Music was worship to N.C. Soundaravalli, whose service spanned five decades. She bridged three generations of stalwarts that included Tiger Varadachari and Maharajapuram Santhanam

It was her bhakti for Tyagaraja that made N.C. Soundaravalli, who passed away on Monday last, stand out. A regular at the Tiruvaiyaru Aradhana, she did not miss a single musical homage to the saint in the city. In fact she was one of the few, who could sing the Pancharatna kritis without notes and was in the front row.

“But, of course!” she would exclaim when this was mentioned. “My Gurus wouldn’t dream of referring to the notebook. It would be sacrilege. I’m glad they trained me this way; all those hours of practice stand me in good stead.” For her, the December music season seamlessly blended with the Aradhana programmes conducted by sabhas.

Yes, NCS belonged to the old school, in demeanour, choice of songs and patanthara. But then she had a finger on the pulse of the audience and made her concert a judicious mixture of the traditional and the contemporary.

Her childhood friend points out that she was always pleasant and affectionate, untouched by her wealthy background. Her mother drove an Austin and NCS also turned out to be adept behind the wheel. Only she was casual about it and did it with the same élan that she exhibited on the concert platform.

NCS cherished every award conferred on her and shared the news with childlike simplicity and happiness. “I have been in this field for the past 50 years but it was only after The Hindu Friday Review published a write-up (2007) did the world turn and look at me with new awareness,” she once generously acknowledged.

In his message, the president of The Music Academy, Chennai, N. Murali says: “In the passing away of N.C. Soundaravalli, the Carnatic music world has lost yet another fine classical musician who belonged to the generation that gave us several stalwarts. While devotional music was her forte, she excelled in niraval singing and there was a calmness about her music. She performed on the concert stage for well over four decades having had her training under stalwarts, particularly Maharajapuram Santhanam.”

“She was full of affection and her commitment was amazing,” recalls M. Krishnamurthi, secretary, Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha, which had a long association with the artist, who also was based in Triplicane. “Health issues did not deter her and she would prepare for concerts with sincerity. She especially loved singing Divya Prabhandam,” he adds. She was absolutely delighted when the sabha conferred Life Time Achievement Award in 2009, he remembers.

Expression of bhakti

She firmly believed music was the easiest expression of bhakti. “Aazhwar’s pasurams are rich with meaning and powerful. Setting them to tune was a privilege… I’d like ‘Vaaranamaayiram’ to be sung in every household. The stanzas spread positive vibration and will sure bestow the listener with peace and prosperity,” she said to this writer in the context of her Prabhandam concert.

“No amount of praise will be enough for N.C. Soundaravalli,” remarks Radhakrishnan, secretary, The Indian Fine Arts Society. “She was a committee member for over 20 years and participated in every activity with great enthusiasm but without projecting herself. Age was no criterion. Whether it was collecting donation for building or fixing up concerts by seniors, she was game. ‘The sabha should grow,’ she would often say and offered her unstinted contribution.

“We honoured her with the Life Time Achievement Award. She has passed away without collecting Sangeetha Kala Sikhamani we were planning to confer on her. Indian Fine Arts Society has lost a silent crusader.”

Sri Thiagaraja Vidwat Samajam recognised her service by conferring the title Sangeetha Seva Nirata and Kala Kruti presented her a medal for Excellence in the field of Carnatic music. Nungambakkam Cultural Academy did not lag behind in felicitating the veteran.

It may be a cliché, but with her demise an era ends. She bridged three generations of stalwarts that included Tiger Varadachari and Maharajapuram Santhanam and till the end did what she loved most – sing chaste music.

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