Dr. Sripada Pinakapani is a physician, musician and a composer. But above all, he is a great guru.

Tradition (should) perceive not only the pastness of the past but also its presentness -- T.S. Eliot

Dr. Sripada Pinakapani is a musical visionary. The guru of Voleti Venkateswaralu, Srirangam Gopalarathnam, Nedunuri Krishnamurthy and Malladi Suri Babu, turned 100 on August 3. Day-long celebrations were held at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, Chennai, to commemorate this event.

The celebrations began with the screening of a documentary titled ‘Gana Rishi’ which captured the essence of Dr. Pinakapani’s life filled with music. Mala Mohan, who has made this film, focussed on bringing out the unique personality of the Sangita Kalanidhi and Padma Vibhushan awardee. She presents the musician-physician’s innate curiosity, vividly, and throws light on a career that smoothly combined his twin interests. (Interestingly, in his salad days, Dr. Pinakapani was a body-builder and a tennis player too.)

The film highlights many interesting facets of the man: he admired Ariyakudi’s crispness of gamaka singing; he occupied the Chair of Professor at the Madras Medical College. Vidwan Mudicondan after listening to Panigaru, wondered, “If he treats Sarasangi with such depth, what would he do with Thodi or Sankarabaranam?”

Violinist T. Chowdiah was so impressed by Pani’s singing that he remarked: “All that is learnt in a lifetime has been presented by this man at a such a tender age.” In the film, Panigaru demonstrates how a kriti like ‘Rama Nee Pai’ (Kedaram), when rendered at a slow pace, can project its entire bhava. He confesses: “I never taught music. It is only a sincere transfer of knowledge.”

Mala Mohan refers to Dr. Pinakapani as ‘a musician's musician and a guru’s guru.’ His voice possesses an extraordinary mobility that is mellifluous.

In Chennai, however, he is better known as a musicologist than a performing artist. He has composed six varnams and tuned 108 kritis of Annamayya in a range of ragas. His colossal works have been published by TTD, and include notations for about 1,000 kritis by various composers, a book on Pallavis and another on Manodharma Sangeetham. The documentary signs off in style with Dr. Pinakapani rendering Surutti. As a narrator, Mala Mohan carries both conviction and clarity in her voice. The documentary screening was followed by a presentation by a group of students who rendered a varnam of Dr. Pinakapani and compositions of Annamayya set to tune by him. Akkarai Swarnalatha (violin) and Arjun Ganesh (mridangam) accompanied the group.

A disciple remembers

In the next session, Malladi Suri Babu spoke about his student days with with his guru. “The speciality of Pinakapani garu is his patantara.”

The first kriti Suri Babu learnt directly from Pinakapani in 1984 was ‘Sathatham Taavaka’ (Swati Tirunal, Kharaharapriya). Panigaru added special nuances even to commonly sung kritis such as ‘Balakanakamaya’ (Atana) and ‘Sri Raghuvara’ (Khambodi), which made listening to them an enthralling and educative experience. Padam rendering was Panigaru’s forte. He, who along with Voleti, popularised this genre of music, said Suri Babu and then presented an alapana of Ragupriya, which Dr. Pinakapani considered to be the most difficult raga.

“Raga alapanas as sung by Panigaru never commenced at the base (aadhara) shadjamam. They arrived at it much later. No mean feat for a vocalist,” said Suri Babu.

A panel discussion followed with Nedunuri Krishnamurthy, ‘Spencer’ Venugopal, Malladi Suri Babu, Prabhu and the Malladi brothers. It focussed on Dr. Pinakapani’s teaching methods. The panellists said that according to Panigaru, raga expertise is acquired only by singing keertanas. If a rare raga needed elaboration, Pinakapani’s search would begin from the swarajathi, and move to the varnam or any compact kriti in that raga. A ‘singing doctor’ as he was widely known and accepted, this guru on the insistence of Dwaram Venkatasami Naidu lent his ears to Ariyakkudi and the nagaswaram. Later, Rangaramanuja Iyengar led him to Veena Dhanammal. These shaped Pinakapani’s musical personality.

“Sometimes when I hear gurugaru sing, it is like I am listening to the veena, a gaathra veena,” Nedunuri reminisced.

On the occasion, ‘Sathavasantham’, a CD by Mala Mohan, was also released. It is the recording of a concert by Dr. Pinakapani held in 1984 at the Shanmukhanandha Hall, Mumbai.

The celebrations came to a close with an hour-long concert by Nedunuri Krishnamurthy who sang ‘Lambhodhara’ (Mysore Vasudevachar, Khambodi), ‘Karunanidhim’ (Kannadagowla, Annamayya), ‘Thanavarithanamu’ (Tyagaraja, Begada), ‘Gayathi Vanamali’ (Sadasiva Brahmendrar, Durga) and ‘Pathikihaarathi’ (Tyagaraja, Surutti).

Here, Nedunuri pointed out the subtle differences between Abheri and Kannadagowla and certain singular usages in Begada that were made known to him by Panigaru and demonstrated them.

Malladi Brothers provided vocal support. H.N. Bhaskar (violin), K.V. Prasad (mridangam) and Guruprasad (ghatam) were the accompanists. The energy levels of Nedunuri remained high till the very end.

Keats said, ‘Poetry should please by a fine excess.’ That applies to music as well.

(sivakumar2004@gmail.com)