MUSICAL MEMORIES Guruve Bhaskarudu


Guruve Bhaskarudu                       


By Malladi Sreeramprasad and Malladi Ravikumar

Our musical journey with vidwan Nedunuri Krishna­murthy began in 1991 at Durgi Vari Veedhi at Gandhi Nagar in Vijayawada. When our father took us to Nedunuri’s house, we were ready to sing a few keertanas and varnams in his presence. Our father, Malladi Suribabu and uncle, Malladi Narayana Sarma, had learnt a few kritis from Nedunuri earlier.

The first meeting is etched in our memory. We prostrated before the vidwan and our father requested Nedunuri to teach us. He addressed us as “Yera” (an affectionate Telugu endearment which means “Hey you!”). He asked us our names and wanted to know whether we could tune the tambura and write notation – to which we answered in the affirmative. He then asked us to sing the Todi varnam Yera napai which we sang, of course with his embellishments which we had imbibed from our father. Thus started our musical journey with our guru Nedunuri and we learnt several varnams and kritis from him.

After his retirement as the Principal of the Government Music College, he got a call from Andhra University, Visakhapatnam appointing him as a visiting professor in the newly established department of music. A few days later, Nedunuri himself wrote to our father saying that he would teach us music in the gurukula paddhati, also assuring us a scholarship. Both of us joined him in 1991. We used to stay with him in his quarters in Visakhapatnam. This journey continued up to 2014 till our guru Nedunuri left for his heavenly abode.

Sruti was always in his travel bag and on his coffee table and he used to enjoy reading the articles and music news from around the world.

We have shared our learning experience under the guidance of our guru, Nedunuri Krishnamurthy, with the readers of Sruti. Our reflections delve into his musical brilliance and the path we traversed under his mentorship.

His raga alapana

Ragasudharasa paanamu jesi... raajillave O manasa! Thus spake Tyagabrahmam!

His exhaustive, wholesome, aesthetic alapanas were a treat to listen to. Major ragas took on a new avatar and lesser sung ragas brightened up in myriad colours in his voice. His imagination, spontaneity, and embellishments made raga alapanas ever enchanting, yet classical. At this juncture, we would like to mention that one of his disciples — sangeeta acharya Akella Mallikarjuna Sarma — has notated several raga alapanas and kritis of Nedunuri and given them to numerous students to learn raga alapana. Sarma has also accompanied him in concerts and participated in his long practice sessions.

In class, we used to begin a raga, and soon Nedunuri garu would explore and enjoy the beauty of the raga. He never taught us phrase-by-phrase elaboration; he would take his turn to explain how to build alapana in his own leisurely way of expanding a raga, leaving us spellbound. After his alapana, he would often forget himself and end the class in silence. We picked up many elements of raga by listening to his singing as he immersed himself in his ishta raga devata. His Kharaharapriya, Todi, Kambhoji, Bhairavi, Kalyani, Saveri, Begada, Poorvikalyani, Ahiri, Kannada,  Harikambhoji, Sama, Khamas, Mohanam, Abheri, and Sahana to mention only a few, never sounded similar. His ragas remain ever fresh and beautiful.

His niraval

The art of niraval lies in singing a complete sentence repeatedly with the feeling (bhava) of the lyric (sahitya). Guru Nedunuri used to sing niraval extensively. He taught us niraval by making us sing after him and emphasised niraval as an amalgamation of all aspects of manodharma sangeetam involving raga, laya and bhava. He would tell us about artists like M.S. Subbulakshmi, K.V. Narayanaswamy, and Musiri Subramania Iyer who excelled at niraval. He encouraged us to observe and absorb the different styles of his contemporaries. He exactly followed what he was taught by his guru, Sripada Pinakapani, who used to demonstrate the style of expert musicians in singing niraval.

Who can forget his Eedu leni malaya­marutamu (Murupemugalige in Mukhari), Tyagaraja hridaya sadanudani (Enduko nemasu in Kalyani), Saramina dhyanamu (Aragimpavey in Todi), Jagadekapatimena (Okapari in Kharaharapriya), Baguga vinta ragamula (Mitri bhagyame in Kharaharapriya), and many more.

His swarakalpana

‘Swarakalpana is an extension of raga bhava’ – is what he taught us. We learnt the two main aspects – vastness and mathematics of swarakalpana. He used to plan and chisel each phrase of swarakalpana on stage. He was such a genius that each time, a new pattern of swarakalpana would emerge spontaneously on stage within no time. It is interesting how he arrived at the eduppu (starting point of the sahitya). It was not a tightrope walk; it was a smooth landing, which he handled with perfection. Even while singing swarakalpana in the second speed, he never left the gamaka, anuswara and spuritam. He used to sing extensive swarakalapana in the first few kritis itself and sometimes in the varnam too, perhaps to get hold of the stage or to get full control of his voice.

