Song of Surrender

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Sangita Kalanidhi Poll by Sruti

Your vote for the title

It's that time of the year. The Music Academy, Chennai, will soon sit down to select the Sangita Kalanidhi designate for the 2017-'18 season. We invite readers to submit their recommendations in the following format. Please let us have your names for publication. 

1. Your nominee for the title of Sangita Kalanidhi.

2. Would you prefer a new system of more than one title, e.g., one vocalist, one vidwan/ vidushi playing a wind or string instrument, one percussionist? If the answer is YES, your nominee for each category.

For example:
Vocalist                           OS Thyagarajan
Instrumentalist 1          N Ravikiran
Instrumentalist 2          Vikku Vinayakram.

Please rush your choices asap. We'll publish the result of this poll both online and in print.


Birthdays & Anniversaries

Chittoor Subramania Pillai 
A True Legatee Of The Kanchipuram Style
(Excerpted from the Sruti archives)

The following article was written by Contributing Editor K.S. KALIDAS, with inputs from T. Sankaran, B.M. Sundaram, S. Ramachandran, T. Lokanadha Sarma, E.N. Purushothaman and Hemavathi Sunderraman. 

Sangeeta Kalanidhi, Isai Perarignar, Swara Chakravarti, Laya Brahma, Gaanarnava, Isai Mannar, Gaana Kaladhara and Saptagiri Sangeeta Vidwanmani were some of the titles presented to Chittoor Subramania Pillai during the six decades of his illustrious career as a Carnatic vocalist, at least in three of which he was in the front ranks. He was also a recipient of a Sangeet Natak Akademi award. 

He earned plaudits not only as a leading performer but also as a teacher, especially in institutions. He was a stalwart among stalwarts in the golden era of Carnatic music. The string of awards and titles is but one aspect of his life and career. As his birth centenary is being celebrated, there should be many among the old who can recall his impressive personality and equally impressive accomplishments, but the story of his life and career must be recounted for the benefit of the young, especially those seeking to make a mark as concert musicians.

Early years 

Subramaniam was born on 22 June 1898 at Gollamachannapalli, a village in Chittoor district (now in Andhra Pradesh), into a family of musicians. Perayya, his Telugu brahmin father, was a violinist employed by the Punganur Samasthanam in Chittoor district; his mother Mogileswaramma was a vocalist who belonged to the kalavantulu community. There was a tradition among the Telugu-speaking members of this community to call themselves as Naidu. Thus Subramaniam's younger brother was known as Chittoor Krishnappa Naidu. But Chittoor Subramania Naidu became Chittoor Subramania Pillai when he became a disciple of Kanchipuram Naina Pillai. Interestingly, Naina Pillai's real name was Subramania Pillai too, but he came to be called Naina (a term of endearment) by his childless maternal aunt Dhanakoti Ammal who doted on him. 

Subramaniam started learning music and Harikatha from his father at a very young age and began giving Harikatha performances even as a young lad. One such performance took him to Madras (now known as Chennai). The occasion was the annual Ramanavami festival conducted by Jalatarangam Ramaniah Chetty, a great connoisseur and patron of music and musicians. There he was privileged to hear the great Kanchipuram Naina Pillai sing and the experience bowled him over. He wanted to learn at least a few kriti-s from the maestro. He requested Ramaniah Chetty to introduce him to the maestro but was instead taken to Pillai's aunt Dhanakoti Ammal. The latter, who asked the boy to sing, was struck by his fine voice, as well as by his keen interest in learning. Then and there, she taught him a Tyagaraja kriti. She also suggested that the lad should switch from Harikatha to vocal music. "Go back to Punganur and ask for your parents' permission and come to Kanchipuram," she said and added assuringly: "I shall ask Naina to teach you." 

Subramaniam did as he was told and was taken by Naina Pillai under his wings. Eventually he became the maestro's most important disciple and his prime musical legatee.

