Positive defiance

PINEERING EFFORTS: Sugandha Raman Photo: k. Bhagya Prakash  

Vocal and veena player Sugandha Raman has a treasure for Carnatic musicians – 970 kritis, all documented in books with raga, tala and composer details along with perfect notations! “The value of these kritis are several folds higher than any other documentation available, as the styles traced are of Tiger Varadachari, Salem Doreswamy Iyengar, Rajgopalan Iyer, Papanasam Sivan, Tillaisthanam's Dr. Srinivasa Raghavan, Andhra doyen Sripada Pinakapani and several Walajapet school of Tyagaraja disciples whom my mother and I learnt from,” says nonagenarian Sugandha Raman. The massive work is now categorised in contemporary database too, as Sugandha's daughter-in-law vainika Radhika Raj Narayan clicks on the mouse to locate the exact book that screens the finer points of each kriti.

Bangalore particularly benefited from Sugandha's efforts to propagate the genre. Brought up in Tamil Nadu, she married G.S. Raman, a music connoisseur from Gorur and stepped into Karnataka when she was a teenager. While Raman's work took her to Kolkata, Delhi and Visakhapatnam (where she learnt under Pinakapani) for a few years, she settled down in Bangalore subsequently. “Marrying Raman was a turning point,” says Sugandha. “My mother Lakshmiammal was married at eight. She was lucky to get a father-in-law who took her for music lessons at a time when it was considered an offence for girls to sing. I was also fortunate that my husband wanted a wife who could perform!” she says. Even in the mid-1930s Sugandha had the courage to resist negative remarks and opposing traditionalists who hated “to see women sit on the dais,” recalls Sugandha. “The more people opposed, the more I was determined to become a full-fledged performer!”

Sugandha was charmed by the veena. Her father had immediately arranged for initial lessons, although Sugandha made use of her vocal proficiency to become a self-taught instrumentalist. Her ambition to widen her repertoire saw her as a veena player in the National Orchestra in Delhi conducted by Pandit Ravi Shankar, T.K. Jayarama Iyer, Pandit Jeevanlal Mattoo and vidwan S. Gopalakrishnan. “The Hindustani bhajans I played on the veena impressed vichitra veena expert Ustad Ahmed Raza as it was broadcast on Delhi-AIR in 1944 and he offered to teach me Hindustani!” she says. So the first lady to perform Hindustani on south Indian veena soon designed a veena herself with gourds on either side with fixed frets and 13 resonating strings which Raza named ‘Narada Veena.'

Sugandha's concerts, both vocal and veena and along with her daughter Shakuntala Narasimhan were electrifyingly traditional and classical music enthusiasts, especially Bangaloreans, haven't forgotten. Always longing to do something novel, Sugandha brought in thematic musical features based either on ragas or thoughts from traditional scriptures. She conceptualised ‘Triveni Sangama' and weaved the Dasa Sahitya, Alwar Pasurams (hymns of Tamil saints) and Tyagarajas kritis along with narration and orchestra. While her symphonies based on ragas were refreshing orchestral pieces, it was her own new-fangled idea that created the group GVAM (an orchestra along with Guitar, Violin, Accordion, Mandolin and percussion) for attracting youth into the Carnatic forum. “Simple kritis that could be adapted on western instruments were taken up and I would bring in strains of the raga as a prelude and also have all the four come together for some punchy chittaswaras,” she says.

Sugandha reminisces enthusiasts who would be amused to listen to her fresh approaches as in the breathless long varna she composed in Sunadavinodini for a ‘perpetual motion' effect, fascinated by orchestral preludes which had continual effect as Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's “Flight of the Bumblebee”. “I also took up a Purandara Dasa sahitya ‘Baramma' in Kalyani and embedded it on a varna format with chittaswara and charana swaras for a rich feel,” she says.

Sugandha Raman's signature contribution to the city is her school ‘Veenapani Sangeetha Vidyalaya' where hundreds have been trained and some of her students T.S. Rama, Srimathi Jayaram and Prashant Hemmige are performing musicians and teachers today. Veenapani Centre for Arts has digital recordings of great masters, preserves old format recordings of rare concerts and conducts chamber concerts and lec-dems. Her son Raj Narayan is the man behind Radel's electronic substitutes for traditional musical instruments.

And what is the yesteryear star's advice for musicians today? “The art of rendition is important. Don't follow the beaten path,” she says emphatically.

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Jan 16, 2021 10:06:32 AM |

Next Story