Chicago Tyagaraja Utsavam fondly remembers with great respect the contributions of legendary artists to the world of classical music and dance.

Nov 2016

From a fanatic fan of Dr. M. Balamurali Krishna

img_15661Knowing that I am a fanatic fan, there were several early morning calls and WhatsApp messages about the sudden demise of Padma Vibooshan, Sangeeta Kalanidhi, Dr Mangalampalli Balamurali Krishna.

It is one of the saddest moments in the history of Indian classical music.

Dr. Balamurali Krishna, who rose as a meteor in the musical firmament came from an unknown corner of Andhra. He was simply an exception to the leading musicians then dominating the Carnatic music platform in early sixties. While many veteran musicians used their grammar skills and solid percussion support as their strategy to corner the concert market, Dr. Balamurali Krishna, with his gifted voice and musical breath control quickly drew the attention of all veteran musicians, emerging musical talents and music-loving ordinary citizens. While his voice and bhava-laden music attracted aspiring young talents, his creative swara kalpanas and brigas and bold alapanas on rare kritis arrested the attention of all musicians, scattered all over India.

At the tender age of 14, when he composed kritis in all the 72 Melakarta ragas, many professional musicians dominating the Carnatic stage were simply jealous of this genius.  Even in the early stages of his career he made many bold and risky musical experiments with his concerts, introducing many of his own compositions and quite a few rare compositions of great composers. Often they were in many rare and unpopular ragas like Palamanjari, Naganandini, Gamanasrama, Chandrajyoti, Sindukannada, Aheer Bhairav and so on.

His creative chittaswarams and unique swara kalpanas for the well known kriti Vathapi Ganapathim, his emotionally choked rendition of the kriti Brihadeeswara in Kanada, his expansive alapana and swara kalpana for kritis like Kanugontini in Bilahari, Nagumomu in Abheri, Samaja varagamana in Hindolam, Kamalaptakula in Brindavana Saranga, all found new dimensions when he handled them. Through kritis like Entha Muddho in Bindumalini, Nanubrovamani Cheppave in Kalyani, and through folk songs like Yemi Sethura Linga, he catered to distinct tastes among audience – some looking for rare melodies, some looking for Bhakti in folk music, and some looking for sarcasm and social criticism by great the composers.

While many veteran musicians till then were least concerned about dissecting the sahityam at odd places to suit the easy flow of beats, for the first time in Carnatic concerts he made the beats subservient to sahityam.  A large number of kriti lovers outside of Tamil Nadu (especially from the states of Andhra and Karnataka) would rush to his concerts just to quench their thirst in his sahitya bhavam, his intonations and emphasis on select words and would communicate with the audience, the meaning and bhava of the kriti afresh. In his rendition of ragas Abheri, Arabhi, Bilahari, Brindavani, Chandrajyoti, Gamanasrama, Kalyani, and Mohanam, he tickled with melody-choked voice, one’s musical ecstasy with unanticipated gamakas and sangathis of even very familiar kritis.

Till 1962, I was never exposed to the live performances of any musician outside Tamil Nadu. Balamurali and his music was simply unknown to me then.

In 1962, when I moved to Calcutta for graduate studies at the Indian Statistical Institute, I had the first exposure to Hindustani music via All India Radio, Calcutta. Their expansive raga alapana and the domination of pure melody to a lulling and pleasant, but somewhat repetitive Tabla was a great musical surprise to me. The instrumental music, especially of sitar and sarod were simply captivating. The vocalists that I listened to (both males and females ) had superb voice culture. Listening to live performances by veterans like Bade Gulam Ali Khan, Salamad and Nazakat Ali, Dagar Brothers, Chinmoy Lahiri, Bhimsen Joshi, Kishori Amonkar, Sandhya Mukherji and so on made me pine and pray for at least one or two musicians to emerge in Carnatic system with comparable voice culture. Almost every Carnatic musician that I had listened to prior to Calcutta days suddenly seemed to be quite second rate in voice culture. Only GNB ( 1950-51 period – Parthasarathy temple and Parthasarathy Swamy sabha concerts), and MS (1947-52 period- I could never afford to listen to her live concerts in India) and two young musicians via AIR in the same period ( Maharajapuram Santhanam and R.K. Srikantan) came to my mind as just comparable or the next best level of voices. The Bhajan singer Pithukkuli Murugadoss, with his melody choked voice (though not considered classical musician) and my true childhood inspiration M.K. Tyagaraja Bhagavatar ( via Siva Kavi, Tiruneelakantar movies ) were the only singers from the South who seemed to possess voices comparable to the great Hindustani musicians. I would truly pine and pray for the avatar of some South Indian classical musician with a captivating voice who will uphold Carnatic music and its unique gamaka sangeetam transcending regional and national barriers.

Dr. Balamurali Krishna was just emerging as a concert musician and my friends and fellow graduate students suggested that we should listen to recent music recordings from the south to spot the emerging talents. For the first time, some of us – South Indian graduate students-  bought one 45 RPM and one 78 RPM record of Balamurali. We used to listen to them again and again over weekends. The 78 RPM record Yaamihe-Nata Bhairavi (Ashtapadhi), Dinnanata Dirana (Hindola Tillana to Lalgudi’s accompaniment) was like a musical down pour for a chataka bird waiting for a drop of musical rain from the South. While graduate students from Andhra were certainly aware of Balamurali as a musician, they were more after film music.

