M. Krishnaswami, “MK” to his large circle of friends, died on 15 October 2013 in Chennai. He was ailing for some years and was 88 when he passed away. He was a respected patron of Carnatic music and musicians. He was the husband of Sangita Kalanidhi Mani Krishnaswami. He was a close friend of N. Pattabhi Raman, founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sruti, and was instrumental in bringing in a few companies to provide financial assistance to Sruti magazine in the 1980s and 90s.
Born in 1926 into a family of lawyers, he had his early education in Tirupati. He graduated in Law from the Madras Law College. He began his career in New Delhi in the Rajya Sabha Legal Secretariat. He had a short stint in Calcutta as Deputy Director in the Office of the Director General of Civil Supplies. Later in 1960, he was deputed by the Govt. of India to serve as Secretary of the Tagore Centenary Celebration Committee, Madras, which was headed by Union Minister C. Subramaniam, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu K. Kamaraj and Rukmini Devi Arundale.
In 1964, MK joined the Indian Express Group and served there until 1972 as General Manager of the Madras and Vijayawada edition-branches. In 1973 MK was handpicked by the late T.S. Krishna of the TVS Group to serve as Senior Personnel Manager of Lucas-TVS. He persuaded Lucas-TVS and Lucas Indian Service to provide financial assistance to Sruti under the Sruti Alliance Plan, which they did for many years, when MK was active in the scene.
MK was quite an active figure for over 30 years in the field of classical arts in his native Tirupati and in Chennai. He was a pillar of support to his wife Mani Krishnaswami and helped shape her career in music.
MK played a pivotal role in the development of The Thyagaraja Temple Trust in Tirupati. He was also deeply involved in the activities of many religious and cultural organisations like the Tirupati-Tirumala Devasthanam (TTD), the Music Academy, Madras, the Kalakshetra Foundation, and the Nadopasana music sabha. Like many others, he was a father-figure for the Sruti parivaar in its nascent years.
V. SUBRAHMANIAM - He gave us confidence
My association with V. Subrahmaniam – Mama as I called him – began in 2001, almost 12 years ago on the day of Vijayadasami. From the first day, he was more a friend than a teacher. He struck a warm and affectionate bond with every student. In matters of music however, Mama was always strict. Not once did he let us off before we got the sangati right and never did he compromise on his own pathantaram from his esteemed guru Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. Mama reaffirmed in us a self-belief to value our own singing that improved our music naturally.
Mama was a stickler for punctuality – he was always on time, for classes and concerts. He had a professional approach. His planning for concerts was along the lines that he preached – a contrasting variation of ragam, talam and tempo along with a strong sense of proportion. Giving vocal support to him on stage was an eye opener; to sit close to him and see how he handled every raga and kriti was a great learning experience. To us, he would say “Nanna vaayi vittu paadungo, appo daan effect kidaikkum” (open your mouth well and sing, only then will it have the desired effect). He encouraged his students to sing full throated, and attempt challenging sangatis at challenging speeds. He gave us immense confidence. The demanding kriti Marubalka was a perennial favourite; he would insist on us singing it in every other kutcheri. To the apprehensive among us, he would say, “Neengallaam daan ithai challenge-aa edutthu paadanum” (Such like you should take it up as a challenge and sing!)
A special aspect in Mama’s singing was his articulate manner of singing slokas. During my college days, I would rush back for an evening class with Mama. After the customary teaching of a kriti, he would on occasion ask me to sing a sloka. I would dutifully turn it on to him to sing a couple of lines. In his outdoor classroom, against the late evening sky, Mama would sing a Yamunakalyani, Sahana, Bhairavi, Begada, Hamsanandi, or Nadanamakriya with eyes half-closed. The essence of the raga would pour forth and touch the heart. Mama would then remark “Kannai moodindu Semmangudi Thathavai nenachukko, ideas thaana varum” (Close your eyes and think of Semmangudi Thatha; ideas will come on their own).
