Faithful to his guru's style

DEVOTED DISCIPLE: V. Subrahmaniam avers that attention should be paid to voice culture.  


V. Subrahmaniam's research on ragalakshanas was inspired by his mentor and guru Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer.

For V. Subrahmaniam, his extensive research on ragalakshanas was a labour of love inspired by his guru and mentor Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. It was in 1956, at the age of 21, that Subrahmaniam began learning vocal music from Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. Since then, for almost five decades till Semmangudi's death, Subrahmaniam remained a shadow of his guru. In thousands of concerts on stage and radio, Subrahmaniam was Semmangudi's accompanying singer. Today, at 71, Subrahmaniam continues to perform and teach, remaining ever faithful to the Semmangudi style of music. Subrahmaniam's research project was aided by a senior fellowship awarded to him by the Department of Culture, Government of India, in recognition of his vast knowledge in the field. The research covered 30 ragas including Suruti, Devagandhari, Anandabhairavi, Begada, Sahana, Devamanohari, Malahari, Ritigaula, Arabhi, Mohanam and some rare ones like Kapinarayani, Balahamsa and Dwijavanti. Based on the study, a CD titled `Sangeeta Sagara' was released in which the 30 ragas have been sung, analysed and explained. "Under my guru's guidance I attempted a thorough study of each of the 30 ragas - how the raga originated, how it developed, how it was rendered by masters, its arohana-avarohana, special prayogas of the ragas, major compositions based on the raga, the raga alapana, tanam, the extent to which gamakas can be used and so on. The ragalakshanas indicate the technical perimeter of the raga, through which the raga is identified. In fact, different gamakas even when applied to the same swara portray different shades and is one of the factors that helps one to differentiate between ragas.''

Set to music

Subrahmaniam has also set to music seven compositions of Sri Chandrasekhara Bharati Mahaswamigal, the 34th pontiff of the Sringeri Math and two compositions of the present head, Bharati theertha Mahaswamigal. These have been released in the form of a cassette `Bhakti kusuma Manjari.' V. Subrahmaniam was born in Thiruvananthapuram in1935 and gave his first public performance in 1953 at Anantha Hall at Chenthitta. About his concerts Subrahmaniam says "I try to bring out the raga bhavam. I improvise on the swaras and niraval. As for the approach to the kriti I do not deviate from the path of my guru.''Subrahmaniam believes that the classical form should be kept intact, even if it is enjoyed by only a small section of the people. " There is no need to water it down to get mass appeal. In that respect, I am a conservative."

Voice culture

Subrahmaniam is worried that necessary attention is not paid to voice culture. In light and film songs, use of false or muffled voice fails to bring out the depth of our music. A full-throated open rendition is the most appropriate method of voice production in Carnatic music, he says. Subrahmaniam was secretary of the prestigious Chennai Music Academy for nine years from 1983. Now he is a member of its Expert (Advisory) Committee. "The institution has done a yeoman service in propagating Indian music, by way of research, conferences and concerts,'' he says.He is also the founder member of the Semmangudi R. Srinivasa Iyer Golden Jubilee Trust, founded in 1976. The Trust conducts annual music festivals and provides financial assistance to indigent artistes.