Art and science converged here

A tribute to Vidya Shankar - This musician went on to wear several hats with ease and grace as an eminent musicologist, veena artiste, writer and teacher.

Updated - November 17, 2021 05:53 am IST

Published - July 01, 2010 08:37 pm IST

Vainika and musicologist Vidya Sankar. File photo: R. Ragu

Vainika and musicologist Vidya Sankar. File photo: R. Ragu

Born in 1920 into a distinguished family that nurtured Nobel laureates (uncle C.V. Raman and brother Chandrasekar) veena vidushi Vidya Shankar undertook a musical journey in which her passion for knowledge burned bright from start to finish. Mother Sitalakshmi was a multi-talented homemaker, adept in music, arts and crafts. Father C.S. Ayyar's (Chief Auditor, Railways) avid interest in music propelled him into training under violin vidwan Sabesa Iyer, who also taught young Vidya for 12 years.

Growing up among nine siblings, Vidya experienced the joys of a home atmosphere permeated by music. Advanced training followed under Madras Sabapathi Iyer and musicologist T.L. Venkatarama Iyer, with the veteran gurus expressing their approbation for Vidya's talent and dedication.

Small wonder then that this musician went on to wear several hats with ease and grace as an eminent musicologist, veena artiste, writer and teacher.

Vidya pursued academics with the same diligence as music and had a yen for Mathematics. The budding scholar was also proficient at games and participated in inter-school and inter-college tennicoit matches.

On completing the Teacher's Training Course, she began teaching her favourite subject, mathematics, at Kala Nilayam, Children's Garden School and Kalakshetra. She later taught Sanskrit and musicology at the Central College of Carnatic Music. Post marriage to V.S. Shankar, (Executive, Parry and Co.) she entered a large joint family, where her progressive mother-in-law (sibling of reformer and educationist Sister Subbulakshmi) encouraged her to resume teaching and music.

The artiste's lec-dems and writings are held in the highest regard by the music fraternity. A long-standing member of the Experts Committee, Music Academy, her discourse on the mela raga malika at the Music Academy and her series of 15 lectures analysing Carnatic Music at the Atomic Energy Centre, Kalpakkam, are regarded as memorable examples of her profound knowledge.

Musicologist S.A.K. Durga whose association with the late vidushi spans 30 years, asserts: “One of Vidya amma's greatest traits lay in her ability to translate theoretical concepts into practice, as she was a practical musician. She affirmed solidarity with other musicologists and musicians by attending lec-dems and concerts, making observations that were both analytical and appreciative. Her contribution to the propagation of Syama Sastri's compositions through publishing and archiving is invaluable. Her notations are simple and clear, providing a definite framework upon which a musician can build.

Zest for research

“An immensely dedicated guru, she enthused her disciples by encouraging them to play along with her, whether they were beginners or advanced students. Her zest for research and spirit of enquiry were undimmed, setting an example for the younger generation.

She recently released a compilation of Tyagaraja's Divya Nama kirtanas.”

Vidya Shankar's linguistic skills, particularly her proficiency in Sanskrit and English shone through in her publications that include ‘Syama Sastry, Subbaraya Sastry, and Annasamy Sastry's Compositions,' ‘Aesthetic and Scientific Values in Carnatic Music' and ‘Art and Science of Carnatic Music.'

Widely acclaimed as an authority on Syama Sastri's works, her complete identification with the revered Trinity vaggeyakara's compositions stemmed from her singular good fortune in imbibing the highest tenets of classicism from no less a personage than the namesake and great grandson of Syama Sastri.

Her guru's guidance and strength of patanthara led to an in-depth exploration of the chiselled form and luminous content of Syama Sastri compositions.

Vidya reverenced these oeuvres, immersing self and soul in their radiance to attain bhava-rich interpretations.

Reviewers waxed eloquent about the clarity, fluidity and poignancy of her musical expression. Her concerts showcased her conviction that the art and science of music go hand in hand.

Veena vidushi Kalpagam Swaminathan, now 89, and a long-time friend and colleague, reminisces: “We joined the Music College together as lecturers in 1964. Although our playing styles were different (my area of specialisation was Dikshitar kritis), our musical vision coalesced as we performed several duets, sharing a perfect empathy. She was a wonderful person with a sense of humour that often surfaced in conversations.”

A recipient of honours such as the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, Nada Brahmam (Narada Gana Sabha) and the Mudhra Award of Excellence, the artiste was actively involved in the cultural organisation, Parampara. Passing away on 29.6. 2010 at age 90, after a brief illness, she leaves behind three sons and their families.

Music is not only a calling but a way of life, one that calls for the highest standards of personal and professional discipline. Vidya Shankar lived up to these standards with a rare perception, dignity and humility.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.