Song of Surrender

Thursday, 22 March 2018

ShringAra RusaAnubhava

M.S. Anantharaman a violinist of rare skill

Violinist M.S. Anantharaman, a Carnatic music icon who straddled the 20th and 21st centuries as a performing violinist and guru, passed away in February, bringing to an end a rare period in contemporary history of at least three generations of the Parur Sundaram Iyer lineage, performing contemporaneously on stage, solo, accompanying vocalists and sometimes together on stage.

For, in recent years,Anantharaman, elder brother of the late MS Gopalakrishnan, gave solo concerts as well as performances along with his sons Sundareswaran and Krishnaswami and his grandsons, not to mention the occasional stage appearance with a granddaughter.
In his prime, he accompanied almost every stalwart among the great vocalists of his generation.

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 demanding teacher with a fine reputation, he served the Tamil Nadu Government Music College in Chennai as professor of violin from 1962 to 1983. Later, he taught in Pittsburgh, U.S.A., for some time.

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

Some years ago, Anantharaman, his two sons and their children gave an entertaining lecdem on rare Tyagaraja and Dikshitar kritis.  During the lec-dem, they described their style, the Parur style, which is almost 125 years old, founded by Parur Sundaram Iyer, a disciple of Veena Dhanammal.

Anantharaman sang in perfect sruti songs that he played on the violin as well. 

In his profile of MS Gopalakrishnan in March 2013, Prof. N Ramanathan wrote: "The early years of rigorous training in violin that Anantharaman and Gopalakrishnan underwent became a legend as early as the end of the 1950s. Stories used to circulate about the sadhakam or practicenthat started in the early hours of the morning in a room which would be locked from outside. After a break for bath and pazhaiyadu (curd mixed with rice cooked for the previous evening) and the sadhakam resumed to proceed till noon. Sundaram Iyer monitored the session, and teaching commenced in the afternoon. It used to be said that the father never allowed a mirror to be hung on the wall, nor provided the boys with a comb, so that time was not wasted in such 'extraneous activities.'

In the same article, Ramanathan describes the viraladi or single-finger slide technique to achieve "a continuous, undying tone," probably invented  by Sundaram Iyer to replicate the meend of Hindustani vocalist Omkarnath Thakur--whom he and his sons accompanied in concerts--and cultivated by Anantharaman and Gopalakrishnan. He also mentions the practice of one brother playing a raga in thye hindustani mode and the other in the orthodox Carnatic mode. In fact, it is well known that the Parur bani does reveal the Hindustani influence.

One long time observer of the bani claims that Anantharaman's admiration for the violin-playing of Lalgudi G Jayaramana professional rival of the familyis occasionally reflected in his own music. Anantharaman spoke glowingly of Jayaraman at a condolence meeting soon after his death. while the Lalgudi family acknowledged Anantharaman's lifetime achievement with an award during a Lalgudi memorial event at the Madras Music Academy.
Anantharaman was a simple man, a careless dresser, of stern countenance during concerts, was a man of few words, but "called a spade a spade",  not above publicly criticising even celebrities for what he believed were improprieties they committed. In a lighter vein, his humorous quips could provide light relief when musicians strayed from their music on stage to engage in speech. At a concert in which he was accompanying vidwan S.R. Janakiraman, SRJ launched into a description of the musical phrase he was essaying, when Anantharaman brought him back to earth by reminding him, "Janakiraman! your engagement here is for a concert. Please resume it and reserve the discourse for some other occasion."

Anantharaman was a caring elder who not only encouraged his own offspring in their musical careers, he also attended concerts of other young artists from a quiet corner in the auditorium. A number of music students from Sri Lanka received more than a helping hand from him in the late 20th century, while trying to establish themselves in the concert scene here. "He was a godfather to many of them, taking care of their welfare and their music."

He was also a respected violin teacher at the Central Music College at Chennai, where students looked up to him.

Parur M.S. Anantharaman's death has marked the end of a lifetime of devotion to his artquietly, unobtrusively, but with immense pride in the perfection of his art and his legacy.

By V Ramnarayan

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Ustad Bismillah Khan

Birthdays & Anniversaries
21.3.1916 - 21.8.2006
Ustad Bismillah Khan, the shehnai maestro, and possibly the most popular Hindustani classical musician of the 20th century, breathed his last at the age of 91 in Varanasi at 2.20 am on August 21. In his death, the nation mourns the fading away of the musical magic that heralded the dawn of Independence at the Red Fort on August 15, 1947, and regaled free India for six decades.

Bismillah Khan was one of the chief architects of India’s postIndependence musicscape. He elevated the shehnai, an ancient ceremonial instrument, to the status of a concert instrument. Through the 1960’s and 70’s, his formidable musicianship, along with that of instrumentalists like Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, and Ustad Vilayat Khan, enabled instrumental music to overtake vocal music in terms of stature and popularity. Bismillah Khan, however, achieved much greater popularity than other instrumentalists of his generation because he straddled the worlds of classical, folk and popular music with equal ease and distinction.

The key to Bismillah Khan's musicianship lay in his having steeped himself in the rich musical tradition of Varanasi, the cultural capital of early 20th century India. Though born to a family of musicians from Dumrao in Bihar, Bismillah Khan moved to Varanasi at a young age to become a disciple and later, also son-in-law, of his uncle, Ustad Ali Baksh. It was in this holy city, that Bismillah Khan mastered classical music, and the various semi-classical, folk and romanticist genres of the Purab (Eastern U.P.) region, like thumri, chaiti, kajri, and dadra. Over the years, he transformed these genres into a distinctive modern idiom for the shehnai, of which he remained the only convincing exponent.