To read full story, buy Sruti 168

Alangudi Ramachandran
(Excerpted from the Sruti archives)

If today, ‘Vikku’ Vinayakram is synonymous with the ghatam, there was a time such giants as Tiruvilvamalai Vilvadri Iyer and Umayalpuram Kodandarama Iyer added lustre to the magic mudpot of Carnatic music. Alangudi Ramachandran was one such exponent of the ghatam, someone who made significant changes to its practice.

K. Ramachandran was born on 22 June 1912 at Koduntarapalli, Kerala and passed away on 15 June 1975. Learning the art of percussion and ghatam playing from Kuttalam Kuppuswami Pillai, Kuttalam Sivavadivelu Pillai and Needamangalam Meenakshisundaram Pillai, Ramachandran first ascended the performance stage as an accompanist of Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar. Even as a child, Ramachandran had unusual interest in music, percussion in particular, and after his father Krishna Iyer settled down at Alangudi, often walked a few miles to listen to radio concerts at Terezhundur town. Fascinated by the tavil prowess of Meenakshisundaram Pillai, he took up a job in a restaurant at Needamangalam to facilitate his joining him as a student. It was Pillai who persuaded him to take to the ghatam. Ramachandran later took lessons from mridanga vidwan Mayavaram Kuppuswami Pillai.

Big-made Ramachandran had the right physique, potbelly and all, for the effective demonstrative style of ghatam playing. Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar was very fond of him; he would not hesitate to add him as an unscheduled second ghatam artist to his kutcheri ensemble. A believer in meaningful collaboration on stage, he underplayed his role if he thought it necessary for the success of a concert. Known for his precision fingering, “the sound of his fingers would resemble hitting with steel, that too on a Manamadurai ghatam” (Centenarians 2012, Chennai Fine Arts). Even though he used a very heavy ghatam, he invariably tossed it up for dramatic effect in concerts and composed special korvais for the act, according to mridanga vidwan T.V. Gopalakrishnan, a friend, colleague and admirer.

Among Ramachandran’s happy accomplishments was his longish stint as an accompanist of M.S. Subbulakshmi and popular musicians K.B. Sundarambal and M.K. Tyagaraja Bhagavatar. He had the rare blessing of dying in harness, immediately after his tani avartanam for a D.K. Jayaraman concert at Shanmukhananda Sabha, Bombay.

To read full story, buy Sruti 344

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Krishnaveni Lakshmanan (1942 - 2004)
(Excerpted from the Sruti archives)

The following is by S. SARADA, more famous as Peria Sarada, of Kalakshetra. 

Rukmini Devi and I noticed a girl watching, day after day, from the window, the dance classes we were teaching in the Mirror Cottage in the Theosophical Society where Kalakshetra was then situated. The child did this invariably on her way back home from The Besant Theosophical High School. Rukmini Devi— Athai— called the child inside and asked her: "Would you like to dance?" The child's joy knew no bounds and she readily tried to repeat the dance she had been viewing. Athai immediately arranged for her, Krishnaveni, to join Kalakshetra as a part-time student. She was the daughter of K. Ananthanarayanan, the History teacher in the Besant School. I may mention here that, though she learnt from N.S. Jayalakshmi and myself and other teachers at Kalakshetra, her class teacher throughout Krishnaveni's Diploma course was Chinna Sarada (Hoffman). Years earlier, Sarada had also become a student of Kalakshetra, watching from the window the classes Athai and I were taking in the same cottage! Sarada Hoffman contributed to Kalakshetra by evolving, under Athai's guidance, the style of Bharatanatyam of perfection and grace which became the hallmark of the institution. 

Krishnaveni absorbed everything in the classes— practical dances: Bharatanatyam and Kathakali, dance theory, music and the languages, religion and philosophy at Kalakshetra— like a blotting paper absorbing ink. Innate in her was the craving and talent for fine arts, which made her flower forth as a beautiful artist. Athai wished her dance students to learn Kathakali compulsorily. Why Kathakali? In Kathakali, facial bhava-s or expressions have to be shown in an exaggerated manner for them to be visible through the elaborate make-up. When one mastered this after training or exercises of the facial muscles and eye movements, he or she could express with ease any bhava or emotion. Great masters like Ambu Panicker and Chandu Panicker adorned Kalakshetra as teachers and they were hard taskmasters. 

