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Innovate but don't deviate from Sampradaya, R.K.Shrikantan tells Carnatic musicians
CHENNAI, September 2: Sampradaya, a three-decade-old Carnatic music documentation organization, began a new series titled `Samvadha' (dialogue) by organizing a face-to-face conversation with veteran Carnatic vocal singer, R.K.Srikantan. The conversation, held at the Mini Hall of the Music Academy here on August 28, was moderated by Chitravina artiste N. Ravikiran. The nearly two-hour programme saw the senior artiste at his best. Shri Srikantan fielded a volley of questions from the audience with aplomb. There was aplenty to take home for the audience, as Shri Srikantan regaled the audience by his no-nonsense answers, laced often with a great sense of humour.

There was this query about the difference between singing the way it appeals to the audience (janaranjakam) and singing in-depth like a Pandit? What should be the approach? Is it an advantage or disadvantage in singing `janaranjakam' way?

According to Shri Shrikantan, "Ranjaka (popular appeal) singing needs a capacity''. He went on to add, "we should also have in-depth knowledge of music if we have to sing with Ranjakatvam.'' The veteran musician felt that "I should be a critic myself". One had to question oneself, he said. "How was it? What was the mistake? If I observe myself and present it in a refined way, then it will be full of Ranjakatvam,'' he pointed out. To drive home this point, he sang a few lines of "Deva Deva Kalayamithe" with mathuram and sruthi sudham. Voice had to be modulated, he said.

Ragas such as Sahana, Devagandhari, Bindumalini, Nata Narayani were in vogue only in recent times, he said. "Now, we see some madness on the part of some artistes to present RTP (Ragam, tanam and pallavi) in vivadi ragas. It is very tough to present tanam etc in vivadi ragas. Presenting RTP in such ragas won't be Ranjakatvam,'' he said. He also cited the example of vivadi mela "Kanakangi" by explaining the arohana and avarohana. "We have to be very careful in arohana and avarohana itself. Even more difficult will be to sing tanam" he said.

Ragas such as Sindhubhairavi, Jonpuri and Hamirkalyani might be appealing for light classical varieties or tukkadas and not for rendering RTP. For, these ragas were unique to Hindustani music, he added. "We have to protect the tradition passed on to us by our elders, which is Sampradaya,'' he felt. Ragas such as Kalyani, Kambodhi, Sankarabharanam, Todi etc would be far more appealing and suitable for presentation of RTPs, he added. Practicing kritis in vivadi ragas at home "is more welcome'' than presenting them on the concert platform. Elders had avoided vivadi ragas for some right reasons. "Let us leave them like that,'' he added.

Hindustani style is often inserted into Carnatic music. Is it correct? "Hindustani singer can't sing a Todi ragam in the manner we sing. We have lot of repertoire,'' Shri Shrikantan said. When Carnatic music had so much in itself, why should one stray into Hindustani style? In this context, he pointed out how many a Hindustani musician never took cognizance of the very existence of Carnatic music.

Is Veena suitable as an accompanying instrument for a vocalist? "Veena is an ancient instrument. It has been there since the Vedic times. Flute also dates back to old times. But veena is not so suitable for accompanying a vocalist. Veena has NO akanda nadam. It is not amenable to greater speed. It is suitable only for a vilambha kala. Violin would be more appropriate as an accompanying instrument. I keep flute for my style with various pitches," he said.

Is language a barrier for Sangeetham? "There is no relation between language and Sangeetham,'' he said. "Sangeetham is great. It is composed by mahans (great people). Sing any song in any language but with devotion," said Shri Srikantan.

Shri Shrikantan said that a musician should know several krtis in a raga. "More the kritis - it leads to more manodharma or creativity. It will be a chaste raga alapana if you follow a kriti. Even for a neraval singing, you should know more kritis,'' he pointed out.

Is guru a must for learning music? Some one queried. "Gurulekha Yetuvanti'' is a popular kriti. "Guru is most important. To be a graduate in any subject, is not a guru important?'' asked Shri Srikantan. For sangeetham, "it is all the more important to have a guru. Practicing from CDs and tape is a bad notion. Guru is very important in pointing out the mistakes and to learn with proper expression,'' he asserted.

What is the secret of his voice? Someone was very curious to know from him. "Respect your body and maintain a radiant health,'' pat came the reply from Shri Shrikantan. "Mind and body should do the same thing. Smoking and drinking (even soft drinks) should be avoided. Only sathvik food has to be consumed. One mantra is: Bhavyamana Shariram and Divyamana Saariram (flexible body and divine voice),'' he said. Laying emphasis on positive thinking, he stressed the need for doing daily practice. "Food and rest are important,'' he said. Vegetables, fruits and vitamin tablets could be taken. "Breath control and sruthi sadanam in Sa(sadjam) should be rendered in Tristhayi or all three octaves,'' he pointed out. "Nadam should be continuous. Ayurveda also says that Abyanga Snanam or oil bath is good for health. There should be Satsangam or friendship with good vidwans. This will keep brain, voice and shariram good,'' he said.

