“It must be about 45 years since M.S. Sheela started learning music from me; even today she comes home for her weekly lessons,” says the veteran vocalist R.K. Srikantan. That’s a strong message to students, one would think. Sheela has graced innumerable music platforms across the globe and received numerous awards, but this hasn’t refrained her from visiting her guru for sustained comprehension.
Sheela herself has trained students who have started giving performances. “Learning is an endless journey in music. Performing is just a part of my larger exercise to feel, experience and share the treasure that we have,” says Sheela.
Let’s take her recent Seshadripuram Ramaseva Samiti concert during Ramanavami for a reference. With a string-like voice and a pliable elasticity to it, she streaked across octaves like a fish in water that senses no barriers. In its entirety, it was more than just being mellifluous: it was proficient in both depth and bhava.
The heavyweight sangatis for Patnam Subramanya Iyer’s ‘Mariveradikkevvaru’ in Lathangi were precision personified, preceded by her vivid explanation of the raga. After an evenly paced neraval at ‘Dharaloni nee sati’ she led us into an enjoyable session of swara-kalpana, with a portion of the swara phrases ending in dazzling gaandhaara.
‘Kaalaharana melaraa hare’ (Suddha Saveri) has Tyagaraja’s lyrics in total surrender to the Lord for protection, while the kriti itself is quick-paced.
Sheela brought out the gamaka-laden sangatis along with the swaras in a delightfully rapid tempo.
And with Todi, she combined a quiet classicism of a seasoned generation along with a dynamic verve of the present, cajoling her voice to run and discover all routes to express her intellect.
The 25 minutes of her methodical build-up of the raga reflected her time-honoured schooling, never a line slipping away without meaning or conveying a sense of sagging. In the kriti of Tyagaraja that followed, what reflected was an imposing measure of her command on the subject.
Sheela, armed with a masters in music, has the rare distinction of being All India Radio’s and Doordarshan’s top-rank artiste in both classical and light music. In a marathon 40-day recording, she took upon herself the commendable release of a rare twin CD containing the 108 descriptive melodies of Muthaiah Bhagavathar, a Kannada work in praise of goddess Chamundeshwari. Bhagavathar, as Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar’s court musician, had been asked by the king himself to take up the ‘108 Chamundeshwari Ashtottara Shatha Archana Namas' to pen the kritis. The composer employed 108 ragas for the work, bringing in rare scales as Pashupathipriya, Mayapradeepa, Shuddhalalitha, Umabharana, Navaratnavilasa and Simhavahini.
M.S. Sheela’s performance was rich with both depth and bhava