R. Krishnaswami, Hon. Secretary of the Narada Gana Sabha for almost 43 years, passed away in the early hours of 18 March in Chennai. He was 78. Though he was ailing and was undergoing dialysis thrice a week in the past few months, his interest in the day-to-day running of the Sabha remained undiminished till the very end. It was a triumph of mind over matter. Though weak, just three days before his demise, he had inspected the maintenance work going on in the sabha premises. “A simple servant of music, Bharatanatyam and drama”, that is how Krishnaswami liked to be known.
A senior advocate in the Madras High Court, Krishnaswami was better known as "the most well known face" of the Narada Gana Sabha, and he played a major role in bringing it to its present status. He was a gentleman, frank and forthright in his views as also in his dealings with others. He did not encourage nor put up with hanky-panky ways of seeking performance opportunities. He believed in offering quality programmes to members and rasikas.
He was a strong believer in tradition, but took bold steps when necessary. According to natyacharya V.P. Dhananjayan, in the late 1960s and 70s when other organisations shunned male artists, Krishnaswami boldly offered him programmes at the Narada Gana Sabha. It was a revolutionary step which gradually opened up opportunities for male Bharatanatyam artists.
He was a true connoisseur and patron of the arts. When the Association of Bharatanatyam Artistes of India (ABHAI) approached him for office space, he readily came forward to give a room in the sabha premises free of rent. ABHAI has been functioning there for almost 25 years.
Twenty years ago, when Sujatha Vijayaraghavan and K.S. Subramaniam – troubled parents of young dancers went to him with their tales of woe about the dance scene, it was R. Krishnaswami who suggested the creation of Natyarangam (the dance wing of Narada Gana Sabha) to break the pay-to-perform syndrome for young talent, and to generate awareness among the audience on various aspects of dance appreciation. Under his leadership, Natyarangam has made a mark in the field of Bharatanatyam.
Five years ago, the Haridhos Giri School of Music was started under the aegis of Narada Gana Sabha to encourage talented youngsters to learn Carnatic music under the guidance of stalwart musicians.
Managing the demands of artists, the audience, the finances and yet uphold a high level of professionalism is no mean task, and R. Krishnaswami, along with his team, successfully balanced all these aspects. In recognition of his service and contribution to the promotion and propagation of the performing arts, the Sruti Foundation honoured him with the M. Venkatakrishnan Memorial Award in 2010. He received the title of Kalaimamani from the Tamil Nadu Eyal Isai Nataka Manram.
He was President, Federation of City Sabhas and held important positions in several cultural and religious organisations like the DKJ Trust, Tiruppunthuruthy Sri Narayana Teertha Trust, Asthika Samajam, Alwarpet, Gnanananda Seva Samajam, Brahmasri Papanasam Sivan Rasigar Sangam, the Bharata Ilango Foundation for Asian Culture, the Mylapore Academy, and the Bharathi Vidyalaya.
He was a pious man and wrote several articles and books in English and Tamil on the arts, law, religion and spirituality. Two of his books - 'Eppo Varuvaro' on Swami Haridhos Giri and 'Saranagathi' on Hindu philosophical thought and ideals, were published by Vikatan Prasuram. A perfectionist with an eye for detail, he would insist on proof-reading his articles for 'Margabandhu', the bi-lingual monthly of the GA Trust.
Under his leadership, the Sabha provided a major boost to Harikatha and nama sankertanam. As a Trustee of the G.A. Trust he was deeply involved in the development of the village and temple complex in Thennangur. He initiated the conducting of weekend residential camps on dance and music in the temple-hamlet, which are very popular. His demise is a major loss to the world of music, dance and drama.
Shakti Swarupa: overcoming disability
A pleasant surprise was in store for the audience at the Guru Krupa Nritya Samaroha 2015, organised in mid-February by the Debaprasad Nrutya Pratisthan at Jayadeva Bhawan in Bhubaneswar, Shakti Swarupa Bir, a sensitive, graceful and competent dancer, can neither hear nor speak, yet she performed Jayadeva’s ashtapadi Sakhi hey Kesi mathanamudaram without slipping a single beat. She has been trained by guru Chittaranjan Acharya, a senior disciple of eminent guru Pankajcharan Das.
As you watched Shakti’s soulful abhinaya for the song in Pahadi raga set in Yati tala, you could not at any point question her hearing disability or training. Even though she cannot hear the sound of her own ankle bells, she matched her steps with the vibrations of the mardala and percussions accurately to live music. She perhaps employs some method of calculation of numbers to maintain the laya and tala. While performing solo with musicians she follows the hand movements of the pakhawaj player. While performing duet with her guru she does not need any instructions and that is easiest for her. But in her performance in the festival, she, very skilfully managed to distract the audience from observing it.
