Wednesday, 31 May 2017


Tyagaraja’s 250th anniversary is quite possibly the biggest among many milestones this year. Thankfully, most of the celebrations of the bard consist of concerts featuring his songs and not speeches, while there is no shortage of books or weighty theses on him.

There may be among us those who have other personal favourites among Carnatic music composers, but rarely is Tyagaraja’s pre-eminence, his superiority among equals as vaggeyakaras, questioned by even the most objective, balanced experts among musicians, critics and rasikas alike. In addition to his massive repertoire of ragas and compositions, not to mention his famed devotion to Rama, Tyagaraja was verily the William Shakespeare of our music in his acute observations on human nature and in giving expression to his underlying philosophy in his compositions.

Tributes to his vast oeuvre and his exemplary life are being poured daily across the globe, and we at Sruti are no exception, as we attempt offering fresh perspectives on his work in our pages this year. Tyagaraja has been so extensively written about that it is a serious challenge to say something new about him, a challenge our contributors seem to have negotiated successfully.

An event to mark the centenary of music and dance critic Subbudu or P.V. Subramaniam will have concluded by the time you read these pages. Subbudu has been the most celebrated (often feared) critic in these two fields since Kalki Krishnamurti more than 70 years ago. Kalki it was who first spotted Subbudu’s talent, especially his wit, which is usually described as caustic. Subbudu wrote reviews in both English and Tamil with equal ease and sarcasm, and his columns were eagerly awaited by a legion of rasikas—rasikas of Subbudu as much as of the arts. His annual arrival from New Delhi—where he lived after he moved from Burma by foot as a refugee—in Chennai during the music season was advertised by the Indian Express as a major attraction of the festival. ‘Beware of Subbudu’ was the general tenor of the posters the newspaper splashed across the city, and the readers loved his no-holds barred critiques of musicians, especially senior vidwans. His fearlessness was admired by his followers, while some artists abhorred his presence in the auditorium and some others yearned to gain his nod of appreciation. His phenomenal memory and deep knowledge of music and dance helped him to dictate his reviews to an ever present typist-assistant without consulting any notes. Both in praise and in negative criticism, he avoided generalities and wrote in specific detail, though he tended to get carried away by his own penchant for puns and clever turns of phrase, sometimes crossing the limit of objective criticism, even getting personal. He seriously believed that readers should remember him rather than the object of his attentions!

P.S. Narayanan (75), Sruti’s publisher, passed away on 18 May after prolonged illness. Taking over as publisher from his father P.N. Sundaresan who passed away in 1994, Narayanan played a crucial role in the continuance of the magazine when the first editor-in-chief N. Pattabhi Raman died in December 2002. A former employee of Chemplast Sanmar, Narayanan initiated the discussions that eventually resulted in the entry of The Sanmar Group—with a reconstituted Sruti Foundation—into the management of Sruti. His death is a sad loss for the Sruti family.


Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Launch of Vishwashanti Sangeet Kala Academy

By Buzybee

Lata Mangeshkar, Chairperson of the Vishwashanti Sangeet Foundation, announced the opening of Vishwashanti Sangeet Kala Academy--envisioned as India’s biggest gurukul--in Pune. The Gurukul aims to provide a platform for aspiring Hindustani classical musicians from across the country to learn  from the best of gurus. 

The institute is the vision of Prof. Dr. Vishwanath Karad, founder of MIT Institutes, and Founder-President of the Vishwashanti Sangeet Foundation. The Gurukul--built over a vast area of 70,000 sq. feet--offers state of the art facilities along with the supervision and guidance of renowned gurus. The faculty boasts of eminent musicians like Dr. N Rajam, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Ulhas Kashalkar, Hridaynath Mangeshkar, Suresh Talwalkar,  Shama Bhate,  Yogesh Samsi and Devaki Pandit. 

Speaking on the occasion, Lata Mangeshkar said she was happy that the Academy was adopting the Gurukul system, as the venerated guru-sishya parampara has been the pride of Indian culture for centuries and has been instrumental in producing some of the finest artists in Indian classical music, dance and many other forms in the country. 

The admission procedure begins on 1st June 2017, and the application form is available on the website Learning is free, but  students will have to pay the residential and mess charges after their enrolment.

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Monday, 29 May 2017

Dakshina Vaidyanathan: a talent to watch

 By Chirag Shah

( A young contributor to Sruti)

Dakshina Vaidyanathan made her debut at the Madras Music Academy’s annual dance festival, held during the first week of January each year. The young artist's intelligence as a dancer was clearly brought out in her use of the vast space the stage at Music Academy’s main hall boasts, something which many veteran dancers fail to do. Her dance was marked with crisp and clear movements, perfect rhythm and impeccable araimandi making it a treat to watch.

‘Divine Cowherd’ – verses from Narayana Teertha’s Krishna Leela Tarangini strung together with jatis was the chosen opening piece. The music was composed and set by Sudha Raghuraman, a well-known Delhi based singer. It was refreshing to see a slightly uncommon start to a dance recital as opposed to the more commonly performed alarippu/ pushpanjali/ kauthuvam routine. Dakshina pranced on stage full of life, quite effortlessly portraying Krishna as the playful cowherd, herding the cattle using his stick and flute.

Moving to the varnam, Dakshina chose to present Mohamaginen inda velaiyil, an oft performed varnam composed by Guru Dandayudhapani Pillai in Kharaharapriya ragam. Here the nayika expresses her love for lord Nataraja and goes on to explain how her love and passion for him change with the season. 

