Audio | “Dedication to her guru, Veena Dhanammal” by Savithri Rajan

“The greatest, most beautiful thing is compassion expressed through music” – Savithri Rajan

Excerpt from: Tyagaraja and the Renewal of Tradition: Translations and Reflections by William Jackson (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, 1994), pp. 174-175
https://search.worldcat.org/en/title/878687716

How does Savithri Rajan perceive Tyagaraja? She characterizes Tyagaraja as an heroic soul who was able to reach out through shared feelings and colloquial idiom to ordinary people; he was willing to serve selflessly like a mother risking her own life to jump into a pool and save a drowning child. Yet she feels that Tyagaraja simultaneously holds to the tradition of communicating the greatest message of the Upanisads. To her, this is an important point, “Because to Hindus the Upanisads together form the core of the Hindu religion; the ultimate, the last word in philosophy, the Upanisads lead one to a transcendental silence,” which is found in the lives of the Buddha, Sankara, and Ramana Maharshi. Savithri Rajan believes that Tyagaraja, like these other great men, was always meditating, but his medium of expression was nādam, “sound” – he was an aspirant who followed nādopāsana, the approach or worship by way of sound. She points out that Tyagaraja composed a song beginning with the word nādopāsana saying there is nothing higher than worship via sound, music is the best vehicle because Brahman is nādam – divine sound – which is the omnipresent, omniscient power, “call it Power with a capital ‘P’, call it God, call it Christ, call it Krsna, call it Rāma.”

What was it that Tyagaraja was expressing in his songs? Savithri Rajan believes that everything Tyagaraja felt in his search to understand and have compassion was experienced and expressed through the medium and vehicle of music. In her view, “the greatest, most beautiful thing is compassion, karuna, the ability to feel for others.” And every song of Tyagaraja has “karunā sāgara” – an ocean of compassion in it.

“The music of Tyagaraja’s compositions can be so poignant I have seen people with eyes wet when listening to a great piece rendered by a great vidvān [a very learned performer]. To one who does not understand Telugu and does not know the rāga, but is nevertheless moved by the piece and feels the sentiment and emotion in it, the communication is through the nādam – and there are many such people.”

The reason there are many is that the communication of realizations occurs at a deep level utilizing notes and rhythms best able emotionally to move South Indians of various backgrounds: the unsophisticated, the temple-anchored faithful, the festival-goers who express inner spiritual urges through participation in music and pageantry. These various South Indians feel a serious lack if a Tyagaraja song is not part of any musical or religious program. […] 

Savithri Rajan feels that today’s performing musician “owes everything” to Tyagaraja. “What is his concert worth if he cannot render an Ayyarval kirtanai [song by Tyagaraja] well? His merit and reputation are judged by this touchstone.” Further, she recalls, that her mother, who had “unerring bhakti” held that the music-charged words of Tyagaraja in honour of Rama constitute a talisman with special power.

As Savithri Rajan sees it, the listener, the performer, the housewife, the spiritual seeker, and various kinds of students, – each in a different way approaches Tagaraja and his multifaceted personality, which he pases on to others, his simplicity, renunciation and sensitivity to the onslaughts of materialism and human frailty, all made this “emaciated, fragile man, a mendicant by choice, a seer, a sage, and a saint by the grace of Rama,” and thus he stands out as an inspiration to all.

She believes that in the fast pace of the modern world Tyagaraja’s bhakti message of music and love of God and man is of great value, and that it influences many who have the ear to hear and leisure to meditate. She recalls that her teacher, Tiger Varadachariar used to say that Tyagaraja brought Valmiki’s Rama closer, “adorably closer,” and in a moment of great appreciative experience he would even declare that Tyagaraja’s Rama was greater than Valmiki’s Rama. “Tyagaraja talks to his Rama, praises, cajoles, and even quarrels with Rama.” She feels that the aesthetic experience is heightened by this intimaciy. She feels that the depictions of Tyagaraja’s yearning have elevated and ennobled her thoughts and helped her to keep equanimity in various situations in her life, and she believes many others born in her culture have had similar experiences. […]

In her private LP recording titled “Dedication to her guru, Veena Dhanammal”, Savithri Rajan (1908-91) pays tribute Veena Dhanammal (1867-1937). As a child she was tutored by the legendary singer and composer known as “Tiger” Varadachariar (1876-1950, a disciple of Pattanam Subrahmanya Ayyar).

