Wednesday, 28 February 2018

The Rama story as embellished by Kamban

The story of Rama, perhaps, began in the collective unconscious of the ancient tribes, who inhabited India in the distant past.. The story could have remained as an oral tradition for a long time that later found expression in a written form in the Buddha Jataka tales (5th century BCE). It was an essential part of the spiritual mythography of Buddhism. It was a simple and straightforward fable, wherein Rama represented one of the evolutionary stages of Gautama, the Buddha, before he attained Nirvana. There was only one twist in the story, the self- exile of Rama to the Himalayas to avoid the wrath of his step-mother. The Buddhist version scrupulously avoided war and violence befitting its satvic tradition

Valmiki, hailed as Atikavi (‘the first poet’), collected the various myths and legends of his time, obtained in the different parts of the Indian sub-continent and integrated them with the Rama story, bringing to bear upon the narration a thematic continuity, set in a vast canvass that spread over from Nepal in the north to SriLanka down under. Because of this inclusive setting, all the regions identified themselves with the epic, each in its own distinctive way, that when it got rendered in the language of the region, this impact of various cultural and linguistic diversities helped the story acquire a pan-Indian character. Ramayana became the intrinsic aspect of the Indian cultural psyche.

In the West, when they brought out Homer and Virgil in the European languages, the yardstick that was used to consider the quality of such works was their fidelity to the original in form and content. In the Indian context, our cultural tradition conceded a certain amount of literary freedom to those who rendered the original in their languages because those who were engaged in this stupendous task, were, invariably poets in their own right.

Ramayana exists in thirteen languages of the country and in innumerable folk versions. Each one offers us, a distinctive regional flavour, that happily integrates with the main theme.

Kamban (12th century CE), who all that was the best in the Tamil literary tradition,( the Sangam classics belonging to the early centuries of the Christian era, Thirukural, the unparalleled literary manual for personal and social conduct, Cilappadikaram, the most elegant and sophisticated epic by a Chera prince called Ilango and most of all, the spontaneous devotional outpourings of the mystic poets of the bhakti period), chose to write the Rama story, not merely for ‘justifying the ways of God to man’ but out of‘sheer love for narrating the story’ and ‘ poetic tribute and respect for Valmiki, the Atikavi’, as he did declare at the beginning of the epic. But Kamban did not translate the Valmiki’s Ramayana but trans-created it with masterly and subtle structural changes to suit his own literary views and concepts, without offending the sequential order of narration in the original

Kamban was a conscious literary artist, who had this thing clear in his mind that what he proposed to write was a literary piece and not a religious work that was how Valmiki’s Ramayana came to be known, during the period of Kamban, though Valmiki might not have intended it so.. The commentators for the religious works, at the time of Kamban, profusely quoted from Valmiki to drive home their sectarian views, which could have, perhaps, unsettled Kamban that he decided his work should be uncompromisingly literary giving no leeway for religious hijacking.

Though Rama had begun to be worshipped as the incarnation of Vishnu by the time Kamban wrote Ramayana, he, in his invocation poems, did not refer to any sectarian deity, but saluted the One that went on creating, protecting and annihilating the Universe and which was an endless game by itself.. Throughout the epic at several places, he  referred to this One guiding principle of the Universe, which, he categorized as the Supreme Reality.

A romantic as well as a philosophical description of a dramatic incident occurring in the Rama story, as described by Kamban, could sum up his view on religion. Rama, as he was on his way to the court of Janaka, the beautiful women of Mithila rushed to their balconies to catch a view of this handsome young man. Those, who looked at his shoulder continued to be looking at it, because it was so beautiful. Those, who looked at his feet could not take away their stare elsewhere. And the same story with those, who caught a glimpse of his sinewy hands. No one saw the complete fascinating figure of the Ayodhya prince. Kamban did not stop with this romantic imagery. He declared that like the sectarian views of different religions on God that failed to comprehend the Oneness of the Ultimate Principle, the women of Mithila saw only one physical aspect of Rama and not his whole figure.

