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When music is a divine gift


T.N. Seshagopalan takes a walk down memory lane about his art and the wonder of his music.

Photo: R. Shivaji Rao

Music is his way of life T.N. Seshagopalan.

“You will be the monarch of music, my elders and gurus would bless me in my younger days soon after one of my concerts. In a way, their words have come true,” says Madurai T. N. Seshagopalan on his being conferred the ‘Sangeetha Chakravarthy' title by South Indian Cultural Association (SICA) recently at its annual arts festival.

Yes, he has bagged many a prestigious award including the Padma Bhushan. But none of them termed him a ‘sovereign' of music. His many experiences in the realm of music speak not just about himself but about the power of music and those who live by it. Apart from being a multi-dimensional artiste, Seshagopalan has the fortune to immerse in music as a way of life. Once this happens with a musician, whoever comes in contact with him would be touched by his grace.

Narrating a few instances where his music was blessed by spiritually exalted people and had a sweeping influence over the sick and suffering as well as hold the mute creatures in thrall, he says, “When my maiden concert was held in Kerala, I was just seven years old. The violinist, a veteran (Papa Venkataramaiah's disciple), gave one look at me and refused to play as accompaniment for a kid. Two songs later, he came on to the stage, took the violin and began to play. What's more, at the end of the concert he gifted me Rs. 116 as a token of his appreciation of my rendition. Later, to my utter surprise, I was garlanded with currency notes strewn together by the audience! As a child, though I knew it was money, I never could estimate its value. My upbringing always kept me grounded and today, I am indebted to my parents for this.”

The shower of rose petals from the ceiling of Ravindra Bharati during the presentation of the title and citation, he says took him down memory lane when in 1976, he had performed at an auditorium and all of a sudden the flowers garlands strung across the ceiling broke loose right at the end of his recital and there was a shower of flowers all over him!

The greatest compliment he got was from his guru Shankara Sivan. On hearing praises showered over Seshagopalan, for vesting the veena with a human tone, by his fellow musicians and friends, the guru is said to have uttered a casual remark that to this day, is the ultimate tribute a sishya could ever envisage. Says Seshagopalan: “He told them that I was so talented that I could even fly a plane, given one! During my guru's felicitation, he suddenly came up with a pronouncement that I would, become a Harikatha exponent after I turn 50. And his words have come true.”

Shankar TV has booked Seshagopalan for Ramayana Harikatha in the 9.30 p.m. slot for a whole year. D.K. Pattammal on hearing his Muthaiah Bhagavatar varnam at a concert, asked him to come to her house years later to learn the piece from him! “It is my privilege that such a great artiste remembered and appreciated my varnam. Similarly, when I went to receive my Padma Bhushan in 2004 from President Abdul Kalam, I was stunned to hear him talk about my recital ages ago in the IIT-Chennai and had heard me then,” says the musician in a humble tone.

If greatest of greats like Rajamanickam Pillai who heard Seshagopalan rendering the Kanada raga pronounced that this musician would one day become an emperor of music, T. M. Krishnaswami Iyer (the then Chief Justice ) for whom Seshagopalan rendered the Tiruphugzal at the former's house ahead of his Tiruttani concert, bestowed the musician with a very rare rudraksha (Gowri-Shankar) embedded in navaratna and gold, a gift he himself got from Paramacharya of Kanchi. “To this day, I have kept it in my puja,” he says with reverence.

Seshagopalan was greatly surprised when once his doctor friend told him how she underwent a second emergency surgery to rectify the first one. It was an unfortunate situation where there was no scope for her to be put twice on anaesthesia. She later told him, she bore the pain with the help of a ‘Walkman' playing his tapeto her as she was getting operated. Similarly, another chance meeting with an aged, ailing woman in a train, who, on knowing that he was a musician came to hear him the next day as they alighted at the same station. “I would like to die hearing you sing, she said in Malayalam and later to my surprise she recovered from her illness to live long enough,” he recounts. The best perhaps was his experience at his doctor friend's house where prior to the recital, he was practicing veena for hours without a break closing his eyes in full concentration. When he opened them, he saw the mother of his friend beckoning him to see what was in front of him. “I was stunned to see a pair of pet rabbits sitting in utter discipline, for hours, I was told later, listening to my veena,” he says with a laugh.

Do we need further proof that music is indeed divine?

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