Mali’s favourite

His gift drew the guru to him. Flute vidwan T.S. Sankaran, who passed away recently, proved to be a worthy disciple.

April 16, 2015 06:44 pm | Updated 06:44 pm IST

Vidwan T. S. Sankaran. (Below) Playing the tambura for his guru Mali.

Vidwan T. S. Sankaran. (Below) Playing the tambura for his guru Mali.

Flute maestro Mali (T.R. Mahalingam) had once written, in the form of a letter to his disciple, about the 16 good qualities that a person should possess. After listing these qualities, he ended the letter abruptly stating, “you are that true human being, for all these qualities are encompassed in you”. Coming from Mali, this praise was lavish. The disciple, who received such encomiums, wasflute vidwan T.S. Sankaran (TSS).

TSS, 85, passed away on April 9. He had been partially affected by a stroke about a year ago and had lost his speech but was reasonably active at home. This writer witnessed some brilliant moments when he used sign language to correct the mistakes of his students during class. A beaming smile meant they were doing a good job. The way he maintained talam with his left hand, despite his ailment, was surprising. His legacy is being carried forward by his grandson J.A. Jayanth, who is already a name to reckon with in the field of Carnatic music.TSS was born in Sathanur, a hamlet near Kumbakonam. His great grandfather Sathanur Panchanatha Iyer (Panju Iyer) was an authority in Dikshitar kritis, who was also one of the guru’s of Veenai Dhanammal.

T.N. Sambasiva Iyer, TSS’ father, was also a renowned flute player, who was the asthana vidwan (court musician) of the Mysore palace for several years.

Sambasiva Iyer wanted his son to take up music full time and while Vedaranyam Ramachandra Iyer trained him in vocals, he taught his son the flute-playing techniques.

When TSS was nine, he started playing for concerts at the temples in and around his village. He enjoyed listening to TNR’s nagaswaram and would never miss any of his concerts. As a young boy he would keep awake the whole night listening to his recital.

TNR inspired him to introduce a new viraladi technique in flute playing. However, his father insisted that TSS should listen to other nagaswaram stalwarts as well, such as Tiruveezhimizhalai brothers, to have an all round development.A moment that he cherished, when as a young boy the Kanchi Mahaswami asked him to play Sankarabharanam ragam, befitting his name, during his Chandramouliswara Puja at the Mutt.

When Tiruvavaduthurai Adheena flute vidwan Tiruppamburam Swaminathan Pillai was approached to give advanced training to Sankaran, he suggested Mali’s name.

At that time, nobody imagined the bond that would develop over the years between Mali and TSS. After their first meeting in Chennai during his concert, Mali became attached to TSS. Every concert of Mali was a classroom for TSS, who absorbed all the nuances of flute playing.

Joining All India Radio Trichy in 1948, was an enriching experience as he had the opportunity to rub shoulders with many stalwarts, including MK Tyagaraja Bhagavatar, whenever they came to perform at AIR. Weekends were dedicated to visiting Mali in Chennai and their bond grew stronger. Later, TSS quit the AIR job and shifted to Chennai to be with Mali. He started associating with the thematic performances of Kalakshetra, Adyar, during the period of Rukmini Devi Arundale and thus became their permanent flute player. He was known as ‘Delhi’ Sankaran in music circles. He became a much sought after player in that circuit, so much so, he accompanied Mrinalini Sarabhai on her tour to Japan in 1955.

After a teaching stint for about two years at the Baroda University, TSS joined AIR, New Delhi, as their staff artist and also got his grading. He was a regular at the Tansen music festival and Sankat Mochan festival during this period. He toured many countries with Sonal Mansingh and also performed abroad as a solo artist.

When Mali moved to Bangalore, TSS continued his visits. In fact the time he spent with Mali was more than the time he spent with his family. They were so close that Sabha secretaries approached TSS to convince Mali to play for them and seldom did he fail in his efforts. Mali even went to the extent of bequeathing his assets, through a will, to TSS. TSS destroyed this will and returned the inheritance to Mali’s brother promptly after Mali passed away.

Kalaimamani and Sangeet Natak Akademi were the only recognitions that he received.TSS had not only performed with Hariprasad Chaurasia, but also with the Chicago Symphony for radio programmes abroad.

J.A. Jayanth showed the compilation of over 450 kritis all notated in English by TSS, which he worked on during his leisure time while on tours abroad.

This compilation is about to be published as a book shortly. “If only he had lived to see its release, he would have felt fulfilled,” said Jayanth, who had performed in more than 100 concerts alongside his grandfather.

‘A gem among flautists’

Bharatanatyam exponent Leela Samson

T.S. Sankaran Sir played for my arangetram in 1971, along with vocalists Kamala Rani and Sitarama Sarma, Vasantha (teacher) on nattuvangam, and Karaikudi R. Krishnamurthy on the mridangam. They were an expert team of musicians. They spoilt my ears forever! Sir played with me throughout my career, especially as we had both relocated to Delhi from Madras and Mumbai. He was so adept that he could re-tune a flute with a bit of wax without a problem. He made up for hoarse voices, or off-key notes, by playing the note gently without showing the vocalist up. He played for the tradition and he played for the team. He could single-handedly pick the show up and place it on a pedestal.

Sankaran Sir was a master par excellence of playing a raga alaapanai in 30 seconds bringing out through its jiva swaras the raga bhava and its true beauty. Today, dance musicians take five minutes to do the same.

Above all, he was a good man. He never asked me for a fee. A man with strong Marxist beliefs, he was a nationalist and felt for the poor. He was a gem among flautists - a worthy disciple of the great Mahalingam.

May his good soul rest in peace.

Bharatanatyam exponent C.V.Chandrasekar

I met him for the first time at Kalakshetra during my formative years. Thereafter, whenever I performed in Delhi, TSS played the flute. Not once had he spoken or negotiated about his fees. He was much sought after for his high standards in playing. He was knowledgeable about Indian politics and discussions with him were interesting and informative.

Mridangam vidwan T.V.Gopalakrishnan

Sankaran was the most devoted disciple of Mali. He sacrificed his life for the sake of Mali and was always sincere and faithful to his guru. A down to earth person, he was a man above caste, creed, race and was always willing to teach the poor.

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