A River In Spate

Tiger was considered to be unique vidwans even at a time when Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar, Konnerirajapuram Vaidyanatha Iyer, Kanchipuram Naina Pillai and Veena Dhanammal dominated the scene of Carnatic music. Naina Pillai was younger in age but Dhanam was a senior contemporary of Tiger.

Tiger and Dhanammal made an interesting contrast. Dhanam offered encapsulated music, be it kriti or raga or whatever. A few phrases on the veena soaked in raga bhava were enough for her to give complete satisfaction. In fact, she admonished vidwans who indulged in elaboration. Tiger, on the other hand, took elaboration to awesome heights, though his renderings also were full of bhava and rakti. Despite the difference in approach, Dhanammal considered Tiger's music was sugar candy. She normally disapproved of elaboration of raga-s like Poornachandrika, Janaranjani and Darbar but if Tiger did it—and he frequently did because they were his favourites—she was full of appreciation. Both were fond of rendering Kshetragna's pada-s, but in totally different ways. The extra slow gait of the padam allowed Tiger to fill in the gaps with rare phrases of the raga and Dhanammal strove for a perfect but straight rendering of the slow gait. If Tiger's was a free hand drawing, Dhanammal's was a careful painting. Lakshanapoorva (grammatically correctly rendered) singing was Tiger's forte. Dhanammal did not give undue importance to it but, even if there were lapses in that regard, the overall excellence of the tone of the veena—or the voice when she sang—and the rendering suppressed them.

Tiger was not a totally lakshana-oriented singer either though he knew his lakshana all right. The listener would get the overall impression of total conformity to correct grammar and Tiger's gestures would indicate likewise. But in actuality he trod the razor's edge in his singing. He would sometimes sing Begada, Bilahari, Kambhoji, Sahana and Saveri in a sampoorna-sampoorna krama. And yet the most expert of the listeners would not be able to detect anything wrong. He went by the vast accumulation in his mind of the lakshya-oriented music he had heard from the great performers of his younger days. Aesthetic beauty

triumphed over dry grammar. He deliberately veered away ever so slightly from strict grammar where traditionally, in his view,aesthetic considerations had condoned, or even demanded , such variations.

In Saveri (aroliana sa ri ma pa dha sa), for example, while singing the phrase sa ri-sa ri ma-ri ma pa, a fast rendering as Sa ri-Sari ma-ga ma pa would appear i.e. the ri coming back from ma would be of a higher sruti—nearer ga—but the colour of the raga would be intact. In Bilahari and Kambhoji, he would sing the phrase pa dha sa as pa dha ni sa with a shaded ni that would not detract from the form of the raga.

In Begada, he would render the arohana as a sampooma phrase—after halting on the basic shadja, the take-off would be riga ma pa dha ni dha pa ma and the normal arohana sa ga ri ga would not be necessary. Tiger's Begada was unique with Ma and Ni given special attention. It was accepted universally that the way he sang it was the correct way.

In Sahana, the phrase ri ga ma pa dha ni sa ri ga ma Ni dha pa Ma would be sung with the raga bhava in mind and what the listener would hear would be pure Sahana. From mid octave ri Tiger would go up to the tara sthayi ma, from there with a jaru he would come back to Ni and it would be an enthralling or scintillating phrase. After touching Ni, there would be a light touch of the upper sa followed by dha pa Ma. One had to hear it to enjoy it.

Even so, he stuck to what the great singers of the past had done. For example, he used only the suddha dhaivata in all kriti-s in Hindolam.

Dhanammal also specialised in offering music with subtle touches. She had disdain for those who went solely by grammar; shewent by melody.

She did not like singing vama-s in two or three kala-s, but Tiger reveled in doing so.

To sum up, Tiger's music was like a river in spate coming down from the mountains and sweeping boisterously through theplains, carrying everything before it. Dhanammal's was like the river calm and smooth in its passage through the plains, gliding softly and soothingly.

Tiger could render any raga briefly as well as elaborately. He can be said to have preferred vakra and less familiar raga-s. In fact, there was no such thing as a rare raga in his vocabulary. Poornachandrika and Janaranjani were special favourites. He revelled also in such raga-s as Amritavarshini, Arabhi, Darbar, Devagandhari, Goula, Goulipantu, Hamsanandi, Kokiladhwani, Malayamarutam, Mandari, Narayanagoula, Nayaki and Sourashtram. At the same time, he was very fond of Begada, Hamsadhwani, Kalyani, Saveri and Todi. Elongated karvai-s interspersed with madhyama and druta (durita) kala phrases, and familiar and rakti phrases that brought out the raga's swaroopa clearly, along with not so familiar phrases, would light up the raga-s when he sang them. His voice would not always cooperate, but the mellow effect he could produce when it did was divine.One has heard stories of people singing a raga for four hours, for days together, etc., but clearly these are all exaggerations.Tiger could, however, certainly render a raga for an hour to an hour and a half—with karvai-s, gamaka-s and jaru-s. He was not very fond of elaborating a raga step by step. He preferred a composite presentation leaving the listeners in no doubt of the identity of the raga at any time. He used plain notes when they brought out the raga form clearly but he was a master of gamaka-s and used every gamaka meant for the human voice. Jam (slide) was one of his specialities. There is an impression that 'jaru' is not common in Carnatic music but this is wrong. Nagaswara vidwans render them clearly. But for a vocalist to try jaru-s, he must be very sure of his swarasthanas and this, of course. Tiger was, Accompanists could not always anticipate from which swara to which Tiger would slide in his jaru. But his renderings were explicit. He could bring out the underlying moods of the raga in its various expositions. He would indicate beebhatsa (disgust) by his mannerism in rendering certain phrases of Chanta or Ahiri. He would repeat phrases if it was necessary to display the full colour of the raga but generally there would be little repetition. On the other hand, his problem was that he could not be bound by the restrictions of time, and that is why he refused to cut gramophone records and was totally uncomfortable singing over the radio. At his best, Tiger's music had everything in it but, unfortunately