When I left for England in 1966, I carried with me the 45 RPM records of Balamurali containing Nagumomu (Abheri), Devadi Deva (Sunadha Vinodhini) and Neerajadalalochani ( Todi). I would listen to them again and again week after week and I never got tired of the same music. A good friend of mine, one Dr Balwant Reddy of the Economics department at the University of Essex, one day brought home, the first ever 33 RPM LP of Balamurali. The Brindavani tillana was so unique that I expressed my desire to listen to the LP again. In fact I heard this LP three rounds nonstop! Noticing my craze for Balamurali’s music, Dr. Reddy picked me up from my apartment the very next weekend and dropped me at his house and was gone to comb for me any other Carnatic music records from London. I was repeatedly listening to the first two kritis ( His own Varnam Saragunagavumu in Todi (Panchama Varja) and the kriti Mahadeva Sutham in Arabhi. I would lift the moving needle and go back to the beginning of the Arabhi kriti just after the line “Yedi korinaa yevani jeppinchina … adigina naadu” and was simply intoxicated by its sudden twists and turns. I wanted to listen to the same line again and again. I was insatiable. I tried to memorize the scintillating chittaswaram by first writing down the swarams and then join the singer till the end of the kriti and would start all over again. Having memorized the chittaswaram and the kriti, my musical fantasy was to simply surprise the potential girl I may marry and her parents with a fast rendition of the chittaswaram to every one’s surprise.

Right after my marriage in 1967, I was itching to meet Balamurali and get some clarifications on my musical doubts. Through a common friend, I managed to go to his house near Madras Music Academy. The first thing that struck me was the house name “Mahati”.  My first question to him was about Sitar and how come we are not adopting Sitar and Sarode into Carnatic system? He said, “Sitar is not suitable as a pakka vadhyam for our kriti based music. Even Hindustani vocalists would not use it as pakka vadhyam for their concerts “. I queried him about our problem with instrumental soloists in Carnatic system. I queried him again – “In Hindustani music they have a large number of Sitar and Sarod soloists from Bengal, and how come we do not have any sizeable number of instrumental soloists in Violin, Veena and Flute? The few Vainikas I have listened to seem to have no dexterity with the instrument. Sitar and Sarod players seem to have mastered their instruments. If we could adopt western violin for our Carnatic concert platform, why can’t we adopt Sitar for our music?” He said, “Our folks are yet to master Veena, in spite of the frets being set to permanent positions. How do you expect our instrumentalists to handle Sitar whose fret positions are on the move all the time ?” Next I asked him about his house name Mahati.  He said that he named it after a raga that he created with just 4 notes Sa, Ga, Pa, Ni in ascent and descent. Perhaps after listening to his kriti -Mahaneeya Madhuramoorthe in Mahati, many film music composers were anxious to introduce it in their movies. The film song Adisaya Ragam sung by Jesudoss is one such.  I told him, “I love your Varnam Saraguna Gavumu in Todi. However, it sounds somewhat alien to the Todi varnams and kritis that I have listened to”. He mentioned that it is composed by skipping panchama (varjam) which is even otherwise only rarely used in popular Todi varnams.  I wanted to know whether he has published any book in Tamil script, exclusively of his compositions. He lovingly picked up from his book rack the little yellow book “Murali Ravali” and donated it to me with an autograph. To this day I treasure this book as one of my rarest music collections. It contains, with notation, some of his original varnams, kritis and tillanas.

In 1971, my friend Narayanan brought from London a reel to reel tape of an AIR concert of Balamurali. The concert starting with his kriti Mangala Dayaka was simply mesmerizing me. As usual I would rewind the tape again and again to listen to the same kriti. So was another tape with a famous Tevaram “Van Taranga Punarkamala” that he set to music in raga Haimavati.

In 1975, for the first time, many celebrated musicians like Pandit Ravi Shankar, Bhimsen Joshi, Kumudini Lahya of the Hindustani system and Balamurali Krishna, Balasaraswathi and T.K. Murthy from Carnatic system were honored by the Sangeet Natak Academy. Open air free concerts and dance programs of these artists were arranged by the Sangeet Natak academy. I felt thrilled when (Bharata Ratna), Pandit Bhimsen Joshi was in the front row listening to the full concert of Balamurali Krishna.

To me and to my family, the years 1976-86 are still the most memorable days- socially and musically. With a small group of ardent music lovers we were often commuting our weekends between Madison, Chicago, West Bend and Purdue exchanging tapes and cassettes from each other. That is when we started planning for an annual Tyagaraja Utsavam in the Midwest. Any new music of Balamurali would be the top priority agenda of our musical conversation meets.

In the worst of the winter, one Friday, my friend Tyagaraja Rao called me and informed me that he had just received by post an AIR concert of Balamurali (starts with his kriti Ganasudharasa pana niratam). Next morning the temperature was 4 degrees Fahrenheit. All TV stations were warning continuously to avoid driving. By 8 AM, I was already on the freeway listening to the news. Dan Ryan was virtually empty and I drove all alone to S.T. Rao’s apartment in Purdue. He could not believe that I would risk driving all alone in such a weather to a new concert of Balamurali.

Balamurali made the first US tour in 1979. I decided to skip all academic activity and wanted to spend as much time as I can with him. In Chicago, sizeable chunk of light music lovers waited patiently till the end for his “Oru naal pOdumaa” and just that single song satisfied their long wait. Many music lovers who speak Telugu would wait patiently for his rendition of Nagumomu without any alapana or swara prastaram but just the kriti sung with intonation and bhavam. They felt their long wait was worth in gold. A rare composition like Palukutatse in Palamanjari or Dakshayani in the raga Naganandini kept the local musicologists spell bound. I contacted the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign music department and we had another concert there. He happily obliged my personal request with his kriti Mangala Dayaka in Arabhi. When he announced that the rhythm lovers would enjoy the Ragam Thanam Pallavi set to Kanta Jati Triputai in Sankeerna Gati, many American students trained in the grammar of Carnatic system were happily keeping to the beats.

