TRIBUTE G.N. Balasubramaniam dwells at length on Ariyakudi the man and his music.
To talk about modern Karnatic music is to talk of Sri Ariyakudi, the architect and maker of our music to-day. He is 74 years ‘young’ and very much in his stride as a top performer and musician. His record is unique in the annals of music history, in its consistently high level of performance and reputation. As a man and as a musician, he is many-sided, being entertaining as well as instructive. Throughout, his career has been the cumulative result of professional dignity, business acumen and artistic ideals.
He has been an outstanding, long-established success. It is not due to luck or adventitious chance that it is so. There are solid grounds for it. Moreover, it is, it will be admitted, more difficult to maintain leadership in a public career than to gain it. His repertoire is as varied as it is big. He is as firm in his ideals as he is adaptable in his music and manners. He is as alert and aware of contemporary musical trends and movements as he is composed and convinced in his belief in tradition and ‘sampradhaya.’ His is probably the one instance of a unique wedlock of seeming incompatibles, ‘sastra’ and ‘Sravya’ and tradition and modernity.
There are a good many amongst us now who have followed his musical career for the past four decades and more, who have noticed all the qualities which conduced to make him an undisputed leader in the profession, ever since he entered the music world. Many musicians have come into the field after him and risen to prominence. He still retains his sovereignty. Why? If one such, tries to make a mark by specialising in any aspect of performance, this aspect is immediately taken up by him and he has unfailingly demonstrated that he could do it and more, in a better way. This naturally presupposes that his stock and resilience should be sufficiently big and tough so that he could meet these moves and prove himself superior to them. Incompatibility in equipment and musical temperament of the accompanists have never stood in the way of his making a success of the performance. He is at home with both great senior accompanists as well as rising junior ones. He never allows himself to be non-plussed on the platform. His adjustability, stock and diplomacy are in ample evidence when new and young accompanists perform along with him. He is a musician with a classical ideal, with a definite choiceful awareness – choiceful because, there is all round fullness from which to choose. He knows what he is about, leaving nothing to chance or the moment, preferring ‘how’ a thing is done to ‘what’ is done – a typically classical ideal, based on conscious, deliberate artistry, rather than haphazard musical adventure. This is why he is so dependable and never below par on any occasion.
It cannot be denied that his is the greater share amongst all the musicians for making Karnatic music as popular amongst the laity as it is now. He effectively exploded the myth and illusion which were prevalent for a long time that ‘Sampradhaya’ and tradition were not pleasing to the ear. The music world is and should be indebted to him for the long and signal service he has rendered in stabilising and presenting our prasiddha and Rakti ragas in their true basic and traditional form and with their characteristic and unmistakable sancharas, sangatis and prayogas.
Sri Ariyakudi is a musician with a clear vision and idea of what he is about. He never allowed himself, even in his early days, to fall into the dangerous illusion that originality comes only with the avoidance of the well-known, obvious and basic sancharas and form of a raga, a shoal on which many young musical minds are apt to wreck themselves on. He has to his credit introduced the largest number of new compositions of the Trinity, pallavis and the miscellaneous items which come after the pallavi. He, it is, who has codified and adapted to modern times, the aspects of a concert, their spacings and timings – and this so well done that both the lay and the learned never have a dull moment on feeling of boredom, throughout the concert.