In the second half of the varnam Maade, innum yojanai aenadi – Oh friend! Why are you still here procrastinating, go at once! Go to my lord and tell him of my love. Go help me be united with him!’ – Dakshina’s delineation of the nayika was immaculate. The jatis were composed by mridanga vidwan Karaikudi Krishnamoorthy and the rhythmic patterns set by Karaikudi Sivakumar. The composers displayed a good sense of how to set jatis for Bharatanatyam and keep them more or less proportional to the varnam.

The next piece for the morning was a keertanam Saddu madalu bedavo’ a less known composition of Purandaradasa on prankster Krishna disturbing the nayika's morning prayers. Again Dakshina gave the audience a vivid presentation of the story. Dakshina ended her show with a tillana composed by M. Balamurali Krishna in the raga Dwijavanti.

Dakshina’s brilliance as a dancer must be attributed to the strict and extensive training imparted to her by her gurus Saroja Vaidyanathan and Rama Vaidyanathan. There was a certain revitalizing innocence seen in her dance. With a little more diligence and hard work, Dakshina will be on the path to becoming a top-notch dancer.

Gangadhar Pradhan Samman Award

Sruti’s senior contributors Leela Venkataraman and Dr. Sunil Kothari were honoured with the Guru Gangadhar Samman by the Orissa Dance Academy in February 2017 during the Dhauli-Kalinga Mahotsav in Odisha.

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Monday, 22 May 2017

Remembering Fiddle Govindaraja Pillai

By P N Muralidharan

Chennai Fine Arts celebrated the 105th birth anniversary of renowned violin maestro Mayavaram Govindaraja Pillai on Friday, 12th May at Srinivasa Sastri hall in Luz. Earlier CFA had also celebrated his birth centenary in the year 2012, in which a short documentary on him was presented. 

On the occasion yesterday, three students learning at the CFA Academy were presented the musical instrument Nagasvaram. These students are trained by Vidwan Kundrathur T. Venkatesan who is a faculty of CFA. The instruments were sponsored by the Mayavaram ‘Fiddle’ Govindaraja Pillai Trust founded by Shri. Shanmughanathan, son in-law of Govindaraja Pillai. Vidwan Seshampatti Sivalingam presided over the function and presented the instruments. This initiative is to encourage the students to learn sincerely and achieve big. The function was followed by the violin duet concert of Dr M Lalitha and M Nandini. Beginning with Abhogi varnam in four speeds, the duo presented sarasiruhasana in Nattai (Puliyur Duraiswamy Iyer), Siddhiswaraya in Neelambari (Muthuswami Deekshitar), Paraloka in Mandhari and Nannu kanna thalli in Sindhu Kannada besides the main piece Etavunara in Kalyani (all three by Tyagaraja). KH Vineeth, Mrdangam and S Sunil Kumar, Kanjira were the accompanists. The concert which lasted two hours witnessed a full house audience. 

(Left to right in the photo:  S Nithyasree - Secretary, Chennai Fine Arts, PN Muralidharan - Founder, Chennai Fine Arts, Kundrathur T Venkatesan - Nagasvaram Faculty, Chennai Fine Arts, D Rajeswaran - student, S Kishore - student, vidwan Seshampatti Sivalingam, Shri. Shanmuganathan - Founder Mayavaram 'Fiddle' Govindaraja Pillai Trust, Mohana krishnan - student).

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Friday, 19 May 2017

PS Narayanan is no more

Sruti's publisher succumbs to prolonged illness

By V Ramnarayan

Deeply saddened to share the news of the passing away today of my cousin PS Narayanan (75), one of the most talented cricketers of my time, a key member of the champion Jolly Rovers team of the 1960s, a gentle human being, and devout husband and parent, leaving behind his wife Lakshmi, son Sundar Raman, daughter Abhirami, daughter-in-law and son-in-law, and granddaughters.

Narayanan succeeded his late father PN Sundaresan, retired Sports Editor of The Hindu, as Publisher of Sruti magazine and played an important role in the running of the magazine in a crucial period. He'll be sorely missed in family circles, where he was a pillar of support to many. His family can be contacted at 24321765. Address: ''Sreshta Kalyanpur,'' HD Raja Street, Eldams Road, Chennai 18.

Generation Next

By Nandini Ramani

Uma Nambudripad Sathya Narayana

Uma Nambudripad Sathya Narayana, a disciple of Chitra Visweswaran, is a talented and committed dancer. With her proficiency in Carnatic vocal music, she is also shaping up as a good vocalist for dance. This has added a further dimension to her interpretation of the mimetic aspects of Bharatanatyam.

At the age of six, Uma started learning Bharatanatyam in Nagpur, from Sreemathy, a disciple of Lalita Srinivasan of Bengaluru. Later, while in Delhi, she also learnt Kuchipudi under the tutelage of the duo Vanasree and Jayarama Rao.

Uma’s passion for Bharatanatyam led her to Chennai when she received the CCRT scholarship from the Ministry of Tourism and Culture. She enrolled under Chitra Visweswaran, renowned exponent of the Vazhuvoor style. Since then Uma has put in years of dedicated work with her teacher, in exploring the nuances of her guru’s style. Uma has the maturity to assimilate what she learns and observes, and is able to express them in her own recitals.

Uma’s innate talent for vocal music was first nurtured by Rajeswari Neelakantan of Nagpur. After moving to Chennai she learnt vocal music from the multi-talented R. Visweswaran (C-vocalist, vocal accompanist for dance, and H-santoor artist). With a CCRT scholarship for vocal music, Uma learnt the nuances of voice culture and the regular repertoire, apart from training in dance music. As a beneficiary of the training programme for Dance Music, of the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi, Uma has honed her skills in classical music and dance. She regularly assisted Visweswaran in Chitra’s concerts, in India and abroad. Uma received holistic training in the arts at the Chidambaram Academy for Performing Arts (CAPA) run by Chitra and Visweswaran. She learnt the art of nattuvangam, stagecraft, and dance theory. Uma is among the few young dancers with a sound knowledge of music for dance. Presently she is undergoing intensive training in vocal music with A.S. Murali.