His swara singing for Bhavanuta, Manavyalakincharadate, Undedi Ramudokadu, Chani todi teve, Bhuvini dasudane, Smarane sukhamu, Sugunamuley, and many madhyama kala kritis and other two-kalai chauka kritis, are a treat for students, musicians and rasikas alike; he gave us many tips by precept while teaching, by example in concert singing.

He considered Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer’s swarakalpana as ideal and thought of him as his ‘manaseeka guru’. As students, we observed that the single avartanam was common to both the stalwarts.

Kriti patham

His kriti patham is authentic and hence is followed by musicians of many schools. Vidushi R.Vedavalli once told us that she has learnt many kritis from the video recordings of SVBC channel where he taught several compositions to both of us. His kriti patham with progressive sangatis exhibits the grandeur of raga and the spirit of the composer. Singing kriti for him was never a time-pass or a filler in between concert items. He had the ability of beautifying the keertana with abundant raga bhava. We have learnt several kritis with perfect notation from our guru during our gurukulavasam. These include compositions of the Trinity, Annamacharya, Bhadhrachala Ramadasu, and others. Our first kriti learnt from him was Koluvamaragada kondadapani in Todi. He advised us to sing madhyama kala keertanas; not to sing in a fast tempo, to understand the subtle beauties of raga and sahitya bhaava. He always stressed the importance of wording (proper joining and splitting of words) and pronunciation. On one occasion, he mentioned that music in the composition of Tyagaraja, Dikshitar and Syama Sastry, reflects the Tanjavur bani. He firmly believed that artists should not make even a micron of adjustment then the artist is worthy of being called a torchbearer of this tradition.

His ragam-tanam-pallavi

Nedunuri had sung many ragam-tanam-pallavis with profound laya skills in various tala structures, he used to recall his memories with vidwan Lalgudi Jayaraman who appreciated his ability to sing pallavis. Nedunuri used to ask us to compose pallavis on our own and he liked our mantra naada pallavis where we include mantras in pallavi sahityam for bestowing the result of mantropasana.

His reverence towards his gurus

Over three decades, Nedunuri has set to tune more than 200 kritis of Annamacharya, 108 kritis of Bhadrachala Ramadasu, several of Narayana Teertha and a few Tyagaraja kritis (found in Sourashtra Sabha, Madurai) discovered by Acharya  Veturi Ananda Murthy, son of renowned scholar Veturi Prabhakara Sastry (he rewrote Annamacharya sankeertanas from copper plates). It is our fortune that along with his disciple, Garimella Balakrishnaprasad, we too had notated his Annamayya, Bhadrachala Ramadasu and other kritis, recorded them and have been singing them in concerts, teaching
his immortal tunes to our students. Notably, many kritis sung in Carnatic sangeetha sabhas feature mostly Nedunuri’s Annamacharya and Ramadasu kritis.

Nendraganti Krishnamohan, Chairman, Sri Chakra Cements, is a Rama bhakta. His meeting with Nedunuri culminated in the celebrations of Ramadasu Jayanthi at Bhadrachalam.  Lalitha and Vijaya Kumar have been conducting this utsavam for the last 14 years, keeping up the Ramabhakthi of  Nedunuri.

Blessed are we both that he used to call us and sing a new tune. We used to sit together in Vizag to see the final proof. He gave us such a place in his heart! He was a perfectionist to the core – we witnessed and participated in hundreds of recordings – even one mistake in a raga alapana or keertana, would upset him, and he would fly to Hyderabad and get it corrected in the recording studio!

His sishya vatsalyam

Till Nedunuri moved to Visakha­patnam, he was a busy performer and administrator in various music colleges in Andhra Pradesh. He worked as a principal in Secunderabad, Vijayawada and Tirupati.

Domada, Chittabbay, Koka Satyavathi and Akondi Sreenivasa Rajarao are a few of his students. As a head of the acharyas, he used to conduct raga rasam, a special music class for students in music colleges to enrich raga bhava and he used to make them understand how to derive raga gnanam from varnams and kritis and the importance of learning raga alapana from live concerts.

In Vizag he had a bunch of sishyas - Saraswathi Vidyardhi, her daughter Lahari, Sarada Subramanyam , Lalitha Chandra Sekhar, Chaithanya brothers, Malladi Yamuna Raman, Vinay Sarva, Ramakoti, Sreenidhi and few other young students. Subbanarasayya of Montreal, Canada used to visit him and learn.

Sugunamma (our guru’s wife) Sree Valli and Vijaysree (his daughters) and Pinakapani (his son) treated us as their own family.

Learning, singing alongside him in concerts and recordings, absorbing the experiences as his disciples from our gurukulavasam have been special.  Particularly, understanding his musical self-realisation, life journey, and the integration of practical Vedanta in his teachings.

(The authors, veteran Carnatic musicians and teachers)

[Sruti has a policy of  editing out salutations like Sri, Smt, Sir,  Ji, Pandit, Ustad, Saheb and honorifics from all its articles]