It is often said by the critics of the Rama legend, that whereas, Valmiki treated Rama as a human-being, the later poets who retold the story raised him to divinity by making him an incarnation of Vishnu. It is true that at the time Kamban wrote his Ramayana, Rama was worshipped as an avatara of Vishnu, but to the credit of Kamban it must be said he treated Rama as one of the most loveable human characters, who befriended all, high and low, as his fellow brethren irrespective of their station in life.

Guha, the hunter, who helped Rama cross the river, was so friendly and affectionate towards him that Kamban’s Rama, treating him as his equal told him, ‘ My brother Lakshmana is your younger brother, my wife Sita is your sister-in-law and all of us belong to the same fraternity’. In Valmiki’s Ramayana, one feels the comradeship between Rama and Guha as described by Kamban is somewhat missing. Rama’s love for Guha left such an impact on Sita, that, when she was imprisoned in Asokavana by Ravana, she recollected this incident in her nostalgic odyssey.

Kamban’s delineated even the minor characters with deft touches of psychological insights. He crafts Kumbakarna, the brother of Ravana, as a tragic hero torn between loyalty and justice, totally unlike the character as appearing in Valmiki’s Ramayana.

Kumbakarna was an uncouth figure, a man-mountain, a glutton and a demon in Valmiki’s Ramayana. But with Kamban’s golden touch, he emerged to dizzy heights of glory, becoming as great as Bishma Pithamaha and Radheya(Karna) in Mahabharata. As one sees Kamban’s  portrayal of Kumbakarna, he cannot but conclude that all these three characters(Kumbakarna , Bhishma and Radheya) were Destiny’s children, cursed, as they were, to fight for the wrong side. Towards presenting Kumbakarna this way, Kamban deviated from the original and set up a scene in which Vibhishana met Kumbakarna in the battle-field to request him to join Rama, as he was also opposed to the abduction of Sita by Ravana.

Kamban achieved two objectives by presenting this scene  One, Vibhishana had to be justified  in his action for deserting his brother and joining his enemy and the other ,the character of Kumbakarna had to be glorified, as an heroic man of great integrity, full of love and compassion for his brothers.

Refusing to join the Rama camp, Kamban’s Kumbakarna replied : ‘No. What you have done is right by joining Rama. Because you were always a peace-loving man and against all illegal battles. You tried your best to convince Ravana to leave Sita and avoid war, but he exiled you and threatened to kill you if you did not leave the country. In your case, it is a question of ideology. Right versus Wrong. For such people, love for the kin or country does not matter. People who stand by justice transcend such narrow barriers. But, I had been participating in all the wars that our brother was engaged, whether they were for right or wrong causes. True, I protested against this unethical behaviour of our brother in abducting another man’s wife. But, having fought with him all along, I cannot desert him and especially now, when he is facing defeat. It would be selfishness on my part to do so. So leave me now to face my fate. From this.moment we are not brothers, we are enemies. I will not hesitate to vanquish Rama’s army.. Life is transitory but values are eternal.’

At the time, when Kamban’s Kumbarna lay dying, he said to Rama: ‘ I request you to promise me two things. The first is to aim an arrow to throw my body into the sea, as I do not want my enemies to see my much mutilated body. Secondly, I leave my dear brother Vibhishana in your trust, as I know, he would be the first target for Ravana, when he arrives at the battle-field to fight with you.’

Kumbarkana’s defence of Vibhishana raises an issue in the modern text. What is patriotism? Were all the good citizens of Germany, who left their country during Hitler’s rule, unpatriotic? Kamban’s Kumbakarna has the answer; ‘People who stand by justice transcend such narrow barriers’ as patriotism, nationalism etc one may add.

Kamban’s concept of fraternity cut across not only the caste regulations, as we saw earlier as in the case of Guha, but national borders as well. Kamban continued expanding this theme of fraternity by making Rama claim Sugriva, the monkey chief as his sixth brother and later, Vibishana, the  asura prince and brother of his mortal enemy Ravana as his seventh brother. ‘Now that we are seven, your father in heaven Dasaratha would feel immensely happy”, Rama told Vibhishana.  Kamban had a way with words, which is evident here by the way Rama addressed Vibhishana in an inclusive manner by his reference to Dasaratha as Visbishana’s father that was a master stroke which could have put the latter completely at ease with himself, overcoming a possible sense of guilt he might have had for deserting his brother, Ravana.

