Music & Dance Music

Simply Srikantan

Voice of a Generation book cover. Photos: Special Arrangement  

Reading ‘Voice of a Generation’ is like being put on a time machine and transported to anera, when time ambled and not flew as it seems to do these days, when the air was pure and villages throbbed with life and stood as the bedrock of culture and tradition. The sepia toned pictures of the Cauvery and its banks, temples with which life was intertwined and the simple residents leave a fragrance long after you close the book.

This, in a way, is this biography’s strength, holding a mirror to a slice of the past, a vital link in the history of Carnatic music, a link that is kept alive by the next generation. It is the life of the legendary R.K. Srikantan but he is not the only hero. Sharing the honours is the place he belonged to – Rudrapatnam – and the sect he belonged to – Sanketi of Karnataka.

Such was the scholarship and vidwat of the Rudrapatna musicians that those certified by them were accepted by the Royalty to perform in the court. No other endorsement was needed. It is believed that the village was originally called Hayagreeva because the Lord of Learning bestowed on its denizens abundant knowledge in all fields. The presence of an ancient Siva temple changed the name to Rudrapatna 600 years ago, it is said. And it goes with the unique tag, Village of Music, a title that even Tiruvaiyaru, this side of the river, does not boast. Music festivals and seminars are routine affairs here.

“Rudrapatna is akin to a Sangita Visvavidyalaya… people take home lessons from here,” observed Mattur Krishnamurthy, educationist and gamaka expert. Author Ranjani Govind lays a strong foundation tracing the rich heritage of the village that in 1962 conducted a massive Athirudra Mahayaaga in the presence of Mysore Chamaraja Wodeyar.

The author then speaks of the Sanketi community, whose members are connoisseurs of art. The story leads us to the house of Krishna Sastry, Vedic scholar, whose children mastered music and its nuances, one of them going on to become the torch bearer of the tradition. It fell upon brother Venkatrama Sastry to mentor Srikantan and his other siblings, Narayanaswamy and Ramanathan.

Big Brother made the young brood listen to concerts of doyens and would take them to Mysore whenever stalwarts performed. Srikantan remembers renowned musicians visiting their ancestral home and providing wholesome music. And they relished the Karnataka delicacies served with warmth. A picture finds Srikantan and wife Maithreyi in the village home.

Srikantan’s evolution is a natural process. No hectic learning for the concert platform or competitions. He blossoms and ripens without a hurry, going with the flow. Content to be a learner and listener, he does not aim for concert slots, prematurely. Presenting himself for audition at the Mysore Palace at the age of 14, he is told by Muthiah Bhagavatar to come back after a few years. Such a contrast from today, what with the field being hijacked by ‘prodigies.’

Srikantan informs that it was his curiosity that aided in his gathering of knowledge. “My kind of learning was in itself like a torch that regularly showed me the clear pathway…” He collected songs, as many as he could, from veterans. He would furiously take down the notations as they sang, practise them and sing them to the seniors for approval. What a flawless and authentic way to learn! And to think that he might have been one of the last of the tribe!

It is fascinating to travel with the protagonist, whose mission was to learn and learn more. Perfection was his middle name as he practised for hours. We read of the brothers shutting themselves in a room for a whole-day sadhakam and a neighbour remarking, “That was yamasadana.” It was rigorous practice that stood him in good stead even in his 90s. Srutisuddate, Layasuddate and Sahityasuddate became his daily mantra.

The young vocalist gains in stature, slowly but surely making his way up the ladder. Mysore Akashvani is born and Srikantan is roped in as teacher, a happy twist for him since he wanted his vocation to be music. S. Krishnamurthy, vocalist and grandson of Mysore Vasudevachar, goes into raptures recalling their 33-year association as colleagues at AIR, where the doyen’s music was hailed as ‘Simply Srikantan’ – a complement he cherished. Srikantan is made head of the music department of Bangalore University, becomes member of the Music Academy’s expert panel to name a few milestones.

The chapter on Srikantan’s beliefs is a revelation on the artist’s philosophy, his habits, etc. When Madras was considered the hub of music and every aspiring artist made a beeline to that city, why did Srikantan not make the move? “I preferred to stay back,” he says and gives reasons.

How can the volume be complete without Maithreyamma, who was in her teens when she became Srikantan’s life partner?

A charming cameo paints a lovely picture of the lady who managed the huge household – the couple had five daughters and two sons - with love and acumen.

A host of disciples and admirers record their impressions of the master. Beautifully supported with photographs - colour and vintage black and white - the book unveils the life of a man, an epitome of humility, who had an insatiable thirst for music till the end, would do anything to glorify it never seeking fame for himself, a practitioner of pure music but not a puritan and a warm family man who had high regard for values. A document full of lessons for those who care to look for it.

The book (Rs. 800, $ 50) that is accompanied by a compact disc of the veteran’s music, has been published by the Vidwam R.K. Srikantan’s Trust, Bangalore, and was released in connections with his 94th birthday.

Design and photographs are by Rudrapatnam S. Ramakanth, A-Top artist of AIR, ace photographer who has bagged many international awards, and biology lecturer in Bangalore City Junior College, Frazer Town, for 30 years. Email: rsramakanth@ gmail.com

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Printable version | May 11, 2021 9:24:51 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/ranjani-govinds-book-voice-of-a-generation/article6651330.ece

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