Friday, July 25, 2014

Samajam memories

It must have been 1985 when i first landed there for the Tyagaraja aradhana. Aradhanas world over are very similar. You have a pancharatnam and then everyone gets a chance to sing 1 or 2 Tyagaraja songs. Since I had learnt the violin I even accompanied some of the singers. Mrudangam artistes were always in abundance but violinists were a scarcity!

Have a close look at this foto below. It must be around 1985/86. I am singing with pants on, no electronic sruti box. and a manual tambura for singing just a couple of songs. Another thing is that I am wearing a watch! Something I stopped doing many many years back. It was a fashion statement for me to wear a watch and take it off after the second song. Apparently GNB used to do it!

The Tyagaraja Sangeetha Vidwath Samajam in Mylapore brings bak so many memories  for me from the late seventies and early eighties. One of the first concerts I ever heard at that place was by KV Narayanaswamy . I think it was 1979 and there was a series to commemorate the Samajam’s golden jubilee. I can never forget his rendition of the Kalyani ata tala varnam that day.

The Samajam also had Tyagaraja akhanda ganam singing the bard’s songs for 24 hours continuously. It was great fun to go and spend the night waiting for a chance to sing. Sometimes there were akhandams at multiple venues. One year we went to the samajam finished singing at around 1 am. Then drove all the way to Purasaivakkam where another akhandam was taking place. We landed there when TK Govinda rao just started ‘Vidhi sankradulu” in Yamunakalyani before asking the person noting the songs whether it had already been sung. There was a mischievous twinkle in his eye as I am sure he knew no one would have sung it before! They never repeated songs in the akhandams you see.

Some of the stalwarts who were regulars at the akhandams were Maruthuvakkudi Rajagopala Iyer of the Umayalpuram sishya parampara. Known as Mylapore Gopu, he had taught many in our  family including my grand aunt Rukmini Rajagopalan and my mother and several of my aunts. The story was that many leading musicians approached him for rare Tyagaraja songs. Once one of my aunts wanted to learn a song that GNB had sung and asked Gopu sir if he could teach it with the GNB sangatis! The man was livid and shouted “These fellows (GNB) learn these songs from me, change all the sangatis and now you people want me to teach his sangatis!”

Artistes like Chingleput Ranganathan, Veena Ravindran (he once sang a lovely kadalE vAdu in narAyaNagowla), Sirgazhi Jayaraman, Pattamadai Krishnan and others would also sing during these akhandams. The samajam once organised a similar Dikshitar akhandam for the first time. I had learnt close to about 50-60 Diskhitar songs at that time and I stayed up the whole night singing whenever asked to. The one who really propped the akhandam completely that year was Dr N Ramanathan of the Madras University who led a group of students.

Mannargudi Sambasiva Bhagavatar was the man who ran the samajam tightly and passionately. He gave a lovely vocal concert once that I heard where he sang the famous ‘cakkaga nee bhajana’ pallavi in Sankarabharanam. I had heard of him as a harikatha artiste and it was a pleasant surprise to hear him sing a full fledged concert. Sirgazhi Jayaraman who gave the vote of thanks that day remarked that Bhagavatar was a disciple of Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer.

One of the most memorable concerts there was the famous Semmangudi concert with Dr M Balamuralikrishna on the viola, TK Moorthy on the mrudangam and G Harishankar on the khanjira. The above video is from that concert where you can see some of us in the audience. I went upto Dr MBK after the concert to express my appreciation and he quietly said “I hardly touch the instrument!” 


Download Tyagaraja Live -

Friday, July 18, 2014

A world music playlist

Here is a link to an article written by my uncle Suresh Subrahmanyan that has appeared in today's Hindu in the Friday Features section. There are enough names to draw up a nice world music playlist on Youtube to sample some of the best the world has seen. Edits have resulted in the non inclusion of people like TM Soundararajan, Seergazhi Govindarajan & P Susheela who were his favorite singers. For a Rajatard like me I guess it is just that he is from a different generation and I'll forgive him for the exclusion!

Tyagaraja Live - Album Notes

1. sAmajavara - hindOLam - Adi

This is one of the most popular and well known of Tyagaraja compositions. Many of the great masters have handled this. The best known have been those of GNB and Madurai Mani Iyer. My own earliest recollection of this song is a lilting MDR version. Later when I came across the GNB version I was keen to learn that. Of course my own rendition ultimately undergoes changes over the years but as a senior rasika pointed out to me in an email, it is the GNB version that comes through. After the release of the Telegu film Sankarabharanam and the “aamani koyilaa” variation, the song definitely suffered and became increasingly avoided in concerts. My own decision to begin this concert with sAmajavara was probably motivated by a story related by my guru Calcutta KS Krishnamurthi. GNB was singing in Tiruvaiyaru with the violin accompaniment of Mysore T Chowdiah. He began the programme with sAmajavara and Chowdiah exclaimed “brahmArpaNam!!”

2. paralOka - mandAri - Adi

This song I learnt a long time back on the violin from my first guru V Lakshminarayana. mandAri is an interesting rAgam and is so similar to the more well known pantuvarALi except for the absence of the dhaivatam. Back in the early eighties, my brother who learnt vocal used to sing this song with my violin accompaniment at home. Unfortunately they were not recorded!

