MUSICSCAN: Mahadevan is slowly emerging from his father T. V. Sankaranarayanan’s shadow.Veda shaastra tatvaarthamulu telisi...Veda shaastra tatvaarthamulu telisi...Veda shaastra...Tyagaraja’s ‘Enduku Peddala’ in Sankarabharanam - if you closed your eyes and listened, you could hardly say whose voice or vocal style it was, as they sound intriguingly similar!

Two vocalists — a guru and his disciple — were singing that single line repeatedly and resoundingly, each alternately presenting the niraval phase of Tyagaraja’s ‘Enduku Peddala’ in Sankarabharanam. If you closed your eyes and listened, you could hardly say whose voice or vocal style it was, as they sound intriguingly similar! The same thing was more or less true when they took turns during the swara improvisation, though the maestro would round them off with an inimitable flourish.

I am talking about T.V. Sankaranarayanan and his son Mahadevan, who performed at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha’s annual Gokulashtami music festival the other evening.

For more than a half-century now, the members of Sri Krishna Gana Sabha have been one of the most discerning and enthusiastic of listeners in Carnatic music.

Today, a large segment of the audience in that venue generally comprises elderly rasikas who were there 50 years ago! Their minds are filled with fond memories of many past masters whose music they had adored. And on this occasion, they found a sense of great fulfilment, as they witnessed the musical vision of the legendary Madurai Mani Iyer being carried forward forcefully not only by his nephew and disciple TVS, but also by his grand-nephew (and grand-disciple) Mahadevan.

Equal partner

Reviewing a concert by TVS and his son at Hamsadhwani last year, I had expressed the following thoughts in this column (Musicscan,, May 2 and 16, 2008):

“The excellence achieved by the young man could be seen not only in the harmonious way in which his robust voice merged with his father’s own (adding a new flavour to the lyric of successive songs), but also in the way his imagination seemed to flow along the same colourful vistas traversed by Madurai Mani Iyer and TVS in the improvised swara sequences... We can no longer think of his role as merely accompanying his master in the concert hall for gaining some useful experience in live recitals. I do think Mahadevan has already achieved the status of a junior partner in his father’s recitals in the concert hall, and I confidently foresee the time when he may shine as an equal partner.”

TVS has been extremely restrained in projecting his son’s image so far, assigning him only a subsidiary role in his concerts, and expecting the youngster to grow in stature gradually.

But Mahadevan’s progress in recent years has been so rapid and impressive that on this occasion, TVS was tempted to throw caution to the winds, and ask him to sing the alapana of Sankarabharanam for ‘Enduku Peddala’, the main song. The preceding number was Tyagaraja’s ‘Manasu Nilpa’ in Abhogi, for which a less elaborate raga alapana had been sung by TVS. Usually it would have been the other way round, and thus their roles were literally reversed to some extent.

The result was stunning, for Mahadevan rendered a superb version of Sankarabharanam, which was quite up to his guru’s own usual standard. The response of the audience was quite unprecedented, with many rasikas conveying their admiration loudly and clearly across the hall. With this tour de force, I do think Mahadevan has shown his credentials to be an equal partner!

The accompanists

As underlined in the earlier essays mentioned above, the delicate fragrance of Madurai Mani’s music does mysteriously pervade the concert hall when TVS sings, though the latter’s natural style of singing is extremely vigorous and aggressive. And absolutely the same thing is true of Mahadevan’s performance also!

But while TVS had to take a lot of trouble to discover and distil a beautiful blend of his uncle’s style and his own, Mahadvan has had the advantage of acquiring it directly from his father. It is as if TVS has taken the delicate fabric of Madurai Mani’s music, reinforced it with his own rich lining, and tailored a garment which fits him and his son perfectly!

No one in the hall seemed to be more visibly and articulately moved by the young man’s performance than the seasoned mridangam wizard Umayalpuram Sivaraman. He said he would gladly play the mridangam for Mahadevan if he sang independently – can there be any better endorsement?

What about Sivaraman’s performance? Just like the voice of TVS, the sound of his mridangam is a mysterious blend of power and grace; and there seem to be no limits to the ever-increasing sophistication of his art. In the tani avatanam which followed the main song, there were infinitely colourful flourishes; and the mridangam sounded mellifluous throughout the concert, as usual.

Veteran T.V. Vasan played a subdued ghatam, adequately supporting the violinist Sriram Kumar, who seemed greatly inspired by the occasion and performed exceedingly well.