This valuable lesson of universal brotherhood was a favourite theme of Kamban that he stressed it at several places. He had this inspiration from one of the most famous Tamil poems in Sangam poetry, in which the poet sang,’ I belong to all the cities in the world and all are my kin.’

Kamban’s Rama did not feel humiliated or perturbed when Ravana disparagingly dismissed him as one belonging to the lowliest of the low, a human-being after all. He, in fact, had a sense of pride in being a man and his ultimate triumph over the asura who was blessed with the boons given to him by the mighty gods in heaven, was hailed by the poet, as the victory of Man over divinity. God, in his descent as a human-being in this very earth had more relevance and significance for the alvars, the Tamil bhakti poets(7thcentury CE to 9th century CE) than in his being an abstraction in the form of a deity in the distant heavens. In their view, man had immense potential in him, which, when properly tapped and exploited could help him attain godhood. Kamban showcased the blueprint of such a man in the form of Rama, who, like any one of us, met with lots of emotional problems and existential dilemmas before overcoming all of them to achieve success at the end.

Kamban’s characters, whether they were heroes or villains were not either totally white or totally .black. Rama had his own blemishes like his killing Vali, when the latter least expected it. Kamban’s Vali told his wife,Thara, before he accepted the challenge of his brother to fight with him, when she reminded him that Sugriva had Rama’s support, ‘ Do you think that such an exalted soul as Rama, who did not hesitate to give his kingdom to his brother would descend so low as to commit an heinous crime?’

But the irony was, he did kill Vali stealthily. He could not defend himself, when Vali, surprised and shocked, expressed his disappointment in no uncertain terms. Kamban very
subtly had drawn this picture of a guilty Rama with artistic maturity..

Kamban’s Ravana was not a hard-hearted, brutal villain merely given to lust and violence. He was a magnificent warrior whose tragedy was that he fell in love with Sita even before he met her. His sister Surpanaka described her beauty in such a picturesque manner, that he saw Sita’s illusion even while she was talking. He asked her whether the one he was seeing before his mind’s eye was Sita but she replied it was Rama, because when she was describing Sita, she had Rama in her mind with whom she had fallen in love!  It is one of the most beautiful romantic passages in Kamban’s Ramayana. Since this incident was going to seal the fate of Ravana, Kamban dramatized the whole scene in an exquisite manner.

For the sake of love, he was prepared to lose a kingdom. When his son Indrajit told him to give up Sita, as at that time the war was almost lost, Ravana replied,’ I have chosen my enemy not in the hope that you and your uncles and my mighty army are going to support me, but I have done it on my own mental strength, energized by a feeling of all-consuming love. So long as Rama’s name will remain that he fought to the end to get back his wife, my name will also be there that I did not yield unto the last.’ This reminds us of Milton’s Satan, who thundered, ‘What though the field be lost? All is not lost, the unconquerable will, and study of revenge, immortal hate, and courage never to submit or yield.’

Kamban lost no opportunity in emphasizing over and again that Ravana’s love for Sita was not just physical infatuation but a pure, unadulterated tender feeling of the mind and even before keeping her a prisoner in Asokavana, he had kept her a prisoner in his heart! So when Rama’s arrow pierced Ravana’s chest at the end, Kamban said, it scouted for the feeling of love he had for Sita in his heart of hearts and took it away, making an exit through his back! Kamban beautifully captured the great fall of the mighty Ravana and contrasted it with his once glorious past, when he lifted the Kailash mountain, the abode of Shiva and what a fall was there and all for the sake of love!

Kamban lived during the period of Imperial cholas but, considering that he dedicated his epic, in a way, to an ordinary, simple philanthropist,  by mentioning his name ten times in the course of his narration, one may be tempted to conclude that he did not enjoy royal patronage as many other inferior poets of his period and apocryphal stories about the master poet  are not wanting, to strengthen this view.

