November 2017 l Issue 398
4 Sruti Box
6 Readers write
10 News & Notes
14 Birthday calendar
16 Sriram Parasuram
26 Simhanandini: the dancing lion
30 Centenary tribute v S. Ramanathan
34 Theatre: A living force
v Gowri Ramnarayan
42 Musicians of Kerala v R. Krishnaswamy
48 News & Notes (continued)
52 Random notes
54 Tribute v Neila Sathyalingam
60 From the wings v G. Vijayaraghavan
62 From the Editor
Front Cover: Sriram Parasuram
(Photo: Hemamalini S.)
Shuddhimati Ramaseshan nee Buch and Vasantha (Swaminathan) Vedam were the only two Kalakshetra students who were the direct pupils of Rukmini Devi. She taught them regularly for five years, and was their class teacher. Both the girls had their arangetram together in 1948 at the Kalakshetra open-air theatre in Adyar. Those days it was fashionable for Kalakshetra students to claim to be Rukmini Devi’s direct pupils. In a way, all the students and teachers of those days can claim to be students of Rukmini Devi and Peria Sarada, since they were always guided by these two noble souls either in class or while rehearsing for dance-dramas.
Vasantha was a dance teacher and also taught in the general education section of Kalakshetra from 1950 to 1957. In 1970, she shifted to Bengaluru after marriage and continued to teach Bharatanatyam there. She taught her daughter Vinatha for whose arangetram there Peria Sarada was the chief guest.
Shuddhimati was an attractive dancer. She passed away in Bengaluru on 4 September 2017.
Indira Parthasarathy’s latest column (Improvisations and happy endings in Sruti 396) transported me to the early 1970s when I was studying Plus Two. I had taken Sanskrit as second language and Dootavakyam of Bhasa was one of the prescribed texts. The professor who handled the classes was generous enough to provide many interesting facts about Sanskrit dramas which I could relive as I read Indira Parthasarathy’s article.
Yes, Duryodhana’s role is exceptional. His villainy admiration of a portrait of Panchali (being disrobed) displayed in the durbar, which I still remember, goes thus:
The description of Bheeshma is also superb, the concluding verse being:
Saartham patantu hridayaani
The teacher had inspired us such that we even enacted it in the classroom. In fact, the character who acted as a ‘sadasya’ actually fell down and injured himself when Krishna entered the court as the doota of the Pandavas! At that point our professor jokingly declared: “Dootavakyam sampoornam!”
The facets of acts, elements of professionalism, innovativeness and ingenuity of the ancient Indian theatre compared to what existed in the West has been superbly brought out by Indira Parthasarathy. And no parallel to his pointers: “In Indian tradition, there are no villains who cannot be redeemed” and “Indian theatre is not a theatre of illusions!”
Kerala composers and Malayalam compositions
The new series Musicians of Kerala is indeed a welcome addition to Sruti. I read with great interest the article on the
late vidwan Cherthala Gopalan Nair, his illustrious career, attainments and contributions, in Sruti 394, July 2017.
In this connection, I would like to point out that the process of inclusion of Malayalam kritis in concerts was in fact initiated by my father the late V. Madhavan Nair, ‘Mali’. His seminal work Kerala Sangeetham, based on arduous research spanning several years prior to its publication, stands as eloquent and eternal testimony to his untiring efforts in this direction. He joined All India Radio Thiruvananthapuram in 1950 as Programme Executive and worked ceaselessly to build up the station till he went to Madras on transfer in 1956. My mother often recalled a time when he left home at the crack of dawn in order to reach office before transmission began, and returned after close of transmission late at night. Many of the programmes still in vogue, such as Kathakali music, children’s programmes, and folk music, were devised and implemented by him. As an avid sportsman he was instrumental in starting live sports commentary in Malayalam. His abiding interest in classical music and literature prompted him to research the antecedents of music in Kerala, and the works of composers of the state, culminating in the unearthing and propagation of their compositions. He also used the authority vested in him to insist on inclusion of Malayalam compositions in broadcasts of classical music. That he persisted in this endeavour despite resistance from certain quarters is a tribute to his indomitable spirit and courage of conviction.