In Urbana, when I expressed my desire to formally learn kritis from him, he lovingly took me to the Pooja room in Dr. Ranga Rao’s house (our host) and after my prostrations, he chanted some slokas and mantras in my ears. Even though I was longing for his musical association, with my conservative food habits, I was finding it somewhat embarrassing to be in a company of folks who were all the time keen on fussing over him with a generous supply of hard drinks. In Milwaukee, when he wanted me to get drinks from his bag that he got as gift from another host from another city, I politely refused.

“Raghavan, how can you become my sishya if you are unwilling to do even such a simple favor like this for a Guru?” He narrated a story to me about a movie called Hamsa Geete in Kannada language where an orthodox Brahmin sishya at the request of his music teacher would carry a live chicken to satisfy his teachers special culinary demand. I politely said, “I am sorry. I may have to remain just an admirer of your creative music”

The Milwaukee concert simply electrified the audience with his Tamil Kriti Pirai aniyum Peruman. Wherever I went and met classical music lovers, my first request was always for any new concert of Balamurali that they can share with me. In one of my academic visits to the Netherlands, my friend Raghuraman of Lieden surprised me with a unique VHS video gift- a Doordarshan jugal bandhi by Balamurali and Bhimsen Joshi in raga Yaman (Kalyani) followed by Balamurali’s Tillana in Hindolam. This seminal Doordarshan program is yet to be matched by any of the Jugal bandis that many other vocalists and instrumentalists including himself have attempted later with any number of artists of the two musical systems. I used to carry this video whenever I went abroad for academic visits and would play this video to many music loving North Indian and European friends.

While Pandit Ravi Shankar took Hindustani music to the Western audience, Balamurali took Carnatic music to the North Indian classical platforms. No other Carnatic musician has given joint programs with outstanding vocalists and instrumentalists of Hindustani system like Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Jasraj, Pandit Hariprasad Chourasia, Pandit Ajay Chakraborti, Kishori Amonkar and so on.

His special AIR program on Utsava Sampradaya Kritis is the true inspiration behind Chicago Tyagaraja Utsavam’s (CTU) efforts in sprouting Carnatic music among our music loving kids in Chicago.

He successfully penetrated light music film songs via in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam. The songs “Orunaal pOdumaa”, “Thanga radam vandathu”, “Chinnakkannan Azhaikkiraan, “Salalitha Raga Sudharasa Saaram” etc. are master pieces in film music. In recent years, many raising stars in Carnatic music, Bharata Natyam and Kuchipudi choose one or two rare varnams or tillanas of his creations as part of their performance. His Hindola raga tillana and Taya ragamalika Tillana are often sung by renowned Hindustani musicians like Ajay Chakraborti and Kausiki Chakraborti. We were very lucky that CTU was able to arrange his solo concert in 2006 as well as a Jugalbandhi with Ajay Chakraborti in 2007. Excerpts of his CTU program were also broadcast on Doordarshan.

Last year, when I was in India, I was very keen on getting a formal letter of appreciation from him for our 40th year (2016) brochure -Tyagaraja Vijayam. When I first met him, he was in a very depressed mood and asked me “Why are you here? Who wants me or cares for my music?”. With tears in my eyes I simply prostrated four times and did abhivandanam and recalled my 1967 visits to his house, the Chicago, Urbana, and Milwaukee concerts and all.  I expressed my desire to get a blessing letter from him for our 40th year. He said, ” I cannot write by hand, but if you can bring a typed letter I will sign it”.  When I suggested we would always love to have his concert again, his daughter interrupted and said, “Please don’t throw any such invitation to him as his health would not permit him any long travel.  We are here to take care of him”. The very next day when it was close to 9 PM, with tears rolling down my eyes I went again to his house, with the typed letter. His son read the letter and our renowned musician happily signed the letter for CTU.

I wish that Government of India had recognized this renowned musician who truly integrated the two systems of our classical music with a Bharata Ratna award when he was alive.

TES Raghavan


Oct 2015

Dr. N. Ramani – Carnatic Music purist par excellence


Carnatic music is losing, one by one, great purists and instrumental soloists.  The sudden demise of Sangeeta Kalanidhi Dr. N. Ramani, the renowned flutist, is a major loss to Indian classical music and especially instrumental music.

In 1971, I was contacted by the East-West society of New York trying, for the first time, to arrange a concert tour of the renowned Violin Maestro Lalgudi Jayaraman with Flute Ramani and Ramnad Raghavan on the Mridangam.  Mr. V.K. Viswanathan, who was one of those early pioneers in this venture, wanted us to arrange private concerts as well as public concerts. Being that Flute Ramani was a classmate of Dr. S.T. Rao, the excitement was all the more for many of us in Chicago to look forward to their visit.  Getting a suitable hall for the concert was quite a thorny issue in those days and it required a lot of help from various people. Luckily through Dr. K.S. Rajan , we could fix the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), Chicago Auditorium essentially for free through the Indian Students Association of IIT.  Having picked up the artists in the afternoon from the airport, the Violin Maestro was very particular to do mike testing before taking his lunch.  To me, Lalgudi’s mike testing in and of itself was a concert.  The Mokashamu Galada, Na Jeevadara, and Nannu Palimpa were heavenly. I was doubly rewarded with celestial music from Lalgudi and the concert with Ramani. The Chicago concert was unquestionably the most memorable and I still treasure many of the reel-to-reel concert recordings of Ramani-Lalgudi across the USA from that tour.

While Ramani was happy to perform in Chicago, he was all the more excited to meet his schoolmate S.T. Rao and the rest of us.

In fact, even more than their music,  association with the musicians and the pride that they imparted by staying with us was more important to many of us.  We looked forward to the music related chats with Lalgudi and Ramani. A host of graduate students from Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan assembled in our  one bed room apartment and people wanted to talk to Ramani the whole night after the concert.  That night we talked to Ramani about many musicians and about Tyagaraja Swamy’s specialties and what not.  S.T. Rao entertained us the whole night with his great sense of humor while the ladies were busy constantly feeding us with snacks.

