time and is still in vogue in 99% of the music concerts being performed today), his rich and varied repertoire and his vast and significant work in tunesmithy. 

Ariyakudi’s influence was not limited to his own disciples. His musical ideals, aesthetic values, voice delivery style, technical prowess, concert plan and other virtues of his musicianship have left a deep and wide impression, spanning generations of musicians drawn from diverse schools of music.

The 50th anniversary of the demise of Ariyakudi falls on 23rd January 2017.

Carnatica, in association with the Ariyakudi Legacy Centre, will be presenting a musical homage under the overall theme Sri  Ariyakudi: the Legacy Lives On.

In the fitness of things, this musical homage is to be paid by generations of singers, hailing from different schools of music. It is with this idea that various singers have come together to participate.

Programme of Events

Date and Time

Ariyakudi’s Tunesmithy

Saturday 21 January 2017, 6 p.m.

Arkay Convention Centre, Luz, Mylapore, Chennai

Alepey Venkatesan

·         Rendering of Tiruppavai by Vaishnavi Anand and Shruti Jayaraman (Disciples of Alepey Venkatesan)

·         Vidushi Dr. S. Sowmya presents Arunachala Kavi’s Ramanatakam(Participating singers: Bharat Sundar, Aswath Narayanan, K. Gayatri)

The Ariyakudi Bani

Friday 27 January 2017, 6.30 p.m.

Smt. Sivagami Pethachi Auditorium, Alwarpet, Chennai

·         Lecture on “The Ariyakudi Bani” by Alepey Venkatesan

Chief Guest
·         Sri. N. Gopalaswami, Former Chief Election Commissioner and Chairman, Kalakshetra,  releases the DVD “Compendium on Ariyakudi” by Alepey Venkatesan

Guest of Honour
·         Padma Bhushan Awardee Sangita Kalanidhi Vidushi Smt.  Sudha Ragunathan receives the first copy

The Ariyakudi Bani       Concert by Vidushis Ranjani & Gayatri

Ariyakudi’s Pallavis

Saturday 28 January 2017, 6 p.m.

The Mylapore Fine Arts  Auditorium, Mylapore, Chennai

·         Alepey Venkatesan speaks on Ariyakudi’s Pallavis

Ariyakudi Hits and Pallavis by Alepey Venkatesan and Abhishek Raghuram

The January season!

By V Ramnarayan

In an undistinguished first for me, I have to eat humble pie for getting the names of musicians on stage wrong. Writing about a concert below, I substituted Neyveli Narayanan's name for Melakaveri Balaji, both of whom I know very well. Old age, failure to keep notes and the telescoping of several cutcheris in the mind led to this gaffe. I also missed ghatam Guruprasad's name. Like Balaji, he, too, played in a spirit of encouraging a young singer. Sincere apologies to all concerned.

The December season continues! It has spilt into 2017 so seamlessly that it has been a perfect continuum. And somehow the whole cutcheri experience has all of a sudden become more relaxing, less driven by anxiety that even as you are listening to one, you are missing another or two happening at the same time.

The first of these was a Rithvik Raja concert with two senior accompanists in RK Shriramkumar (violin) and K Arunprakash (mridangam) at the Asthika Samajam, Venus Colony, Alwarpet. I had missed the concerts of Rithvik during the prime season, when a couple of my friends described him as a much improved performer. I was looking forward to this concert, but to my disappointment, the sound system at the samajam was so bad that I was unable to make out the quality of the music, and left half way through the concert. I frequently gained the impression that both the voice and the violin were off key. The mridangam too was heard only some of the time. Strangely, a friend, TT Narendran, the critic, who was seated in another wing of the premises, actually had a good word for the acoustics. A day or two later, I met Rithvik who assured me that on stage the sound from the monitor was perfect. I do hope to catch one of his concerts in a better ambience soon.

The next evening, I took in two concerts, both by young singers. The first of them, by Mayuri Vasan—my old cricketer friend L Vasan's daughter from Irvine, California—who is a student of Delhi Sundararajan, was at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mylapore. Mayuri showed much improvement in her voice and aesthetics from the last time I had heard her, but, suffering from a sore throat and cough, she had a few hiccups, in an otherwise promising concert. She had impressive violin accompaniment from Aarushi, a disciple of Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi. Mridangam by young Shravan was pleasantly underplayed. Mayuri, who is also pursuing western classical  music can make a mark in Carnatic music, if she listens to a great deal of good music, practises long and hard on the fundamentals of manodharma, with a particular emphasis on aesthetics, her voice and her kriti rendition being her strong points. A long stint at Chennai and bonding with the young musicians here should  help her cause. This has been the case with many US-bred musicians who have made the grade here.