Shri Shrikantan felt that a musician should avoid having daily kutcheri and travel. GNB, he said, would have a gap of six months between two concerts. GNB gave importance to creativity in singing. Hence, he felt that there should sufficient interval between concerts. Musiri Subramanya Iyer used to take at least a week's rest after a concert, he added.

What is the methodology to present Devarnama's and Padams?
"There is a Sampradaya for rendering the Devarnama's. These are without notations but given by the Karna parampara. Haridas has prescribed 32 ragas and Purandara Dasa 80 ragas. Haridas kritis should be sung only in those ragas. It is suitable to sing as a bhajan. No sangatis and chittai swara should be incorporated in Devarnamas. There are songs such as `Smarisuva' in Suruti. `Ragi Tandiro' is most suitable to be sung in Punnagavarali ragam,'' he said.

How many hours of practice are required? What is the method to practice? According to Shri Srikantan, there is no need to practice while learning basics. "Akara sadhanai and tristhayi has to be practiced in the beginning. Mantra sthayi has also got to be practiced. Finally, the tara sthayi or practice in the upper octave is also important. Swarams of varnam have to be sung. It should be done with alertness and not with closed eyes,'' he said.

Accent, he said, was most important. In this context, he cited the example of Musiri Subramanya Iyer in kritis such as "Kanaka Shaila Vihare". It used to sound so good. Semmangudi also used to sing the Todi ragam so well, he pointed out. "Enna Uccharippu enna Bhavam," he went on to admire them. Nevertheless, any practice should not be done beyond one's voice range, Shri Srikantan pointed out.

Shri Shrikantan lauded All India Radio for its role in fostering Carnatic music. Sangeetha vidwans got great prominence and good remuneration, thanks to AIR. "AIR has done yeoman service to musicians. I am very much benefited by it,'' he said.

Does he still practice? If so, what does he practice? This was an interesting question from a youngster in the audience. "Even now I do,'' Shri Shrikantan replied. "I practice the kriti to mesmerize the audience and to bring in the composer's bhava. To emphasize more on the bhava shudda, I practice the same kriti again and again and again,'' he said. In this context, he also cited the experience of Veena Seshanna. The veena player used to tell him that he felt like as though the veena mocked at him and queried "who are you?'' if he didn't practice for two days. According to Shri Srikantan, "art is great and the music is indispensable". "Haridas, Thyagaraja and others are great. They are most important. Art goes on and on. We are insignificant,'' he asserted.

Shri Srikantan said his father was his first guru and then R.K.Venkatramana Sastri, his eldest brother, became his mentor. All yester-year artistes such as Viswanatha Iyer,Musiri, Semmangudi, Muthiah Bhagavathar, Tiger Varadachari and others were all his gurus, he pointed out. He used to listen to all great musicians those days. He had, however, evolved and adopted his own style, he said. "I used to attend the concerts while I was just 5 to 6 years old. My brother Venkatramana Sastri used to take me to concerts. But even at that age I used to listen to it with attention. Usually, kids at this age may find it restless to sit and listen to concerts. I learnt kritis, neraval, raga vinyasam from artistes such as Chembia Bhagavathar, Palladam Sanjeeva Rao, Dakshinamoorthy Pillai and others. I learnt various aspects from each one of them,'' he said.

Chitravina Ravikiran quizzed him on the musicians of his state. "Chowdiah played violin so well especially "Ramakatha Rasa" Chembia Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar and his brother sang so well .It used to be like a heavenly Gandharva gana. Musiri used to sing `Sita Pathe Na Manasu na' and used to do charanam vinyasa that nobody does it now. `Telisirama Chinthanathu' in Poornachandrika could be sung so nicely. Now some artistes sing "O Ranga Sayee" in Kambodhi and sing swara vinyasa in around Fourty ragas. It has become a recent trend,'' he said. "You can do innovations but don't take undue freedom," Shri Shrikantan said. "In Veda chanting even, a swara if not properly uttered will lead to a great blunder. Music is originated from Samaveda. Hence, the kalpana should be within limits,'' he pointed out. Then there were Veena Seshanna and Subhanna. His brother Venkatramana Sastri was Veena Subanna's shisya.

Shri Srikantan said he began his concert journey from his thirteenth year onwards. "I sang a Kanakadasa song at a Government function. One of my memorable concerts was in Navaratri Mantapam at Tiruvanathapuram. Lalgudi Shri G. Jayaraman played violin and Palghat Mani Iyer played mridangam. It was a memorable one,'' he added.

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