Prof. P.P. Ramakrishnan, disciple of Sri M.D. Ramanathan (MDR), presented a lecture demonstration on the maestro and his compositions at the Narada Gana Sabha Mini Hall in Chennai today. He was accompanied by his son Vid. Easwar Ramakrishnan on the violin and by Vid. Kallidaikurichi Sivakumar on the mrudangam. The 1.5 hour lec dem was organized by Narada Gana Sabha as a part of its golden jubilee celebrations and to mark the 23rd anniversary of the demise of the maestro.
Sri Krishnaswamy, Secretary, Narada Gana Sabha, introduced Prof Ramakrishnan and spoke at length about his own association with MDR. He said he had handled two legal cases for MDR as his lawyer and had the opportunity to move closely with the maestro. He said the way MDR used to speak in Palakkad Brahmin language and address him as “Oy” was still ringing in his years. He introduced Sri Ramakrishnan as a senior violin artist, a former professor of violin in SST College of Music, Trivandrum and former Principal of Chembai Memorial Government Music College, Palakkad and said that he was serving currently at Kalakshetra Chennai, the same place where his guru MDR taught for a number of years.
The lec dem started with a composition composed by Prof. Ramakrishnan on his guru MDR in the rAgA rItigauLa, rendered by the professor’s student Vid. Shilpa Shankar. The song went like this (noted down while the song was being rendered; corrections welcome):
vAggEyakAram lakshya lakshaNa sangItagyam
bahu bhAshA panDitam mahA gAyakam
dEvEsha putrau vyAghrasya shishyam
kEraLa sutam bhArata padma shrIyam
ghana shArIram AjAnu bAhum
guru rAmanAtham shishya krishnadAsoham
Prof. Ramakrishnan started by addressing Sri M.D. Ramanathan as ‘Majestic Dexterous’ Ramanathan, ‘Maha Divya’ Ramanathan and ‘ManoDharma’ Ramanathan. He presented the following songs:
1) vighnarAja ninnu cAla nammiti – srIranjani – Adi – m.d. rAmanAthan (ANS)
2) tyAgarAja gurum AshrayE – kEdAram – Adi (tisra gati) – m.d. rAmanAthan
3) saraswati sarasa vANi – khamAs – Adi – m.d. rAmanAthan
4) padayugamunu nammiti – janaranjani – Adi – m.d. rAmanAthan
5) sAgara shayana vibhO – bAgEshwari – Adi – m. d. rAmanAthan
6) dhIm nAdhrudhIm dhIm (tillAnA) – ranjani – Adi – m.d. rAmanAthan
I must confess that his voice was attractive and loud to the extent required and he pronounced the words clearly. Wonder why he doesn’t give vocal concerts.
Excerpts from the lec dem (which had content on MDR as well as advice to present day students) are as follows. This is based on notes I took while Sri Ramakrishnan spoke and there is a possibility that some errors might have crept in. Corrections, if any, are most welcome.
- MDR was a great bhakta of Saint Thyagaraja, Lord Rama and his guru Tiger Varadachariar. He used the mudra “varadadAsa” (dAsa of Tiger Varadachariar) in his compositions. (Prof Ramakrishnan uses the mudra “krishnadAsa” as he is a devotee of Lord Krishna and also a disciple of veteran violin maestro Sri T.N. Krishnan, apart from being a disciple of Sri MDR)
- A person gets one-fourth of his knowledge/education in any field from his teacher, one-fourth on his own by practice and by applying his own intelligence, one-fourth from fellow students, and the remaining one-fourth gradually over time through experience
AchAryAt pAdam AdattE pAdam shishya svamEdhayA
pAdam sA brahmacAribhyAh pAdam kAlakramENa ca
- MDR started off by singing like his guru Sri Varadachariar and later evolved a distinct style of his own that suited his shArIram and his vidwat. Today’s students should not plainly copy the style of their guru blindly. They must adapt it to suit their own shArIram and level of knowledge. They must imbibe the style and as the shlOkA above says, refine it by observation and with experience
- MDR bought sAhitya bhAvam into his renditions. There was once a period in carnatic music when sAhityA was not much stressed upon because it was not available like it is today through various channels (like books and the internet). Access to words and meanings was very limited and artists back then had to do a lot of hard work to get hold of the correct words and their meanings. Our ancestors have struggled a lot to bring the art to the form it is in today
- The tradition of singing according to a particular school is slowly disappearing in Carnatic Music as these days gurukula vasam is almost non-existant and institutes/universities are the places of learning. Though students may get to learn from teachers belonging to different styles, they do not get training a particular bANi. They get patantaram of different styles. He sang the dharmavati kriti “bhajana sEya rAdA” as an example in Sri T.M. Thyagarajan’s patantaram
- The first kriti sung in the concert “vighnarAja ninnu” is in the Thyagaraja mould
- The second kriti “thyAgarAja gurum AshrayE” is in the Dikshitar mould, reflected especially in the madhyamakAlam used towards the end of the caraNam.
- The fourth kriti “padayugamunu” has been composed in Syama Sastri style
- The fifth kriti in the list above “sAgara shayana vibhO” was composed by MDR after getting inspired from a lec dem on Dhrupad style of Hindustani music which he attended one fine morning at the Music Academy, Chennai. He got so impressed that he came home and composed this composition on Lord Padmanabha in the rAga bAgEshwari (bAgEshrI) in the afternoon itself.
- It is a common misconception that tillAnAs should only be fast paced. MDR has composed several gems in slow pace. The ranjani tillAnA (the last item in the song list above) is a masterpiece
- Many people had this misconception that MDR was not strong in kaNakku (calculations) while singing. This is false. Though he did not use much kaNakku usually in his concerts, he made full use of calculations while composing ciTTaswarams for many songs. MDR had a passion for composing ciTTaswarams and he did this not only in his compositions but also for songs of other great composers like Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar. Prof Ramakrishnan sang ciTTaswarams composed by MDR for the three kritis “hariharaputram” (vasantA), “chandram bhaja mAnasa” (AsAvEri) and “divAkaratanujam” (yadukulakAmbOji) and also for MDR’s own composition “thyAgarAja gurum AshrayE“.
Calculations for last avartanam of the ciTTaswarams in this song as sung by the professor were as follows:
- 1 Avartanam of Adi tALam (tisra gati) = 48 aksharams
- Last avartanam of ciTTaswaram had the kaNakku: 6 + 15 + 10 + 5 + 1 + 5 + 1 + 5 aksharams to make a total of 48 aksharams
- It came like
tha dhi ki Na thom , (6)
tha ; dhi ; ki; Na; thom; (15)
tha, dhi, ki, Na, thom, (10)
tha dhi ki Na thom, (5 + 1)
tha dhi ki Na thom, (5 + 1)
tha dhi ki Na thom (5)
- Equivalent swaram representation was sung as
S S M G M , (6)
G; R; S; N; P; (15)
G, R, S, N, P, (10)
G R S N P, (5 + 1)
R S N P M, (5 + 1)
M G R S R (5)
Prof Ramakrishnan felt that the time given to him to talk about a maestro of MDR’s greatness was very less. He said he had wanted to cover a lot more things but couldn’t for want of time. Hope other sabhas/organizations take a cue and invite him for similar lec dems.