Veena Dhanammal is a legend

Veena Dhanammal is a legend; she was one in her own lifetime. Was she for real? There’s so little of her music which has survived and even loss which is heard, and yet her music has been praised in such superlative terms by those privileged to have listened to her. – Sruti Magazine >>

Item list with composers and research link

Intacalamu (varnam) – Begada – Adi – Tiruvotriyur Tyagaiyer

Ninuvinagati gana – Kalyani (alapana) – Adi – Subbaraya Sastri

Sri Raghuvara sugunalaya – Bhairavi – Adi – Tyagaraja

Nicittamu na bagya – Vijayavasanta – Adi – Tyagaraja

Tanam – Ghanaraga panchakam (order: Nata, Gaula, Arabhi, Sri, Varali)

Maname bhushanamu – Sankarabharanam – Misra capu – Govindaswami Ayya

Mariyada teliyakane (javali) – Surati – Rupaka – Patnam Subrahmanya Iyer

Find song lyrics and information about Carnatic ragas including those by the above composers >>
(e.g. type “Tyagaraja rare ragas” or “javali by Patnam Subrahmanya Iyer”)

Obituary by V.R. Devika 1991 © Courtesy Sruti Magazine >>

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Tips: in the above search field, type a combination of names and subjects of special interest: to find more audio and video contents sung or played by a favourite musician or musical instrument; along with preferred raga or tala, on the occasion of a festival or lecture demonstration (e.g. Music Academy Madras), location (e.g. Narada Gana Sabha) or item (e.g. varnam, kriti, tillana) | How “Safe search” is used on this website >>

S Rajam and disciples sing Harikesanallur Bhagavatar

S. Rajam (1919-2010) is credited with defining the visual identity of South India’s classical music. The present recording was made at his Mylapore home on 12 December 1997 when rehearsing for a lecture-demonstration; an annual event serving to highlight rare facets of South Indian (Carnatic) music. More about this recording & Sangita Kalasikhamani S. Rajam >>

Total duration: 82 min.(2 tracks mp3): Cassette side A 46:24, Cassette side B 36:22); for free download options visit https://archive.org/details/rajam-harikesanallur-lecdem >>

  • S Rajam June 2009 © Jayan Warrier

S Rajam teaching and receiving visitors friends including singer Vijayalakshmy Subramaniam, pianist-educator Anil Srinivasan & Ludwig Pesch Photos © Jayan Warrier (June 2009)

A couple of years ago, musician-friend Ludwig Pesch invited me to a music lesson taught by S Rajam. One of the disciples there was Vijayalakshmi Subramaniam. The bond between the master and the student became evident as the lesson wore on. As the midwinter sun cast lazy shadows across the courtyard, I saw the guru lapse into proud silences, letting his disciple sing unaided. […] The memory of that master lesson at Rajam’s home remains etched in my memory. As the master and the student rendered a composition in Ananda­bhairavi, a curious butterfly lodged itself on my shoulder. The stillness of that moment lent me a certain delicate joy. It was something deeper than contentment—an ability to stay absolutely rooted to the music. The rest, as they say, is mere noise.

