In the field of Carnatic music, there are amateurs, there are good artistes, there are top class artists and then there is Sri Madurai T.N.Seshagopalan (TNS). I have been hooked on to his music ever since I first heard him sing a rAgam tAnam pallavi in rAgA dharmavati when I was about 13. I had not heard anything like that till then and even till date have not heard a better rAga Alapana or tanam or pallavi in that rAgA by anyone else ….. and its not just about the rAgA dharmavati. It is my humble opinion that take any rAgA and/or any song in any rAgA and no one can do better justice to it than TNS. It isn’t a big surprise then that he is my all time favorite carnatic vocalist.
The speciality of TNS’ music is that it has so many specialities. It is so rich in terms of its content that there is so much for everyone to take away. Whether you love elaborate rAga AlApanAs, detailed neravals, melodious, bhAva laden renditions of compositions, lightning fast bhrigas, kalpanA swarams rich in their mathematical and melodic content, well executed tanams and/or difficult pallavis - you get them all in his music.
TNS gave the best concert so far in the Gokulashtami concerts series at the Odukkathur Mutt yesterday. So many singers have sung before him, all top class artistes of today, but then TNS dwarfed them all. And, what a combination it was on the stage !!!! Two Sangeetha Kalanidhis and one of the finest artists in their own respective fields – Sri M.Chandrasekharan (MC) on the violin and Sri Umayalapuram K. Sivaraman (UKS) on the mridangam and also one of the seniormost ghatam artists today, Sri E.M. Subramaniam (EMS) on the ghatam (The Sangeetha Kalanidhi is an award given by The Music Academy, Chennai and is considered to be one of the highest awards a Carnatic musician can get).
List of compositions rendered is as follows:
1) srI varalakshmi – srI – rUpakam – muthuswAmi dIkshitar
2) padmAvati ramanam – pUrvikalyAni – misra chApu – UthukkAdu venkatasubbaiyer
3) ranganAyakam – nAyaki – Adi – muthuswAmi dIkshitar
4) sonnAl ozhiya – kannada – Adi – UthukkAdu venkatasubbaiyer
5) srI krishnam – tOdi – Adi – muthuswAmi dIkshitar
6) krishnA (viruttam) – madhuvanti
narajanma – madhuvanti – Adi – purandaradasa
7) sAyankAlE (viruttam) – rAgamAlikA (rAgAs kAmbOji, vasanthA, hindOlam, chandrajyOti, mOhanam, kamAs, atANA, sAmA, Ananda bhairavi, Ahiri, amrutavarshini, subapantuvarALi, kuntalavarALi, kathanakuthUhalam, nIlAmbari, bilahari, kApi, surutti, bOuLi and sindhubhairavi)
thillAnA – sindhubhairavi – Adi – ?
8) pavamAna (mangalam) – sOwrAshtram – Adi – thyAgarAja
mangala slOkam – srI
The concert was generally slow paced. The last time I heard the purvikalyAni kriti padmAvati ramanam was about 6 years back from a recording of TNS in his hey days. The recording was released by Coney as a part of a two cassette pack and if someone wants to listen to what TNS was in his youth, he/she should definitely hear the audio cassettes. The kriti ranganAyakam was slowly and beautifully rendered. Todi rAga Alapana was so detailed that it seemed that he had covered everything that possibly could be covered. At the end of the AlApana, the audience clapped continuously for about 30 sec with both Sri M. Chandrasekharan (MC) and Sri Umayalapuram Sivaraman (UKS) saying “aaha aaha” in complete admiration. When the clapping almost ended, UKS said something to MC which got lost in the midst of the loud claps but MC replied saying “appadi irunthuthE … adhu response lendE theriyardE (it was so great … it can be seen from the response)”. The muthuswAmi dIkshitar kriti srI krishnam that followed was again a treat to the ears, not to mention the kalpanA swarams at the end which included beautiful mathematical calculations. MC accompanied TNS on the violin so beautifully. When TNS ended the kalpanA swaram with a beautiful korvai, the audience again clapped for an extended period of time and when MC played a small ending piece to let UKS start the taniavartanam, UKS said to MC:
UKS: “ivvalavu nanna pAdirukka, nInga vAsikkama mudichA eppadi (he has sung so well, how will it be if you finish without you also playing”)
MC: “inda mAdiri sollaravAlE korachal (there are so few people who say like this)”
UKS: “nAn othan irukkEne (I am here, right)”
The taniavartanam played by UKS and EMS that followed after sometime was just awesome. At the end of the song, the organizer who usually speaks about the all the artists who have performed on the day said about TNS: “Today’s concert has a speciality that was not seen in other concerts in this series before ………. the person sitting on stage today is a Sangeetha Kalanidhi in the waiting. Why he has not been given the title is not because his music is not worth it but because he has not reached the (old) age (required for the same). Everytime there is always a discussion among musicians and connoisseurs that why was he not given the title this year. The answer is that he is still young for it”. After praising and introducing the other artistes briefly, he handed over the microphone to UKS saying:“for speaking about such a great combination and such a beautiful concert, I as usual, hand the mic over to our ambassador Sri UKS”. Here is what followed for about 25 minutes after that (I am including excerpts mostly in English. The maestros spoke a lot of good things with a lot of humor too. They spoke in tamil and it is difficult at many places to find an exact translation of what they said. I have included the tamil text also in such places):
TNS (refering to UKS): “Avarukku kai evvalavu pEsudO adhukku mEla vAyum pEsum ” (his hands talk a lot and his mouth talks even more than that)
UKS: “Chinna tiruttam … venUngara mOdhu thaan pEsum (small correction …. talks only when required)”
UKS: “Can you please increase the volume; though the microphone guy can hear me, I want others to hear me too . As usual after finishing playing the mridangam, I have been handed the mic for a good cause :-)”
He spoke a lot of good things about the organizers, Sree Guruvayoorappan Bhajana Samaja and said about the samaja: “we have a few special places of our own and this is one such place”.
