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LALITHAA KRISHNAN
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TRIBUTE To Vidya Shankar - musicologist, veena artist, writer and teacher. LALITHAA KRISHNAN

FOUNT OF KNOWLEDGE: Vidya Shankar. photo: R. Ragu
FOUNT OF KNOWLEDGE: Vidya Shankar. photo: R. Ragu

B orn in 1920 into a distinguished family that nurtured Nobel laureates (uncle C.V. Raman and brother Chandrasekar) veena vidushi Vidya Shankar undertook a musical journey in which her passion for knowledge burned bright from start to finish. Mother Sitalakshmi was a multi-talented homemaker, adept in music, arts and crafts. Father C.S. Ayyar's (Chief Auditor, Railways) avid interest in music propelled him into training under violin vidwan Sabesa Iyer, who also taught young Vidya for 12 years.

Growing up among nine siblings, Vidya experienced the joys of a home atmosphere permeated by music. Advanced training followed under Madras Sabapathi Iyer and musicologist T.L. Venkatarama Iyer, with the veteran gurus expressing their approbation for Vidya's talent and dedication.

On completing the Teacher's Training Course, she began teaching her favourite subject, mathematics, at Kala Nilayam, Children's Garden School and Kalakshetra. She later taught Sanskrit and musicology at the Central College of Carnatic Music. Post marriage to V.S. Shankar, (Executive, Parry and Co.) she entered a large joint family, where her progressive mother-in-law (sibling of reformer and educationist Sister Subbulakshmi) encouraged her to resume teaching and music.

A long-standing member of the Experts Committee, Music Academy, her discourse on the mela raga malika at the Music Academy and her series of 15 lectures analysing Carnatic Music at the Atomic Energy Centre, Kalpakkam, are regarded as memorable examples of her profound knowledge.

Musicologist S.A.K. Durga whose association with the late vidushi spans 30 years, asserts: “One of Vidya amma's greatest traits lay in her ability to translate theoretical concepts into practice, as she was a practical musician. Her contribution to the propagation of Syama Sastri's compositions through publishing and archiving is invaluable.”

Vidya Shankar's linguistic skills, particularly her proficiency in Sanskrit and English shone through in her publications that include Syama Sastry, Subbaraya Sastry, and Annasamy Sastry's Compositions, Aesthetic and Scientific Values in Carnatic Music and Art and Science of Carnatic Music.

Widely acclaimed as an authority on Syama Sastri's works, her complete identification with the revered Trinity vaggeyakara's compositions stemmed from her singular good fortune in imbibing the highest tenets of classicism from no less a personage than the namesake and great grandson of Syama Sastri. Her guru's guidance and strength of patanthara led to an in-depth exploration of the chiselled form and luminous content of Syama Sastri compositions.

A recipient of honours such as the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, Nada Brahmam (Narada Gana Sabha) and the Mudhra Award of Excellence, the artist was actively involved in the cultural organisation, Parampara. Passing away on 29.6. 2010 at age 90, after a brief illness, she leaves behind three sons and their families.

Music is not only a calling but a way of life, one that calls for the highest standards of personal and professional discipline.

Vidya Shankar lived up to these standards with a rare perception, dignity and humility.


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