Uma has presented solo Bharatanatyam recitals at most of the well known cultural organisations in Chennai, other cities in India, and also abroad. She participated in the Swarna Nritya Pratibha festival organised by SNA. She plays an active role in the dance productions of her teacher which are staged nationally and internationally.

Uma’s pleasing stage presence, firm grip over the picturesque nuances of the dance technique, ebullient nritta, and eloquent abhinaya mark her as a committed torchbearer of the Vazhuvoor school. Her abhinaya is enriched by her understanding of various aspects of vocal music.

Uma is a “B” Grade artist of Doordarshan. She is a recipient of many youth awards including the Yuva Kala Bharati award (for all rounder in Bharatanatyam, nattuvangam and vocal) from Bharat Kalachar. She is a senior faculty member at the Chidambaram Academy where she assists her guru in training and guiding the students. Uma’s passion for the arts enables her to simultaneously pursue her own artistic goals with dedication to her guru and the sampradaya.

(Nandini Ramani is a Bharatanatyam exponent, teacher, writer and keen follower of classical dancers young and old)

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar - Buy Now

Thursday, 18 May 2017

A partial success

By V Ramnarayan

Prof. S. Swaminathan
Subramaniam Swaminathan retired in 2000 as professor of mechanical engineering from IIT Delhi, where he served for more than three decades. An expert on several aspects of Indian culture and heritage, Swaminathan coordinated SPIC MACAY concerts within IIT Delhi for several years. He is the author of the illustrated book, Mahabalipuram, Unfinished Poetry in Stone and a founder of the Tamil Heritage Group in Chennai.

Kiran Seth was four years my junior in the faculty at IIT Delhi. The son of a mathematician, Kiran is a brilliant mathematician, too, specialising in Industrial Engineering. We all know that he was inspired by a dhrupad concert by the Dagar Brothers while he was a Ph.D. scholar in the US. He plunged into the mission of taking Indian classical music to young people while he was on the faculty of IIT Delhi.

Kiran was very good at creating a buzz about classical music, making it fashionable to go to concerts at a time when young people were generally embarrassed to be even seen at such events.

He did very good academic work at IIT, but was not very ambitious in his professional career. He is a charismatic person who has remained a confirmed bachelor and has devoted considerable time to his interest in promoting classical music and SPIC MACAY (Society for Promotion of Indian Classical Music And Culture Amongst Youth), a smart name he coined.

As a professor with some clout at IIT Delhi, I was able to help Kiran by coordinating the concerts he organised for over two decades – in fact till my retirement in 2000. I also attended all the concerts inside IIT as well as Carnatic music kutcheri-s in the city. Kiran brought the topmost names in Hindustani and Carnatic music to SPIC MACAY concerts but made no serious attempt to demystify it for young listeners. In contrast, I enjoyed doing that not only in the field of music, but in Indian culture and heritage as a whole. In fact, I had been doing that for a few years.

“Modern ethnic” is how I would describe the aura SPIC MACAY created. Young women, who were comfortable in jeans were now sporting ghagra-choli, sitting on the floor of hostel rooms after lighting lamps with appropriate reverence. There was much hype about SPIC MACAY concerts and its volunteers gained quick glamour in the eyes of their peers. Though the whole experience was an elaborate ritual, many genuine music lovers joined. Many of the teacher-coordinators did not know what to coordinate.

SPIC MACAY events were generally haphazardly organised, with different students deputed to receive musicians at the airport and look after their stay, but the schedules of the programmes were pretty much vague.

I generally did not approve of the easy informality of student volunteers who addressed Kiran by first name. I also felt that not enough care was taken to make camps – like the Meerut Mela one year - safe and comfortable for boys and girls travelling and living together.

Kiran Seth and SPIC MACAY have definitely introduced classical music to a large number of young people. To sustain the effort for 35 years has been very praiseworthy. Has the movement, however, succeeded in creating a large audience base for classical music? I am not so sure.

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

An exquisite Pallava Nataraja

By Chithra Madhavan

Sculptures of Nataraja of the Chola period in stone and in metal are often seen in temples and museums. In fact, the image of this deity has come to be associated mostly with the Cholas as Nataraja was their family deity. Not many are aware that such images of the preceding Pallava era are found in some of their temples. There are a few Nataraja bronzes of this period as well.

Among the best known are those adorning the walls of the famous eighth century Kailasanatha temple in Kanchipuram. Much older than these is a stone sculpture of Nataraja in a cave temple in Siyamangalam, a village approximately 80 kilometres from Chennai, in Thellar taluk, Tiruvannamalai district. Dating back to the seventh century AD and belonging to the reign of Mahendravarman I Pallava (c. 600-630 AD), this cave has an inscription which mentions the original name of this Siva temple as Avanibhajana Pallaveswaram. Incidentally, Avanibhajana was one of the titles of Mahendravarman I. Today, this cave shrine, enlarged over the centuries, is called the Sthambheswara or Tunandar temple.