3. sAmiki sari - bEgaDa

There is one version of this song that begins in the lower octave. On the other hand the version that I have sung is more or less faithful to the Dr M Balamuralikrishna rendition. I came across this rendition and immediately checked with musicologist Dr N Ramanathan about this song beginning in the upper shaDjam. He immediately clarified that this was an older version that could be found in a Telegu book of Tyagaraja compositions dating back to the early forties. He added that you can trust Dr MBK to generally to come up with a traditional version for most compositions of Tyagaraja.

4. shri ramya - jayamanOhari - Adi

This is actually a sentimental favorite of mine. Musical learning normally follows a strict procedure wherein you learn the varisais first, then geetams, varnams and finally kritis. My guru V Lakshminarayana always taught this as the first kriti after the customary 4 or 5 varnams. For a long time I hardly sang this song. A few years back I rediscovered this song in my old violin notebook with the notations written out to me by my guru! V Lakshminarayana always insisted on us singing the songs after we learnt it on the violin. I never thought this was the foundation for a future career as a singer back then!

5. amma rAvamma - kalyANi - k cApu

A song that I used to sing a lot in the early nineties. The k cApu has such a beautiful rhythmic structure and I loved the Ramnad Krishnan version so much. Not to forget the electrifying live renditions of TN Seshagopalan with classy melodic mathematic blitzy kalpana swarams.

6. nI dayacE - yadukulakAmbhOji - Adi

A beautiful song that I first came across in a recording of Ramnad Krishnan. Later I pestered my guru KSK to teach me this song and he promptly obliged as he always did.

7. nI vanTi daivamu - bhairavi - Adi

This was a favorite of my grand aunt and guru Rukmini Rajagopalan. She had learnt it directly from GNB and sang it often especially in her radio programmes.

8. vinave O manasA - vivardhani - roopakam

Another from my KSK stock of songs. My guru had such a huge repertoire that I just had to mention a song and he would teach it to me pronto.

9. eTula brOtuvo - cakravAkam - m cApu

One of the many Alathur classics! My grand aunt had learnt it from Mrathuvakkudi Rajagopala Iyer, who belonged to the Umayalpuram sishya parampara of Tyagaraja and was a storehouse of the bard’s compositions. This song always brings me memories of being quizzed by T.M.Thiagarajan about singing kalpana swarams, especially his rules for finishing with an arOhaNam phrase specifically. In concerts today cakravAkam is a fairly common and well known rAgam. However, imagine more than a hundred years back mahA vaidyanAtha sivan won a music competiion by singing this rAgam. His opponents had never heard this before and just conceded defeat!

10. evvarE rAmayyA - gAngEyabhooshaNi - Adi

I heard nAdaswara vidwAn Injikkudi Subramaniam play this beautifully in Brahma Gana Sabha a few years back and immediately wanted to learn it. Thankfully for the internet and websites like I got a wonderful Dr BMK version to use as my inspiration.

11. sAgarunDu - yamunAkalyANi - roopakam

One of my guru KSK’s trademark pieces. I did hear a slightly different version of the song sung by Geeta Bennet, the daughter of Dr S Ramanathan some years back.

12. uyyAla looga - neelAmbari - k cApu

My grand aunt’s version, one of the first songs I learnt from her probably sometime in 1985!

13. rAmacandra nee - surAti - Adi

A lovely piece from my guru KSK’s suraTi arsenal, which I invariably end up singing in most of my ‘Tyagaraja only’ concerts.

Sanjay Subrahmanyan

Download Tyagaraja Live -

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Tyagaraja Live - Download for 0$+

I am happy to announce the launch of Tyagaraja Live - a new digital album that can be downloaded for 0$+

Click to download -

This album is a live concert that I sang on the 20th of April 2013 at the Tyagaraja Sangeetha Vidwath Samajam in Chennai. This place has a unique tradition in that it was set up completely by musicians. An interesting piece of trivia associated with that place  is that the tambura in the hand of the Tyagaraja idol there was donated by Pazhani Subramania Pillai.

The samajam was highly regarded as a musical venue especially in the eighties. I have heard so many memorable concerts in that place. There was a huge function to commemorate the 25th death anniversary of Pazhani Subramania Pillai in 1987. The whole affair was organised by Pazhani's chief disciple Ramanathapuram MN Kandaswami Pillai. A large list of legendary laya vidwans were honoured. The list included Valangaiman Shanmughasundaram Pillai, Ramanathapuram CS Murugabhoopathy, Nellai Devaraja Iyer, Kumbakonam Rajappa Iyer, TK Moorthy and others. The glittering function was followed by a brilliant concert of Madurai TN Seshagopalan with SD Sridhar, Ramanathapuram CS Murugabhoopathy & TH Vinayakaram. I can still remember the main piece Kaa vaa vaa in Varali where TNS sang some brilliant swarams for the "Pazhanai malai uraiyum murugaa vaa vaa" in tisra nadai. This was followed by a fantastic tani by CSM and I can still hear the sound of his mrudangam when I just think of that concert. What naadham!!


Samajam website -
Tyagaraja Live -

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Friday, July 4, 2014

What is 0$+

I have received a few emails mentioning that the album Kapali is priced at 0$+ but it still asks for credit card details. Let me clarify that Credit card details are NOT necessary if you are paying 0$. Just look at the screenshot below.

This is what you will see when you click on "I Want This" button on the product page (

Just fill in 0 next to "Name a fair price" and you can immediately download the entire album without filling in any credit card details. This is absolutely free. Of course when you get a receipt for the album in your email once you download, there will be a link which gives you the option of paying more. Only when clicking on this will credit card details be asked for.

So please feel free to download Kapali - Click and Pay What You Want.