Anil Srinivasan in “Her master’s voice and more” (Indian Express, 18 June 2011) >>

Find additional information by typing names “S Rajam Harikesanallur”, “singer Vijayalakshmy Subramaniam”, “pianist Anil Srinivasan” (or similar combination) here:

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Anyone who is familiar with the world of Carnatic music, would recognise S. Rajam’s paintings of the Trinity—Syama Sastry, Tyagaraja and Muthuswami Dikshitar. They are probably his most popular creations. But his paintings of the seven swaras based on the visualisation of the swara personalities described in Sangeeta Kalpadrumam—the treatise by vidwan Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar, are equally interesting and beautiful. That Kalpadrumam was the source of inspiration for these paintings has been acknowledged by the late Rajam himself, in the detailed notes that he has given to Sruti.

https://sruti.com/printeditions/sruti-back-issues-individual/amjad-ali-khan-amp-ustad-hafiz-ali-khan

“Remove the barriers imposed by the music”: A tribute to a vital artistic tradition by T.M. Krishna

More by and about T.M. Krishna >>

A Southern music: The Karnatik story

By T.M. Krishna, HarperCollins, Rs 699

If a successful and busy Karnatic singer takes time off in order to write reflections on South Indian or “Karnatic” music, the book release function is bound to be met with considerable interest. […]

He pays tribute to the tambura (the tanpura) as “the life-giver, the soul of our music”. For Krishna, “it is the one instrument that can be said to hold within itself the very essence of classical music. So unobtrusive is this instrument, so self-effacing in its positioning on the stage and so tender of nature, that it is almost taken for granted.” Sadly, the tambura is rarely played “live” even during live concerts where it tends to be drowned by its electronic surrogate with devastating effect. Restoring its presence would seem indispensable in efforts such as those outlined under two chapter headings, “To Remove the Barriers Imposed by the Music” and “To Expand the Listenership of Karnatic Music”. The very concept of “fusion” is dismissed as a “lopsided idea of the music.” […]

The fact that 15 out of 588 pages are assigned to an Index is welcome in view of the publisher’s ambition to provide readers with a “path-breaking overview of South Indian classical music.” A mere glance at the Contents page and Index proves that, as in his concerts, T.M. Krishna would take nothing for granted, starting with instructions titled “A Note on Reading”. […]

Source: Book review by Ludwig Pesch, The Telegraph (Calcutta)
Address : http://www.telegraphindia.com/1140228/jsp/opinion/story_18023416.jsp#.UxC3W16kAfl

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All craftsmen in Miraj are musicians – the wonderfully resonant Tanpura (Tambura)

tambura_workshop_miraj_thehindu_1907012
A view of the shop where tanpuras are made. Photo by Lakshmi Sreeram – courtesy The Hindu

Miraj is famous for tanpuras made by its craftsmen, who honed their skills by first becoming trained musicians.

How did it ever strike someone to stick a piece of wood on a dried pumpkin, build this bridge and that and twist some strings on it, to make this wonderfully resonant thing one calls the tanpura? […]

“Musical training is the basic foundation for an expert tanpura maker. There are about 500 craftsmen in Miraj and all are musicians.” […]

As much as Miraj is associated with the tanpura, it is also associated with Ustad Abdul Karim Khan saheb, the founder of the Kirana gharana of Khayal. It was after listening to his record, playing in a shop, that Bhimsen Joshi decided at the age of 11 to run away from home to learn music. Music can become as obsessive as that.  […]

All great musicians of the Kairana gharana have sung at this festival such as Bhimsen Joshi, Gangubai Hangal, Roshanara Begum, Hirabai Badodekar and Suresh Bhau Mane. “We have a tradition of ending the three-night musical offering with a concert by a Kairana gharana vocalist. This year it was Ganapati Bhat,” said Mirajkar.

Abdul Karim Khan saheb’s music was uncluttered and deeply moving. He could tug at hearts with his plaintive and sharply etched swaras, and the power of his music lay mostly in that. Sheer mastery over swaras, what Bhimsen Joshi once spoke of as ‘swara siddhi.’ Veena Dhanam, who was hard to please, had great regard for his music. He was probably the first Hindustani musician to seriously study the Carnatic system and the first to be invited to sing all over the south. He even recorded a Tyagaraja kriti.

