R.K. Srikantan, the only performing nonagenarian Carnatic vocalist in the country, turns 94 on January 14.
Often referred to as the ‘Semmangudi of Karnataka’ for his chaste approach, the dynamic Srikantan maintains a rigorous daily routine — two hours of practice and four hours of teaching apart from handling nearly 60 concerts and lec-dems a year! He has trained more than 500 students in a musical career spanning 80 years on stage.
“Music is the essence of my life,” he says, recalling his first concert as a 14-year-old in Mysore. “As a high-school boy I went for a Palace performance auditioning when Asthana Vidwan Muthiah Bhagavatar had said, “You sing well, but come back after a few years,” chuckles Srikantan. It is this ‘94-year-old young voice’ with point shruti-alignment that won him a standing ovation at the Chennai Music Academy last month in the music season.
How is the maestro able to hold on to such precision at this age? “I follow time-disciplines along with meditation. I advise young musicians to have saatvik ahaar and keep away from bad habits — all of which will help maintain timbre for long.”
Vidwan R.K. Srikantan Trust in its annual Sankranti Music Festival combines the 94th birthday celebrations of the maestro this year with a release of a book on him along with a CD on Tuesday followed by a string of concerts stretching up to January 17.
Mr. Srikantan was born on January 14, 1920 in Hassan district into a family of musicians and vedic scholars. “For four generations our family has been involved in the study of vedas, sastras, music, and literature. My father Krishna Sastry, and his elder brother, Syama Sastri, were Harikatha exponents and poets,” he says.
Srikantan got his early music training from his father and was later tutored by his eldest brother Venkatrama Sastry. “My appointment with Akashvani Mysore in the late 1940s proved a turning point in my career, as my interactions with G.N. Balasubramaniam and Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer enriched my repertoire. I learnt at least 10 kritis from Musiri Subramania Iyer,” recalls Mr. Srikantan.
He received the Sangeetha Kalanidhi from the Music Academy when he was 75, and the Padma Bhushan at 91. Planning concert-packages is his forte, as “random concerts bear no strength, they will soon collapse.” And his take on contemporary fusions? “Any pattern that has no purity does not interest me,” he says. Demonstrating his beliefs are his students Shashank, who plays the flute, vocalists M.S. Sheela, T.S. Satyavathy and the multi-faceted space scientist and ISRO Chairman, K. Radhakrishnan.