He had unflinching faith in his guru. For my first kutcheri in 2004, which the Music Circle was kind enough to host, Mama suggested that I sing under the joint banner of the Semmangudi Golden Jubilee Trust as well. He reasoned, “Anything started under the name of Sri Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer can only be successful”. Before every kutcheri, when we went to take his blessings, he would always ask us, “Thatha padatthukku namaskaram panniniya?” (Did you pay your obeisance to Thatha’s picture?), referring to the photo of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer in his living room.
He and Kripa Mami always treated us like family. For many years, they attended every kutcheri of mine, with Mama sitting in the front row. In 2004, they took six of us students to Sringeri during Navaratri. Mama introduced each of us in person to the Sringeri Mahaswamigal, a gesture I shall never forget.
Mama taught us more than just music. He instilled in us a deep joy in what we know, a discipline to preserve what we learn, and a confidence to explore where we should. To his students, he was a source of great strength and support. His sudden passing away is an irreplaceable loss. It brings to mind a piece of advice he often gave his students: “When the audience stands enthralled and is ready for one last song – the performer should bring the concert to an end”.
(A young Carnatic vocalist and disciple of V. Subrahmaniam)
The soul of a kutcheri
The post-main part of a Carnatic music concert, which features lighter items, is popularly known as the tukkada session. The Music Academy programme list describes this as “Miscellaneous” or “Idhara vagaigal” in Tamil, meaning sundry items. Is it fair to so downgrade this segment?
I don’t think so. After an elaborate alapana, niraval, kalpana swaras for the main item or central piece of the concert in a ghana raga, followed by a tani avartanam, comes this beautiful session. It provides the artist an opportunity to take the concert to a higher plane by judicious selection of songs of rich lyrical beauty. It has to be free from technical, intellectual or any kind of exhibitionism and should connect with the listener at a deeper level. The vocalist should be proficient in Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam with proper pronunciation and the right kind of musical imagination to properly render these kriti-s.
Several stalwarts excelled in this session. My father K.V. Narayanaswamy, like his great master Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, had a special liking for this section of the concert and had a rich repertoire to present the kind of songs best suited to this session. Songs of Tamil composers like Gopalakrishna Bharati, Papanasam Sivan, Vedanayakam Pillai, Tanjavur Sankara Iyer, Arunagirinathar, Kudumbai Siddhar, Ramalinga Swamigal, M.D. Ramanathan, the Dasa composers in Kannada, Swati Tirunal and Irayimman Thampi in Sanskrit, Malayalam and Manipravalam Andal’s Tiruppavai and Arunachala Kavi’s Rama Nataka keertana-s, and kriti-s like Syama Sastry’s Mayamma or the Neelambari kriti Ennaga manasu of Tyagaraja are some of the gems that come to mind.
KVN spaced out the programme in such a way that he had time to sing at least five to six songs after the central piece. The ragas he chose were mostly Khamas, Behag, Bagesree, Nadanamakriya, Ahiri, Neelambari, Sindhubhairavi, Kapi, Surati, Kurinji, Brindavana Saranga, Chintamani, Chenchuritti, Manji, Yamunakalyani, Jonpuri and Yadukulakambhoji.
A leading mridanga vidwan once said that he did not have to worry about the audience walking out during the tani avartanam when he accompanied KVN because they would stay back to listen to the gems he would soon sing.
When MS sang Kurai onrum illai or the beautiful Annamacharya song Jo Achutananda (Kapi), or when KVN sang Gopalakrishna Bharati’s Varugalamo ayya (Manji) or a folk song like Meiporul kandorku in Chenchuritti, the listener was transported to a different world and the music lingered in their hearts long after the concert.
My recommendation is that the post tani session be called the soul filling session or soul lifting session.
Film on Natyanjalis wins a Gold Remi in USA
Cosmic Connection, a documentary directed by Chennai based filmmaker Seetha Ratnakar, won a Gold Remi award in the ethnic-cultural category at the 47th WorldFest-Houston international film festival. Seetha received the award at a glittering ceremony held on 12 April in Houston, Texas.
Seetha says, “It was a momentous occasion to receive this prestigious award and international recognition along with winners from 33 countries. Cosmic Connection is my dream project which I started in 2006 but could complete only in early 2014. It connects the Cosmos to the cosmic dance of Nataraja, and explores the link between dance and temples.”