When it came to kriti singing, Tiger did not follow a definite pathantara or version. The kriti line would be there but the embellishments would vary all the time, even the kalapramana. But he would give full satisfaction. Other than the kriti-s of the Trinity, he would sing the compositions of Patnam Subrahmania Iyer, as also those of other old and established vaggeyakara-s. He generally avoided singing the compositions of his contemporaries. This extended even to the compositions of his brothers, but he did enjoy listening to Naina Pillai sing his brother Srinivasa Iyengar's Vinata suta in Harikambhoji. He was very fond of pieces in Misra Chapu and he used to say that doing niraval in that tala offered scope for kalpana (imagination).

Tiger was supreme in tana singing. He was particularly adept at rendering the gooda tana, i.e., singing tana with a closed mouth

When it came to pallavi, Tiger would use any line that came to his mind. For example, he would sing 'Kathirikaai koodai kondaadi' (Bring me the basket of brinjals) or 'Niranjanamey, nitya paripooranamey chinmaya vadivey' to the same tune—the first as a lighthearted romp and the second as a serene and respectful offering. It was the music that counted. He would offer unexpected turns in niraval and swaraprastara. Without keeping time openly, he would produce an avalanche of swara avarta-s in powers of two, namely, 2, 4, 8, etc., upto 512 avarta-s. This he would demonstrate in his classes.

When it came to pada-s, javali-s and folk songs, Tiger could be superb.

A Capricious River

The following is an excerpts from an English translation (unpublished) of Na Kanda Kala Kovidaru by MYSORE VASVDEVACHAR. 

Varadachariar did not possess a pliant voice which could be exploited to advantage. The result was that though his creative imagination was as expansive as the very seas, his voice could reveal only a few glimpses of that richness; and those few glimpses were, indeed, precious pearls. The raga-s and swara-s he sang were replete with artistic excellence. He cursed his voiceas it blocked the free outflow of his prolific imagination. He used to gulp down boiling water before commencing his concert,but it was of little use. His voice never proved adequate enough. He would curse himself and say: "Well! This is the harvest of my papakarma. I have seldom sung to the tambura sruti. My habit was to sing whatever occurred to me, wherever I was. And the consequence is that instead of my adjusting the voice to the tambura, the instrument has to be adjusted to my voice!" It was not given to all to appreciate the beauty of his music. His music was like a capricious river. If one listened to him patiently in a number of concerts, one might come across an opportunity to experience the unsurpassed brilliance of his art; that would indeed be divine. That was why people at large couldn't appreciate the greatness of his music, and for a long time, Varadachariar had to remain a little known vidwan scarcely in demand.

Singin' In The Train

Hollywood fans may recall the film called 'Singin' in the Rain', and Gene Kelly's wonderful song and dance sequence in it. I had the fortune to listen to a recital by Tiger which may rightly be called Singin' in the Train.

This was at the end of 1938. Tiger was travelling from Chidambaram to Madras where he was to participate in the annual conference of the Music Academy. I had the privilege of accompanying him on the journey. Veena vidwan K.S.Narayanaswamyand vocalist T.K. Rangachari— both then lecturers at the Music College in Chidambaram— were also with us. It was a late night train but none of us was ready to go to sleep as yet. Tiger called us together and the initial small talk turned in a short while into a session of musical reminiscences. Tiger was in full form. When Rangachari mentioned rakti raga-s which had shades of the Hindustani idiom, Tiger started humming the raga Kanada. After a few minutes he started singing tana in that raga and followed it up with a pallavi. The tappity-tap of the carriage wheels seemed to provide another rhythmic dimension to the presentation as Tiger wove his kalpana swara-s into magic patterns. The recital continued past Cuddalore, that is, for almost an hour, with Narayanaswamy and Rangachari punctuating it with exclamations of appreciation. With Tiger gesticulating while he sang, as was his wont, it was a visual treat also for me.


Swara Kalpana

Tiger was conducting a class at the Music College in Chidambaram. The subject was kalpana swara and various students wereshowing what they could do. At one point, the master intervened and asked: "Ennamma, ippadi padarengo?" (He used the endearing expression 'Ennamma', meaning 'what dear one!' often and this time followed up with the query: why arc you singing like this?) He then said: "The duration of extempore swara-s should be in 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64 or 128 avarta-s and you should not use durations of 3, 5, 7 and the like. When the sum total of the avarta is halved, and halved again and again, the final figure should be 1, not a fraction above or below it. I will demonstrate now and you count the avarta-s." He then sang kalpana swara- s for Patnam Subrahmania Iyer's Hamsadbwani kriti Manasukaraga in Roopaka tala. As usual, he did not count the avarta-s but, when he finished, the total number of avarta-s was 512! We were all wonderstruck. "How did you do it?" one of us asked, and he replied: "No trouble at all, my dear. At the end of eight avartas, I turn to the right and at the end of another eight, I turn to the left.


A Matter Of Maturity

The Deekshitars of Chidambaram Nataraja temple are adepts in music. Once, an up-and-coming musician of this clan was singing. I asked Tiger for his opinion. He said: it needs maturity and experience to be able to stay on the shadja and panchama.