A Birth Centenary Tribute
Prof. V. Lakshminarayana (1911 – 1990)
Stamp on Lakshminarayana
The Department of Posts issued a five-rupee commemorative stamp in honour of violinist Prof. V. Lakshminarayana Iyer on 14 April 2004. It was printed by photogravure process in India Security Press, Nashik. (His name is given without ‘Iyer’ in the stamp, cover and in the cancellation.) The stamp was released by Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, then President of India, at Rashtrapati Bhavan.
The stamp carries a portrait of Lakshminarayana playing the violin. The First Day Cover illustrates a part of an original handwritten musical notation composed by him (see below).
Special musical tribute
Lakshminarayana Birth Centenary Music Festival – The Gandhi Mandapam at Guindy in Chennai witnessed an unusual music concert on 29th December 2009. Titled ‘Infinity Concert’, the first part was a fusion concert featuring Corky Seigel on harmonica and Keith Peters on electric guitar, and vocal by Kavita Krishnamurti, Ambi and Bindu – wife, son and daughter respectively on Dr. L. Subramaniam, the internationally renowned violinist. The second part was in pure Carnatic style on violin Dr. Subramaniam and his son.
Dr. Subramaniam had launched a concert series in 1992, titled Lakshminarayana Global Music Festival Concerts, as an annual event in memory of his father Prof. Lakshminarayana Iyer. The Gandhi Mandapam concert called ‘Times of India Lakshminarayana Global Music Festival Concert’ was one in that series. It was a special one, for it was with that concert that Dr. Subramaniam flagged off the year-long celebrations of the birth centenary of his father. Commenting on the nature of the festival he had, on an earlier occasion, said: “There has always been a global character to the festival, as my father was a deep patron of international orchestra and strove towards bringing the bow instrument as a primary solo on par with Western violin.”
Lakshminarayana, who was a violinist, initiated his brothers, sisters, sons and daughters to classical music. He preferred to remain a teacher and was not therefore quite known in concert circuits. But his brothers and sons rose to become musicians of a high order, and a couple of them became international celebrities.
Lakshminarayana was born a hundred years ago, on 11 January 1911, in Alleppey (Alappuzha) in Kerala. His parents, Vaidyanatha Iyer and Brihannayaki, were good singers. Besides Lakshminarayana, the couple had two daughters and five more sons.
Lakshminarayana had his schooling in Alleppey till matriculation. Even as a boy he showed interest in music. He had a melodious voice and a passion for music. Noticing his interest, one Gopalakrishna Bhagavatar of the town came forward to teach him.
In course of time, Lakshminarayana learnt a large number of compositions, including Tiruppugazh songs. He gave his maiden vocal performance in the famous Mullakkal Bhagavati temple (Alleppey).
The family migrated to Madurai where Lakshminarayana had a chance to listen to the redoubtable Naina Pillai. It kindled his desire to take up music as a career. From Madurai he moved to Ramnad to join the service of the Raja of Ramnad. He initiated his brothers intoto music; later, he entrusted the teaching of one of his brothers, Krishnan, to his friend at the palace, Ramnad Sankarasivam, a disciple of Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar. As the family stayed in Ramnad for a long time, his brothers came to be known as the Ramnad Brothers.
Besides vocal, Lakshminarayana also learnt to play the violin. He had further training from T. Abhiramasundari, granddaughter of Veena Dhanammal, and from Tiruparkadal Srinivasa Iyengar, a disciple of Naina Pillai.
Lakshminarayana married Seetalakshmi in 1933. She had learnt to sing and play the veena from her childhood. They were blessed with three daughters – Brihannayaki, Subbulakshmi and Ganasaraswathy, and three sons – Vaidyanathan, Subramaniam and Shankar. Lakshminarayana trained all of them in vocal music as well as violin playing.
In 1936 he was appointed professor of music in Jaffna College, Ceylon. After completing that assignment, he came to Madras in 1945. While in Ceylon he presented many concerts as a vocalist, solo violinist and as an accompanist for visiting musicians from India. He also organised a concert in Colombo for his brother Krishnan, with the legendary Kumbakonam Rajamanickam Pillai (violin) and brother Easwaran (mridanga). The two brothers’ names appeared with the prefix ‘Ramnad’.
