Torchbearer of a great tradition
V. Subrahmaniam, senior disciple of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, has been awarded Senior Fellowship to do research on Raga Lakshana. LAKSHMI DEVNATH meets the musician.
V. Subrahmaniam... in-depth knowledge.
SEMMANGUDI SRINIVASA Iyer unobtrusively slipped into the Navaratri Mandapam at Thiruvananthapuram. His young sishya, V. Subrahmaniam, was singing as a last minute replacement for a leading vidwan. The impeccable rendering of the traditional raga, Suddha Saveri, impressed the guru. Later at home Srinivasa Iyer remarked, "Ennama padine antha Suddha Saveriya!"
V. Subrahmaniam says, "I was overwhelmed by this very generous compliment especially coming as it did from a maestro of redoubtable merit".
Subrahmaniam's formal initiation into music began in 1951. He says, "Sangita Vidwan Sri. S. Sankara Iyer was my first guru." However, the young boy's interest in classical music had been kindled when he was barely three years old. Subrahmaniam says, "I accompanied my mother to music concerts and was able to identify ragas even at that age. In fact, my first concert was in 1953, barely 18 months after my inculcation into music."
Passion for the arts however, did not deter the precocious youth from formal academic training. Very soon, he attained a Masters Degree in Economics from the Annamalai University. But while his intellectual attainments provided fodder for the brain it was music that his heart longed for and soon Providence guided him to the house of the Grand Master of Carnatic music, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer.
Subrahmaniam says, "It was in June 1956, that I came under Semmangudi Mama's tutelage. The association continues to this day. I have accompanied him in most of his concerts." Besides, Subrahmaniam has also had the distinction of learning several Javalis and Padams from the fastidious T. Brinda.
Under the guidance and constant supervision of his guru, Subrahmaniam honed his musical skills to no mean extent. He says, "Apart from an impeccable patantharam, I gained an in-depth knowledge about several aspects of music. On several occasions my teacher has guided me in raga singing." Raga singing is probably the most difficult aspect of classical Indian Music and one requires an intrinsic talent and `feel' for the raga. Subrahmaniam believes that raga alapana can never be taught. He says firmly, "The essentials of a raga have to be imbibed and this can be done by learning and listening to the compositions of the Trinity and from a guru. For example, one must learn several compositions in Todi before one can even get a fair idea about its form."
Probably in recognition of Subrahmaniam's precise comprehension of this art, the Department of Culture of the Government of India has awarded him a senior fellowship for doing research on Raga Lakshana. Lakshana means science or grammar and with reference to raga Subrahmaniam says, "Raga Lakshana is the technical boundary of the raga. There are various factors that determine the Lakshana of a raga the arohana and the avarohana (the ascending the descending order of the scale), the characteristic phrases of the raga, the special distinguishing prayogas, the gamakas peculiar to a particular raga and so on. In fact different gamakas even when applied to the same swara portray different shades and is one of the factors that helps one differentiate between ragas."
Subrahmaniam's research paper comes with an audio cassette that demonstrates the raga. "Practical-oriented theory is the hallmark of the Semmangudi School. Apart from mentioning the history of the raga and other theoretical aspects, I have demonstrated the various small but significant nuances of a raga. I have also given a complete picture of a raga by singing alapana, tanam, kritis and included a few kalpanaswaras."
In particular, he has drawn attention to those dangerous areas which when handled without sufficient knowledge by the singer would make him stray into an allied raga. Clippings from Semmangudi's raga alapanas have also been compiled into the tape. A distinguishing feature of Subrahmaniam's work is that among the 30 ragas he has chosen for research several are rare ragas like Kapinarayani, Balahamsa, Malavi, Dvijavanti and many more.
V. Subrahmaniam's proficiency in this demanding art has also earned him accolades. He has performed both in India and abroad. His performing skills have earned for him several `Best Concert' awards from the Music Academy. He has presented papers on different aspects of music at the annual conferences of the Academy.
He has also set to tune seven compositions of Sri Chandrasekhara Bharati Mahaswamigal, the 34th Pontiff of the Sringeri Math in addition to two compositions of Bharati Teertha Mahaswamigal, the reigning Pontiff. These have come out in the form of a cassette titled Bhakti Kusuma Manjari. A sincere teacher, he devotes his spare time to teach music to those who wish to excel in the Semmangudi style. It is probably in recognition of this aspect that the Academy presented him the Bodhaka Award in 1996. He is a member of the Experts Committee of the Music Academy. Subrahmaniam is also the founder member of the Semmangudi R. Srinivasa Iyer Golden Jubilee Trust. This organisation, founded in 1976, conducts annual music festivals and also helps indigent artistes by giving them monthly pensions. It is noteworthy that over the years Subrahmaniam's commitment to music has been unswerving even though he has had to shoulder the responsibilities of a Senior Executive in a leading commercial organisation till his retirement.
As a parting note he remarks, "My research work will serve as a referral point for connoisseurs." Certainly, for it is the work of a master!
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