It sound incredulous, but then Telugu is not just the lingo of just a regional language; its sweep is across the entire southern peninsula. It is the universal language of Carnatic music, not just from the times of the Trinity (Thyagaraja, Shyama Sastri and Muthuswami Dikshitar) but far beyond that. The literary Telugu flowed into regions not native to its tongue with patronage of royal courts of Thanjavur, Travancore and Mysore.
It is interesting to know that almost all the popular post-Trinity musician-composers of Mysore court used Telugu majorly in all their musical compositions though the language was not their mother tongue or regional idiom. “Telugu is the mother tongue of Carnatic music. Palakurike Somanatha, a Kannadiga poet of the 13th century penned shathakam in Telugu,” says Mysore V. Subramanya, great grandson of veena vidwan of Mysore, Seshanna. It is something of a wonder that the descendents of great musician-composers like Veena Seshanna and Mysore Vasudevacharya are amongst us; not just that, they are themselves worthy heirs of the musical legacy bestowed on them by their ancestors.
Prof. Subramanya is adept at music, a discerning critic who is bringing out the compositions of Veena Seshanna in English in order to reach out to the present generation of learners. “Seshanna lives even today within the pages of his compositions. He was an ace composer in all the five forms of music: swarajati, tillana, varnam, kriti and javali set to varied tala structure in familiar and unfamiliar ragas.” Veena Seshanna was not just an extraordinary talent evolved in music, he was divinely gifted. How else can one explain his mastery over the jalatarang, which he bestowed with gamaka, a facet unknown to the instrument in other musicians’ hands? He was responsible for putting the jalatarang on a classical pedestal in the arena of music. And he just practiced it for three days to become an expert. Seshann’s musical lineage can be traced to the illustrious author of ‘Viriboni’ ata tala varnam in Bhairavi ragam, Adappaiya (Adi Appaiah-18th century) of Thanjavur palace.
Subramanya is proud to belong to Seshanna’s musical lineage as well as family. He loves to turn the limelight on his remarkable ancestor rather than himself and rightly so. So during the course of conversation, the focus was Seshanna, the asthana vidwan of Mysore royal court despite humble moorings. It was like an inheritance, despite humble living conditions, because his family had always been royal court vidwans under the Wodeyars of Mysore. Those were the days when talent never went unrecognised wherever one was born. Seshanna’s precocious inclination to music was evident right from childhood. At 10, he composed an impromptu pallavi in the court, amidst scholars and stunned the king as well as his own father. His fame spread far and wide in those days and he was invited to perform in Delhi and for the Nizam of Hyderabad. Hindustani music had a deep influence on Seshanna, says Subramanya. He was known to have stupefied a violinist into silence when he elaborated the Anandabhairavi on his veena. The number of testimonials and awards now with his great grandson stand evidence to his brilliance.
The ‘navaratri’ festival at Mysore called for celebrations of the highest order with music and dance as the rulers were lovers and patrons of art forms. Each vidwan was given a slot on a day and once the fest got started off with veena. Seshanna’s dexterity was such that the king wanted to hear only Seshanna’s veena all through the nine days of the festival. His expertise had the backing of rigorous practice. His multifaceted musical prowess shows in his compositions of which a swarajathi in the complex sankeerna triputa talam is a real challenger. His tillanas are popular and unique. His varnams, nine of them, are equally challenging set as they are to intricate talams. The sweetness of Telugu seeps through his lyrics enhancing the raga and vice-versa. Despite occupying the highest position any musician can aspire for, Seshanna was a simple soul whose scholarship and talent were cloaked in humility, the hallmark of real greatness, opines Subramanya.