This is what he says in his preface to Kerala Sangeetham (as translated by me from the Malayalam):
“I was amazed by something. I had attended innumerable concerts not only in Kerala, but also in far off cities such as Madras, Bombay and Delhi and listened to and enjoyed music of superlative quality, but in not one of them did I ever hear a single Malayalam song. How could this be? Could it be that our Mother Kairali had no music in her? It could not be possible—that Telugu, Tamil and Kannada should have classical songs and Malayalam not have any! But that is what the performances of the vocalists would lead one to believe. However, I knew that that was not true. When I was a little child my father Sadasyathilaka T. K. Velu Pillai had quoted to me a few lines from Irayimman Thampi’s composition Karuna cheyvaan. Later... when I had occasion to be closely associated with music, I remembered that song once again. I felt certain that other songs such as this had been composed in Malayalam.
“From that day onwards I wished, somehow, to unearth and propagate Malayalam songs. I asked several people. No one knew anything. I then sought refuge in the Manuscript Library. From there I got five varnams by Irayimman Thampi and around fifteen Malyalam padams, for which I express my boundless gratitude to the head of the Library, Dr. P. K. Narayana Pillai, and to Vennikkulam Gopala Kurup who was an official there. With great enthusiasm I continued my enquiry. In due course I got several songs by Kuttikkunju Thankachi and K.C. Kesava Pillai and some rare kritis by some others. Most helpful to me in this storing up of songs was the loving cooperation of R. Narayana Panikkar, great scholar and literature and language historian. He went to a lot trouble for me, and I cannot forget him. I was relieved, to a certain extent, when I also got Swati Tirunal’s Malayalam songs, Utsavaprabandham, and padams from Chidambara Vadyar’s book, and Muhanaprasantya Prasa Vyavastha from an old issue of the Sahitya Parishat’s trimonthly.”
This is merely a glimpse into the state of affairs at the time and the magnitude of the task undertaken by Mali. Though the book was first published in 1959, he wrote several articles in English and Malayalam in the early fifties on the subject. Notable among them were the Malayalam articles published in the Mathrubhumi weekly during 1953-54 in a series titled Kerala Sangeetam. They were Malayala Gaanangal (Malayalam Compositions) - 29 November 1953, Swati Tirunalinte Malayala Kritikal (Swati Tirunal’s Malayalam Compositions) - 6 December 1953, Irayimman Thampiyude Gaanangal (Irayimman Thampi’s Compositions) - 13 December 1953, Kuttikkunju Thankachiyude Kritikal (Kuttikkunju Thankachi’s Compositions) - 20 December 1953, and Keshava Pillayude Keertanangal (Keshava Pillai’s Compositions) - 27 December 1953. His articles titled Sopana Sangeeta Paddhati (The Sopana System of Music) - 16 May 1954, and Kathakaliyile Sangeetam (The Music in Kathakali) - 23 May 1954, were also part of the same series. These were, obviously, precursors to the portions dealing with the topics in the book. Classical Songs in Malayalam – Some Eminent Composers, was the title of his article in English published by The Hindu (26 April 1953), which speaks of the Malayalam composi-tions of Swati Tirunal, Irayimman Thampi, Kuttikkunju Thankachi and K.C. Keshava Pillai. His article Music Tradition in Kerala (The Hindu, 27March 1955) is also worth mentioning in this regard.
I would, in addition, like to draw attention to my article titled V. Madhavan Nair – ‘Mali’; A Daughter’s Tribute, published in the August 1995 issue of Sruti, and reproduce below a passage relevant to the subject on hand:
“Mali has left indelible imprints on music, Kathakali, literature and sports in Kerala. The classical arts were passion with him…. His research work called Kerala Sangeetham is perhaps the only book of its kind in Malayalam. Tracing the history and development of music in Kerala, evaluating its present status and future possibilities, Kerala Sangeetham was first published in 1959 and is still acclaimed as a basic document in the subject. He also did a signal service to music by bringing various Malayalam compositions into the limelight. If today the songs of Irayimman Thampi, Kuttikkunju Thankachi,
K.C. Keshava Pillai and others are widely known, the credit goes to Mali. Not only did he unearth innumerable compositions, but he also got them notated, broadcast and popularised all over Kerala. He believed that Malayalam songs should find a place in Carnatic concerts along with those in Sanskrit, Telugu, Tamil and Kannada. The movement for
inclusion of Malayalam songs started, definitely, with him. But he was not parochial—in fact he was one of the few people I have known with a truly cosmopolitan outlook.”