Vidhya Raghavan, another young NRI musician, who moved to Chennai a few years ago, gave us a lovely recital at this quaint little hall, Krishna Saras, on PS Sivaswami Salai. It was an impressive performance by this diminutive vocalist, who seems to have internalised  the essence of the numerous aspects of Carnatic music, whether raga, lyrics, or tempo. She sang in a clear voice with a proper dose of akaram, and we can expect her voice to get stronger in the years to come. Her focus on stage, too, was admirable. Vidhya gained much from the excellent sound management by Charsur, of whose Margazhi festival the concert was a part. Vidhya is a disciple of TM Krishna and many of her senior fellows were present at the audience as was Sandeep Narayan, Sanjay Subrahmanyan's prime disciple, lending the concert a warm sense of camaraderie. Vidhya was also the beneficiary of top class accompaniment by Akkarai Sornalatha (violin) and veterans Melakaveri Balaji (mridangam), and Guruprasad (ghatam) who seemed to revel in encouraging the young vocalist.

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Season of hope

The music season was a traumatic one after the loss of maestro M Balamuralikrishna, the death of former chief minister J Jayalalithaa and the devastation caused by cyclone Vardah. Miraculously , the city was quickly back on its feet. Music indeed proved a soothing balm for all those intrepid souls who left their worries at home, and somehow managed to pay for concerts, coffee and tiffin post-demonetisation.The artists were slow to start, but warmed up as the December festival progressed.

Keen followers of Carnatic music will easily recognise the word rakti. Rakti ragas are those commonly considered ragas that offer a musician ample scope to paint them in all their colours on a wide canvas. But the word also invokes an image of emotion or bhava. It really refers to melody and the emphasis of melody rather than the more intellectual aspects of music. Some of the wise old men and women of Carnatic music have been heard saying that all our ragas are rakti ragas, and it is up to the musician to invest any raga with that magical quality. The exceptions are the so-called scalar ragas which gave birth to the scales identified by man, while rakti ragas may owe their origin to the melody already inherent in music.

I must explain this long preamble. In recent years, old fashioned critics and rasikas like me have been complaining about the increasing accent in Carnatic music on technical brilliance at the expense of soulful rendering of ragas in all their expansive beauty. In short, we were bemoaning the loss of rakti. I for one was finding this trend evident in a number of musicians who had captivated many of us with the great emotional quotient of their music less than a decade ago, when they arrived on the scene like a breath of fresh air. Not only were they slowly turning into automatons that could thrill audiences with briga fireworks and swara-tala wizardry, they were influencing a whole new generation of musicians, who were bent upon impressing the world with their vocal sorcery or instrumental sleight of ­­­hand.

I went into this season with much trepidation, expecting more of the same from today's established stars who had dazzled us two decades ago. I was not wrong, for many of them gave the impression of having plateaued in their pursuit of frenetic applause for their speed and virtuosity. Gone apparently was their ability to immerse themselves in the joys of “raganess“, as eminent writer Deepak Raja calls it. The whole experience was depressing.

But the tide turned. Young musicians, who had only last year embraced the philosophy of Speed thrills, had evidently listened to their own inner voices or advice from caring mentors. They seem to have realised that speed can also kill creativity and damage your voice beyond repair. Young voice after young voice thrilled us with their return to nature with a vengeance, so to speak, proving that timely course correction can save them from premature decline in their musical ability. Many young musicians, both male and female, gave weighty performances in which raga was king. They have not neglected the more complex segments of our music either, it seems. Some of their ragam-tanam-pallavi renderings would have passed the sternest tests of experts in the field. Yet they have succeeded in redefining rakti in a way only young voices and hands and fingers can. They give us hope for tomorrow.

(First published in the Times of India, Chennai) 

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Monday, 9 January 2017

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Towards a noble cause

By Buzybee

In the wake of destruction caused by the Vardah cyclone, it is imperative that people from different walks of life join together and help to restore the tree cover in Chennai. With a view to contribute her mite to this cause, Dr. R. Asha, writer, researcher, musician and dancer has come forward to donate a part of the proceeds from the sale of her book on Muthuswami Dikshitar to the NGO Nizhal which works on enhancing tree cover. The book titled ‘Concepts, Contexts and Conflations in the kritis of Sri Muttuswami Dikshitar’ is an in-depth exploration of various facets of the great 18th century vaggeyakara Muthuswami Dikshitar's compositions. The book has been widely acclaimed as a path-breaking, illuminating and comprehensive work. (For details visit the author’s blog

For copies contact V. Ramaswami, Flat 1/3, Vakrathunda Seshmahal  Apartments, No. 9, Lady Desika Road, Mylapore, Chennai 600 004, Tamil Nadu, India. Ph.9444073170, 8754473665.