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Still making waves at 90

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Going strong: R.K. Srikantan
Going strong: R.K. Srikantan

Ranjani Govind

With a 75-year career behind him, R.K. Srikantan is still going strong

BANGALORE: It is impressive that an established musician maintains a rigorous routine of two hours of practice and four of teaching every day. And when you realise he is turning 90 on January 14, you know he is an inspiration.

“Music is the essence of my life,” says R.K. Srikantan, doyen of Carnatic music, who has trained more than a thousand students in his 75-year musical career.

Vidwan R.K. Srikantan Trust, during its annual Sankranti Music Festival, is celebrating the maestro’s birthday with the release of a CD, DVD and souvenir (Navati-Ganarnava) at the Sevasadan Hall in Malleswaram on January 14 at 5 p.m., followed by a string of concerts till January 17.

“My first concert was when I was barely 14 and the clock is still ticking,” says the veteran, whose precision in music matches his lifestyle as well.

Rudrapatnam Krishna Sastri Srikantan was born on January 14, 1920 in Hassan district of Karnataka into a family of musicians and Vedic scholars.

“Four generations of our family have been involved in the study of the Vedas, Sastras, music and literature. My father Krishna Sastri and his elder brother Syama Sastri were Harikatha exponents, Sanskrit scholars and poets. I am the youngest of four brothers and a sister. My eldest brother, R.K. Venkatarama Sastri, was a disciple of Violin T. Chowdiah.

The other brothers, R.K. Narayanaswami (disciple of Musiri Subramanya Iyer) and R.K. Ramanathan (English professor) were also good musicians.”

Trained by his father initially, Srikantan was formally schooled by his eldest brother Venkatarama Sastri and was soon found good enough to sit at the concert stage even as a teenager.

“Concerts and music tuitions were my only earnings, which were paltry those days. My appointment with Akashvani, Bangalore, came as a boon in 1949 and this proved a turning point in my career. My interactions with senior musicians such as G.N. Balasubramaniam and Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer proved a godsend for my melody. I improved my repertoire,” recalls Srikantan.

So how does it feel to be still an active musician and a vocalist at that? “Absolutely ecstatic! I am blessed with long life and good health; I go on and on as I breathe and eat only music. I have performed wherever Carnatic music exists today and I am happy that my son Ramakanth and daughter Ratnamala are taking the art forward. I have had concerts in major sabhas of the country and received prestigious citations, awards and recognitions… I feel proud to have received them as an artiste from Karnataka.”

And his favourites? Ghana-ragas as Aarabi, Nata, Gowla; rakthi-ragas such as Kambodhi, Darbar, Todi and Shankarabharana; or the lilting Kamach, Behag and Abheri for tail-enders are some indicatives of his cutcheri structure, he says.

“Be it the raga, tala, kriti or composer, planning is important. Random concerts have no strength; they will soon collapse,” says the master, his frail frame belying his still rich and fluid voice.

What is the secret of his voice clarity? “Discipline and meditation. I advise young musicians to eat saatvik food and keep off bad habits. This will help them maintain their timbre for long.”

What this traditionalist’s take on fusion? “Any pattern that has no purity does not interest me. Wholesomeness and sanctity to a particular genre are age-old principled presentations.”

His students, M.S. Sheela or T.S. Satyavathy are exemplars of his philosophy.

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