Life of truth and simplicity

HEARD IN UNISON: Raman (left) and brother Lakshmanan.  


B.V.Raman, who decided not to perform solo after his brother's demise, has a lot to offer young musicians.

B.V. Raman, elder of the Raman-Lakshmanan brothers, sets himself in a reminiscing mood and the thoughts and experiences that pour out are lessons not merely for conducting oneself as a musician but for living a life of truth and simplicity. The duo's music had an uninhibited style and was yet devout; theme-based concerts that they presented showed their investigative bent of mind that enjoyed freedom within the bounds of tradition.Tyagaraja Sadguru becomes the starting point of the conversation. Raman says that a diligent reading of Tyagaraja kritis would help understand Hindu philosophy. Raman's (and Lakshmanan's) only guru was ''Tiger Sir.' The brothers never had any pretensions to music and their father was a Deputy Collector with no great music interest or inclination. They had gone to a relative's house at Bangalore and Tiger spotted them there. The brothers had the enviable privilege of staying with Tiger. Rudimentary lessons started at Annamalai University at the age of 17. Later Tiger did listen to their music when they performed in the college premises and complimented them. Raman recalls the dedication of the teachers — Tiger, T.K. Rangachari, Saathur Krishna Iyengar. They would be up at 4 a.m. and go around to see if the students had begun their pre-dawn practice sessions. The simple achievable target used to be one ragam a day. Tiger's singing had grandeur, especially when he sang a raga like Janaranjani, recollects Raman. When somebody once asked Tiger why he was singing Kalyani repeatedly at concerts, the answer was that he (Tiger) was yet to capture the Kalyani-nishadham and render it to perfection!

The debut

Raman and Lakshmanan made their debut in 1944 at Calcutta to the accompaniment of Perur Subramania Dikshithar (harmonium) and Vaidhyanathan (mridangam) at the South Indian Club, away from their home and State. Are there secrets to share? Raman's formula — Sarali varisai, Jantai varisai and Alankaram have to be practised for about a year. This provides a strong base for the superstructure. Akara sadhagam is of prime importance and one should sing all the varisais in all ragas and in the janya ragas too. These days the desire is to jumpstart to kirthanai and our method of evolution gets sadly negated. One should seek the tutelage of great teachers only after attaining a fair degree of receptivity. The present generation is smart and much better equipped with technical facilities, Raman says. They should also realise that there is the aspect of swanubhavam (thanakkunnu padaradhu), a condition of the mind where you are transmitting an experience to yourself. There is verve and vibrancy but what is needed is proper channelling. When you sing the ragam it is not the mere rishabham or gantharam that should be prominent but the entire ragam should appear and appeal to you. In this context, Raman recalls how Mali, after meandering for about an hour suddenly produced the rishabham of Kedaragowlai, sending the audience into raptures. Experience is the greatest teacher, avers Raman. He wants singers to pay attention to the lyrics and not split them at the wrong places. It is better to learn some big kirtanas at a young age, when the mind is fresh and uninfluenced. Although it may not be the right approach to learn music to earn, the veteran's dictum is that music does not let one starve. The brothers never lost sight of Tiger's advice — do not scout for chances and don't haggle over rates for performances.

Selfless duty

Teaching has been a selfless duty, never to create an image for himself. Age does not permit him to conduct classes now and the sessions are limited to clarifying doubts.Lakshmanan passed away in 1999 and the brothers had performed together for 57 years. Raman did not want to sing solo. He says, 'We had sung together and after him I did not want to give any concert. I want us to be remembered as a duo.' In fact, there is no individual photograph. Raman recalls the words of Karaikkudi Muthu Iyer, mridanga vidwan — 'Apply yourself. Put your heart and soul wholly into it. The dispensation will come.' Nobody knows when 'dame luck' would smile. Make the most of it because it doesn't last for ever, he says. Raman had warmed a heart, boosted a morale, lighted up a face, eased a pain and started and maintained a tradition — a few expressions that one finds on a compact wall poster at his residence.

* * *

Theme speciality

It can be said that the Raman-Lakshmanan brothers pioneered the concept of theme-based concerts. The themes were many and an illustrative list is made out here: A performance in Tirupati where kritis on Lord Venkatachalapathy were sung (this was the last concert of the brothers and were of different vaggeyakaras).

A performance at Krishna Gana Sabha where they brought to light sixteen vaggeyakaras on Lord Vinayaga, from Varnam to Thiruppugazh, all in a matter of three hours. A performance of the kritis of Dikshithar on Rama, at the Music Academy, which left the late Dr. Raghavan in a state of delight and wonderment.

A performance on the Bharatis - Subramanya, Gopala Krishna, Sudhanandha, Mazhavai Chidambara, Madhurakavi, Kavikunjara and Anantha Bharati. A performance on musical compositions before Tyagaraja, beginning with Gnanasambandar. A performance on music as it existed 45 years before this day.

Manamadurai Aradhanai

The brothers conducted and Raman has continued the practice, the Aaradhanai for Sadhasiva Brahmendrar at the Manamadurai festival for the past 25 years. This place has the River Vaigai taking a peculiar course and the aradhana has brought several good things in its wake, the vidwan says. It is an event conducted by a community of musicians where nearly 4,000 people are fed. He acknowledges the contributions of the local philanthropists.