Music Academy: Articles from Souvenir
By: R. K. Shriramkumar
The sun would be on the horizon, about to retire for the day. Much dust and enthusiastic tones of high frequencies would be generated on the streets with boys playing cricket. That was when he would bring me home, after a long walk from school (Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan), teaching me en route, verses from either the Vishnu Sahasranama or the Samkshepa Ramayana. That done, he would instruct my mother to give me a snack. And even before I could finish it, he would be ready with his violin constantly summoning me for the class. Mouli (G. Chandramouli, my classmate in school, who had also learnt the basics along with me from Smt Savitri Satyamurfhy), would arrive and we would have class together.
‘A Varnam a day keeps the weakling away’ he used to tell us. Hence, class always began vith varnams, in different kalapramanas and in various speeds. The strong emphasis on varnams was to enable us to later play Tanam, of which he had imbibed a characteristic unique style from his great guru Mysore Shri T Chowdiah. We were taught many krtis, especially of the Trinity and of Sadguru Shri Tyagarajasvami in particular.
An ardent devotee of Shri Tyagarajasvami, he imparted to us, not just the musical content of the colossal compositions, but also the import and the importance of the sahitya. He did not subscribe to the concept of ‘instrumentalising’ Carnatic music. According to him, it was vocal music that reigned supreme and the best instrumentalist was one who could reproduce a singing effect of the instrument.
He held the view that only with the combined knowledge of the sahitya and the sangita would bhava glow in the hands of an instrumentalist. No wonder, even as a violinist, he built up a huge repertoire of compositions, all thanks to his close association with doyens such as Shri Tiger Varadachariar, Shri Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar, Shri Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer, Shri Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, Shri Musiri Subrahmanya Iyer, Shri Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Shri Papa Venkataramiah and many others.
Tears would roll down his cheeks when he talked about the greatness of the saints and their immortal compositions. Many a day, we would be told the significance of various references in these compositions. Bhakti was the password that he adopted. Music, in his view, was to be used as an instrument to experience the Divine.
After a long session of violin lessons, my chat sessions would be cut short, rather sternly, to go do my sandhyavandanam. The next session with him would be with my school homework ranging from solving riders in trigonometry to writing samasa for samskrita padas to Tennyson’s poetry to a lesson on Kabir’s dohas. He had an artistic flair for drawing and could design the kolams of the puja mandalas with great elan. Cooking was also one of his many talents. Politics was a field of deep interest. He had to read ‘ The Hindu’ from start to finish and enjoyed discussing the happenings of the day’s political scenario. But his heart was in Vedanta. He regularly attended and jotted notes from lectures on Vedanta and Advaitic thought.
Orthodoxy in thought and action was his way of life. He had immense faith in the dictums of Vaidika dharma and performed his religious duties in a highly diligent manner. Infact, he refused to cross the shores of India as dharma wouldn’t allow it. Smt M S Subbulakshmi, whom he had accompanied in numerous concerts, was a great source of inspiration and support to the whole of our family. When I sought her blessings on my debut concert tour of the United States of America, she asked me a simple question, with a twinkle of surprise in her eye-‘Did he approve of it’? Yes, we were given allowances and so we could transgress rules, of course for a meagre parihara later!
He was very much alive to changes and developments in the music fraternity. His belief that there was no end to learning resulted in my becoming Shri V.V. Subrahmanyam’s disciple. It also resulted in Shri D K Jayaraman teaching me vocal music.
A man of few words, with a lifestyle that was pious, humble and lofty in ideal, he had the greatest honour of performing the Aradhana of Sadguru Shri Tyagarajasvami on the sacred day of Pushya bahula panchami at Tiruvaiyyaru for nearly fifty years. The music world today remembers him as one of the most respected vidvans of all times. To the world he was Vidvan R K Venkatarama Shastry. To me, ‘Thatha’.