UKS: “Organizer Ramesh said that TNS should have be given the Sangeetha Kalanidhi title. He should have been given the title long back. Like they say pUrnAth pUrnam, whatever you keep adding or take away from pUrnam (complete, fullness), it still remains pUrnam. The way TNS is singing today was how he was singing when he was 13 too when he came into this field like a meteor. The reason is that he is supported only by his vidwat (knowledge?). They say that knowledge is always a weapon. TNS’ weapon is his knowledge.
People say that he is not aged enough for the award. If age was the criteria for the award, they should give it to Qutb Minar because it is probably the one monument that has been standing tall for so long The time/age when a person is excelling and ruling is when he/she should be honored and this is the precise condition to which Music Academy has come to ever since Hindu Murali has taken over recently. There have been a lot of changes since then. Please clap for Murali. I have complete belief in the fact that Seshagopalan will get the award this year.
Let me talk about Seshagopalan’s vidwat …reason is ….. Konerirajapuram Vaidyanatha Iyer, Pushpavanam Iyer, Ariyakkudi Iyengar-val, Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer, Alathur Brothers, Madurai Mani Iyer,GNB, T.R. Mahalingam, T.N. Rajarathinam Pillai – if all the goodness and greatness in these great vidwans is accumulated and sitting personifed on stage today, it is no one else but T.N.Seshagopalan. His music is chaste carnatic classical. He is the response to the humbug that makes rounds sometimes at some places that only Hindustani music can be sung slow. To falsify that only he has sung in a slow pace today ……in sawaal jawaab (question answer), he is the jawaab to their sawaal and the sawaal to their jawaab …..
You should hear his music often, coz it might not be possible to hear this if he becomes too old. What a beautiful tOdi he sang today … the modulation, the paani, the bhrigAs … what a shruti bhEdam …. one artist whom we all admire for his music and happily accompany is Seshagopalan. His repertoire of kritis is amazing. The sanchArAs he has done in tOdi today is unimaginable. The reason is that he knows at least 200-300 kritis in tOdi. He is a lion in rythm too. He is an expert in everything. He is a repository of everything … like a departmental store in the US where you get everything from a safety pin to a Rolls Royce car. Not just this, he is also an exponent of harikatha. He is a very good veena player too and the ghamakas he did in tOdi today are a reflection of that. There is so much he has accomplished in the field today, the reason being that he has not stopped at anything thinking this is enough”
MC: “Sorry for the interruption …. he plays the keyboard very well. The ranganAyakam song that he sang today …. anda ranganAyakatha nAn keyboard la kettu mayangittEn (I got smitten? by hearing him play the ranganAyakam song on keyboard)”
UKS: “Oru AmbaLai mayangittAr nA adhOda enna vEnum (if a male has been smitten, what more do you require). He can do so many things … it is very difficult to see such a wholistic vidwan … our duty is that we should attend many of his concerts. I pray to thyAgabrahmam that he keeps doing a lot of concerts, keeps good health, sings with the same shArIram and quality voice and always remains as a trendsetter in this field. I have played for him with so much ecstasy today”
UKS: “Like Lord Shiva has a crescent (moon) on his head, so does Seshagopalan have Chandrasekharan. He is more complete in the sense that he is actually more like music’s knowledgeable Sun that always gives out its knowledge through its rays. So, if we want to call him an appropriate name in tamil, it would be madhiazhagan.