                                          To read full story, visit and buy Sruti 264,311

Sudharani Raghupathy

Birthdays & Anniversaries

In 1965, Sudharani was only 21 years of age but the responsibility of choosing which road to follow was left entirely to her by her parents. Her mother was ready to back her up if she wanted to pursue dance, while her father would probably have understood her if she did that, compromising her chance to lead a life of wife and mother. But they left the decision to her.

Sudharani had already acquired a reputation as a fine Bharatanatyam dancer— and made the eminent teachers who had groomed her feel proud. She had earned the appreciation of ordinary VIPs, namely the connoisseurs, as well as of WIPs like Heads of State and Prime Ministers. She had learnt Carnatic music also. She had graduated with a B.A. degree in philosophy and sociology from the University of Mysore. She had studied abroad, in the United States of America, for a year and this had widened her horizons. She had acquired a degree of sophistication, in addition to the college degrees. She had gained enormous selfconfidence. With such qualifications and experience, she could pursue a career, in dance, if she wished to do so, and hope to succeed.

Interestingly, yet, she chose to travel the other road, knowing very well that it almost certainly meant a drastic change from the joy of dancing in front of footlights to assuming responsibilities as a 'domesticated' wife and mother. She was willing, if not eager, to leave all the glory and glitter behind. She elected to marry R. Raghupathy, 'the boy next door' in a manner of speaking: her and his parents had stayed only a couple of streets apart in Bangalore and known each other for many years, even though the latter had their base in Madras. The alliance had been broached five years earlier and even then Sudharani had tentatively agreed to it.

                                To read full story, visit and buy Sruti 169

Monday, 19 March 2018

The Pattammal century

DKP 100
By V Ramnarayan

An exciting slew of events has been planned to celebrate the centenary of one of Carnatic music's enduring icons starting on Saturday 17 March and culminating on her 100th birth anniversary on 19th March 2019. Sruti's inaugural issue proved an instance success as it had Sangita Kalanidhi DK Pattammal on the cover. She was in many ways a pioneer among Carnatic vocalists, and we called her a trail blazing traditionalist. It is no secret that in the conservative south Indian milieu of the first half of the twentieth century, women were expected to take care of home and hearth, not venturing out even to practise the arts. The performing arts, not considered very respectable in Victorian India, had just about emerged from the shadow of social stigma, and were now dominated by men. In a remarkable turn of events that so often surprise us in the melting pot that is India, it was the intervention of the headmistress of the convent school she went to in the temple town of Kanchipuram that prevented young Pattammal from going the way of many upper caste Tamil girls.

Pattammal was a fortunate exception to the social norms that kept women at home. Once her father Krishnaswamy Dikshitar became convinced that her musical talent should be displayed on the concert stage, there was no stopping her. She not only became the equal of men in areas the few women already performing had hitherto been allowed to enter, but stormed the exclusive male bastion of ragam-tanam-pallavi singing and complex swaraprastaram.

Born in Kanchipuram on 28 March 1919, Damal Krishnaswamy Dikshitar Pattammal was over 90 when she breathed her last on 16 July 2009, her death bemoaned by the lifelong admirers of her sonorous rendering of unadulterated traditional Carnatic music, austere in intent and execution, crystal clear in enunciation, faithful to its creators in word and spirit, soaring in its adventurous exploration of the most complex rhythmic variations.

For all her immaculate pathantara, Pattammal’s early schooling in her chaste music was at best vicarious, learnt from the great gurus of her day by indirect assimilation Ekalavya-style rather than through gurukulavasa, which her gender at any rate ruled out. Her virtual mentor Kanchipuram Naina Pillai’s impact led to her mastery of ragam-tanam-pallavi at a time when women singers were expected to confine themselves to song-rendering in a demure, proper manner. The brief tutelage with Ambi Dikshitar that came later meant that she would one day become synonymous with the Muthuswami Dikshitar oeuvre. Graduation through adulthood and marriage to direct learning from Papanasam Sivan gave her a command over Tamil compositions poignant in the visible bhakti of her exposition of those moving lyrics.

For a woman of orthodox upbringing, Pattammal took many a daring step in her youth, especially in her courageous espousal of the nationalist cause through song. She did not shy away from lending her voice to film songs either, provided the songs were based on classical music and had high meaning. They were usually of patriotic content. She gave new life to some of the best creations of poet Subramania Bharati in this genre.

Pattammal and her brother D.K. Jayaraman were a rare combination on stage, creating vocal excellence in a role reversal that meant the younger brother had to sing in a kind of falsetto to support the elder sister’s deep voice. It is only when Jayaraman started to perform solo that the real depth and range of his voice came into prominence.

While son Sivakumar is a mridanga vidwan, his marriage to Palghat Mani Iyer’s daughter resulted in the passing on of extraordinary musical genes to the next generation. Granddaughter Nithyashree Mahadevan is the best known among the musicians from the Pattammal lineage.

Pattammal was a much loved, respected teacher too. Many frontline musicians belonging to the Jayaraman school had the good fortune of learning from Pattammal too, especially after Jayaraman’s premature death. Vocalist Vijay Siva and violinist R.K. Shriramkumar are perhaps the most prominent of them.

Pattammal remained a loving and devoted teacher almost until the end. She listened to and appreciated good music of all kinds, including film music, jazz and opera, and even watched cricket, but her views on Carnatic music remained unwaveringly traditional, classical.

Much of what you read here formed the substance of a documentary on Pattammal's life that preceded the formal launching of the DKP centenary celebrations by M Venkiah Naidu, Vice President of India on 17 March 2018 at the Narada Gana Sabha. The outstanding feature of the film was Pattammal's magnificent voice which reverberated around the hall. It was difficult to resist the temptation to ask the question, "Will we ever hear another quite like that?"