Mandolin U. Shrinivas

Birthdays & Anniversaries

28.2.1969 - 19.9.2014
Much loved, much adored Mandolin U. Shrinivas, who remained a boy wonder all his life, is no more. He was a frail, shy teenager when he appeared on the cover of Sruti’s inaugural issue in October 1983, along with D.K. Pattammal, Lakshmi Viswanathan and Sonal Mansingh. Founder-editor N Pattabhi Raman concluded his profile of the child prodigy with the passage: “Meteors are transient; they describe a fiery streak in the sky and then burn themselves out. Stars stay with us, adding sparkle to our life. It is the hope of almost everyone who has been exposed to the luminosity of Srinivas’s music (that is how he spelt his name then) that he will turn out to be a star on the firmament of South Indian classical music.”

There are those that believe Shrinivas had accomplished so much in his brief sojourn on earth, that it should not matter that he was snatched away in his prime just as Srinivasa Ramanujan and Subramania Bharati were. It is hard to agree with such a sentiment. At 45, he had many years of glorious creativity ahead of him, his music poised for a greatness beyond what he offered the world over the last three decades. The way he approached ragas, his new interpretations of them in recent years, suggested that the best of Mandolin Shrinivas was yet to come.

He was all of 14 when we at Sruti first interacted with him. He had already floored the most demanding rasikas of Mylapore and Mambalam, Perambur and Nungambakkam, on their own home turf in concert after concert, with hi  spectacular raga essays and swara fusillades. He was tiny, tongue-tied, knew very little Tamil and less English. He was respectful, even deferential in his dealings with parents, guru, mentors, sabha secretaries and mediapersons, yet he was comfortable in his skin. Here was a boy completely free from self doubt, while at the same time totally bereft of airs.

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Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Parvati Kumar

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Friday, 23 February 2018


Sruti, February 2018

Carnatic music has been going through a longish phase of a relative lack of interest in instrumental music concerts despite recent attempts at veena or nagaswaram festivals. Perhaps it is time for organisers and musicians to find new ways of attracting audiences to these programmes. Does the answer lie in the inclusion of specific compositions for instrumental music in concerts otherwise offering the usual spread of well established kritis the audience can identify? Artists like Ganesh-Kumaresh, and surely other instrumentalists, have achieved some success in such ventures. Even if the core value of instrumental Carnatic music is represented by the gayaki style of playing, the strengths and unique qualities of different instruments are exploited to the hilt by their best exponents. Examples abound among both wind and string instruments. Veena concerts at their best do make the best use of the instrument’s special affinity for tanam playing. The flute is of course at its most exciting when it is not merely song-oriented, but while offering a variety of rivetting soundscapes in its manodharma segments. The violin in the hands of a master can convince you that it was made for Carnatic music.

How do we bring instrumental music centrestage? Does the answer lie in specially curated, properly publicised chamber concerts which give the audience a total listening experience? Ideally, these should be acoustic concerts, played on acoustic instruments.

One of the innovations of the past two decades has been the preponderance of contact microphones adopted by veena players, violinists, even ghatam players! Some of us do not enjoy the sound produced by microphone-aided instruments, and seriously wish our favourite musicians would go back to playing ‘unplugged’. Elsewhere in this issue, however, a critic has expressed his pleasure at listening to the sound of a particular artist’s veena with a contact microphone. Is it a case of the artist finding the correct microphone which produces the appropriate tone, which would mean that the problem lies with the tonal quality produced rather than the amplification itself?

We at Sruti spoke some years ago to a violinist of repute about the possibility of his taking part in concerts giving as much importance and time to the instrumentalist as the vocalist, practically offering a vocalist-violinist jugalbandi of sorts. The violinist thought it was an idea worth pursuing, which we failed to do, but T.M. Krishna’s concerts in recent years have been offering greater scope for the violinist, in fact, equal opportunity. Especially when he leaves the onus of the raga alapana or tanam to the violinist, he also avoids the risk of boredom or repetitiveness that can occur when the violin plays follow the leader. In an ideal vocal-instrumental jugalbandi, we could have the two artists playing individually for about half an hour each, before they come together as a duo after that, as is fairly common in Hindustani music.