The next morning we had to go and pick up graduate students staying with friends across the greater Chicago area for the private concert at Dr. K.S. Rajan ‘s apartment at IIT campus.  The masterly beginnings of a Ragamalika Alpana in Begada, Arabhi, Anandabhairavi, Reetigoula etc. are yet to be matched for their depth and originality.  When Ramani suddenly joined the solo part of Lalgudi with his solo BagayaNayya, in a raga totally unknown to many of us (Chandrajyoti), it was simply scintillating.

What a level of musical purity it was and just musical honey flowed through his flute!

Some of the ladies wanted a complete repeat of Lalgudi-Ramani-Venkatraman trio’s LP recording of Mohana Rama.  Ramani’s Nagumomu, followed by his Punnagavarali (snake song) was suddenly interfered by a unique bow of Lalgudi.  Their performance simply elevated us to a whole new musical plane.  The private concert ended with a Thiruppugazh Ragamalika and everyone quickly moved to my apartment just a block away for the lunch. They had to catch a flight within two hours.  In those days, it was quite normal for me to demand Usha to sacrifice listening to music for the sake of others.  Usha was quite busy taking care of many small kids and feeding them before we assembled for lunch.  Immensely pleased with the program, I called my friend Narayanan in London and requested him to invite Ramani when they toured UK right after their last concert in New York.

I along with S.T. Rao and Swaminathan of Madison, Wisconsin drove all the way to Detroit to listen to their Detroit concert.  Each major city had a small group of music lovers. There was VK. Viswanathan, Sankaran and Nagarajan in New York; Sundaram, Balu and Chellappa in Cleveland; C.M. Venkatachalam in Detroit; Ananthanarayanan in San Diego; and Venkatraman in Toronto.  Each was itching to listen to Carnatic music programs. Through Sony TC 560 (auto reverse, Scotch 203 tapes) etc, some of us were willing to make copies of these Ramani and Lalgudi concerts and did not mind a 300 or 400 miles trip to collect even a badly recorded concert of them or of some veteran musician’s vintage concerts of the bygone days.

The very next year (1972), when I went to India to celebrate my sister’s marriage to Narayanan, I went to meet both Lalgudi and Ramani.  In Lalgudi’s house, they were busy doing some Thiruppugazh prayers and he was to quickly catch a train for a concert next day in Andhra Pradesh.  When I met with Ramani, he was excited to talk to me about his Chicago visits and also about meeting my friend Narayanan and talked about the lunch he had with Narayanan.  Ramani wanted me with Usha  to join him for lunch next week in his house.  He was staying on the open roof terrace of some house in Mylapore which was just covered with thatch and partitioned with korai sheets.  Usha and I were deeply touched by his hospitality amidst clear poverty.  He openly said with feelings and with a great sense of gratitude that it was the Jugalbandi with Lalgudi that made all the difference to his musical life and provided a real economic uplift.  He told us that he would be  moving to his own house  being newly built  soon.   At that time, I asked him to suggest some suitable music party for my sister’s marriage reception.  I told him my financial limitations.  When I casually mentioned that my friend Narayanan was marrying my sister Daya, he simply said that he himself will play for the reception on one condition.  He would not accept even a token honorarium from us.

He is one of those rarest of musicians with a true love for music loving friends.

Later, when I attended Thiruvayyaru Tyagaraja Utsavam, I was expecting the Pancharatna Kritis first.  To my surprise, Ramani’s solo Chetulara in Bhairavi simply filled the Utsavam with tranquility.  This was the inspiration years later to implement an instrumental Chetulara group during Day 1 of the Utsavam prior to the Pancharatnam group performance.   To date, Ramani’s Chetulara lives on through this tradition.

Although Ramani has visited USA many times for many concert tours, and performed under different organizations, I very much wanted him to perform with Srimushnam Raja Rao for CTU. We had to wait a long time. In 2007, the concert of Ramani with Nagai Muralidharan and Srimushnam Raja Rao at CTU is a musical treasure for all of us.

More recently, I met Ramani and his wife for the last time at my niece’s wedding in Chennai. To this day, no musician can match Ramani for the souseelyam and soulabhyam. This purist of purists is living in my house through his many music concerts with Lalgudi, with MSG, with KVN with Chowrasia and many others.

We  have lost one of the greatest flutist, a musical purist and above all a great man with simplicity and modesty.  I will miss this great musician and his live music. .

T.E.S. Raghavan

Apr 2015

Flute Maestro Sri T.S.Sankaran – A great musician

I came to know of Flute maestro Sri T.S. Sankaran when he first came to Chicago as a visiting artist under Natyakalalaya Dance school of Chicago.  Earlier in his career, he decided to move to New Delhi. Being a direct disciple of flute maestro T.R. Mahalingam, he was greatly  respected for his scholarship and musical skills by the Carnatic music lovers  of Delhi.

During fall season, he was invited by Hema Rajagopalan for many music and dance programs conducted by Natyakalalaya and over the years he became virtually a family member of Rajagopalans.

In 1981-82 he came to attend Chicago Tyagaraja Utsavam and pay his homage to the saint by a unique Nagumomu in Abheri.

I always looked for the first opportunity to know from him more about great musicians and Nadaswara vidwans of bygone days.  Being fully immersed in the Tanjore music traditions, he had lots to share with me on many anecdotes and historical details  about Thiruvayyaru Tyagaraja Utsavam and its evolution.

He used to pinpoint clearly subtle restrictions on the usage of certain notes in ragas and would argue vehemently to defend the vadi-samvadi traditions of Hindustani music that has been neglected by many Carnatic musicians.  What appealed to me most was his utter simplicity and modesty.  Luckily he has passed on some of the rarest  kritis of Saint Tyagaraja to his grandson and to some ace students in the New Delhi area.

