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A guru par excellence

Ranee Kumar
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In focus The legacy of musicians like Parupalli Ramakrishnayya Panthulu lives on through the disciples.

Parupalli Ramakrishnaiah and (below) Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna in concert.
Parupalli Ramakrishnaiah and (below) Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna in concert.

But for the old-timers, we are familiar with the name of Chembai Vaidyanatha Iyer only through his famous disciple K.J. Yesudas. So too, it is Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna through whom the present generation is introduced to his great guru Parupalli Ramakrishnayya Panthulu.

Parupalli was a household name in music circles of the earlier century. But for this superb multi-faceted musician, the first All-India Radio station in Vijayawada would not have come into existence nor a music college for that matter. He was the foremost musician in Andhra Pradesh to have produced any number of pupils who have all turned famous in their respective fields, like Annavarapu Ramaswamy (violin maestro), Neti Srirama Sarma, N.Ch. Krishnamacharyulu, Arundathi Sarkar and earlier to them, Chilakalapudi Venkata Sarma, Daliparthi Picchahari brothers (Nadaswara vidwans), M.V. Ramanamurthy, Palaparthi Satyanarayanamurthi, Mangalampalli Pattabhiramayya-the list is never-ending.

Trained by none other than Susarla Dakshinamurthy (direct disciple of Thyagaraja’s cousin and disciple Manabuchavadi Venkatasubbaya) in 1889, Parupalli comes under the Thyagaraja disciple lineage (Sishya parampara) and the influence showed in his diction and penchant to get the sahitya bhava (literary aspect) right. Though he was acclaimed to be a musician par excellence, he preferred to extend the vistas of music by teaching as many aspirants as he could for generations to come. The pupils were part of his own family; he was an advocate of the gurukula system of imparting knowledge through education, without a fee! Though he never really adorned the sabha platform of Music Academy, he was on the Experts Committee of the Academy as also on Tiruvayyuru Thyagabrahma Mahotsav committee for his stupendous grip over Carnatic music. In his own region, he was an uncrowned king of music, bestowed with the title of ‘Gayaka Sarvabhowma’ (Emperor of music) by Andhra Saraswath Parishath in 1931. It is said that he was made to be seated on a caparisoned elephant (gajarohana) on his 60th birthday (Shastipurthi), a reverential treatment meted out only to deities, kings and emperors in Hindu customary celebrations. He was not just a vocalist, but celebrated veena player and violinist too. But unfortunately, all that we have in memory of this great maestro’s voice is the half-an-hour kacheri recording which he did for the AIR in 1957 now in the archives of Vijayawada radio station. Such noble souls never really yearned for fame; they preferred to stay alive in their innumerable disciples who carried the mantle of their guru, long after he left this world.

Ranee Kumar

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