The carving of Nataraja, small in size, but exquisite in finish, is found on one of the huge pillars in the Siyamangalam cave temple. Archaeologists have dated it as one of the earliest sculptures of this deity in South India. Identified by art historian C. Sivaramamurti as Siva dancing in bhujanganchita, this Nataraja has the lower right palm in ‘abhaya hasta’ and lower left hand in ‘dola hasta’ to the side of the hips. In the upper right hand is a bowl of fire and in the upper left he holds an axe. The sculptor has depicted the whirling motion of this celestial dancer with his hair flying and garments flowing to one side. You can see a seated Sivagana, in the foreground to Nataraja’s left, playing on a vertical drum with both hands, while another gana to the right, carved in profile (slightly damaged) seems to be either holding the cymbals or pressing his palms together in anjali hasta. The attributes of Siva – the crescent moon on the matted locks and the third eye on the forehead are visible, but the dwarf or apasmara purusha underneath the right foot is not seen in this sculpture. A coiled snake with a raised hood is carved underneath the upraised left foot.

Indeed, a delectable little sculpture of the Divine Dancer carved by the dextrous fingers of an unknown sculptor of the seventh century.

(The author is a historian focussing on temple art and architecture)

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Generation Next

By Nandini Ramani

Janaki Rangarajan

Janaki Rangarajan is a US-based Bharatanatyam dancer who trained first with Madhavi Chadrasekhar of Tiruchi and then for about a decade with Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam. Since her arangetram in 1993, she has performed for numerous organisations in Chennai and other metros and at well-known festivals in the country. She participated in many group productions of Padma Subrahmanyam while she was member of the teaching staff at Nrithyodaya from 1993 to 2001.

Marriage to Aneal Krishnamurthy, who is also involved in cultural pursuits, took Janaki to the U.S.A., where her dedication to her art received further support. In about a decade, Janaki has performed in renowned festivals like the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Festival Of India, and World Arts, Music and Dance Festival. She runs her dance school Nritya Niketan in Alexandria, U.S.A.

Janaki is a vibrant dancer who has intelligently blended the essence of her guru’s Bharatanrityam into the regular stream of Bharatnatyam, to evolve an impressive style of her own. Her dance is marked by well-chiselled delineation of both nritta and abhinaya. Her well conceived technique enables her to mould her physique effortlessly into the karana-s as and when appropriate. She weaves in pauses and sculpturesque poses into her dance with ease and fluidity even as she performs difficult adavu-s with firm footwork, creating contrasting textures of grace and firmness, of refined talent and visual beauty. Janaki is an empanelled artist of the ICCR and graded artist of the Doordarshan. She is the recipient of many awards for young dancers like Yuva Kala Bharati and Natanamamani.

Her meticulous planning and presentation of performances are a result of not only her rigorous training, practice, and commitment to the dance form, but also of her high academic proficiency. A scientist with a doctorate in molecular genetics, Janaki is a recipient of many gold medals and honours for her academic attainments.

Apart from successfully completing diploma, post diploma and certificate courses in dance, Janaki has learnt Carnatic vocal music from D.K. Nagarajan, and veena from Kamala Viswanathan. Her understanding of the inter-relation of music and dance add a special appeal to her artistry.

Janaki visits India every year for the music and dance season and performs some 15 recitals in the four months beginning October. She has something different to offer in every performance, and that is where her success lies. This hard working, passionate dancer, has all the potential to rise high and create a place for herself in the vibrant dance scene in the years to come.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Generation Next

By KS Kalidas

Sriranjani Santhanagopalan

Successful musicians in the past were generally not in favour of their wards taking up music as their profession. The reasons were the hardships they had faced in their career and also the uncharitable comparisons that people often made between them and their offsprings. Till about three decades ago, concert opportunities were quite limited, which discouraged youngsters from taking up music as their career. Of course, the constant ‘sound of music’ at home did rub off on the children and they became quite knowledgeable, though they did not necessarily become performers.

Things have changed to some extent now. With the increase in performing opportunities, growing independence and self-confidence of the younger generation, and the rigours of the profession getting mitigated considerably, we do have youngsters from music families taking up careers in music.

One such young musician is 22-year old vocalist Sriranjani, daughter of the popular musician Neyveli Santhanagopalan. Santhanagopalan, the most important disciple of Madurai T.N. Seshagopalan, has over the years, evolved a style of his own, emphasising bhava with influence drawn from such musicians as Tanjavur Sankara Iyer. Sriranjani’s earliest inspiration was undoubtedly her father, but while growing up, she was deeply attracted to the music of the late Madurai Mani, Semmangudi and Ramnad Krishnan whose recordings are now freely available with collectors and on the Internet. Her current favourite is S. Sowmya.

Sriranjani started giving public concerts in 2008 and immediately attracted attention. She sang in as many as twenty concerts that year including programmes in major city sabha-s. In the following years, opportunities to perform grew exponentially. Today she has performed not only in most Chennai sabha-s but also in various cities in the country. She has won awards as the best junior musician in sabha-s like Narada Gana Sabha, Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha, Indian Fine Arts Society and Sri Krishna Gana Sabha.

As her father has close association with a number of pakkavadyam artists who drop in at his home frequently, Sriranjani has the good fortune of practising extensively with violin and mridanga artists, thereby gaining experience that gives her a certain confidence and comfort level in her public concerts. She was a runner-up in the ‘Carnatic Idol’ contest conducted by a popular TV channel. Just four years after she started performing, some sabha-s are offering her the senior slot to present concerts of two-and-a-half-hour duration with senior violinists like Narmadha, Usha Rajagopalan, and Padma Shankar and senior mridangists like J. Vaidhyanathan, Arun Prakash and Mannarkoil Balaji. In order to keep her voice in fine fettle, she does pranayamam and ‘akaara sadhakam’ daily.

Santhanagopalan is a much sought after teacher of music too. Sriranjani assists him in taking classes in person and over the Internet. There are occasions when she learns from her father over Skype while they are in different parts of their house, says Sriranjani. Such is the hold of the Internet on our lives today!