The well trained human voice with sruti suddham and deep emotional appeal can touch a chord in a certain type of listener. Here I refer not to the impact of lyrics soaked in bhakti but to the ability of raga music to move the aesthetically evolved rasika, and there is no reason why such rasanubhava cannot be experienced in instrumental music. It is time to present such music regularly to the listening public.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

V. G. Jog

                                                              Birthdays & Anniversaries

22.2.1922 - 31.1.2004

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Imitation Gold

By V Ramnarayan

Ponnadai! What magic the word wrought, when as a kid, you read it in Tamil historical novels or poetry! Everytime you came across a raja honouring a poet in sheer amazement at his extraordinary talent, you imagined a robe as resplendent as the shower of gold coins with which he rewarded him. After all, the word ponnadai meant a golden garment or golden shawl, didn't it?

I saw a ponnadai in real life for the first time perhaps in the 1980s. It was no golden shawl, but it was silk, a nice tan colour and had a zari border. It was something someone might have happily worn over his jibba without feeling seriously embarrassed. This was at a function to honour a musician.

Since then, I have seen many shawls through the decades, shawls that dignitaries wrapped around other dignitaries on the dais (or dias, to be more precise), not to mention yours truly. These once second rate pieces of cloth have got steadily cheaper and uglier, so that they are now worse than third rate in colour, texture and overall quality, so gaudy that you need protective eyewear to look at them, so flimsy that they come apart in your hands even before you descend from the stage. 

What does the receiver of a ponnadai do with it? I tried giving mine away to the watchman, rickshawwallah and milkman, but none of them was interested. They invariably said, "This is totally useless, sir. Who'll want it?" Can't you use it as a blanket?" I asked one of them. The withering look he gave me was in the Ajit or Rajnikant class of sarcasm and subtle warning. A musician I met the other day recalled how an organiser pounced on him after he wrote to his sabha that instead of decorating him with a shawl they could give the Rs. 100 or so to charity. Another friend of mine confesses that she consigns shawls to the nearest dustbin, often inside airports if she has received them while travelling. "In the US, NRIs insist on inflicting cheap shawls they bought in Chennai on us!"

There was a theory some years ago that the shawl draped around you today is perhaps a second hand one, something an earlier recipient disposed of in the flea market. I am informed by a very reliable source that this is standard practice in the film industry. At best it is a ponnadai that the sabha secretary was adorned with last month and kept safe for the person he has decided to "honour" today. At worst, I think it is an atrocious insult delivered to its innocent recipient. The insult is compounded by the casual so-called felicitation address by someone who has no clue who you are, and sometimes turns to you and asks you to fill in the blanks when he forgets your name or initialsall this while two other so-called dignitaries on the stage are engaged in their own loud conversation. Humiliatingly, the crowd in the audience begins to grow from 20 or so to a decent number towards the end of the function, because there's a concert scheduled to follow.

If India ever develops a national culture policy (something we haven't done in 70m years), I hope the first casualty will be this disgusting practice. Ban ponnadais!

Monday, 19 February 2018

Theatre Olympics

A protest by a playwright

Click below to read an article by Sunil Shanbag in the New Indian Express

MS Anantharaman passes away

Violin maestro Parur MS Anantharaman is no more.


We are deeply distressed to receive news of the death of violin great M.S. Anantharaman, early morning on 19.2.2018 at Chennai.

Born on 26 August 1924 in Madras, Anantharaman was a son and disciple of Parur A. Sundaram Iyer, the eminent violinist and pioneering guru responsible for the spread of the violin beyond Carnatic music into Hindustani music as well. Anantharaman received training in playing the veena as well as the violin, and in Hindustani music. 

A long-time exponent, Anatharaman besides giving solo recitals and trio concerts with his two violin-playing sons, accompanied many renowned musicians in their performances in India and abroad. A teacher with a fine reputation, he served the Tamil Nadu Government Music College in Chennai as professor of violin from 1962 to 1983. Subsequently, he taught in Pittsburgh, U.S.A., for some time.

