NOSTALGIA S.R. Janakiraman on learning music from legends, living on the Kalakshetra campus and the exhilaration of singing veedhi bhajanais
My connection with Madras has always been through my profession as a musician. I first came to live in the city in 1945, after I completed my SSLC. I was a sickly child, with poor eyesight, and my father felt it was best I go for higher studies in music. I had begun learning music at the age of 10 in Lalgudi under teachers such as K.R. Saptharishi Iyer, Lalgudi Neelamegham Pillai, and Thaneerpalli Krishnamurthy Iyer.
In June 1945 I began to pursue the four-year ‘Sangita Siromani' course at Kalakshetra, which had an ideal atmosphere for learning, with the great Tiger Varadachariar as the principal. He would call me Janaki or kuzhanthai (child). I was clubbed with M.D. Ramanathan for my vocal classes, although I was his junior, so that I could appreciate better Varadachariar's teaching. For about a year-and-a-half, I stayed with Varadachariar in his house instead of living in the hostel (Rukmini Devi felt I would be more comfortable there because of my poor eyesight). He would wake up early in the morning, sit on his bed and sing the alapanas of the morning ragas — it would flow forth from him like a flood. Those were some of the most beautiful alapanas I've ever heard; I was very lucky to have had that experience. I also had the good fortune to learn veena from Kalpakam Swaminathan, and to be initiated into musicology by P.K. Rajagopala Iyer.
Later, I lived in the Kalakshetra hostel, which in those days consisted of small, thatched cottages. I shared mine with four others — D. Pashupathy, painter Gowrishankar, K. Rama Rao and K. Lakshman Rao (now well-known as Adyar Lakshman). I finished the Sangita Siromani course in 1949, and joined the two-year Sangeetha Vidwan course at the Central College of Carnatic Music the same year. Mine was the first batch. There were virtually no other music colleges in the city then, only music schools attached to the various important sabhas, such as The Music Academy, Indian Fine Arts Society, Rasika Ranjani.
I had a good set of batchmates at college, including T.R. Subramanyam, T.K. Govinda Rao, Madurai N. Krishnan, and Bombay Ramachandran. At that time, the college had its premises on Santhome High Road, near present-day Papanasam Sivan Road. It shifted after a few months of my joining to Bridge House on the banks of the Adyar River, which was the residence of the then Inspector of Police. After I finished, it moved to its present premises — Brodie Castle (now called Thenral) on Greenways Road, which was the house of the Chief Justice.
While I was a student, the Sri Thyagaraja Sangeetha Vidwath Samajam in Mylapore used to conduct veedhi bhajanais or uncha vritti bhajanais. I have sung on the streets of Mylapore, Nungambakkam and Triplicane with other students and some prominent musicians of the city. Sometimes we'd stand in a marketplace and sing, and at others, we'd sing as we walked, with the violinist and the mridangist playing and walking alongside us. Sometimes we sang before a congregation, at others we'd do private performances. But wherever we went, we were sure of being served a sumptuous tiffin after we'd finished our performance!The years 1951 to 1955 were a golden period in my life. My friends and batch mates would often come to my uncle's house, where we would learn music from each other, and my morning hours would be spent learning from the great Musiri Subramania Iyer. My days were spent immersed in music.
In 1955, I left Madras and went to teach music at Madanapalle. I returned to Madras 33 years later, although I visited the city frequently to give performances and lecture demonstrations. When I came back in 1988, it was not the Madras of old anymore, but a new city, well-developed in every sense.
I was the first to receive a first class in the ‘Sangita Siromani' course programme (which unfortunately no longer exists) when I completed it in 1949. That record stood for 20 years, until I ended up breaking it myself — as an examiner, that is, when I awarded one of my students a first class!
S.R. JANAKIRAMAN Born in 1928, is a musician and musicologist of great repute. He is renowned for his lecture demonstrations, and is an accomplished vocalist, who has been performing since 1951. He is also a respected teacher of musicology, having taught at Madanapalle and Tirupati, heading the Department of Musicology at Sri Venkateswara College of Music, Tirupati. After retirement, he has served as research officer at The Music Academy and as the principal of The Teachers' College of Music.