Sriranjani is academically brilliant too. A school topper in 2007, she also stood first in the state in accountancy and business studies in the B. Com. examinations. Though she could easily have secured admission in professional courses such as engineering, medicine or management, her commitment to music led her to choosing commerce, a comparatively ‘soft course’. Sriranjani is now doing a masters course in music under the distance education programme of Madras University and hopes to pursue her studies to the Ph.D level.

(The author is a mridanga vidwan, connoisseur of classical music, and a keen follower of young talent)

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Friday, 12 May 2017

Sarangi playing needs dedication

Ramesh Misra

By Meena Banerjee

The sarangi, despite being closest to the human voice and by far the best instrument to emote the gayaki-ang, is rarely heard now. But in some important concerts in Kolkata in the past few years, the sarangi’s sensitive strains were noticeably audible while accompanying khayal-s, thumri-s, tabla solo and Kathak dance. The instrument was also in the news in this region when the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi award was bestowed upon its eminent exponent Pandit Ramesh Misra.

“This award, presented to me by the President of India, will definitely encourage younger sarangi players. This is Ma Kali’s blessings. My listeners have raised me to this level. I am grateful to Kolkata,” said a visibly moved Ramesh Misra. For a person belonging to Uttar Pradesh, he speaks flawless Bengali, revealing his long association with the city of joy. “Yes, when my father Ramnath Misra joined the Rabindra Bharati University as a faculty member, we shifted from Benaras, my birthplace, in 1957. I grew up here. Then from 1985, I started touring abroad. The sarangi’s amazing resemblance to the human voice intrigued Westerners. They started showing interest and that made me shift base to New York. I have a few American and Japanese students there. But I have a small house in the suburbs of Kolkata and I return home every winter.”

“I am a student by nature. I love teaching and performing and keep learning even during concerts. I love to pick up everything that inspires my imagination. And since my instrument is literally ‘sau-rangi’ – with a hundred hues, it absorbs it all lovingly.”

“It all started pretty early. My father initiated me into sarangi playing, then my uncles Hanuman Prasad Misra and the late Gopal Misra – the finest musicians of the Benaras gharana – trained me with great care. Later I observed and kept learning the finer nuances of every gharana and each musician’s style while accompanying them on the sarangi. This is absolutely essential for an accompanying artist, even for a soloist, for the simple reason that the sarangi is capable of emoting anything associated with vocalism. Gatkari (the whole gamut of instrument playing) too is not beyond its reach. Many play in the gatkari-ang these days. But jod and jhala-playing is a different game altogether.”

“There was a time when no dhrupad recital was complete without sarangi accompaniment. But the dhrupad-ang is almost extinct now. To understand all these aspects better I continue to learn from Pandit Ravi Shankar.”

Misra’s profound knowledge of Indian classical, folk and light music and his vast experience of music performance and recording are amazing. His mesmerising melodies can be heard in sitar maestro Ravi Shankar’s Live in Kremlin and the Grammy-nominated album Legacy produced by sarod maestro Ali Akbar Khan. He also participated in Aerosmith’s much acclaimed album Nine Lives and in the production of Concert for George at Royal Albert Hall in London.

“The tonal quality of my sarangi is different,” Misra smiled happily. “I am glad it impresses the listener. I worked hard on it. I like to keep it as intimately tender as possible. To get the desired results I went on experimenting with the strings. Some Afghani friends helped me with gut-strings of the harp and the rabab. A German student of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan gave me a variety of strings and I kept on trying. Now I can say that my sarangi is different. I do not mind sharing my secret with you. Nobody asked me about it earlier.”

“Apart from this aspect, my sarangi remains the same old, traditional instrument – extremely demanding because of its fretless nature and its playing technique, which involves bending the finger and working with the nail, next to the cuticle. The third finger is used most often while playing, the middle and index fingers next. On rare occasions, the little finger is used. Melody is the most important aspect of this instrument played with a bow made of horse-hair. But virtuosity too plays an important role as the musician has to prove his worth – sometimes in a small filler piece while playing for commercial recordings or during the solo rounds of a classical recital.”

“Going by the response from the listeners, I do not believe the sarangi has lost its charm. It is an ancient instrument that reached its zenith during the Moghul period. Even dhrupad exponents needed sarangi accompaniment. The socioeconomic changes pushed it towards the singing girls’ quarters which were considered infamous. It was the most convenient instrument to support singers. You could change the scale easily, though it demands tremendous practice. That is how thumri became associated with the sarangi.”

“Since it is a difficult instrument to master, very few come forward to learn the sarangi. Besides, accompanists always get sidelined by the main artists. Soloists like Pandit Ram Narayan, Ustad Sultan Khan, Dhruba Ghosh and a few others have made a lot of difference in this regard. Roshan Ali’s technique is extremely sweet. He is the only veteran sarangi player Kolkata has now. But he tends to lose contact with his own place and fraternity. The next generation is coming in the form of their sons and nephews. So is my son Rohan. A few young sarangi players like Sarvar Hussain show great promise. Musicians like Pankaj Misra and Ramlal need to learn other idioms of classical music like dhrupad and dhamar.”

“I find that foreigners make very dedicated students. They give it their best shot, whereas here in India, the students keep asking for more palta-s. The guru’s assessment does not count. There is lack of humility; or perhaps, monetary problems force youngsters to chase organisers even before completing their lessons. My earnest appeal to aspiring musicians is: “Continue to learn constantly”.

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Generation Next

By KS Kalidas

Aditi Krishnaprakash

Twenty two-year old violinist Aditi Krishnaprakash from Mysore, only child of her parents, was allowed full freedom to pursue her interest in music. The parents are passionate lovers of classical music. Aditi’s maternal granduncle was the well-known gottuvadya vidwan of yesteryear, Varahaswamy Iyengar.

