Music

Sangita Kalanidhi: Musicians’ hall of fame

Vidushi T. Brinda being presented Sangita Kalanidhi by C. V. Narasimhan at the  Music Academy on January 2, 1977.

Vidushi T. Brinda being presented Sangita Kalanidhi by C. V. Narasimhan at the Music Academy on January 2, 1977. | Photo Credit: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Unable to hold the much-looked- forward-to December Music festival in 2020 and 2021, the Music Academy recently announced three Sangita Kalanidhis — vocalist Neyveli Santhanagopalan (2020), mridangist Tiruvarur Bhaktavatsalam (2021) and violinists Lalgudi Krishnan and Vijayalakshmi (2022). After two years of pandemic lull, this decision has brought alive once again the city’s music scene, with musicians and rasikas already looking forward to this year’s Margazhi festival.

This is also the right time to look back at some of the interesting episodes associated with the award. Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer was awarded the title when he was just 38 years old (a record). G.N. Balasubramaniam refused to accept the honour when he was first approached by the Academy. He had said that there were other seasoned artistes who should be honoured before him. He later accepted the title in the year 1958 at the age of 48.

My guru M.L. Vasanthakumari was chosen for the honour in 1977 when she was 49. I had the good fortune of providing vocal support for her Sangita Kalanidhi concert, which included a difficult and rare pancha-nadai (five-gaited) pallavi, she encouraged me to sing during the niraval and swaras. We also presented a melodious, and memorable session on Purandaradasar and other Dasakoota composers. In those days, all the Season lec-dems and sessions by the Sangita Kalanidhis were held in the main hall that used to be packed with rasikas.

Veena Dhanammal’s family holds the record for the most number of Kalanidhis – T. Brinda, T. Balasaraswathi (the only dancer to be awarded the title till date), and T. Viswanathan (flautist and vocalist). In this context, Bala, as Balasaraswathi was referred to, had trained intensely in music before she took up dance inspired by Mylapore Gowri Ammal.

Interactive sessions

Papanasam Sivan being honoured by Rukmini Devi at the Music Academy on January 2, 1972

Papanasam Sivan being honoured by Rukmini Devi at the Music Academy on January 2, 1972 | Photo Credit: S. KOTHANDARAMAN

Bala’s dance was always interspersed by her sudden forays into singing on the stage, and interacting with her singer, her mother, T. Jayammal. An impromptu jugalbandi of sorts unfolded between them, supplemented by Viswa (her brother) on the flute, and other instrumentalists following suit. Rasikas went in droves to view and hear this rare confluence of dance and music. If Jayammal took up raga Kapi for a virutham, Bala would suddenly walk up to the hanging mike (placed just for her) leading it into Hindustani Piloo, prompting Viswa to come up with his own brisk flourishes. Improvisation or manodharma ruled the stage.

When M.S. Subbulakshmi was awarded the Kalanidhi, I remember the excitement, the beautiful ‘veldhari’, matching pure silk saris for M.S. and Radha and Vijaya (who accompanied her on stage) designed by Kanchi Muthu Chettiar, and T. Sadasivam and M.S. amma hosting a few well-known people every night, during the annual conference, at the ‘pandal’ to delicious food from Kalki Gardens (their home).

For duos

Earlier, the Academy did not award duo musicians. Alathur Subba Iyer got the title in 1964, and Alathur Srinivasa Iyer (of the Alathur brothers), in 1965.

T.N. Krishnan presenting the award to Sikkil sisters Kunjumani and Neela in 2003

T.N. Krishnan presenting the award to Sikkil sisters Kunjumani and Neela in 2003 | Photo Credit: T.A. HAFEEZ

In recent years, flautists Sikkil sisters (Kunjumani and Neela), and vocalists Bombay sisters (C. Saroja and C. Lalitha) were chosen for the honour with separate medals for both.

Father and son have been recipients too — Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer and his son and disciple Maharajapuram Santhanam. So also siblings, D.K. Pattammal and her brother and disciple D.K. Jayaraman (but in different years).

Guru and sishya have also been awarded the title: Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar and his disciples K.V. Narayanaswamy and B. Rajam Iyer, GNB and disciples MLV and Trichur Ramachandran, MLV’s disciples Sudha Ragunathan and A. Kanyakumari, and Semmangudi and sishyas T.M. Thiagarajan and T.N. Krishnan.

Musicologists like the Dikshitar specialist T.L. Venkatrama Iyer, Ananthakrishna Sarma (for his pioneering work of deciphering Annamacharya sahityas from copper plates in Tirumala) were Sangita Kalanidhis. Composers Mysore Vasudevachar, Harikesanallur Muthiah Bagavathar and Papanasam Sivan were also awarded the title. The first nagaswaram vidwan to get Sangita Kalanidhi was Tiruveezhimazhalai Subramanya Pillai in 1956.

Many vocalists and instrumentalists have been awarded over the years, but some eminent vidwans such as nagaswara exponents T.N. Rajarathnam Pillai and his illustrious disciple, Karukurichi Arunachalam, well-known vocalists M.D. Ramanathan and Ramnad Krishnan and veena exponent S. Balachander, have missed getting it.

The writer is a senior Carnatic vocalist and musicologist.


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Printable version | Jun 9, 2022 10:22:10 am | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/sangita-kalanidhi-musicians-hall-of-fame/article65463714.ece