R.K. Srikantan, is the oldest survivor of the Carnatic music tradition of Mysore. At 90, his enthusiasm and commitment remain undiminished

Awards, titles, encomia, and an immeasurable wealth of experience sits lightly on his shoulders, as indeed do the years.

Revered vocalist R.K.Srikantan, who turned 90 on January 14, completed 75 years as a career musician. Incidentally, it is also the 15{+t}{+h} anniversary of the R.K. Srikantan Trust. In a recent interview he dwelt upon the evolution and future of Carnatic Music.

The present approach to music, he feels, is very different from that of earlier years, when there was complete devotion and dedication to the art.

Technical correctness has now taken precedence over bhakthi, the basis of our music. Spontaneity and improvisation are integral parts of Indian music, but Srikantan asserts that planning can ensure variety in ragas, compositions, talas, and composers, adding categorically that he always plans his concerts.

As for the criticism that Carnatic music it restricts creativity because of a preponderance of set compositions, he is emphatic that the raga alapana, neraval and kalpana swara segments provide vast scope for originality.

“I don't approve of raga alapana in a tearing speed,” he says, on the role of brighas in raga alapana.

“Conventionally, the raga alapana should be in vilambakala, and then brighas should be introduced, but that paddhathi has now gone out of vogue.” As for sruthi bheda exercises during raga alapana, Srikantan is of the view that “partially it adds colour, but at times even the original raga is forgotten. Sruthi bheda shows your swara jnana, and once in a way it can be done and that too, just one or two sancharas.”

Also, he observes that “more importance is now given to rhythmic permutations and combinations in the singing of kalpana swaras. It is in fact a challenge for the mridanga vidwan. Every student wants to learn laya vyavahara and some even compel their teachers to teach it. But I don't approve of so much of laya vyavahara – learn and understand all types of laya vyavahara, but while singing, let there be proportion. The swaras should be sung with more importance to the bhava of the raga and then some laya vyavahara can be introduced, as too much of it becomes monotonous.”

He recalled that this is a fairly recent phenomenon, as a hundred or more years ago there was no swara kalpana for krithis at all – only the raga alapana and krithi would be sung – and swara kalpana was indulged in only for pallavis.

Srikantan avers that in modern times “the guru-shishya relationship has become more commercial, though there are instances of genuine ‘guru bhakthi'. It was different in the olden days – the student stayed with the guru, served him, and as and when the guru taught, he would learn. It is impossible to bring back the gurukula system, but the student can still have complete guru bhakthi and earnestness. No art coaching should be taken as a hobby – it should be taken as a career, as only then can the real significance of the art be imbibed.”

Despite his age, every connoisseur of music, is awestruck by how Srikantan's voice has defied time. “ “Keep away from bad practices, bad habits, and bad company. Be with great masters always and have only positive thoughts. Do your sadhakam every day. Have ‘sathvik aharam', good food which is beneficial to your health. Don't drink, chew tobacco, use snuff, or smoke, and don't eat wayside food stuff. You should maintain mental health and peace of mind. And meditate everyday. If you follow all this you can maintain your health, your voice, and you can give good performances as long as you live.”

Modern technological advances, in his opinion, are a blessing and a bane. The electronic tambura, for instance is very handy, but extensive use has resulted in many musicians not knowing how to tune and use a traditional tambura. Internet lessons could be useful for a student who has already acquired swara jnana, thala jnana, etc., but a beginner should sit before a guru and learn.

The meticulous musician, Srikantan insists that “the artiste must be lively, composed and balanced. Within limits, gestures and facial expressions can be allowed, as they add to the bhava of the renditions, but too much of it becomes ugly.”

The future of Carnatic music, he feels, is bright, as there are many good artistes, “but let them maintain tradition and not do unnecessary things in the name of creativity. Respect the audience and don't take them for granted.”

The ultimate purpose of music, according to him includes aesthetic, emotional and intellectual enjoyment as well as spiritual upliftment, for all of which Carnatic music is the perfect medium.

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