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The endearing GURU

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Vidushi Suguna Purushothaman, who passed away recently, was an accomplished vocalist, composer, and a wonderful teacher.

This writer recalls meeting vidushi Suguna Purushothaman at her modest apartment in Abiramapuram, following her 70th birthday celebrations. She was surrounded by family, friends and disciples. It was end-March and Mami was preparing to attend the Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhana in the U.S. “After my performance in Cleveland, I have accepted to sing only one concert in Dallas,” she said with a smile.

In 2003, Mami’s first book of compositions, Kadambam containing ragamalikas, javalis and thukkadas, was released. “Sambamurthy Sir had appreciated my kritis even then. Thinniyam Venkatrama Iyer too encouraged me to write more! My good friend and well known vocalist vidushi R. Vedavalli also praised my sahityas!” she said.

Suguna Mami had composed many ragamalikas, varnams, padams and thillanas. She composed the thillana in 128 akshara tala as part of the Sishya Parampara series. Suguna Mami’s second book of compositions with notations, ‘Manolahari,’ was released then. She had composed a variety of songs suitable for concerts. “I have forgotten my first kriti, but I clearly remember it was in Abhogi. When I was studying at the Madras University’s Music Department, Prof. Sambamurthy took us all to Tiruvaiyaru. I was 16 then. I sang the Atana kriti, ‘Kandaen Kandaen,’ at the samadhi of the saint-poet,” she said. Rasikas, however, recall her solos and the special concerts she sang with Suguna Varadachari. “They were really special. Each complementing the other, those concerts were memorable!” remembers a regular concert-goer.

Suguna Mami was known for her sense of humour and light heartedness. She once narrated an incident when she was invited to sing at the Anjaneya temple in Alamelumangapuram, Mylapore. “It was raining heavily that day. There were hardly ten rasikas in the auditorium when I reached the venue. I started singing a composition of mine, ‘Ramabhakta Hanuman.’ People slowly started coming in and soon, the hall was full. That kriti became my USP for bringing in the crowds,” said Mami with a smile. She had trained a number of disciples – K. Gayatri, Saranya, Karthik and Kishore (U.S.), Deepak, Vignesh, Nikhila, Nivedita, Mythili Krishnamurthi, Anusha, Sampath and Mukund, to name a few.

Kumudha, Suguna Mami’s daughter, says, “My mother was absolutely devoted to her family. She got married late and the attendant challenges were there. She lost her second child and her mother, too. The familial support, therefore, was only my father! She was known for her expertise in pallavi-singing and in Sarabanandana tala and Simhanandana tala. She demonstrated her skill once at Sastri Hall before a large crowd of rasikas, which included vidwans such as Veena Balachandar.”

She continues, “For amma, her student days with Musiri Mama were a golden period of her life. Classes were interesting. She said she had learnt with sensitivity and great enthusiasm. Musiri mama used to tell her to focus more on sruti. The Musiri school is known for bhava sangitam and he used to say that it should be rendered well even when rendered at a fast pace. She particularly mentioned learning the kriti ‘O Rangasayee’ every day.”

Kumudha recalled an incident which her mother had narrated. “Once Semmangudi mama visited her class. She was singing a Tiruppugazh, with one hand keeping the tisra jhampa tala and the other, khanda triputa tala, simultaneously. Semmangudi said, ‘ Well done! Now change the tala -- tisra jhampa on the left hand and khanda triputa on the right.’ Amma did it with absolute ease, much to the amazement of Semmangudi. It showed her tremendous skills. She would begin practice at 4 in the morning. She had complete support and backing from the family.”

Suguna had to migrate to Nagpur after her marriage where she continued her music lessons. Three years later, she returned to Chennai and established her school. Members of the Kalki family and the TVS family would come to her for lessons. She performed extensively in the city and the suburbs. Once, during her performance at P.S. High School pandal, Musiri and M.S. had parked their cars outside and listened to her.

Kumudha says, “I must mention the support of Vasanthi Rangarajan and Dr. Rangarajan, here. My sister suffered from asthma and they were there to take care of her. It was a trying time for the family as Amma had been offered a three-month scholarship to learn Annamacharya kritis from Manasala Jagannatha Rao of TTD.” Recalling her childhood days, Kumudha said Suguna Mami would take them to several temples and before each visit, she would teach them the sthala puranam of the shrine. They even had to compose a song on their own! Mr. Ramachandra Iyer, who came into contact with the family after he listened to Suguna’s ‘Saravanabhava’ in 1977, became a constant presence in their lives. He was instrumental in the family shifting to Mylapore so that they got more opportunities to learn and perform.

Suguna Purushothaman taught many non-professionals, too. “They did not want to go professional, but were interested in learning Carnatic music. She had this rare ability to sing in tune with a student’s style. And she was partial to visually challenged students, recalled Kumudha.

“The past three and a half years were difficult for Amma,” said Kumudha, “as she suffered from the rare disease, Leiomyosarcoma. While most oncologists did not give us much hope, Dr. H. Subramani was the one who gave us hope. He would take Amma in the wheel chair to concert halls or other venues. She was undergoing chemotherapy and hardly ate yet, she never complained.”

Suguna Purushothaman’s prime disciple, K. Gayatri, said: “I trained with mami from 1994. She would always emphasise on laya practice. She used to question me about Melakarta ragas and conducted theoretical classes often, which were challenging and useful. I learnt rare tala pallavis from her. She was particular about two things -- patantara suddham and commitment.”

Sruti editor-in-chief V. Ramnarayan said: “She was known for her happy temperament, great sense of humour and ready wit. She often gave lectures on the Musiri way of niraval or swaram singing with emphasis on niraval, on how he stressed the importance of getting the lyric right, of choosing the best possible place in the song to do niraval even among a number of appropriate lines, of how vital the meaning of the lyric was to this choice.”

Sri Krishna Gana Sabha conferred the ‘Sangeetha Choodamani’ title on her, while the Best Vaggeyakara Award was conferred by the Music Academy. The Central Sangeet Natak Akademi honoured her, as did the Tamil Nadu Government with the Kalaimamani title.

The warm and affable Suguna mami will be sorely missed by all those who came in contact with her.

Remembering Suguna mami

Family members, disciples, friends and rasikas of vidushi Suguna Purushothaman along with Naada Inbam are organising a function to pay homage to her in her memory this evening (March 13), 5.30 p.m., at Ragasudha Hall. Some of her compositions will be rendered by her disciples. There will be a video presentation and tributes by N. Murali, president, The Music Academy, vidwan P. S. Narayanaswamy, Cleveland V.V. Sundaram, vidushi Suguna Varadachari, Dr.H. Subramony, and other eminent personalities.

Her compositions

Kandaen Kandaen - Atana

Govinda Hare - Ragamalika

Thaayumanavarey – Pilu

Ramabhakta Hanuman –Jonpuri

Navamanigalilae Nalla Mani – Yamunakalyani

Ganapatiye Sharanam – Yadukulakhambodi

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Printable version | Nov 15, 2018 3:28:28 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/vidushi-suguna-purushothaman-who-passed-away-recently-was-an-accomplished-vocalist-composer-and-a-wonderful-teacher/article6986111.ece

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