Anantharaman was honoured with the Kalaimamani award of the Tamil Nadu Eyal Isai Nataka Manram, the T.T.K memorial award of the Music Academy (1996) and the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1998). He was the Asthana Vidwan of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Sharad Sathe

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Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan

Birthdays & Anniversaries

18.2.1929 - 4.1.2017
Sitar maestro Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan, who passed away at his Bandra (Mumbai) residence on 4 January 2017, was in the league of such great names in the field as Ravi Shankar, Vilayat Khan and Nikhil Banerjee. He effortlessly straddled the worlds of Hindustani classical music and Hindi cinema, and established ‘Jafferkhani baaj’—a unique style of playing the instrument. He was highly decorated, receiving such awards as the Tantri Vilas, Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan, Tagore Samman and the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi Award.

How did Halim Jaffer Khan achieve such eminence at a time when the legendary sitar triumvirate were at their peak? This question haunted me, and I put it to him when, during his last Kolkata visit in 2004, I met him at the residence of his prime disciple Harashankar Bhattacharya, whom he fondly addressed as his ‘bada beta’ (elder son). He took the question very sportingly and answered, “Riyaaz ki roshni ne raah kar di” (Devoted practice illuminated my path) and my disciples are now following it. In 1976, I founded the Halim Academy of Sitar in Mumbai. Zunain, my sondisciple and a few dedicated disciples like Prasad Joglekar and Gargi Shinde have come forward to take care of the Academy; and Harashankar founded Madhyami here in Kolkata to promote and propagate Jafferkhani baaj. His boy Deepshankar is showing great promise of keeping the flag flying high.”

I asked him why he called his style ‘Jafferkhani’ and not ‘Indore’ as a member of the Indore beenkar Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan (1927-2017) Meena Banerjee gharana that follows the tradition of Ustad Bande Ali Khan. He patiently explained that since his playing method had experienced a paradigm shift from the tradition he belonged to, and since his singer father had sowed the seeds to invent new traditions within the tradition, he dedicated this baaj to his father Jaffer Khan.

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Saturday, 17 February 2018

Ranjani - Gayatri Honoured

Carnatic vocalists Ranjani and Gayatri were conferred the title “Sangeeta Vedantha Dhurina” during the Spring Music Festival of the Sri Rama Lalitha Kala Mandira. The award was presented by Sri Yadugiri Yathiraja Narayana Ramanuja Jeeyar on 11 February 2018 in Bengaluru. This award is instituted in memory of the founder G. Vedantha Iyengar who started the institution 63 years ago. The award carries a purse of ₹ one lakh each, a citation and a silver medal. 

Photo Caption

Standing (L to R): M.R. Yoganand (Treasurer, SRLKM), D.R. Srikantaiah (President), Sri Yadugiri Yathiraja Narayana Ramanuja Jeeyar, G.V. Krishna Prasad (Secretary), Rajashree Yogananda (Programme Co-ordinator) and H.R. Yathiraj (Vice President).

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Radha Reddy

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Radha and Raja Reddy are the most famous duo performing and teaching Kuchipudi. Radha was born on 15 February 1952 in Gottalgaon, Andhra Pradesh. When Radha was about 13 years old, she wanted to dance and so did Raja whom she was married to when very young. They trained at Sri Siddhendra Kalakshetram in Kuchipudi village and at Kalakshetram, Eluru.  Both of them went to Hyderabad and learnt Kuchipudi during their gurukulavasam with Vedantam Prahlada Sarma. With a scholarship from the Andhra Pradesh state government, the duo moved to Delhi in 1966 to learn choreography from Guru Maya Rao at the Natya Institute of Choreography. Briefly, Radha also learnt Odissi from Mayadhar Raut.

Radha and Raja performed in the youth festival of  the Sangeet Natak Akademi, and soon made a name as a  dancing duo. For two years they also performed in Indrani Rehman's troupe. Radha and Raja  Reddy were invited to perform at the Avignon Festival in France and the Salzburg Festival in Austria where they received standing ovations. They have performed at the Festivals of India in the U.S.A., the U.K. and Bangladesh, at the All-star Ballet Gala Festival in Japan, on the Mississippi river for US President Ford, and a galaxy of notable personalities across the globe.