T.E.S. Raghavan


Mar 2015

Suguna Purushothaman – A true torch bearer of our musical heritage

In our society women carry the tradition and conservatism even more than men and music is no exception.   We are able to preserve some music traditions only thanks to great women musicians in our society .

Suguna Purushothaman who recently passed away has left a permanent mark on our musical traditions and even more than many other musicians, she has been a true torch bearer of her  musical heritage as passed on to her by her great teachers,  Musiri Subramanya Iyer and Chemmangudi Srinivasa Iyer.

Even at their highest levels, the older generation of female vocalists often kept  their creativity quite  subservient to the strict grammar passed on to them by their great teachers.  Suguna Purushothaman was one such vocalist, preserving the musical heritage of her great teacher Musiri Subramanya Iyer.  While externally keeping to the beats with full visibility to the audience is the normal practice of  Carnatic musicians, synchronizing a kriti in two distinct beats , one with the left hand and another with the right hand showing the two distinct jathis and the common merge at specific spots of the musical phrases are great intellectual feats that were often attempted only  by the veteran musicians of the bygone days .  Perhaps the expansive tala patterns of thavil solos during temple festivals of the bygone days encouraged many veteran vocalists from Tanjore district to experiment with complex laya patterns that are quite unique to Carnatic music.   Musicians like Mudikondan Venkatrama Iyer  would sing a kriti in Simha Nandana Talam ( his prime disciple Sangeetha Kalanidhi R. Vedavalli used to demonstrate them at lecture demonstrations in the past).  In more recent years I was stunned by a composition in Kalyani raga in praise of Kanchi Periyaval sung by Srivanchiyam Ramachandra Iyer in the complex Simha Nandana Talam at an Indian Fine Arts December season program.

However, very few musicians have willingly and successfully transferred what they possessed as advanced  knowledge to the next generation of musicians.  I can proudly say that Suguna Purushothaman is a true exception.  She found that her prime disciple K. Gayathri is one who can absorb her knowledge and she willingly transferred her Tala skills using both hands with two different talas to K. Gayathri who actually demonstrated this in one of our  CTU concerts.

I regret that we never had the right opportunity to have Suguna Purushothaman perform at CTU.  There is no doubt that music lovers here would have gained so much from her classicism and knowledge.

Dr. T.E.S.Raghavan


Dec 2014

Nedunuri Krishnamurthy – An Orthodox Musical Legend

Carnatic music is continuously losing some of the greatest musicians each year and with a saddened heart, I come to know that Sangeetha Kalanidhi Sri Nedunuri Krishnamurthy passed away in Vishakapatnam after a serious cancer attack.

Dr Sripada Pinakapani was one of the legendary musician-musicologist. Apparently like Sri Rangaramanuja Iyengar of Kriti Mani Malai, Dr Pinakapani was keen on listening to the music of Veenai Danammal and her rich repertoire of Padam music of bygone days. He was keen on nurturing an authentic and musically orthodox school around him and he was lucky to spot Sri Nedunuri Krishnamurthy as a superb classical and truly orthodox master student. When Nedunuri came to Madras music season to perform, the first one to notice his classicism was our legendary violinist Sri. Lalgudi Jayaraman. He found that Sri Nedunuri Krishnamurthy is not just an orthodox musician, but in fact a very orthodox person in every sense and the two found in each other the right chemistry for an excellent concert team. Sri Nedunuri and Sri Lalgudi Jayaraman have some similarities in their styles. Their creative aspects are strictly within the grammar of the just past generation of legendary musicians like Ariyakkudi and so on. In addition to this, Nedunuri was one of the very first Andhra musicians who was willing to accept the greatness of Tamil composer Sri Papanasam Sivan which in all honesty was quite unusual for Andhra musicians. His expansive alapana in Shanmughapriya followed by Papanasam Sivan’s immortal composition Saravana Bhava Enum was a major part of many of his concerts all over India with Sri Lalgudi Jayaraman. While Voleti Venkateswarulu from Andhra tried to integrate his creative talents in both Carnatic and Hindustani music, Sri Nedunuri found great value in team efforts and a willingness to accept Tamil compositions that he felt as deep and effective for audiences across India.

Simultaneously he was trying to carve out new path for his creative urge. While Annamacharya’s music was floating in Andhra area in sporadic forms with folk tunes, and devotees of Lord Venkateswara treated them with religious respect, he found that it was a fertile poetic format of a more authentic Telugu poetic form, that could be molded to higher level forms of Carnatic kritis.

Like Ariyakkudi composed the musical format for Thiruppavai, he was keen on giving such an authentic Carnatic classical structure to Annamacharya’s poetic outpourings in the unique tradition of Saint Tyagaraja. Having mastered the sangathi format of several compositions of Saint Tyagaraja , and knowing the inner meaning of Annamacharya’s bhakti laden poems, he chose more than 100 among the large number of poems of Annamacharya and set them to Kriti format in many pracheena ragas like Mukhari, Bhowli , Shankharabharanam , Madhyamavati etc. in lilting music set to kriti format.

While Ariyakkudi’s Thiruppavai set to music as compositions were later popularized by Smt. M.L. Vasantha Kumari and many temples reverberate with that music all over Tamil Nadu during the month of Margazhi, the poems of Annamacharya set to music by Sri Nedunuri was later popularized by Smt. M.S. Subbulakshmi and needless to say, it has become an eternal part of morning music all over many temples in Andhra Pradesh and notably at Thirupathi. At a popular level Sri Nedunuri’s version is also sung by Sri Balakrishna Prasad as part of Annamacharya foundation in Thirupathi area. This fundamental contribution will stay eternal in Carnatic music and even in light music circles.