On the completion of middle school studies, Krishnaveni became a full-time student of Kalakshetra and benefited from the all-round education there. The best talents of the students were brought out naturally by the teachers and nothing was imposed on or imparted to them. 

I recollect the child Krishnaveni coming early on her way to school and sitting beside me observing the classes. She would practise the adavu-s with concentration in an adjacent place before entering the afternoon classes. Thus she could execute these adavu-s with ease in the classes. She had nimble feet in a pliable body and, above all, bright eyes and an attractive smile. She was able to express later on, as a full fledged dancer, all emotions with ease. 

In 1957, Athai presented Usha Parinayam, the Bhagavata Mela dance-drama which she had beautified. Both Krishnaveni and Shanta learnt the main roles of Usha and her sakhi Chitra-lekha. It was only a few days before its premiere, at Sarada Hoffman's insistence, that Athai decided that Krishnaveni should be Usha and Shanta, Chitra-lekha. They won accolades for their portrayals, though they had not yet had their arangetram. Balu Bhagavatar of Melattur who had come to assist in this production was full of praise for them as the girls were able to present on the stage the various situations with embellishment. 

Athai arranged for Krishna-veni's arangetram in 1960 only after awarding her the Kala-kshetra Diploma with distinction the previous year. She was a Government of India scholarship holder for three years from that year. She received the Institution's Post Graduate Diploma, also with distinction, in 1962. 

S. Lakshmanan whom Krishnaveni married in 1965 was initially unable to perceive that she was a dancer with a good future in the field. However, on Athai's persuasion, he came and watched her as Seeta in Sabaii Moksham, which changed his attitude. It was his first experience of dance which was not earthy but divine! He not only encouraged Krishnaveni but became an ardent admirer and supporter of Athai and Kalakshetra!

To read full story, buy Sruti 241

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Birthdays & Anniversaries

A. Kanan: Respected Senior Musician
By Basavi Mukerji-Rath
(Excerpted from the Sruti archives)

A. Kanan is a respected Hindustani vocalist who has had an illustrious music career spanning almost five decades. 

Gifted with a sonorous and powerful yet smooth voice, Kanan would draw crowds as big and as admiring as the luminous musicians of those days, like Bade Gulam Ali Khan and Amir Khan. His open-throated yet aesthetic gayaki was equally appealing in forms as diverse as thumri, bhajan and of course khayal, which was his mainstay. His voice remained in as much control in the lower and higher octaves and high speed as it did in the middle octave and the slower tempo. The unerring 'sur' (tunefulness) which marks his 'gayaki' even today is perhaps the most striking feature of his music. 

Born in Madras in June 1920, Kanan had his education in Hyderabad since his father was employed in the Nizam's State Railway. Also an accomplished sportsman in his schooldays, it was during a cricket tour in Bombay that he got his voice tested at All India Radio and was instantly offered a programme by its much astonished officials. Later, he himself joined the Railway. When he was sent to Calcutta by it for advance training with Saxby and Farmers (Signalling Engineers), he came in contact with vocalist Girija Shankar Chakraborty who recognised his musical genius and readily accepted him as a disciple. In no time thereafter, he emerged as a fine vocalist and a fine representative of the Bishnupur-Kirana style of gayaki. 

Kanan's melodious and captivating voice also brought him many film playback-singing assignments. Some of the songs rendered by him are still remembered and also heard. 'Dhuli', 'Meghe Dhaka Tara', 'Surer Piyashi' and 'Jadu Bhatta' in Bengali and 'Basant Bahar', 'Humdard' and 'Megh Malhar' in Hindi were some such films. Celebrities like Ustad Amir Khan, Gyan Prakash Ghosh, Pankaj Mullik, Kamal Dasgupta, R.C. Boral and Ritwik Ghatak were some of his ardent admirers and friends. Of this group, only Ghosh is alive today. 