In their careers spanning over six decades, Radha and Raja Reddy have made a distinctive contribution to the enrichment of Kuchipudi dance. They have developed excellent solo, duo and group presentations and have been teaching Kuchipudi and yoga at their institution Natya Tarangini, in Delhi. A much awaited event is the 'Parampara Series' Festival of Dance and Music launched by the Reddys 20 years ago. The state-of-the-art centre built by them at Saket in Delhi is emerging as an important space to propagate Indian art and culture. Radha and Raja Reddy have been conferred prestigious awards like the Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan, the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, and the Nritya Choodamani Award. The couple have been selected to receive the Kalidas Samman this year from the state government of Madhya Pradesh.

Mani Madhava Chakyar

Birthdays & Anniversaries
15.2.1899 - 14.1.1990 
A member of the clan of the Puthiyedath Chakyar, Madhava Chakyar was born in a village near Quilandy in old Malabar on 15 February 1899. Dancing and acting were in the blood of the family, and Madhava Chakyar had his early training with his mother, whom he lost at the age of nine, Kuniyil Narayanan Nambisan, and afterwards with his uncles, Mani Neelakanta Chakyar, Parameswara Chakyar and Narayana Chakyar. Along with his dance studies, he also learnt Sanskrit from Pannisseri Sankaran Nambudripad and tarka sastra and vedanta from H. H. Rama Varma Parikshit Tampuran of Cochin.

Madhava Chakyar had his arangetram at the age of 11 in Tiruvangayoor Siva temple. From then on he began giving regular performances in various temples. His family had hereditary rights to perform in 40 temples in north and central Kerala. Some of them allowed only Chakyar Koothu to be performed under their auspices, while others encouraged the entire gamut of Koodiyattam, including the ritualistic performance of Anguliankam, and Mathavilasam. Madhava Chakyar won high renown for the artistry of his performance in these temples, as well as in many others. His forte was netraabhinaya, the expressive use of eyes to demonstrate a wide range of emotions. Over the years, Chakyar gave performances outside Kerala too -- in Madras, Bombay, Delhi, Benares, Ujjain and Bhopal, and also before the senior Sankaracharya of Kanchi.

Chakyar taught at Kerala Kalamandalam where he trained advanced students in Kathakali and Koodiyattam. He taught Kathakali also at the P. S.V. Natya Sangham in Kottakkal, and the Gandhi Sevasadanam in Perur. For some time he also taught Sanskrit at the Sanskrit school in Lakkiti where he had his home.

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Wednesday, 14 February 2018

C S Murugabhoopathy

                                                               Birthdays & Anniversaries

14.2.1914 - 21.3.1998

Professor P. Sambamoorthy

Birthdays & Anniversaries

14.2.1901 - 23.10.1973
Professor P. Sambamoorthy was the musicologist of the century", said Professor S.R. Janakiraman, himself a musicologist. Sambamoorthy was the author of more than fifty books and as many articles on music and musicology and a legend in his own lifetime. He was a teacher of music, a pioneer in introducing music teaching in educational institutions, an organiser of sabha-s, one of the founding fathers of the Music Academy, a composer of various musical forms, and a conductor of an orchestra of Carnatic music. He travelled widely and was recognized as an ambassador of South Indian music.

Sambamoorthy was born on 14th February 1901 to Pitchu Iyer and Parvati Ammal. He was the youngest of five children. His ancestors were originally from Varahur in Tanjavur District. According to his horoscope, however, his date of birth was 21st February 1900. Varahur, of course, is the place associated with Narayana Teertha, the author of Krishna Leela Tarangini. He lost his father when he was only four

years old. Thereafter, he and his mother came to Madras and settled down at No. 205 Thambu Chetty Street. His mother used to narrate to him stories from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Peria Puranam and also taught him a number of songs. He had his elementary school education in Arya Pathasala (now defunct) in Thambu Chetty Street. He joined the St. Gabriel's High school in 1910 and passed out of it in the year 1916, during which period he was the recipient of a Government scholarship.

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Monday, 12 February 2018

Refreshing developments

K.N. Viswanathan

This season threw up some promising youngsters and surprising stars in music. To my pleasant surprise, I found that many young musicians had adopted a more open, bold akaram this time, especially in raga alapana, as compared to previous seasons. The following artists’ concerts stood out for me.

