Rekindling interest in Dhanammal

A DVD released aims at reaching her music to the younger generation

Published - December 13, 2018 04:27 pm IST

Vainika K. G. Vijayakrishnan’s determination to get the younger generation interested in Veena Dhanammal’s soulful music resulted in a documentary on the legend. The documentary, conceptualised by Vijayakrishnan and directed by Avinash Prakash, was recently launched at the Music Academy. Vijayakrishnan’s mother had learnt veena from Rangaramanuja Iyengar (RR), an admirer of Dhanammmal’s music. RR used to take down notations during Dhanammal’s famous Friday evening concerts. Vijayakrishnan, who had initial lessons from his mother, also learnt from RR later. Before classes began, he would offer his respects to the statue of Dhanammal that RR had installed in his house in Egmore, Chennai. Vijayakrishnan said that RR imbibed Dhanammal’s music, but evolved his own style, which was not a photocopy of hers.

Vijayakrishnan’s father had all seventeen of Dhanammal’s 78 rpm records. He recorded them in his Grundig spool recorder. Except for the Kapi javali ‘Sarasamulade’ by Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar, Vijayakrishnan has digitised all the others. He presented the entire set of recordings to the Music Academy.

Aruna Sairam spoke on the unique Dhanammal bani. ‘Tamara Saksha’ (Yadukulakhambodi) is a padam to be sung in chauka kalam. When Aruna was learning it from Brinda, a singer dropped in and sang the padam at a rapid pace. Brinda, with a twinkle in her eyes, smiled at Aruna, and remarked meaningfully, “Is this another way of singing the padam?” Every member of Dhanammal’s family sees it as his or her duty to serve the cause of music, Aruna said.

N. Murali, President of the Music Academy, said that Dhanammal was a mystical genius, who played for herself, and not for an audience. HMV, which cut all Dhanammal’s discs had difficulty marketing them, because only a few had the knowledge needed to understand the nuances of her music.

Dr. Prameela Gururmurthy, Vice-Chancellor, Tamil Nadu Music and Fine Arts University, said that Dhanammal and Naina Pillai were S. Rajam’s favourite musicians. Rajam once told flautist T. Viswanathan (Dhanammal’s grandson) that while he was good, his music was not as good as Dhanammal’s! Viswanathan pointed out that while her family followed in her footsteps, none could match her genius.

The documentary (voice over Vijayakrishnan) began with a recording of Dhanammal playing ‘Brovabarama’ (Bahudari). Dhanammal’s rendering of the Begada varnam played by her showed that to her a varnam was not just a warming up piece. Her playing was full of details. When rendering kritis, the usual practice is to sing or play a line twice. But Dhanammal gave chamber concerts, where such repetition can get boring. So, the second time she played a line, she would do so with minor variations. The recording of ‘Nenarunchinanu’ (Malavi) showed this. Then followed recordings of Dhanammal playing a Begada alapana, ghana raga tanam and the padam ‘Ottu bettadasumi’ (Ananda Bhairavi).

Veena concert

The programme ended with a veena concert by Vijayakrishnan, in which he played the Surutti varnam, ‘Rama nee samanamevaru’ (Kharaharapriya) and a Kshetrajna padam in Nadanamakriya. Vijayakrishnan said that this was a rare padam, where Kshetrajna had used Kanchi Varadudu as his mudra, instead of the usual Muvva Gopala. It was significant that Lakshmi Ratnam, daughter of Mukta, was present for both the screening of the documentary and the concert.

K.G. Vijayakrishnan has performed in leading sabhas in Chennai and in Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and the U.S. He is the author of The Grammar of Carnatic Music published by De Gruyter Mouton, Germany.

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