No Carnatic concert is complete without one or two pieces from the lilting Annamacharya compositions.
Often ignorant music lovers get confused between the poet’s contribution and the music set to the poem. We will not know in what tunes the original poet composed the poem.

In this connection I would like to make some personal remarks:

In 1976-78 time Sri Nedunuri Garu visited USA and I attended the concert at Oak Park, IL near my apartment.

After the concert, I asked him, “How come you chose to sing many of the Annamacharya Kritis as sung in the LP record by MS Subbulakshmi”?

He politely answered- “Raghavan Garu- Don’t you think, that the person who set those poems to music has the right to sing them?”

I was shocked and apologized profusely to this great musician for my query. In more recent times Dr. Sonty Sriram who runs the Annamacharya foundation brought Nedunuri Garu and honored him and released some CD’s on Annamacharya. In the private party at Dr. Sonty’s house when I talked to Nedunuri Garu, I came to know that the original poems were set to music by the poet himself in approximately 60 tunes and we still do not know the original tunes.

I again queried him, “how come you did not bring out the Kritis with music notations?” He said,” he has them in Telugu script. “I only made one comment. It would spread much faster among music loving people across the four language speaking South Indian states if only the book is produced in either Devanagari or in Roman script.

Nedunuri Garu is not just a performing musician but also a superb teacher for talented musicians. Like Ariyakkudi’s bani was carried on for another generation by Sri KV Narayanswamy, the bani of Nedunuri is currently being carried on for the next generation by his disciples Sri Malladi Brothers. CTU is proud to say that his contribution to music is spread through the many concerts we arranged here in Chicago of Malladi Brothers and one feels Sri Nedunuri and his music is very much alive when we listen to his prime disciples.

Dr. T.E. S. Raghavan


Sep 2014

Mandolin U. Srinivas – A true prodigy

It is a great shock to all Indian music lovers and to Carnatic music lovers in particular about the sudden demise of U. Srinivas the Mandolin prodigy.

It is possible for a musically motivated student to reach a higher music level by sheer perseverance, dedication and a teacher willing to part with his or her knowledge and committed parents who choose to evolve their life exclusively around their children. Many of our professional musicians can be certainly classified as achievers this way. Prodigies like Mandolin Srinivas or Flute Mahalingam are in a different category.  They are like Mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan, or for that matter, Tamil Poet Subramania Bharati. They are God sent and often they seem to pass away leaving a permanent vacuum for years to come.

I casually attended one of his earliest concerts at Sastri Hall perhaps in 1979 or 1982.  Virtually every lady attending the program identified with him as one’s own son electrifying the audience with Viriboni in unimaginable speed, followed by majestic Hamsadhwani and melting Hamsanadam in tremendous speed.

I had tears in my eyes watching a young boy and listening to a true genius. May be he was seven or eight   years old then. The instrument was new to me and realized its unique advantage for a young boy with musical genius. He could move his tender fingers in all directions in split second and was able to create cascades of gamakas with little effort.

Amidst very little demand for any solo instrumental music, his was an exception across the Madras music circles during all music seasons.

For the first time in Chicago Ameer Khusro Society rose like a meteor. It was actually one man’s creation, one Mr. Habeeb Ahmad (sp?) who overnight brought some of the outstanding musicians from India and organized music festivals across USA for nearly 3 or 4 years. He treated it purely as a business venture and the city was suddenly witnessing a grand Hindustani & Carnatic music festival.  Other great performers in this list included  great musicians like Pandit Jasraj, Rajan and Sajan Misra, Amjad Ali Khan,  KV Narayanaswamy to name a few.   Mandolin’s performance was scheduled to start at 2:00 PM.

We were all excited to know that Mandolin Srinivas will be performing here in Chicago.  I called all of my music loving friends from Madison and Milwaukee and other neighboring areas in the same proximity and families of ST Raos, West Bend Subramaniams, Swamys, and Sakti etc.  Some graduate students stayed overnight with us to listen to the genius.

I had a sudden call from Mr. Habeeb Ahmad. He needed my help to communicate to the audience that the concert could be delayed due to the delayed arrival of the artists.  Srinivas called me from O’Hare.   He said that Mr. Habeeb Ahmad wanted to take them directly to the concert hall as he was committed to music lovers.  They were traveling from Syracuse by a late night flight and had not even taken bath or done with morning ablutions. All that Srinivas wanted was to take a bath and do his prayers to Lord Hanuman before he will go to concert stage.  When we asked him about lunch arrangements apparently, they could have a quick snack at McDonald’s on the way to the concert hall in Naperville!! I told Mr. Habeeb Ahmed that if he can drop the artists in my house, we will bring the artists and he could directly deal with the audience waiting for the concert. There was sizeable audience right at my house in Villa Park, anxiously waiting to have a glimpse of this prodigy and share a few words with him.  He had a quick bath and went to our bedroom with his instrument and asked for a match box. He lighted agarbatti before a small photo of Lord Hanuman and played the first few lines of Viriboni in super speed and electrified all of us down stairs listening to this rehearsal cum prayer.  He was ready to leave for the hall. All he wanted before the concert was just a can of Coke!! We saw the child in him with his minimal needs and utter simplicity.  We saw the prodigy in action right from the Varnam piece and the hall was packed with music lovers. Madison Swaminathan said it will be his duty to somehow arrange his programs at Madison. For the next three or four years, Swaminthan would arrange Mandolin’s program via the University of Wisconsin with help of some music lovers. Needless to say, we were always part of those activities in those early years. He was accompanied by Kanyakumari on violin and Srimushnam Raja Rao on Mridnagam. His Shanmukha Priya, Arabhi, Bahudari, Hameer Kalyani are all musical gems.