There was once a great vidwan who used to be the storehouse of knowledge about all aspects of carnatic music called ThiruvalangAdu SundarEsa Iyer. If anybody has any doubts in the Central College of Music, Musiri (Subramaniya Iyer) used to refer him/her to SundarEsa Iyer. His reincarnation is Chandrasekharan. What needs to be played, what shouldn’t be played; how something should be played and more importantly how something should not be played is all so well known to him ………
I have played so many concerts with him ….. he has a terrific sense of rythm too … he is like a blotting paper … whatever pallavi Seshagopalan sings, the same Chandrasekharan can play it in seconds. He is a great vidwan who was appreciated a lot by the great Rajarathinam Pillai himself.
Such a great vidwan Chandrasekharan should play for at least a 100 more years .. and I should also play along with him …. Seshagoplan should also sing along :-)”
UKS: “A few words about E.M. Subramaniam (EMS). There was EMS Namboodripad who made Kerala famous. E.M. Subramaniam is another EMS who has made Kerala famous. The important quality in Subramaniam is that just like violin should provide good accompaniment to vocal in the concert, ghatam should accompany the mridangam well and if there is one person who understands this perfectly, it is Subramaniam …….. Chembai said to me long back when Subramaniam was 9 years old … there is a ‘kutti’ that plays ghatam very well; you have to bring him up well in this field …. that kutti is a ‘kuttan’ now. He knows all the gimmicks but does them only at appropriate places … he has lot of knowledge about melody, rythm etc …. his 10 fingers should play the same way for at least another 100 years.”
UKS: ” … I don’t have much to say about myself, I am your very own ……. thank you”
TNS then spoke about all the artistes …..
TNS: “He(UKS) has not just taken the mic to speak about nanmai (good) but about unmai (truth) too. The truth is that getting awards and titles is of course very encouraging and needed for people, but what is more important and required is what he wished about my being active for at least another 100 years and sing the same way. These kind of good wishes are what are more important.
Best audiences drag the best from a performance … to give that best, be it a very good coffee or a fair one, when served in a sparkling silver tumbler, even a not so good coffee tastes good. That is what you witnessed today. On one side is Sivaraman and on the other side is Chandrasekharan. I am just a small ornament in addition. It is they who performed so well, conducted the concert and made me sing. In addition to this silver tumbler and cup, there is also a silver spoon behind me (refering to EMS) . There is a good coffee preparation, but how much sugar is required so as to make it taste best is what was controlled by EMS today. Ghatam accompaniment needs not only to be supportive to the mridangam but to all the other artists on stage as well.
I also thank the tambura artist. A bad tambura artist can just spoil the mood of the concert in 5 minutes by not stringing the instrument or by not playing the instrument properly. I need to thank him a lot for having provided a good tambura accompaniment too.”
TNS then spoke about UKS and MC …..
TNS: “Singing with anna (UKS) on the mridangam and anna (MC) on the violin is like sitting on a float that enables you to glide to new heights. Everybody knows that UKS plays so well. I am telling this both out of knowing this as well as having experienced this. Chandrasekharan anna is such a great encouragement … be it an accomplished artist or a newcomer, if he sings really well, words of encouragement would surely come out of anna’s mouth …….. he is able to bring out the best out of all the artists.
The same way, my guru used to praise anna (UKS) a lot. Everybody knows about the way his fingers weave magic on the mridangam and how well he plays for songs. But my guru used to say – azhaganambi’s thoppi (left side of the mridangam) is there only with this lad … such a beautiful sound it is (Kumbakonam Azhaganambi Pillai and Dakshinamurthy Pillai used to rule the field two generations back i.e., before the Palghat Mani Iyer and Palani Subramaniya Iyer days. They were supposed to be the best percussionists back then). The quality in what he plays and the way he plays cannot be described in words …. some people have clarity and others have quality. In him, which one excels is difficult to say, with each one trying to exceed the other. Both exist in combination like Sivan and Raman (Sivaraman) and like valangai and thoppi (the right and the left sides of the mridangam respectively).
Beyond this, if you want me to speak more and you want to hear more, please keep a harikatha for 10 days or so. I will speak there. I should not continue speaking for long today getting engrossed in this as we all have to catch the train back (to Chennai). But I have to say a few words about (Chandrasekharan) anna also. From head to toe, he is kulirchi (chillness?) but he is not cold … he is warm. He is a delight to sing with. It is a great fortune to sit and sing with such a great artist ……
I pray to Lord Guruvayoorappan ……”
UKS: “Can we also play with you for the harikatha that will be organized? (in response to the reference to harikatha made by TNS before)”
TNS: “I can’t ask for a better fortune than that”