Carrying the mantle

Carnatic vocalist, Srikantam Nagendra Shastry. Photo: Karan Edward Machado  

We are proud inheritors of great musician-composers like Annamacharya, Kshetrayya, Narayana teertha and Thyagaraja who have been venerated as saint-composers by posterity. Some lived in our own region while others can only trace their origin to Andhra Pradesh since their entire lifetime was spent elsewhere. How many of us know about the Chintalapalli musicians who have been there for 800 years as a music ‘parampara’ (heritage) when the demarcation of Carnatic music and Hindustani did not occur? Meet Srikantham Nagendra Sastri a worthy descendent of this family of musicians who carved a niche for themselves in the royal courts of the Hoyasalas, Vijayanagar kings and Mysore royal household.

Sastri, an erudite musicologist, musician, teacher and litterateur says, “Prior to the division of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, our ancestral hamlet Chintalapalli (now in Gauribidanur taluk) existed within the Hindupur mandalam. The area was a bilingual one The Chintalapalli family as we were called though the surname goes by Srikaantham, were performing musicians for 40 generations. My ancestor Sangeetha raaya Thimanna was a great guru and asthana vidwan at the Hoyasala royal court. My great grandfather Chintalapalli Venkata Rao was the first Fellow of Andhra State Academy of Music to have given a recital and also be felicitated. He was simultaneously appointed by the Karnataka government too and appointed asthana vidwan of Mysore royal court. My grandfather followed suit at Mysore.” They also trace their musical lineage to Thyagaraja parampara.

Today, Nagendra Sastri runs the Chintalapalli Parampara Trust which not only preserves the family tradition in music but is one of the rare archives that houses copper inscriptions of its illustrious ancestors, their works and other rare material and books on music. Sastri presently works as a faculty in Kannada literature at Maharani’s Arts College in Bangalore. “I was born and brought up in Bangalore,” he says in chaste Telugu. “My love of literature balanced with the music that runs in my blood. I learnt music under my grandfather and Ambi Bhagavatar and later under Ra Satyanarayana who gave me lessons in musicology and Akella Mallikarjuna Sarma at Hyderabad . My forefathers were all gaayakas . Though I perform, compose and publish books on music, I am not a ‘certified’ musician. I’m qualified in Kannada literature with a doctorate,” he quips.

He narrates an anecdote about his ancestor Timmana which has brought the family into public focus. “Once Ranadullah Khan, commander-in-chief of Bijapur sultan Adil Shah happened to visit Chintalapalli. . Timmana was summoned and asked to sing without any accompaniment at his disposal. His creativity lay in stringing a hollow piece of stone and playing it like the veena. Khan was so impressed by this musical prowess that he bestowed a few villages in and around Chintalapalli on Timmana, the copper inscription of which is still with me.”

Nagendra Sastri proves to be an equally illustrious descendent. “Isn’t it an irony that without the so-called qualification in classical music, I’m directing research in music, completed Mysore Sadasiva Rao’s unpublished songs, Veena Padmanabayya’s compositions, and published them along with some rare jaavalis; I’m asked to undertake lecdems and I’ve been awarded fellowship by both Central government’s department of culture as well as the Karnataka Sangeetha Nritya Academy?” he questions innocently. paddhati

The humble maestro has awards and rewards like Kalabhushana, Gaana Sahiti Shiromani, Mysore Maharajah’s Yogeendra Puraskara and so on. The soft-spoken vidwan follows the Chintalapalli baani which is “the olden style where prominence is given to ghanam (depth of subject), grammar and syntax of music . It is full-throated singing. Like my elders, mine is an impromptu creation on stage as I take cognisance of the audience, the occasion, etc. The style can be appreciated only by trained musicians as it is hard to digest for those looking out for melody,” he admits as he signs off.

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Printable version | Mar 7, 2021 8:53:51 PM |

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