As with many talented young instrumentalists from India, he was more and more to be seen in USA performing many fusion concerts across USA with people like L. Subramaniam, Mc Laughlin, Zakhir Hussain and Gazal singers like Hariharan or Shankar Mahadevan. He was quite at ease to distinguish such programs with an authentic Carnatic music program.  When professional musicians are at ease with both popular and classical pieces, money finally dictates where they go and many authentic classical music organizations were unable to match their market price of fusion music for this talent. As recent as two years back we missed one such opportunity to organize his program under CTU. Luckily we joined with HTGC to run a program of his a few years back.

In a sense people like Mandolin Srinivas, Balamurali Krishna, Lalgudi Jayaraman, Ramani or MSG have played an indirect role in the growth of CTU. Many of the CTU volunteers in those days were so deeply attached to their music that they will travel 300 miles just to listen to their music concert in another Midwest city.

It is a pity that somehow the greatest prodigies are not properly recognized by Indian government or by the prestigious music societies. They all deserve much greater recognition from the Government of India.  Alas Mandolin is no more with us!

Dr. T.E.S.Raghavan


Feb 2014

R.K.Srikantan – One of the greatest doyens of Carnatic Music

It is with deep sadness and heartfelt regret that I announce the loss of one of the greatest doyens of Carnatic music.
Sangeeta Kalanidhi, Padmabhushan, Sri. R.K. Srikantan passed away on Monday Feb 17, 2014, only one day after celebrating his 94th birthday.

Mysore has been the home of many outstanding Vainika Vidwans like Veenai Seshanna and Veenai Subbhanna and many others. Indeed, Karnataka continues to nurture many brilliant young instrumentalists in violin and flute even today. There are also vocalists from Karnataka who are emerging as outstanding theoreticians and book authors on music and dance. However, based on the sheer melody and voice culture and authentic renditions, Sri R.K Srikantan has been the unique and unquestioned monarch among the vocalists of Karnataka.

When I was young, I used to be truly tempted by only a few male vocalists for their melodious voices. In All India Radio, Maharajapuram Santhanam and Sri. R.K. Srikantan were the two artists whose 45 minutes programs I would never miss. I remember our co-tenant one Mr. Thirumalachari , who was working for Lactogen Company, bought a new radio. He also subscribed for the Vanoli (a magazine containing the monthly program for that month). I would always look through the Vanoli for the timings for these two persons. Needless to say, I certainly listened to people like GNB, Ariyakkudi, and Chembai who were given the night time slots. However, Srikantan’s rich voice was certainly attractive to any music loving person or even a new comer who was only marginally interested in classical music.

In those days, the yard stick by which to evaluate vocalists as performers was whether they could match the vocal skills of GNB. While Maharjapuram Viswanatha Iyer’s musical depth and Ariyakkudi’s mastery and speed of rendering kritis stunned one and all, when it came to looking for a pleasing and capturing voice, GNB, Santhanam and Srikantan belonged to a different class altogether. Unfortunately for many years, Santhanam and Srikantan were not able to dominate the concert scenes unlike Ariyakkudi, Chemmangudi, Madurai Mani Iyer, and Chenmbai. In fact, the two were sought after on the concert stages in more recent years (i.e. the last 25 years).

It was with God’s grace that R.K. Srikantan at 84 or 85 was touring the U.S. and we were fortunate to organize his concert for the Chicago Tyagaraja Utsavam. That year, many young talents and local music teachers learned some rare kritis from him under a matching grant program that CTU initiated. Being truly devoted to the music of Saint Tyagaraja, during the concert he refused to sing any Kritis other than Tyagaraja Kritis. If my memory serves me, he sang perhaps one Purandara Dasa Devarnama to appease some Kannada speaking music lovers in the audience. He strongly believed that his music concert was not to be a formal concert but rather a true homage to that immortal composer.

He has trained many vocalists from Karnataka like M.S. Sheela, Satyavati, and his own son Rama Kanth and so on. I am sure the vacuum is not easily filled in Carnatic music, no matter how many new talents emerge.

T.E. S. Raghavan

Oct 2013

T.R. Subramanyam – A musician’s Musician

My first exposure to the music of T.R.Subramanyam (affectionately called TRS by music lovers) was a private concert in New Delhi in 1975. While I initially felt that his swara prastaras were closer to subtle mathematical permutations, I quickly realized that his students were in the audience and as a teacher he was using it also as a platform, a serious classroom trying to communicate the key notes and like vadi-samvadi notes. Besides his students,the audience included lay listeners who were attentively picking up the salient glides of the raga through the emphasized notes. His scholarly concert ended with a beautiful Tillana in raga Brindavani. The portion of the Tillana ” Kanna nin kazhal charanam , Kaarmugil vanna” is still ringing in my ears. The concert was held in the house of a music lover perhaps one Mr. Glaxo Subramaniam of Greater Kailash, if my memory is correct. The concert lasted virtually for four hours. I felt that he should have been greatly inspired by the music of GNB. Later I came to know that he was a direct disciple of Musiri and was a professor at Delhi University.

His first performance in Chicago for the Chicago Tyagaraja Utsavam was held in 1988. Unlike many other musicians who loved to sing for audience and build up language networking through kritis and titbits and popular ragamalikas in all languages, he, like veteran musician Sri R.K.Srikantan, had a deep sense of respect for the purpose and goal of the utsavam and was very keen on strictly adhering to Tyagaraja Kritis at the Utsavam. He tried to bring out the genius composer’s own creation, raga Karaharapriya, a true gift to Carnatic music. He was virtually in great emotions when he rendered the kriti Chakkani raja . Later he mentioned that Pakkala Nilapaḍi, Mitri Bhāgyame, Rāmā nī samāna, Naḍaci Naḍaci and Rama nīyata are all gems of Saint Tyagaraja with different colors and luster. It is a strange feeling that while so many compositions were composed by the saint, in this raga, we don’t find even one composition from Deekshitar or Shyama Sastri on the same raga who were indeed his contemporaries. My last meeting of TRS was at a condolence meeting for violinist M.S. Gopalakrishnan.

