Thursday, June 2, 2011

Tanjore S Kalyanaraman (SKR)

GNB was a name that frequently came up in musical discussions in my home. Sometime in the late seventies my grandfather Tyagu was narrating about how there were tears in the rasikas' eyes the year GNB died and they heard a young and energetic V Ramachandran at the Music Academy. Soon a youngster like me, who was already fascinated by GNB (He was as legendary as Bradman!) wanted to know about his students as well. Of course MLV was also well known and she had sung for my parents' wedding. The next name was S Kalyanaraman. It must have been 1980/81 when I made my first visit to Tiruvayyaru. After the heavyweights had finished SKR was due to sing late at night. My dad said we'll stay and listen and then leave. I still cannot forget ana alapana of Dhenuka that he sang that night. He was struggling for breath, the voice was husky and even sounded crackled, but the brighas were there and that was all that young GNB fan wanted!

Later as I progressed to more advanced levels in music, Kalyanaraman always remained in the background especially because of his GNB leanings. I did get to listen to several of his live concerts in the eighties but then those were days when I was following so many other musicians that I hardly noticed SKR beyond the GNB branding. Then when I started learning from KSK in 1989 he talked a lot to me about SKR. As I shrugged my initial reluctance to sing the melakartas that were not so popular, especially the vivadhis, my guru kept reminding me of the fact that BMK and SKR were the true great exponents of the 72 melas. Even before his death in 1994, I had a chance to spend a long 3/4 hour session in SKR's house. Unfortunately I hardly utilized that opportunity to pick his brain on a few more things especially his handling of things like Dwi madhyama ragas. Even as I grapple with "Karasri" today I kick myself for not having used those chances back then!

Anyway slowly SKR and his music started taking over my life. It was 1995 and the first death anniversary of SKR. They were starting a new Trust in his memory and I was to give the concert. My Guru was also to be honoured on that day. I will forever treasure that recording of SKR that Bhushany Kalyanaraman sent to me asking me to sing if possible "that same todi." This was a fantastic recording of SKR where he has sung Nadasudha in Arabhi and Chesinadella in Todi. That is one of my favorite recordings and I have even discussed stuff in one of my podcasts. Anyway I could not learn Chesinadella then nor could I accede to Bushany's request to sing a Dwi madhyama ragam. This concert and my subsequent association specifically with Nagai Muralidharan & Srimushnam Raja Rao got me deeper into SKR and his music. I got some of his tillanas from Raja Rao and learnt quite a few things about singing vivadhi ragamas from Nagai.

SKR was really one of those great unsung heroes of Carnatic music. He was a true artiste who created without expectations. He never really bothered about the "greater good" of the art. History shows that the great creators were radicals who challenged institutions. These radical efforts later became institutions by themselves. Further radical efforts only challenged these newly created institutions! So the cycle will just continue. Sometimes it is possible to get caught in a particular "time warp" and then it is difficult to get out of there. The truly creative artiste just soldiers on! During a time when artistes shunned the vivadhi melams, SKR sang them with gay abandon without "publicising" his creativity! Later he ventured deeper into the scales and came up with the fascinating 36 dwi madhyama panchama varja ragams!

He was one of the first to explore hindustani ragams in the seventies. His singing of bhajans were a great source of inspiration to several of his junior contemporaries. If GNB was a modernist of his times SKR only carried on that legacy of innovation and brilliance to the next level. Today SKR stands as a towering source of inspiration for many many musicians. Personally I am thankful that I discovered him at a time when my restless mind was looking for things to do. I am happy that he more than anyone else has been singularly instrumental with his music in getting me to where I am today. It will indeed be a great honour for me to receive the SKR Award of Excellence as his students celebrate his 81st birthday today at the Narada Gana Sabha in Chennai.