Source: The Hindu : Arts / Music : Strings of purity by Lakshmi Sreeram, The Hindu, July 19, 2012
Address : http://www.thehindu.com/arts/music/article3657463.ece

“Tambura is my constant companion – a bridge to my past, keeping the memories of my childhood alive.” – Bombay Jayashri >>
Learn more about the tambura (tanpura) >>
Tambura posture, fingering & therapeutic effect

By Rama Kausalya

The Tambura is considered queen among the Sruti vadhyas such as Ektar, Dotar, Tuntina, Ottu and Donai. Although tamburas are traditionally made at several places, the Thanjavur Tambura has a special charm.

Veena Asaris are the Tambura makers too but not all are experts, the reason being it requires a special skill to make the convex ‘Meppalagai’ or the plate covering the ‘Kudam’ (Paanai).

There are two ways of holding a Tambura. One is the “Urdhva” – upright posture, as in concerts. Placing the Tambura on the right thigh is the general practice. The other is to place it on the floor in front of the person who is strumming it. While practising or singing casually, it can be placed horizontally on the lap.

The middle finger and index finger are used to strum the Tambura. Of the four strings, the ‘Panchamam’, which is at the farther end is plucked by the middle finger followed by the successive plucking of ‘Sārani’, ‘Anusārani’ and ‘Mandara’ strings one after the other by the index finger. This exercise is repeated in a loop resulting in the reverberating sruti.

Sit in a quiet place with eyes closed and listen to the sa-pa-sa notes of a perfectly tuned Tambura – the effect is therapeutic.

Except a few, the current generation prefers electronic sruti accompaniment, portability being the obvious reason. Besides few music students are taught to tune and play the tambura. Beyond all this what seems to swing the vote is that the electronic sruti equipment with its heavy tonal quality can cover up when the sruti goes astray.

During the middle of the last century, Miraj Tambura (next only to the vintage Thanjavur) was a rage among music students, who were captivated by its tonal quality with high precision and the beautiful, natural gourd resonators.

Source: “Therapeutic effect”, The Hindu (Friday Review), 30 March 2018 

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Appreciating the beauty and importance of the nagasvaram: “Carnatic music grew because of the nagaswaram” – S. Rajam

In this part, I quote from my recording with S. Rajam on T.N. Rajarathinam Pillai, done in early 2007 [brief excerpts]

“Carnatic music grew because of the nagaswaram. Our art originated in the temples — especially, dance and nagaswaram. During the daily three-time worship at temples, the nagaswaram would be played all the times.

Source: “Tribute to the genius T.N. Rajarathinam Pillai, whose nagaswaram melodies are timeless” by Rupa Gopal The Hindu, December 27, 2013
URL: https://thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-fridayreview/our-own-pied-piper/article5505258.ece

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Mallari played by ‪Sheik Mahaboob Subhani & Kalisha Bee‬ Mahaboob

With the disintegration of feudalism, Carnatic music, once confined to the precincts of temples and royal durbar halls, stepped out and started filling concert halls. While some music forms such as Mallari, inextricably linked with the rituals of temples and festivals, are still in vogue, others such as OdamYecharikkai and Odakkuru have more or less disappeared. […]

Yecharikkai is also played in Vishnu temples when the deity is taken inside the sanctorum after the procession. In earlier times, the devadasis of the temple would perform the ritual of warding off the evil eye after which the nagaswaram player would play this musical form.

Yecharikkai is played in Saveri set to tisra nadai,” said Mr. Subramaniam. Mr. Chinnathambia Pillai said it could also be played in Yadukula Kambhoji and Ahiri. […]

But in many temples, these rituals are no longer followed,” said Mr. Subramaniam.

Source: “Ancient sounds of temple music fade” by B. Kolappan, The Hindu, 22 December 2013
URL: http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/ancient-sounds-of-temple-music-fade/article5487577.ece
Date Visited: 1 February 2014

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