The one-day celebration of Odissi dance spearheaded by Gayatri Chand, senior disciple of Guru Debaprasad Das and Founder-cum-Trustee of the Pratisthan, was a maiden venture of the charitable organisation. Organised in memory of guru Debaprasad Das, the aim was to provide a platform to talented young dancers. Shakti Swarupa is Gayatri’s find. Shakti’s father Durgamadhab Bir was a clerk and Odissi guru Chittaranjan Acharya an engineer at Talcher Thermal in Dhenkanal district in Odisha. As guru Chittaranjan Acharya lived close to Durgamadhab Bir's house, Shakti started learning Odissi from him at the age of seven along with his daughter who is also an Odissi dancer. Acharya took pains to explain the techniques and nuances to her and today Shakti is quite a competent dancer. Having watched Shakti in Chittaranjan Acharya's classes, Gayatri Chand decided to promote her as a student of the Pankajcharan Das style. During 1985-86 Shakti performed solo at the Kala Bikas Kendra in Cuttack, under the aegis of the State Sangeet Natak Academy, at the Kalavikas Kendra, and in 1996 she presented a duet with her guru at Rabindra Mandap under the banner of the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi. Shakti acted in the Bollywood film 'Hamari Beti' which was sent as an entry to the 42nd Chicago International Film Festival 2006. At present she is working as a dance teacher at the Sai International School.
Shakti has set an example with her will power, perseverance, ambition and courage, to emerge as a dedicated and graceful dancer.
Focus on pallavi singing at Nadasangamam
Nadasangamam, an annual event conducted by the music wing of Narada Gana Sabha, is a platform for transfer of knowledge from senior musicians to students of Carnatic music. Inspired by Natyarangam’s Natya Sangraham, the much sought after annual dance camp, this music event was launched and is being co-ordinated by Sumathi Krishnan with R.S. Jayalakshmi as the convenor. Thennangur, situated about 117 km from Chennai, is the chosen venue for this camp which has been conducted successfully for four consecutive years. This was the first time I was witnessing the sessions.
The theme for this year was ‘Pallavi’. The sessions were conducted from 6 to 8 February by R. Vedavalli, Chitravina Ravikiran, R.S. Jayalakshmi, A.S. Murali, Shruti Jauhari and Renjith Babu. Vocalists Mala Mohan and Sumitra Vasudev assisted in co-ordinating the event as part of the team.
The serene atmosphere of the place, coupled with the prevailing divinity of the temple was an apt setting to internalise some of the best aspects of Carnatic music. The first evening opened with a session of bhajans by Keerthana Bharadwaj and the second was a musical evening by all the participants.
Renjith Babu, Yoga teacher and Bharatanatyam dancer (disciple of Prof. C.V. Chandrasekhar), set the tone in the morning by discussing the art of breathing, the importance of posture and the right food intake to produce good music. His agility and composure, was enviable. Sumathi Krishnan began the sessions with a couple of slokas and introductions, following which the resource persons for the day would take over.
Chennai-based Shruti Jauhari, Hindustani vocalist from the Maihar gharana, holds a doctorate in music, is an exponent of khyaal and thumri and works at A.R. Rehmans’ school of music. She is endowedwith a voice that travels effortlessly over several octaves and her ideas on how to produce the right voice for classical singing were very interesting. ‘Nabhi-hrut-kantha-rasana’ said Tyagaraja. She demonstrated the way to produce rasa from the navel to the throat. She said a robust voice could be built without shouting or exerting unwanted pressure on the vocal chords. Though Carnatic music may require a slightly different treatment of the voice for the production of some specific gamakas, the underpinning lesson was that full throated music need not necessarily translate into screaming in the higher octaves.
Be it teaching, singing, or playing the chitraveena, N. Ravikiran articulates complicated subjects so clearly, that even an elementary student finds it easy to grasp. He explained in a lucid manner with sound examples and explanations how to construct a pallavi and how it is important to balance the tala, sahitya, bhava and the intellectuality of treatment. He explained that in a pallavi construct, the sync between music, lyrics and metre is of paramount importance. Ravikiran’s ability to connect with the youth was amazing. With references from the computer lexicon, he told them that the memory size of the hard disk (brain) has to be constantly expanded, with many file partitions on the disk, but will not suffice if the random access memory is not fast enough to quickly retrieve and connect the dots! He beautifully explained that music presentation on stage should follow the CID principle (content, intent and delivery) and said that unless the three fall in place at the same time, the presentation cannot be a success.
