Music

Pitch perfect

Veenai Doreswamy Iyengar flanked by Prof. S. Ramanathan and Ramjee. (Right). Ramjee testing the sruti of a tambura. Photos: Special Arrangement

Veenai Doreswamy Iyengar flanked by Prof. S. Ramanathan and Ramjee. (Right). Ramjee testing the sruti of a tambura. Photos: Special Arrangement  

‘Veenai’ Ramjee was known for his specially-crafted string instruments.

It is the centenary year of an eminent veena and tambura craftsman, S. Ramanathan, popularly known in the concert circuit as ‘Veenai’ Ramjee. Born on September 16, 1916, Ramjee, a Physics graduate from the St. Joseph’s college, Tiruchi, was also a disciple of veena vidwan Karaikudi Sambasiva Iyer. A native of Tiruchirapalli, many vidwans would visit his house to tune their veena and tambura.

His knowledge of physics, especially the theory of sounds, drew him into researching the sound patterns of the veena and tambura that were in his house.

His extensive work on the instruments included visiting timber depots to select seasoned jackwood or rosewood for the main kodam .

The speciality of his instruments was that the curvature of the frets enabled the fingers to glide easily while the thick upper plank of the kodam improved the resonance. These factors gave the instruments its tonal quality. Ramjee also significantly reduced the size of the tambura’s kodam, making it easy for artists to carry the instrument.

To enhance the tonal quality of veena, tambura and gottuvadhyam, Ramjee standardised the string thickness to suit different srutis (pitch). Strings wound by him for mandiram and anumandiram had more takers.

He also replaced the bronze frets with those made with metal alloys that withstood the test of time. Ramjee added special ingredients to the wax mixture on which the frets were placed. This is the most important aspect of a veenai. There was complete unison between the open shadjam and the upper shadjam of the shadjam string (first string) in his veenai.

The highlight of his research was the invention of foldable tamburas and veenais. His creations had takers from across the country and abroad. Most of them were eminent artists.

He collaborated with Prof. S. Ramanathan for a detailed study of the ‘22 srutis.’ Also, he created a musical instrument to be played at lecture demonstrations and named it ‘Srutiveena.’ Many lec-dems were conducted by Prof. S. Ramanathan and Ramjee at various institutions and music colleges.

None of his children have imbibed this art. One of his sons R. Lakshman, a Chartered Accountant, recalls how Kanchi Mahaswami blessed his father by saying “Ramanatha nee oru sathya sandhan sowkhiyama iruppai (You are a follower of truth and you will lead a comfortable life). Ramjee passed away on January 30, 2004.

As a vainika, I can understand the true meaning of these words — a perfectly-tuned veenai stands for sathyam (truth) and Ramjee’s instruments bore this stamp.

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Printable version | Apr 8, 2020 5:45:56 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/Pitch-perfect/article16464062.ece

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