R.K. Srikantan fielded the questions of N. Ravikiran with depth that comes with age and experience. The dialogue, organised by Sampradaya at the Music Academy on Friday last, was replete with messages for aspiring and practising musicians. Excerpts:
Stalwarts impart lessons through their music. Ariyakkudi, Chembai, Semmangudi, GNB, MLV, MS, DKP… each had a style but never did they compromise tradition or values. It was experience of a different kind to listen to a veteran’s opinion on patanthara, classicism, etc.
Your source of inspiration those days when electronic gadgets were not so much in vogue?
All concerts were mike-less when I started listening. They lasted 4 to 5 hours. No one walked out in the middle. Music was of the highest order. A concert is a team work with a vision. The audience should be in total bliss. Music should be the shorthand of emotion and an epitome of Brahmananda. Our great composers toiled only for this atma samskaram. The concerts those days encompassed all these aspects; they were not merely entertainment.
About the intellectual aspect of our system?
Ours is rakthi bhakti sangitam. Dikshitar talks about bhava, raga and tala in ‘Bhajare re chitta.’ One should judiciously mix these three using his intellect and has to stay within the boundaries drawn by elders.
About your parampara ?
In our parampara, varnams were given utmost importance. We had to sing all the varnams in three speeds in both forms, namely swara and sahityam. Sometimes we would even attempt 4th and 5th speed. The same raga would be dealt with for about three months. We learnt as many kritis in each raga as possible, analysed them and sang the raga based on those lines. Creativity should be within these parameters. Shruti sadhakam in all the three sthayis (octaves) is a good exercise for the voice. We had to stay in each swaram as long as we could hold our breath.
On practice… Elaborate.
In the beginning, it is enough if you sing what is taught to you. When you reach the varnam stage, you have to take up akaara sadhakam. Real practice comes into play after learning sufficient varnams and kritis. Never close your eyes and ears while practising. One should be able to enjoy practising in order to realise the mistake he makes. Pronunciation (kritis) should also be taken care of. Voice should not be over strained. The trend of recording classes for future use by students is dangerous.
About your gurus…
My first guru was my father and later it was my brother R.K. Venkatarama Sastry. Then I came into contact with many musicians such as Ariyakkudi, Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer, Musiri, Tiger varadachariar, Muthiah Bhagavatar and Semmangudi, listened to their music and evolved my own style. In Mysore, my brother took me to concerts in the evenings, and as a child, I sat through the long concerts of Bidaram Krishnappa, Karaikkudi Brothers, Palladam Sanjeevi Rao, Chembai and Mani Iyer. Listening to them at a very young age helped me understand the nuances of kriti, ragam, swaram and niraval.
(From the audience): Difference between Jana ranjakam and intellectual singing.
To sing with ranjakam, you need to practise hard. Only then your music will be janaranjakam. You should be your own critic first and thoroughly analyse your singing.
How to bring in ranjakathvam without diluting the quality of our tradition?
(RKS sings ‘Deva Deva’-Malayamalavagowla in two styles and demonstrates the correct way of singing with a lot of feel). You should get immersed in the kriti. Shruti suddham and sweetness of the voice have a big role to play.
Weighty ragas such as Sahana, Devagandhari and Surati are sacrificed for ragas such as Bindumalaini. Your advice...
Rasikas are floored by a vidwan elaborating Bindumalini vividly and relate this to his gnana. Sankarabharanam, Thodi, Khambodi and other such ragas have unfathomed treasures. Taking up Natanarayani and Chayanattai may give you instant fame but the real challenge is in singing the rakti ragas. Another trend is to sing RTP in vivadhi ragas. We have been advised by elders not to take them up at all. Of course, one should know all the ragas but some of them should be sung only at home. Again, singing RTP in Sindubhairavi, Hamir Kalyani, Jonpuri and Tilang is not a healthy approach. The lay people may appreciate this because of their ignorance. It is our duty to uphold tradition and foster it. Did not the doyens have the knowledge to sing RTP in these ragas? They chose not to because they knew that was not the tradition. The secret of your voice… Respect your voice. Maintain radiant health. Mind and body should work in tandem with each other. Keep away from bad practices. Smoking, liquor and fizzy drinks should be avoided. Food should be satvik. Positive thinking, daily practice, timely food and good rest do have a good effect on your singing. Do not play games that may affect your voice. You have to conserve stamina. Sit erect while singing. Practising in front of the mirror helps you gain the right posture. Have eyeball contact with the audience. Regular oil bath and sat sangam are important. By accepting concerts without a break, you will not only abuse your voice but also find less time for learning new kritis. Patnam Subramania Iyer always gave a gap of one week between two concerts while GNB gave a six-month interval before singing at the same location. Constant travel also affects your health.
How important is a guru? Can’t gadgets be our guru? (Question from the audience)
(Sings Tyagaraja’s ‘Guruleka’). You need a guru at every stage, be it school or college. He is the one who will show you the gnana margam. Prostrate before him and invoke his blessings. Guru bhakti and guru kataksham matter a lot. Learning through TV, radio, CDs and tapes does not augur well for one’s development.
Hindustani style incorporated in Carnatic concerts. Has it compromised our classicism?
Certainly it has. Hindustani vidwans will not be able to sing Thodi or even a javali. You will never sound like them when you sing their ragas, Meera and Kabir bhajans. They never accept our singing a raga in three minutes. When we have thousands of songs — tharangams, slokas, padams, javalis and kritis still unexplored, why go to other styles.