Further, some ambiguity regarding the raga of Irayimman Thampi’s iconic composition Karuna cheyvan seems to be suggested by the article on Cherthala Gopalan Nair. The raga is listed as ‘Sreeragam’ in the main part of, as well as the list of compositions appended to, the section on Irayimman Thampi in Kerala Sangeetham. The same raga has been mentioned in the article on the composer cited above and published in 1953. The introduction to the book Omana Thinkal (published by Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi, Thrissur, first edition 7 October 1973, mentioned in the article on Cherthala Gopalan Nair, p.50 of Sruti 394, July 2017) was written by renowned scholar and musicologist Dr. S. Venkatasubrahmanya Iyer. In section IV of the introduction he says (again translated from the Malayalam): “Among the keertanas in Malayalam, most well-known are Karuna cheyvanenthu in Sree ragam and Adimalarina in Mukhari. Both are prayers to Lord Guruvayoorappan. Though the first is being sung by many in Yadukulakambhoji raga (the need for this change is not understood), the form of the song in the original raga itself is given here.” So in fact there is no uncertainty regarding the raga stipulated by the composer, and singing the composition in a raga other than Sree would certainly be incorrect, especially since Irayimman Thampi was a composer with outstanding musical knowledge and acumen.
It is interesting, as well, to note that the section titled Iravivarman Thampi (1782-1856) – Jeevacharitram Churukkam (brief lifesketch of Irayimman Thampi) in Omana Tinkal owes much to my father Mali’s Kerala Sangeetham. In particular, the paragraph beginning ‘Kure Ottaslokangal’ is lifted almost verbatim from the book. The categorisation and sequencing of compositions is also identical. Sadly, there is no acknowledgement anywhere.
As a footnote, I would like to point out that I am not the Madhavi Ramkumar mentioned by Dr. K. Omanakutty in her note titled ‘A life dedicated to Ganakairali’ (p. 51 of Sruti 394, July 2017). I was not present at her concert in Bengaluru. Could it, perhaps, be a reference to someone else by the same name or a typographical error?
Our cultural heritage has been enriched by many dedicated scholars, performers and teachers and the roles of those who have gone before must be recognised and credited. Not acknowledging Mali’s pathbreaking work in unearthing and propagating the works of Kerala composers would be a travesty of justice. Needless to say, this is in no way intended to disrespect or disregard the accomplishments of other great stalwarts and respected gurus such as Cherthala Gopalan Nair.
(The author is a freelance critic and writer)
SRIRAM PARASURAM V. RAMNARAYAN
There was a spring in his step, and, though dressed in a kurta and veshti, he verily sprinted towards us. This was musician Sriram Parasuram, and waiting for him near their car was his wife and fellow musician Anuradha. They were late for an appointment and Sriram was looking smugly virtuous, having proved his eagerness to make amends. To me, his athleticism was impressive, and proof that it hadn’t been an empty boast when he had told me just a while earlier that he played in cricket matches among management institutes. I always knew that this versatile musician-scholar had a keen interest in sport, but it had been a revelation to me that he actually participated in it.
Sriram Parasuram who turns 53 later this month, is an accomplished artist in at least two distinct genres of music, composer, teacher and expert communicator. He is in fact all that and more. The word polymath suits few people better. I have been an admirer of his music for well over two decades during which period I have listened to his Carnatic violin, Carnatic vocal, Hindustani violin and vocal, north-south jugalbandi with artists of both streams of Indian classical music and folk musicians, with his wife Anuradha Sriram and even himself (!), his rendering of abhangs and bhajans, his lecture demonstrations on all these varied forms of music, his workshops for students of music, his TV programmes on the universality of music, and his analysis and expositions of the art of great musicians and composers. Incredibly, he manages to leave you thirsting for more, at the end of his demonstrations.