Amritha Murali’s performance at Nada Inbam on 1 January 2018, was an outstanding concert. She is clearly an emerging star, whose music needs to be followed closely.

Ramakrishnan Murthy’s music seems to be growing along disciplined lines. He stays away from unnecessary showmanship and cheap gimmicks, an admirable trait that needs to be emulated by young musicians.

Bharat Sundar did justice to his elevated slot at the Music Academy. He made a sincere attempt at singing in the higher octave in the Kambhoji raga alapana, with akaram driven phrases.

Vishnudev Namboodiri, in my opinion, deserves a break in the senior slot at the Music Academy. His music is of a high calibre.

Kalyanapuram Aravind gave an impressive concert at the Music Academy. His singing has much promise, provided he does not engage in excessive brigas and trains to sing with less vocal strain. I hope he continuesto maintain a sense of proportion in concerts, without going overboard in the manodharma sections.

Flutist J.A. Jayanth played a magnificent concert at the Music Academy. He is yet another artist whose music is worth following closely. He deserves a promotion to the senior slot at the Academy.

In their concert at Musiri Chamber, the Iyer Brothers from Australia, proved that they are seasoned professionals. It was a delight to listen to the pure, unadulterated tone of their veenas in perfect unison.

In sharp contrast, Jayanthi Kumaresh’s recital at the Music Academy, which was outstanding musically, was disappointing only because of the mandolin-like tone of her veena. It seemed to detract from the grandeur of her music.

Two less known artists drew attention for their performances this season: Aditya Prakash and Navaneet Krishnan performed on 31st December evening at Sastri Hall for the Sruti Pattabhiraman Memorial concerts. They were accompanied by heavy-weight veterans, and managed to carry their concerts with much aplomb.

I was particularly impressed by the way they apportioned their concerts, in such a manner that the post-main section was given as much importance as the pre-main and main sections of the concert.

Some senior artists thoroughly disappointed this season with poor raga choices for elaboration and ragam-tanam-pallavi. Ragas like Vasantabhairavi, Saramati and Hameer Kalyani were not ideal choices for elaborate manodharma.

A certain senior artist seems to have become careless and lackadaisical in performing, more so in recent years. Odd, non-musical sounds during raga alapana and high decibel shouting seem to have become the norm in the singer’s concerts. Yet the crowds continue to mill, mistaking the aural assault for music. It is a pity, because this musician is capable of much greater music. The only consolation that I can take home after attending a recital, is that he continues to maintain concert dharma.

A few artists in the sub-senior slot at the Music Academy did not provide the song list this year. I hope the Academy will strictly enforce the rule that artists must provide the song list in advance; especially the junior and sub-senior musicians. It shows a certain sense of discipline and commitment on behalf of the artist, rather than trying to “wing it”, singing a surprise list of songs and ragas, often falling flat.

I personally feel that varnams must be made compulsory as the opening piece at the Music Academy, especially for junior and sub-senior artists. Many musicians and rasikas feel that the varnam is merely a warming up exercise and relegate to it an unimportant status. This is not so. If there is anything we can learn from the concert planning of the old stalwarts, it is that the varnam is a crucial entry point for both the performer and the listener, into deeper raga bhava. A judicious choice of varnam at the beginning of the concert can set the pace and tone for the rest of the concert, ensuring consistent success for the musician.

It was a pleasant surprise to see many young musicians take up weighty ragas like Kambhoji (one might even say it was a Kambhoji season), Bhairavi, Kharaharapriya and Todi for elaboration, especially in the pallavi section.

In general, I felt that with better time management, more time could have been apportioned to the post-main section. In many ways, this section helps take the concert to a sublime plane. After the heavy-duty manodharma and tani avartanam for the main piece, the post-main section provides a beautiful contrast. A selection of songs rich in lyrical beauty allows the artist to raise the concert to a different level. This section, when done well and kept free of exhibitionism and technical acrobatics, helps connect with the listener at a deeper level.

(Disclaimer: In all fairness to artists not featured here, I did not attend all the concerts.)
(The author is a rasika)