Lakshminarayana again went to Jaffna in 1952 to teach and returned to India in 1958 and settled down in Chennai. During his second stay he arranged a concert for his eldest son Vaidyanathan with maestro Yazhpanam Dakshinamurthy playing the tavil. Vaidyanathan was only eight years old then.
Lakshminarayana was a Visiting Professor in Val Arts University Valencia, California. He participated in the World Music Festival at Los Angeles where he played on the double-violin (invented by his son L. Shankar). The Indian Music Circle (U.S.A.) conferred the title ‘Sangeeta Chakravarty’ on him.
Prof. Lakshminarayana passed away on 4th December 1990 at the age of 79. In 1992 the Music Academy, Chennai, honoured him by placing his portrait in the Hall of Fame. The Department of Posts issued a five-rupee commemorative stamp in his honour on 14 April 2004.
Teacher and composer
Lakshminarayana was better known as a teacher. He has taught music to a large number of students, Indian and foreign. He also composed some keertana-s, namavali kriti-s, and ragamalika-s. They are in Sanskrit, Tamil, and Manipravalam.
His playing technique has been described in the folder issued by the Department of Posts, along with the stamp. It states: “What sets Professor V. Lakshminarayana apart is the introduction of playing and bowing techniques wherein all four fingers of the left hand are used, playing and plucking the strings simultaneously. The vigorous right-hand techniques introduced and taught by him intrigued some of the greatest musicians like Lord Yehudi Menuhin and Stephanne Grapelli. ….. He was the first person to attempt to play ‘varnams’ in five speeds (pancha nadai) which earned him the sobriquet ‘Panchanadai Lakshminarayana’.”
A musical patriarch
Lakshminarayana initiated his five brothers, three daughters and three sons into music. He also trained and guided them. All of them attained phenomenal proficiency in music as teachers, performers, composers and/or conductors. As a detailed account of their accomplishments is beyond the scope of this article, we would just mention their names and the most important of their attainments.
Most well known among his brothers are Ramnad Krishnan (1918-1973), vocalist, and Ramnad Easwaran (1913-1985) and Ramnad Raghavan (1927-2009), both mridangists. Ramnad Venkatachalam followed his eldest brother and became a violinist. They all became highly accomplished in their chosen area of music. The last brother was Ramnad Subramaniam. Rasika-s of the last generation are quite familiar with the names of Ramnad Krishnan, Easwaran and Raghavan.
Lakshminarayana’s daughters Brihannayaki, Subbulakshmi and Ganasaraswathy are also musicians but, like their father, they too chose to teach.
The violin trio
His sons are the distinguished violin maestros L. Vaidyanathan (1942- 2007), L. Subramaniam (b. 1947) and L. Shankar (b. 1950). They attained proficiency of a high order as accompanists and soloists. They have given innumerable solo, duo and trio concerts. Double violin is their forte. They have also excelled as music directors, conductors, producers and prolific composers, and have brought out a number of albums. Thanks to their collaboration with masters of world music, they attained international fame as well.
Lakshminarayana’s granddaughters, Dr. Lalitha and Nandini (daughters of Subbulakshmi and Muthuswamy), play violin as a duo. These versatile sisters have followed in the footsteps of their celebrated uncles, and have won international acclaim for their performances in Carnatic, Fusion and Western classical music. Their book on their grandfather Violin Maestro V. Lakshminarayana Iyer is the source of information for this article.
Memorials for Lakshminarayana
Lakshminarayana’s memory is cherished by his daughters and sons. His daughters Subbulakshmi Muthuswamy and Ganasaraswathy have established School of Music in his name in Chennai and California respectively.
L. Shankar celebrated the first Lakshminarayana International Music Festival in the US in 1991 and instituted the Lakshminarayana Global Music Festival in 1992. It is an annual festival, conducted in several cities, in which artistes of eminence, both Indian and foreign, are honoured with awards. The first award was given to Yehudi Menuhin The Indian awardees include V.G. Jog, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, M.S. Subbulakshmi, Jasraj and Birju Maharaj, among others.