Seetha learnt Kuchipudi from Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam and Bharatanatyam from Guru K.J. Sarasa. But rather than take up an active performing career on stage, Seetha preferred to showcase dance on television. She joined Doordarshan and served the organisation for several decades before retiring recently as Assistant Station Director, Doordarshan Kendra, Chennai.
Apart from producing several programmes on classical dance for television, she has done extensive coverage of the Natyanjali dance festivals held in Chidambaram for 25 years, as well as of dance festivals organised in Kumbakonam, Thirunallar, Nagapattinam and Thanjavur during Sivaratri.
In Cosmic Connection there are several excerpts of the different classical dance styles performed at the Natyanjali festivals and bytes of famous exponents like Sonal Mansingh, C.V. Chandrasekhar, Padma Subrahmanyam, and Rathna Papa Kumar, to name a few. Seetha has also included crisp descriptions about the temples, as well as comments by A. Sambandam of Chidambaram Natyanjali, S. Janaki of Sruti and others.
A memorable debut by Rohit Ashok
Rohit Ashok’s mridangam arangetram at Raga Sudha Hall on 11th May was one of the more heartwarming debuts of the recent past. An obviously talented young percussionist, the schoolboy also proved lucky in more ways than one.
To be taught mridangam by one of the better teachers around—his grandfather KS Kalidas—a disciple of the eminent Palani Subramania Pillai, as well as his father Ashok Kalidas, was, along with his genetic predisposition to music, surely one of nature’s gifts bestowed on Rohit.
The setting was perfect too, with many top musicians and gurus as well as discerning listeners packing the hall in an obvious show of affection and respect for the lad and his grandfather-guru.
Rohit could not have asked for better vidushis or vidwans either to accompany on this all-important day of his life. Vocalist Sumitra Vasudev and violinist Dr R Hemalatha are both fine artists, among the most accomplished and nuanced musicians around, but rendered even more apposite for the occasion by their empathy for the young percussionist.
The main suite in Todi was exquisite—in raga alapana, kriti rendition, niraval and swaraprastara, in more or less equal measure—though to me the raga alapana was the best part, with vocalist and violinist delighting the ear with unexpected phrases as much as keenly anticipated ‘known’variations.
When Sumitra sketched the higher notes with some brilliant strokes, I was eagerly expecting her to stay there for a long while, but she descended rather soon from the peak after some tantalizing glimpses of the grandeur of the raga at that altitude. Perhaps she will let herself go completely on another occasion, getting drowned and drowning us in turn in the flood of her imagination. Hemalatha was delicacy personified. In the way she embellished the main artist’s explorations with her own creativity without once exceeding her defined role as accompanist, Hemalatha was true to her consistent propensity to do so, regardless of the stature of the main artist.
A festive atmosphere pervaded the concert, with the rasikas palpably willing the boy on towards an excellent display befitting the occasion, and he did not disappoint us. When, during the course of her felicitatory address, Sangita Kalanidhi R Vedavalli confessed her nervousness about the effect of two hours of drumming on the youngster’s soft, adolescent hands and finger, she was reflecting the collective anxiety of the audience. But Rohit passed the test with flying colours, demonstrating the efficacy of the intelligent hard work he had put in through years of abhyasa.
Both Vedavalli and fellow speaker Sangita Kala Acharya PS Narayanaswami blessed the boy wholeheartedly, after certifying him to be a true legatee of the great Palani tradition of percussion. They expressed their admiration for the youngster’s confidence and spirit of adventure in doing a tani avartanam in jhampa tala and his courageous rhythmic sallies, while acknowledging Sumitra’s contribution in the ‘merciless’challenges she set him.
They both applauded Kalidas’s thorough preparation of his ward for the occasion, as they did the general high quality of his disciples, two of whom helped young Rohit on stage.
Rohit’s parents played a dignified part in the proceedings of the evening, while honouring the guests on the dais and delivering a vote of thanks.
The prayer song by Brinda Manickavasagam and the compering by Nikila Shyam Sunder measured up to the overall standard of the evening’s fare.