Kanan's phenomenal success at his first All Bengal Music Conference appearance in 1943 and the persistent insistence of his friends and fans, when, after two years of training in Calcutta, it was at last time to bid adieu to the city, succeeded in finally persuading him to stay back and devote himself full time to music. Thus, he resigned from his secure job with the N.S. Railway to devote himself to music. He performed all over the country and sometimes also abroad with great success, and trained many students, often free of cost.

To read full story, buy Sruti 140

Friday, 16 June 2017

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Kamala at seventy five
Blooming in an alien land
(Excerpted from the Sruti archives)

Famed in India as “Kumari Kamala” during her prime as a dancer, the acclaimed Bharatanatyam exponent has dedicated about seven decades of her life to its propagation. Endowed with a rare and uncommon prowess at the art, her name has become synonymous with the dance form. She began performing classical dances in many Indian films in several languages, including Hindi, since the late 1930s at the age of five, till about the mid-1960s. One of her best known films includes, Naam Iruvar in Tamil, based on the patriotic songs of Tamil poet Subramania Bharati. Kamala has given thousands of stage performances in India, and was the country’s unofficial cultural envoy to many different countries. At the Indian government’s behest, she performed before many visiting foreign dignitaries to India, including President Dwight Eisenhower and Queen Elizabeth. Kamala Narayan received the central Sangeet Natak Akademi award in 1968 and was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1970. The elderly artist who turned 75 on 14th June this year, has been living in the New York metropolitan area since 1980 and runs a dance school, Sri Bharata Kamalalaya.

On the occasion of the 28th anniversary of Kamala’s dance school in New York, UMA DANDAPANI gives us a glimpse into Kamala’s life in the United States.

Kamala Narayan seemed to morph from deities chiselled in graceful stances inside a temple sanctum. Images in black and white from decades ago, of the young and lithe dancer captured in statuesque poses, became vivid and real, as she choreographed for a recent show by the students of her school, at the Yonkers Public Library auditorium in Westchester County, New York. Her school, Sri Bharata Kamalalaya, is based in Long Island, New York, where she has lived since 1980, but the septuagenarian with an unflagging passion for the art, commutes weekly to Westchester County and New Jersey, to conduct dance lessons for her young students.

On a wintry morning, she was watching a rehearsal by her students, to prerecorded music playing on a stereo deck. The tenderness and ardour of the raga, Brindavana Saranga, in a lilting paean to Krishna composed by Subramania Bharati, lent a tropical balminess to the spacious hall of the India Center of Westchester County, Inc., located in Elmsford, New York. The elderly artist looked petite and trim, wearing a coiffure and dressed in a taupe and maroon salwar kameez. Her chiselled features, accentuated by her soft and pleasantly pitched voice, seemed to conceal a latent energy that sparked into life as she demonstrated dance movements to her young students, her feet maintaining an unerring rhythm as she moved, synchronised by the positions of her arms and hands, while her eyes darted in each of those directions. With her students in Westchester County, ranging in age between five to the twenties, and divided into groups varying from beginners to advanced, the dance guru was generous with praise, using gentle humour to keep them focused on the coordinated moves as they danced. She showed a meticulous approach to the instruction.

“I don’t compromise with my students. Regardless of whether they are strong or weak, I teach them the same lesson so that they can improve themselves,” she said, while explaining that the deep plie posture, or the araimandi, is de rigueur for the dancer. “Your eyes should follow the arm movements,” she said, explaining one more aspect of the dance to her young students, as they were engrossed in the challenge of coordinating the movements of their feet with those of their arms and hands.

Kamala radiated the beauty of Bharatanatyam to an Indian public through her classical dances in scores of Indian films made in several languages. Many of these were choreographed by her dance guru, Vazhuvoor Ramiah Pillai. She also gave hundreds of stage performances between the 1940s through the 1970s, exuded a sensuousness and verve that attracted waves of enthusiasts. Bharatanatyam was a redeemed classical art, and Kamala its most luminous exemplar.

One of the many dances that became synonymous with the image of Kamala, both onscreen and in stage performances, was the snake dance choreographed by her guru, the most popular version being, “Naadar mudi mel irukkum naagapaambe”.

To read full story, buy Sruti 288