Friday Review

Music was his wealth

Malladi Brothers with their guru. Photo: Special Arrangement   | Photo Credit: grjgm

“Our guru often told us, ‘God is keeping me so comfortable…like a prince!’ He was a content man,” say Malladi Srirama Prasad and Malladi Ravi Kumar about Nedunuri Krishnamurthy, whose birth anniversary was on October 10. It was probably this attitude of surrender to the Divine that made Nedunuri come to terms with the dull shades in his life.

His early years were marked by penury. But life brightened when he turned 22. Wealth, albeit of another kind, graced Nedunuri when he came under the tutelage of Dr. Sripada Pinakapani. This physician was an exemplary musician and musicologist with a penchant for analysing the music of the great stalwarts. He passed on the cream of his expertise to young Krishnamurthy who remained beholden to Pinakapani till the end.

Dr. Pinakapani’s teaching sessions would be sprinkled liberally with examples drawn from music greats including Ariyakudi, Semmangudi and Mudicondan. The bhakti that surfaced in Nedunuri towards their music remained undiminished throughout his life.

Srirama Prasad recalls his Guruji’s favourites. “He loved Semmangudi’s music… the patantara, the swara prastaras. He would tell us that Ariyakudi’s voice was innately gamaka-laden and perfect for the Carnatic idiom. For excellence in neraval, he would cite KVN, MS amma and Mudicondan. And for music in all its aspects, it was Lalgudi Jayaraman. Guruji cherished every compliment that he received from Lalgudi Sir and was often inspired by maestro’s swara replies on stage. He would say, “You have missed those concerts where Lalgudi had accompanied me. ‘ Cutcheri simham madiri irukkum!’ (The concert would be majestic as a lion).”

Under Pinakapani’s guidance and learning from the music of senior vidwans, Nedunuri developed a style that he described as inherently ‘his own.’ Its overriding feature was the portrayal of raga bhava in every aspect of performance. Ravi Kumar says, “His advice to us was, ‘The science of music must be learnt but the art should be presented aesthetically. There should be a sense of proportion while singing manodharma. Excess indulgence will not only damage the voice but also mar the aesthetics of music.’ Aesthetics was of paramount importance to him. He would be judicious in setting sangatis for a kriti. He described the flow of melody in a composition as ‘run’ and would often say, ‘Sangatis should match the ‘run’ of a kriti’.”

The compositions of the Trinity occupied a special place in Nedunuri’s heart. “They are not just vaggeyakaras. They are mahavaggeyakaras. We are fortunate that Telugu is our mother tongue. Knowing the meaning of the kritis helps in understanding the spirit of the composer.”

Srirama Prasad adds, “He also loved singing Tamil compositions and was particularly appreciative of the musical flow in Papanasam Sivan’s songs. But, it is true that he was partial to kritis of Tyagaraja, Annamacharya and Ramadas.”

The popularity of Annamacharya’s compositions today in the Carnatic circuit is largely due to Nedunuri. M.S. Subbulakshmi, after listening to Annamayya’s ‘Nanati bathuku natakamu’ in Revathi, emotionally remarked, ‘Nedunuri Garu, just for this one song, you should be awarded the Sangita Kalanidhi.’ His involvement with Annamayya’s compositions began on the insistence of Kamisetti Srinivasula Setty, director of the Annamacharya Project, TTD. The first composition that Nedunuri tuned was ‘Emoko chiguruta dharamana’ in Tilang. This was in the early 1970s.

Srirama Prasad says, “Guruji set to tune more than 200 sankeerthanas of Annamacharya. It was his practice in the 1970s to perform a newly-tuned song in the presence of Lord Venkateswara of Tirupati during the Ekanta Seva. Later during the day, his student Balakrishna Prasad would notate the song. Guruji would often tell us that Annamayya’s lyrics helped him discover new facets to even familiar ragas. For example, he has tuned more than 20 kritis in Khamas!’ Nedunuri’s legacy also includes the musical setting of 108 kritis of Bhadrachala Ramadas, besides a small corpus of Narayana Tirtha’s tharangams.

The brothers recount, “The last one year of his life, Guruji suffered from cancer. Even during that period, he set to tune more than 50 compositions of these composers. So emotionally attached was he to these composers, that he has allocated funds in his will for conducting utsavams in honour of Annamacharya, Ramadas and Tyagaraja in different parts of Andhra.”

Ravi Kumar says, “A month before he passed away, he wanted to worship his family deity in Pithapuram, the place of his birth. At the shrine, he sang, ‘Nadatanumanisham’ and ‘Pancha shatpitarupini’.”

Nedunuri’s life was one steeped in devotion to God, Guru and Music. He repeatedly said, “Only Carnatic music gives us art, happiness and God. I am happy that I devoted my life to this art.”

Nedunuri must have sensed his end was near. Ravi Kumar says that he asked his family members to shift him to the music room where he had spent his life, singing, composing and teaching. And there, on December 8, 2014, he passed away.

(As told to Lakshmi Devnath)


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Printable version | Oct 16, 2021 6:43:42 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/malladi-brothers-reminisce-about-their-guru-nedunuri-krishnamurthy/article7765994.ece

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