Captivated by the vioilin even as a child of four after she heard a Hindustani violin concert of N. Rajam, Aditi started violin lessons with H.K. Narasimha Murthy, a staff artist in AIR-Mysore and a disciple of violin maestro M.S. Gopalakrishnan. This lasted for about twelve years. Chitravina Ravikiran used to perform often at Mysore and Aditi was greatly attracted to his music. She took the liberty of writing to him directly, expressing the wish to learn from him and was readily accepted as a student. For the past six years she has been shuttling between Mysore and Chennai for classes whenever she can take a break from her studies. She does not like learning through Skype and believes that the only way to learn music is directly from the guru on a one-to-one basis. She considers Ravikiran a complete musician-cum-guru and feels that nobody can explain the finer points of music better than he. Among the many compositions that Ravikiran has taught her are some of the most beautiful songs of Oothukadu Venkata Kavi, the propagation of which is his priority.

Aditi is quite content being a violinist rather than turn into a vocalist, a fad we see often these days. She also prefers being an accompanist rather than play solo. However, she does play solo concerts when specifically asked by organisers. Besides many cities and towns in Karnataka, she has also performed in many other places in India. Chennai too has featured her in many concerts. She has, among others, accompanied several senior artists like R.K. Srikantan, S. Shankar, O.S. Arun, Bhushani Kalyanaraman and Sangeetha Sivakumar. She is a recipient of scholarships from the Dept. of Culture, Govt. of India, the Sangeeta Nrutya Academy and NCERT. She was adjudged the best violinist in the Spirit of Youth series of the Music Academy, Madras in 2007, and was also awarded the T.T. Rangaswamy Memorial Award for the best concert in the junior category in 2008. She received the best accompanist award from the Bangalore Gayana Samaja in 2005. She was graded ‘B’ in AIR directly after her success in its music competition in 2007 and in August 2011 she appeared for upgradation and was placed in ‘A’ grade, bypassing the intermediate ‘B-High’ grade, something that is rare.

Academically, she holds an engineering degree in computer science. How well she will engage in two careers simultaneously – music and engineering – only time will tell.

(The author is a mridanga vidwan, connoisseur of classical music, and a keen follower of young talent)

Birthdays & Anniversaries

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Tuesday, 9 May 2017

A cellist in Hindustani music

By Shrinkhla Sahai

Initially trained as a cellist in Western classical music, Saskia Rao-de Haas’s tryst with north Indian classical music took her to varied musical shores. While her virtuosity with the instrument developed under cello maestros Tibor de Machula and Ubaldo Arcari, her musical moorings expanded to new vistas under the mentorship of Hariprasad Chaurasia, Sumati Mutatkar, D.K. Datar, Deepak Chowdhury, Kaustav Roy and Shubhendra Rao.

In this conversation she reflects on her instrument, experiments, research and her journey towards a unique musical identity.

How did your musical journey start?

I was born in Holland and most people in my family are in music. My parents play the piano, my grandfather played the cello and my grandmother was a singer. When I was seven years old, I could choose my own instrument. I was deeply fond of the cello and I wanted to learn it.

Every instrumentalist has a special relationship with the instrument she plays. How has your connection with the cello developed over time?

Interestingly, the first children’s cello I received when I started playing, is from the same violin builder in Holland who has made my Indian cello that I play now. I still remember my first cello; it was a 150-year old French instrument. The cello is a very comfortable instrument. The position is quite natural, you sit with the instrument and give it a big hug. For an artist, your instrument is an extension of yourself. It expresses everything I have to say much better than I could ever do in words. For the first 12 years of cello playing I had never heard of Indian classical music. I was involved in learning more, enhancing my technique. I believed that Western classical music was the one and only true art form in the world. Then one day in my musicology class the professor played Indian classical music. It was dhrupad by the senior Dagar brothers, an alap in raga Yaman. I was fascinated by the slow unfolding of the raga. It immediately touched me and I decided to find out more about this music. Hariprasad Chaurasia was heading the department at the Conservatory of Rotterdam. I started learning more and consequently went to India in the 1990s, more as a researcher than a performer initially. I was fortunate to study under Dr. Sumati Mutatkar. She opened up a new world for me – her approach to music and her connection with each raga as a separate individual were inspiring. This interaction really sealed it for me, and I wanted to know a lot more. After returning to Rotterdam, I started practising this music very seriously, almost 10-15 hours a day for the next five years.

Would you say that you belong to the Maihar gharana?

If I reflect on my training, yes. My guru-s – Pt. Chaurasia, Pt. Shubhendra Rao and Pt. Deepak Chowdhury – belong to that gharana. The style of presenting the full alap jod jhala in this gharana really appealed to me. The approach to each raga is different. For instance, if I were playing Kafi, I wouldn’t play the longer alap but go into the vilambit Teentaal and faster compositions after that. The whole structure and build-up of the music is very enjoyable.

How did you conceive the idea of playing Indian classical music on the cello?

In one of my learning sessions at Rotterdam, Hariprasad Chaurasia advised me to create a style that suited my instrument and where my individuality could be fully expressed. I followed his guidance and started experimenting in that direction.

What technical changes did you bring about in the instrument?