Sri Ariyakudi’s music is the touch-stone on which we can judge the standard of the music of others, probably because, it is in the truest and basic traditions of our classical music. The unmistakable and indispensable attributes of our classical system are its ‘Gamaka suddha,’ the prime importance given to madhyama kala and the strict maintenance of and timely and well-proportioned admixture of Sowka, Madhya and Drutha kalas, the appropriate use of the correct kala pramana and the necessary gamakas in the phrases and the Jiva Swaras in the ragas and the usage of the ‘thin’ and the ‘thick’ in the Jiva swaras of the ragas. These are exemplified very well in his style. That madhyama kala is the Jiva of our Sangita has been amply demonstrated from the days of Sri Tyagaraja, the composer, through performers and musicians such as Sri Patnam Subramania Iyer, Sri Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer, Sri Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar and of the present, the late Mysore Sri Vasudevachar and Sri Ariyakudi. The madhyama kala is neither too fast nor too slow. This, his gift for gamaka suddham and madhyama kala, makes his music unsatiating and never tiring. Hence, there is as much movement and life in his Vilamba kritis and ragas as there is poise and balance in his madhyama kala ragas and kritis. There is no listlessness in the latter nor drag in the former. This is amply borne out in his method of singing Vilambha kala kshetragna padams which when rendered in pure chamber music style, do not have that movement and vivacity for lay listeners, which he is able to impart by his manner of singing them.
High Musical Ideals
With all his equipment, musical and temperamental, he rose by sheer merit to eminence, not by the supplementary and auxiliary methods of sycophancy or seeking patronage. In his case, it was the reverse. Distinguished personages and patrons sought him. He being such a graceful, inoffensive and pleasing person never antagonised them. In spite of his inordinate and long-standing, though legitimate, success, he is unique in not making a handle of this art for gaining social and material status for himself. He has always placed his musical ideals in a high pedestal and stood by them. He has not been known to sacrifice his ideals for personal gains nor make any concessions thereof to please a particular section of the public, or water them down to meet the tastes of the masses. Those who know his musical history may remember in this connection that he antagonised a very great accompanist in his young days, which few musicians in his place and with his status then would have dared to, in their own interests and the glory of it is that he got away with it too. All these are unmistakable pointers to the tenacity of his conviction in his own musical ideals and the courage to practise it. With all this, he is probably the one musician with a real sense of humility. Humility as a pose and artifice stands self-indicted and self-exposed. He has always attributed his ‘humble’ success to the reverential care with which he has preserved what he has imbibed from the great masters such as his Guru Poochi Iyengar, Thirukodikaval Krishna Iyer and others.
Reverence for art
The great concern he shows for the success of his performance, how he spends the time on a performance day, avoiding sleep in the afternoon even at this age and doing musical ‘mananam’ all the time, these indicate what reverence he has for the Art and how humble he is. Besides, the smug complacency that comes with an established reputation, which is the canker that kills progress and improvement in the art, has never claimed him as its victim at any time of his life. He is even now learning new compositions. On the platform, the way he conducts the performance, shares it with his accompanist and never indulges in meaningless or unprovoked diversions or even unintended offence under provocation, to his accompanists, or a noisy audience, again show his sense of seriousness while performing. Even at moments of hilarious success, his behaviour has never been tinged with insolence or swankiness. Technique in his music has always been given its proper place never obtruding on aesthetics. Throughout his career, he has been an example on the platform for others to emulate. Further, from private conversation to platform concert his deportment is the most pleasing and graceful. There is not one discordant word or unmusical sound.
Sri Ariyakudi typifies the golden mean. The golden mean is an ideal of the Gita. His music is to Karnatic music, what the Gita is to Indian philosophy, its quintessence – eternal and elemental truths and values which stand for all time. Singing with full-throated ease and the undeflected middle position of the chin and face, the mouth, neither too open nor too closed, the use of pure akaras – the golden mean of madhyama kala, the Jiva or Karnatic music – the balance in proportions of the presentation, of the various aspects of the concert – these represent the golden mean. This is the key to his musical longevity. If one may say so, his music can be called the ‘Gita of Sangita.’
He has been the ‘Sangitha Dharma Paripalaka’ for so many decades by fostering with genuine care, real interest and innate strength, Karnatic Sampradhaya. It is the duty – the best and most effective tribute to his services for our music – of musicians and listeners to adopt in principle and encourage, the establishment and growth of the musical culture and tradition he has so assiduously and for so long, built up.
(This article was published in Sri Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar Commemoration Volume, dated May 19, 1990).
He effectively exploded the myth and illusion which were prevalent for a long time that ‘Sampradhaya’ and tradition were not pleasing to the ear.