While many on the dais were taking advantage of the condolence meeting, people like TRS, Prince Rama Verma, and violinist Ganesh, to name a few were in a pensive mood , perhaps thinking about the great loss to Carnatic music.

His serious attempt to bring out the historical perspectives of the strength and weaknesses of both great composers and their sishya paramparas were achieved through a remarkable, though controversial thesis by one Dr. Radha Venkatachalam under his able guidance. Through her, he was able to indirectly spell out his observations on great composers, and great performers of bygone days. The other person who ventured boldly was Sri Rangaramanuja Iyengar, though his magnum opus works in Tamil (Krutimanimaalai in four volumes) and in his books, The History of South Indian Music and in the book, The Musings of a Musician.

Over the years I have met a few Delhi based students of TRS who have so much respect for him as a teacher. Apparently, knowing fully the musical limitations of students will not give up his efforts to impart higher musical skills and ghamaka subtleties that are special to certain kritis. Many music lovers and his students will feel the loss of such a great musician, teacher, and a critical scholar.


Jul 2013

Sri Nookala Satyanarayana – a renowned musician

I came to know through Mr. Kolachina ( CTU C-Sruti Pancharatnam group) that the renowned musician from the state of Andhra Pradesh, Mahamahopadhyaya, Padmabhooshan Sri Nookala Satyanarayana passed away.

He was one of the earliest persons to train students into Carnatic music in United States. Sri Nookala Satyanarayana Garu spent longer periods in Pittsburgh training students into the basics of our system and also training the musically gifted students into developing raga alapana and swaraprastaram. The S.V. temple at Pittsburgh released many cassettes of his Carnatic music lessons at different levels. His recording of Nauka Charitram, the unique opera of Saint Tyagaraja with the renowned Andhra musician Srirangam Gopalaratnam is one of those rare cassettes where he sings many of the padhyams and choornikas that are integral part of this opera. He was a direct disciple of the renowned veteran musician of Andhra, and also a professor of Medicine, Dr. Sripada Pinakapani.

I came to know from Mr. Kolachina that Satyanarayana Garu was also a disciple of Sri Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu Garu. His family and many students across the US and India will truly miss a great teacher, scholar, performing musician, and musicologist.

T.E.S. Raghavan


Apr 2013

Violin Maestro Lalgudi Jayaraman – Loss Irreplaceable

Our Indian classical music has lost just in a short span of five months , two of its greatest violinists, soloists, and masters of two distinct musical heritage. For over six decades they dominated our musical platforms initially as accompanying artists with a galaxy of veteran musicians, creative musicians and later as soloists and instrumental duelists. We lost our affectionate M.S.Gopalakrishnan and now our affectionate Lalgudi Jayaraman.

The recent news that Sri Lalgudi Jayaraman passed away, simply leaves a big vacuum in Carnatic music that can never be replaced. One of the strong musical threads that gave the continuity from the mid twentieth to the early twenty first century is permanently separated from all music lovers and we have to live with that, mourning with reverence:

Thryambakam yajaamahe sugandhim pushti vardhanam
Urvarukamiva bandhanath mrityor muksheeyamaamrutaat

At a very young age Sri Lalgudi Jayaraman rose like a meteor amidst other seasoned accompanying artists virtually challenging the greatest of the veteran musicians like Alathur Brothers, GNB, Madurai Mani Iyer, Chemmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer and in later years with creative musicians like Madurai Somu and many others.

The music connoisseurs would be stunned by total reproduction of all the salient musical phrases of the vocalists followed by a substantial addition to what the musician missed as creative ghamakas in the alapana and unique sangathis that are specific to the kriti performed and the raga elaborated.

His mastery on ragas like Arabhi, Saramati, Mohanam, Bilahari, Khamas, Madhyamavati, Kharaharapriya, Todi, Shanmukhapriya and others are permanenly available for posterity through his LP records and some vintage concert tapes. His creative Tillanas in ragas like Mohana Kalyani, Kanada, Behag and Desh are meticulously sung by almost all concert musicians and are also extensively used in dance performances.

His duets with flautist maestro N.Ramani, his trio with Ramani and Veena (Trivandum) Venkatraman and his other duets and trio with his sister Srimathi and his son, G.J.R. Krishnan and daughter, Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi are too well known to all music lovers.

He did inherit an encyclopedic musical treasure of the Tyagaraja parampara through his father Lalgudi Gopala Iyer, from the lineage of Lalgudi Rama Iyer, a direct disciple of Saint Tyagaraja.

Many organizations like CTU owe their inspiration to the first visit of Lalgudi with Ramani on an extensive US tour in 1971. CTU owes a special sense of gratitude to this great musician for his personal letter of blessing to our Annual Utsavam when when we celebrated its silver Jubilee year in 2001.

In grief,

T.E.S. Raghavan.

Jan 2013

M.S. Gopalakrishnan – a Violinist’s Violinist

Sri M.S. Gopalakrishnan, the violin maestero, genius and the Nada Upasaka was hospitalized for a few days and passed away around 2 AM IST on 3rd Jan 2013. Even in the last few minutes, he was very conscious and all the time he was using his right hand as though he was using the violin bow and was using the left hand as though he was keeping the gamakams. Who can replace our beloved MSG? I will try to meet his family suvived by wife, daughter Narmada and another daughter and son. I will send the details once I get the particulars.

Playing and listening to his renditions of Sri Saraswathy in Arabhi or Mokshamugalada in Saramati is the least we can do to pay homage to that great soul, Nada Upasaka and the true instrumentalist’s instrumentalist and violinist’s violonist.

In grief,

T.E.S. Raghavan.