I would say that the instrument grew up with me. We started with baby steps in the world of music and today it has grown into a fully new instrument. The first step was when I saw my teacher, Kaustav Roy, sitting on the floor on my first lesson. I was supposed to sit on the chair to play the cello and I felt deeply uncomfortable. I didn’t want to be sitting on the chair looking down at my teacher. I knew that I had to sit on the floor. By the next lesson I found a way and I still use that method. I tie a kind of belt around the cello and just sit on that so that it doesn’t slip away. With the main cello there are four playing strings. I felt I was missing two things: the first one was the resonating strings and I wanted that to be part of my instrument, so I experimented with that. Secondly, the cello strings are heavy and the distances are relatively long. When I practised a gamaka, it was very heavy on my hand because of the friction and spaces. I decided to use a smaller cello and that made a huge difference. I also added one extra high playing string.

Certain aspects of Indian music like zamzama, murki and other embellishments were perhaps not very easy to express on the cello?

Absolutely! All these embellishments are essential to Indian music. It is often said that Indian music is not so much about the notes but what is between the notes – meend for instance. The nuances are important. You can practise something a million times but unless you feel it is your own, you can’t be true to it. That is a process and it becomes part of who you are as an artist. For that, apart from practising, you need to listen to a lot of music and discover your expression and the expression of your instrument.

When was your first performance of Indian music?

In 2001, in New Delhi. The response was very warm. There has been a certain amount of scepticism since it is a new instrument and the artist is not from India. But when people hear the music, it surprises them. I have received tremendous support from hardcore traditionalists and purists of this music.

Any performance memory that you really cherish?

I was performing at the Maihar festival. An elderly gentleman who had heard all the legendary masters of Indian music, was completely fascinated with my music. He came to me and said, “Who says that Saraswati is Indian!” It was incredibly inspiring. There are many such cherished memories of performances. No one may actually say anything to you, but you can feel it when you have connected deeply with the audience, the instrument, with others on stage. Then you move out of that space of just being a musician and into a larger realm. It could be an entire concert, 20 seconds of a performance or even alone in my music room. Those are the moments that make the journey beautiful.

How did you come up with the idea of a string quartet for Indian music?

When I first moved to India and started training in Indian classical music seriously, I didn’t even listen to any other genre of music for six years so that I could internalise it as part of myself. When Shubhendra and I got together, we would practise and compose together. That’s how our project East Marries West came into existence. I felt more confident about my abilities as a composer. It had always been a dream of mine to have Indian classical music in a string quartet format, not as a completely composed piece, but to keep the Western ensemble format and blend that with the Indian raga and tala system. We did not use the tabla or tanpura. All these different roles were performed within the string quartet and a different set of musical concepts is used here. For instance, instead of the tanpura, we use the ancient concept of moorchhana, where you modulate without changing the scale. You get a completely different atmosphere. I would love to repeat this performance in India.

[The Madras String Quartet, led by V.S. Narasimhan, and including a cellist, has been performing Carnatic music for quite sometime. See Sruti 309 for cover story. – Editor]

I am reminded of Baba Allaudin Khan’s Maihar band. Is there a conceptual connect with that vision?

That is very interesting, I believe he got these ideas when he was in Kolkata. At that time there were other people experimenting with building Indian instruments in Western ensembles. The cello was actually used in the Maihar band. I was researching about the history of the cello and its arrival in India. There are different dates and in Kolkata it is supposed to have arrived in early 18th century with the Britishers. On the shipping list it is mentioned as ‘bass viol’ which is the predecessor of the cello. Interestingly, the cellists from the Maihar band used to hold their instrument in the position in which bass viol was held. Consequently the viol was used in theatre and maybe that is how Baba connected with it and introduced it into the band.

You have trained with different guru-s and you play an instrument that is unique and new to Indian music. What is your teaching methodology?

I love to teach because it forces me to verbalise what I have found out in my own practice. That is very helpful. I usually follow the systematic approach of Maihar gharana. One aspect I find very significant is the use of small compositions and lot of sargam-s. A sargam made by a master musician can be really beautiful. Baba’s sargam-s, for instance, are such gems of music, simple and beautiful. Chopin in Western classical music wrote many etudes; we can say that the sargam is conceptually parallel to that. You learn a lot of the musicality, the raga, the tala, all at the same time through sargam-s. This is one element that is quite specific.

What is the focus of your Ph.D. research?

It is part of a performance-oriented research involving innovative composition, concert series, recording and a text. I will be focusing on the journey of the Indian cello in the perspective of Indian music as a global art form.

Tell us about your upcoming album.

The album called The Indian Cello is a pure Indian classical album. I have played raga-s Bheempalasi, Behag and Bibhas. Tabla is by Durjay Bhowmick. It is my first full length solo album with the Indian cello. It will be produced by Underscore Records and Pt. Rajan and Sajan Mishra will be releasing it. Alongside, I have also organised a panel discussion on Indian music as a global platform.

(Shrinkhla Sahai is a radio professional, arts researcher, and writer)

Birthdays & Anniversaries

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Monday, 8 May 2017

Remembering Veenapani

By Gowri Ramnarayan

(First published two years ago)

What can you say when a friend dies of heart failure at age 67? An artiste with a singular aesthetic vision, intriguing creativity, amazing originality? A theatreperson whose intuitive grasp was matched by her intellectual acuity? A woman whose spiritual orientation did not distance, but sensitized her to the traumas of the material world? Whose one-of-a-kind theatre strove not for emotional catharsis, but epiphanic wisdom?

Veenapani Chawla’s pluralistic vision came from many fields. With postgraduate degrees in history and political philosophy, courses in piano and singing, voice training in London and theatre apprenticeship in Denmark, Veenapani acquired skills in several Indian performance traditions -- Mayurbhanj Chhau, Kalaripayattu, Koodiyattam and dhrupad.