Simhanandini: the dancing lion VASANTHALAKSHMI NARASIMHACHARI
Simhanandini, the much-admired dance, brings to mind the picture of a seasoned dancer drawing the figure of a lion with her feet on coloured powder. My first tryst with this remarkable feat happened when I watched the film Amrapali. My eyes were riveted to the movements of the gorgeous heroine, Vyjayantimala who creates a spectacular lion on rangoli powder. Thanks to technology, this act of drawing the lion happens in an instant on the silver screen! Barely nine at that time and yet to do my arangetram, I told my father that one day I too would dance that number. My father indulgently patted me on the shoulder and said, “Of course you will, my dear.” By God’s grace, he did eventually see me perform it quite a few times.
My aspiration to learn this number came true quite providentially in 1981, when my husband M.V. Narasimhachari and I had the opportunity to learn the Simhanandini and the Mayura Kauthvam from Guru C.R. Acharya. To this great guru goes the credit for re-creating this ancient number and also giving it the new appellation ‘Simhanandini’. It was also his ingenuity that made it possible for the audience to witness the lion-drawing, seated in comfort, rather than having to walk to the stage to see it. In our guru’s version, coloured powder is spread on the ground and above it a white cloth is fastened to a large, rectangular wooden frame that is approximately three inches in height. Just the right amount of water is sprinkled on this cloth to make it damp. As the dancer’s feet press down upon the stretched fabric, the coloured powder from the floor gets imprinted on to it, preserving the kinaesthetic movements of the dancer in a visual format. Fortunately, the monumental work of our guru is being carried forth by his daughter Voleti Rangamani.
DR. S. RAMANATHAN ANIRUDH SWAMINATHAN
The first thing that comes to mind about Dr. S. Ramanathan’s music is his sense of proportion. He was an example of how the simplest things could weave the most wondrous magic and leave listeners asking for more.
About vidwans like Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer, it has been said that the highlight of their music was creative alapana and that kriti rendition was a mere formality. Other musicians, like T. Brinda, made the rendering of the composition the hallmark of their style or the base on which the style was developed. Dr. S. Ramanathan belongs to the second category. The variety of kritis he offered is quite unmatched.
Be it the compositions of the Trinity, or modern day composers like Gopalakrishna Bharati or Koteeswara Iyer, the manner in which he rendered them in his deep voice, with all the sangatis, was captivating. Each sangati adhered to the tradition, with no improvised phrases, no compromise in the raga lakshana. Every note, every line was soaked in tradition and rendered powerfully, with no needless speeding. The kalapramana remained intact throughout his rendering. For a student of music, Ramanathan’s rendition was a boon—it could be easily and accurately notated.
Reflections on the Indian stage MAHESH ELKUNCHWAR
(By eminent women from different disciplines)
Playwright, theatre director, journalist, translator, artistic director of JustUs Repertory, and vocal accompanist to the late M.S. Subbulakshmi, Dr. Gowri Ramnarayan is a rare amalgam of aesthetics and scholarship. A triple gold medallist in her M.A. (English Litt.) from Osmania University, she has a Ph.D from Madras University in Comparative Aesthetics. She retired as a Deputy Editor, The Hindu (1989-2010). While working for The Hindu she wrote extensively on music, dance, theatre and cinema and attended many film festivals, leading to juror duties at the London, Venice, Oslo, Mumbai and other international film festivals. She has translated Vijay Tendulkar’s Kanyadan and Mitrachi Goshtha as well as a collection of Kalki’s short stories into English. The author of books like Past Forward, MS and Radha, Abu’s World and Abu’s World Again, she wrote her first play Dark Horse and founded JustUs Repertory in Chennai in 2005. She won the Mahindra Excellence Award for Dark Horse in 2007.
Gowri’s plays and dance theatre productions have been performed in India and abroad, and she has lectured at American universities. Excerpts from her play Night’s End were performed by Swedish actors at Stockholm in August 2012 at an international women’s playwright’s conference. A chance presentation for British visitors to Chennai has led to her troupe being invited to stage Night’s End at the prestigious Soho Theatre in London from 27 November to 2 December 2017. A book titled Dark Horse & Other Plays (six of them) was recently released. Gowri was honoured with the title ‘Nataka Choodamani’ by Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, Chennai in April 2015.