‘Music is above the musician’

An art form continues to exist as a living tradition due to the contributions of master practitioners who serve as torch bearers, and, more importantly, dedicted teachers who hone the musical capabilities of generations of ardent seekers. The old Mysore region has had many teachers of Carnatic music who may not have been known as performers, but engaged with the art through constant learning and teaching.

B.S. Radhakrishna belongs to the rare class of teachers who, with their vast repertoire and rich knowledge, help to shape the music of young learners. He was born to Sundararaja Iyengar and Rajamma on September 11, 1933 in Bidadi, a day after Krishna Janmashtami, hence, was named Radhakrishna. Radhakrishna’s first guru was B.S. Raja Iyengar. His discipleship with the renowned singer of “Jagadodharana” lasted for two years. He used to walk down from his home at Chamarajapet to Subhash Nagar for lessons. Radhakrishna recounts that Raja Iyengar was a perfectionist and a very strict teacher.

Mysore T. Chowdiah was a close friend of Sundararaja Iyengar. On Sundaraja Iyengar’s invitation, Chowdiah came home to listen to the young Radhakrishna sing. He was impressed by the boy’s talent and offered to take him to Alathur Brothers. This, however, did not materialise as Radhakrishna’s mother did not agree to send him out of Bangalore. Later, Radhakrishna came under the tutelage of Subbaramaiah, one of the stalwarts of Carnatic music of Karnataka in the early decades of the 20th century. He remained a disciple of Subbaramaiah for more than 20 years until his last days. Most of Radhakrishna’s time was spent with his Guru at his home in Chamarajapet. He reminisces on how he was treated like a son by his guru and Guru patni, Tayamma. He was affectionately called as “Kittu” by his Guru. He recalls an incident where Subbaramaiah was teaching him the kriti “Pakkala Nilabadi” and he could not get the third sangati correctly. The Guru became furious. Tayamma took Radhakrishna aside and consoled him.

Whenever Radhakrishna felt low, it was Tayamma who infused him with motivation. He says when she passed away he felt as if he had lost his mother. He has tears in his eyes each time he speaks about his guru. When Subbaramaiah passed away, his family said, “Kittu is the eldest son. Let him carry the bier”. Radhakrishna sir always says “Konege avrige hegalu kottbitte” (“Ultimately, I bore his bier.”)

After a few years of tutelage, Subbaramaiah asked Radhakrishna to teach music at the “Karnataka College Of Music” (established in 1933 by Subbaramaiah). Subbaramaiah was its principal. Soon, Subbaramaiah retired and wrote a letter to the government that Radhakrishna should succeed him as the principal of the college. Objections were raised that a principal had to be a college graduate. Subbaramaiah stood by his disciple contending that knowledge of music was the eligibility required for the principal of a music college and that Radhakrishna was most suited for the position. Finally, he was appointed the principal and he served the college for ten years. Radhakrishna sir is a committed teacher. He keeps no count of the hours he spends in teaching students. His students speak eloquently about his affection for them. Once, Subbaramaiah heard Radhakrishna’s rigorous methods of teaching and shouted at him, “You’ll die if you teach like this. You must teach students a few lines and ask them to go home”. Of course, Subbaramaiah did not mean it literally. It had, probably, come out due to the strain he had borne himself.

Radhakrishna has taught innumerable students. While not many of them might have made a mark on the concert platform, they have all imbibed a value system that has tuned them to listen to and appreciate good music. Such a value system is rare to find these days. Radhakrishna remembers his student Glenn Mary Leng, in particular, from America who was so fond of her Guru that she offered him to take him to the USA to establish a music school there.

Radhakrishna has presented concerts at many prestigious venues in Mysore, Bangalore, Salem, Madurai etc. He was accompanied on the violin regularly by Ratnagiri Subbasastry, M.S. Subramaniam and Bagalur Krishnamurthy. H. Puttachar, with whom he had many practice sessions, accompanied him on the mridangam for many concerts. M.L. Veerabhadraiah, the distinguished mridangist who was a disciple of Palghat Mani Iyer, played for him on many occasions. Many notable percussionists such as M.S. Ramaiah, M.S. Seshaiah, TAS Mani and Manjunath (ghatam) have accompanied him in many concerts.

While many musicians of yesteryears know of Radhakrishna and his music very well and have high regard for him, he, true to his nature, has shunned limelight and is satisfied with his own “Sangeetha Sadhana”, which has been quite rigorous, and “Sangeetha Shikshana” (imparting music to students). Not much recognition has come to him from Sabhas or the government, but he has never

bothered about it. His constant refrain is that music is above the musician - “Kalege gaurava kodbeku ashte” (“The art must be respected”). Recently, Radhakrishna was felicitated during the Ramanavami celebrations by the Chintanapalli Parampara Trust.

Radhakrishna is a repository of the rich tradition of Carnatic music. He is a valuable resource person who speaks with passion about eminent musicians, their virtues, and the music scene of bygone era.

A conversation with Radhakrishna is an enriching and rewarding experience.

(The writer is a Carnatic vocalist)

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Printable version | Jul 27, 2021 10:07:18 AM |

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