Veteran vainika and teacher R.S. Jayalakshmi could also easily connect with the youngsters, despite her age and seniority. Her demonstration of pallavis, especially the rettai arudi ragamalika pallavis was very interesting. She explained various aspects like how and when anulomam and trikalam are done, as well as the various points to sing tisram for a pallavi. She elaborated on raga nuances and pallavi patterns with several examples and gave the students small pallavi exercises. She was quite a favourite with the participants.
A.S. Murali of Kalakshetra, a disciple of P.S. Narayanaswamy, is a vocalist and a percussionist. He explained the systematic approach to kalpanaswara singing in Carnatic music. Starting from small one-fourth avartana swaras he moved on to complicated poruttams and korvais and explained the method behind the mathematics of swaras. He showed that sarvalaghu swara patterns are not rambling swaras strung together; it is essential to be practice them well as these swaras demanded both imagination and arithmetic, balanced in proportion. He made a complicated subject seem easy with his interesting approach and comments.
R. Vedavalli, the doyen among Carnatic musicians, has been a great resource, guide and mentor for Nadasangamam over the last four years. This year too she participated with great enthusiasm and provided essential inputs on many aspects of Carnatic music. She gave a brilliant lecture on the art of niraval singing and its importance to pallavi exposition. She emphasised that a pallavi is complete only if it allows for an elaborate and expansive niraval singing. A pallavi construct according to her, has to have minimal words and a measured spacing between words (karvais) which then lend the musician enough scope to explore the kalpana aspects of niraval singing. She also elaborated on the comparisons and contrasts of the two schools of thought on niraval for pallavi singing and demonstrated some old pallavis. A master teacher, she directed the students so skillfully, that she made a group of students who were relatively new to this concept, actually sing a pallavi by giving them small assignments in different talas.
The highlights of the two-day sessions were the little quiz on a video about T. Brinda that was screened, the extempore little viva held for each participant to help them understand was taught, and the open discussions and clarifications in the night after the close of the days sessions.
The finale was a small examination. The students were given a set of words and they had to gather in groups of five and compose a pallavi in any raga and tala, but set only in chatusra nadai. The group had to sing the pallavi and demonstrate trikaalam for the basic construct. Prizes were given to the top two renditions and the sessions came to a close with the valedictory function where certificates were distributed to the students.
Two days of unhindered immersion in music, the gourmet food, the divine darsan of the Lord, the singing sessions in the evening in front of the sanctum sanctorum, the vivacity of the young participants, the approachability of senior artists, and the fun and games centered around Carnatic music in which all of us took part during the return bus journey – all these made for a true nada-sangamam.
(The author is a marketing professional, Carnatic vocalist and senior disciple of R. Vedavalli)
Suguna Purushothaman passes away
A great artist and wonderful human being
After a brave and prolonged battle, vidushi Suguna Purushothaman succumbed to cancer at Chennai, today. One of the best known disciples of Musiri Subramania Iyer (as well as Semmangudi Srinivasier), she was one of the most loved and sought after guru, besides being an accomplished concert artist and musicologist of a high order. She was known for her happy temperament, great sense of humour and ready wit.
At a concert-lecture on Musiri a couple of years ago, this is what she said: “The years I spent learning music from Musiri Subramania Iyer marked a golden period of my life.While attending one of his concerts, you forgot after the first few moments that he was singing or even that you were listening, so deep was the bliss of complete absorption in the music.”
She often gave lecture audiences samples of the Musiri way of niraval or swaram singing, with special emphasis on niraval, on how he stressed the importance of getting the lyric right, of choosing the best possible place in the song to do niraval even among a number of appropriate lines, of how vital the meaning of the lyric was to this choice.
If her disciples loved her, Suguna adored them in equal measure. She was enormously proud of them, and enjoyed presenting lectures accompanied by her principal student K Gayatri.
Suguna Purushothaman will be missed by the world of Carnatic music. The void will be hard to fill. We salute her spirit and her devotion to music.
Maharajapuram Santhanam Foundation
Maharajapuram Santhanam Foundation presented the "Maharajapuram Santhanam Memorial Professional Excellence Award’’ on January 24, 2015 to seven carnatic musicians for their contributions to the art form.
The awardees were Trichur V. Ramachandran, O.S. Thyagarajan, Nagai R. Muralidharan, Parur M.A. Sundareswaran, Lalgudi G.J.R. Krishnan, Tanjore Ramados and Mannargudi Easwaran.