When I first met young Veenapani in old Madras, I found her glance as arresting as her tasseled choli. We exchanged giggles as only adolescents can. Decades later, when we reconnected -- as theatre personality and journalist -- we instantly slipped back into that effortless camaraderie. I saw Veenapani was engaged not merely in creating theatre “shows”, brilliant as they were, but in building a modern performance methodology steeled by traditional Asian theories and techniques.

She told me, “Night after night, Koodiyattom maestro Ammanur Madhava Chakkiar refracted emotions with the same power and freshness. Watching him I realized that, by varying multiple patterns of breath, we can depict different shades of emotions accurately. Fear can even momentarily stop breath. Japanese Noh drama and Koodiyattam have honed breathing techniques for centuries. If we could create a hybrid methodology from different traditions, what infallible means we shall have to texture each moment in performance!”

With the next breath, she could say, “Wow!” as she bit into a piping hot potato bonda, dipped in roasted khuskhus, fresh from the kitchen, and add with a conspiratorial smile, “Shall we watch “Kakka Kakka” (a Tamil thriller!) tonight?” All her scholarship could not dislodge her childlike joy in small, unexpected things.

I knew the journey had not been easy. Veenapani had to virtually squeeze water out of rock. Her indefatigable fundraising efforts managed to establish her Adishakti theatre commune in Pondicherry, with residential quarters for the repertory, and a gem of a theatre. She conducted workshops to exchange knowledge with diverse experts, including the yearly Ramayana symposium. She had the endearing generosity to offer her space to other needy theatre persons for developing their work. 

Veenapani’s internationally acclaimed theatre has been described as an amalgam of myth, metaphor and magic. Certainly much of her scriptwriting and directorial work reinvented myths with multidimensional meanings. Her “Impressions of Bhima” place the archetype in a subaltern landscape, with cartoon and caricature to inscape his psychical evolution. “Ganapati” reinterprets creation/creativity, by retelling primordial birth myths in a cyclical structure, from multiple perspectives. Her interactions with rhythms of many kinds, genres and folk traditions, found new narrative resonances in this play of few words.

In “Brhannala”, incomparable archer Arjuna crosses the gender divide to become a woman teacher of dance and music. Focusing on his name “Savyasachi” (ambidexterous), Veenapani melds science (Einstein), psychology (Niels Bohr), metaphysics (Sri Aurobindo) in actor Vinay Kumar’s superb movements, gestures and expressions. She shapes her own metaphors -- modern and universal -- to prove that polarities can be resolved in a startlingly new apprehension of reality.

Veenapani belonged to the tradition of epic makers who strove to dispel darkness, discover dharma. She embraced modern technology, relished layering hybridity. Pioneering such theatre was experimenting with truth, heightening sensuous and spiritual awareness.

Fortunately, Veenapani had the foresight to delegate responsibility, respect creativity in co-workers. Surely these legatees will find the adishakti, elemental power, to continue the quest. 

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Generation Next

By KS Kalidas

N.C. Bharadwaj

(Reproduced from Sruti 342, March 2013)

Parents do not normally take three-year old children to music concerts, but Bharadwaj was an exception. He not only listened keenly to the concert but kept talam even if the kutcheri lasted a full three hours. And during the tani avartanam, he would try to match the strokes by drumming on his tiny knees, without fidgeting or running around the auditorium as kids of his age would do. Back home after the concert, he would pick up the nearest pot available to continue his brand of tani avartanam to his heart’s content. His parents were not trained in music but were keen listeners and on seeing their child’s propensity towards percussion, they enrolled him under mridanga vidwan Srivanchiyam Gopalan at the age of six. After the death of his guru in 2000, Bharadwaj, whose family had by now moved to Nanganallur, was placed under the tutelage of Nanganallur Sriram, a senior disciple of vidwan Karaikudi Mani. Bharadwaj continues to learn from Sriram. Intensive coaching lasted for about six years and, as early as 2004, Sriram, after observing the innate talent of the boy, asked him to participate in mridangam competitions held by various sabhas. Over the next two years, the boy won prizes in almost all the major sabhas in Chennai like the Indian Fine Arts Society, Music Academy, Mylapore Fine Arts Club and Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, to name a few.

Today at 20, Bharadwaj has decided to take up mridangam-playing as his profession – a timely and appropriate decision, going by the demands from sabhas and vidwans in Chennai and elsewhere for his participation in their concerts. He has a busy concert schedule which has already taken him to various cities in India, as well as Malaysia and Singapore. Among the senior artists he has accompanied are vidwans N. Ramani, T.V. Sankaranarayanan, Lalgudi G.J.R. Krishnan and Vijayalakshmi, Bombay Jayashri, Vijay Siva, Ranjani and Gayatri, S.P. Ramh, and Subhashini Parthasarathy. The number of up-and-coming artists he has played for is legion.

For his mridangam accompaniment, he has won awards in famous organisations like the Music Academy, Narada Gana Sabha, Bharat Kalachar (Yuva Kala Bharathi), and Sri Thyaga Brahma Gana Sabha. His playing is characterised by precision of strokes giving rise to clarity, balance between the ‘valantalai’ and ‘toppi’ and melody (sunadam).

When Bharadwaj was but twelve, he won the first prize in the event Ragam Sangeetam conducted by Raj TV, and came to the notice of talent hunter ‘Abaswaram’ Ramjhi. Bharadwaj was extensively featured in ‘Issai Mazhalai’ concerts which brought him wide recognition and popularity. Since then, there has been no looking back for him.

He literally worships mridanga maestros Palani Subramania Pillai and Palghat Mani Iyer whose recordings he constantly listens to. His favourites in the present generation are vidwans Karaikudi Mani and Trichy Sankaran.

A very bright future awaits this young man.

(The author is a mridanga vidwan, connoisseur of classical music, and a keen follower of young talent)