Posts Tagged ‘Album Review’

Raja Govindarajan has tagged me in this FB chain game of choosing 10 albums. Here is the seventh one.

If there was a voice that drew me into music – it was the one of Balasubramaniam. If you thought it was SPB or GNB – that would be a wrong guess. It was another Balasubramaniam – famously known as Pithukuli Murugadas – whose voice that made me go crazy.

I first heard him on radio. I remember the times when we didn’t have TV. News in the morning and in the evening were regularly played. when I grew up with my maternal grandfather he would start the radio at 7 AM and switch it off after ‘Indru oru thagaval’. However, he was glued to it when the cricket commentary was on. The whole family would sit around the radio and listen to ‘oli chithram’ or a drama. There weren’t any takers for music at my house – be it film or carnatic.

After TV had come in, radio was almost immediately forgotten.
It made a reentry into my life in the nineties. We had a tenant upstairs. There were twin brothers of my age in that family. One day, loud music was being played in their house. When I went in, I saw a self assembled speaker bleating out a latest film number. Someone had gifted them that speaker with a built in FM radio. It was the time DD2 was regularly playing latest numbers. It turned out that FM radio was playing those numbers more frequently. There were sponsored programs like ‘Select Direct Neram’ that played the latest songs. Inspired by my tenants, I started playing the FM radio on the ‘2 in 1’ cassette player in the evenings.

Although not regularly, my mother used to play devotional albums in the mornings. One time, when she switched on the system, before she could play the cassette she wanted to, the FM radio started singing. It was a program titled ‘Amudha Punal’, in which they played songs from devotional album. She not only let the radio continue but also made it a point to play it every day. Thus I was invariably listening to P.Susheela, S.Janaki, SPB, TMS, Sirkazi and others. It was in this program I first heard Murugadas.


I think the first song I heard him sing was ‘Swagatam Krishna’. The peppy tisra nadai in his captivating voice made me sit up! I used to wish every day that they played his song.

I was allowed to buy tapes from pocket money in 1995. I was looking for his tape with Murugadas’s rendition of Swagatam Krishna in the music shops nearby. There was only one shop that had his tape but that didn’t have this song. I nevertheless got the tape. Much later I realized that this recording had Vid. Karaikudi Mani on the mridangam and Vid. Vasudeva Rao on the Tabla. I never knew that was a big deal and all then!

As I write, I realize this is the centenary year of Murugadas. May be I’ll write a centenary tribute some day! But that is for another occasion – let me comeback to the recording. This recording was made in his fiftieth year. In these five decades, how many million hearts this recording would have filled with bliss? When Murugadas passed away a few years back, I released a video talking about him and I had quoted his rendition of ‘Pal Vadiyum Mugam’ in it. Till date, time and again that video gets popped up in someone’s timeline and I get a message on how that rendition kindles a special feeling even after all these years.

If there was an album that I can mentally recreate every micro second – that would be this. The songs usually will have a tangential start that leads to the main song. For example, the song ‘Aadadhu Asangadhu Vaa’ – a composition in madhyamavathi by Uthukadu Venkata Kavi – starts with a haunting prelude with the word ‘Kannaa’.

The voice of Murugadas is such that it produces breathtaking fast phrases in that deep yet sweet voice with great precision. But when he sings a sustained note there is a slight tremble. It trembles just enough that it actually adds a haunting element to the rendition without making it sound off-key. It can be felt in the first few phrases of ‘Kannaa’ that he sings.

He then moves onto a namavali – probably his own – ‘aadadhu asangaadhu vaa vaa kanna – in the tisra nadai. He then seamlessly connects the last word Kanna with the second line in the pallavi ‘un aadalail IrEzhu bhuvanamum’ and before you realize the transition the Uthukaadu Kriti takes over.
These transitions are absolutely spontaneous. Despite this being a recording, you can feel the spontaneity in the rendition.

I had met him twice in his twilight years at his house in VM Street. He was hardly audible when he spoke. But when he sang that metallic clang was back as a roar! His wife shared an interesting anecdote, during an AIR recording he renders a song in his typical way weaving many songs into a garland. Unfortunately, there is a technical glitch and he was asked to record all over again. This time he renders in way that was totally different from the first one. The AIR staff rush in and point out that he was singing something totally different. He starts all over again and this time he launches into something that wasn’t anything like the first or the second rendition. The AIR staff let him continue with a smile on their faces.

It is amazing that every nuance that Murugadas sings his fingers play the same. You might wonderwhat is special in that? There are singers across genres who could do that. What makes it special was that Murugadas was able to do that without any swara gnana. He had no idea of the gandharas and madhyamas that he was singing -yet his fingers were able to reproduce every nuance that he was singing.

What is even more amazing is the way Vid. Karaikudi Mani has accompanied to the pieces. One would expect a split second delay for the percussionist to respond when Murugadas launches into extempore rhythmic improvisations. Upon listening to it many times, you may discover, there are multiple occasions Vid. Mani had played as if the improvisation was a preplanned one. The give and take between Tabla and Mridangam is unbelievable as well. I have wondered how did the Tabla stop at the exact moment and Mridangam took over to create such an incredible impact.

Coming back to ‘Aadadhu asangadhu’, if you have heard the song rendered by any other artist – rest assured that this would be nothing like that. In the usual renditions, when the madhyama kaala sahityam (for example ‘aadhalinaal siRu yaadhavanE’) are rendered you get lost in the frenzy that is built. You will hardly have the time notice the lyrics and create a mental image of the meaning. Murugadas renders it in Vilamba Kaalam, providing a micro pause after word, allowing you to grasp the song and then in the second time around, when he renders the same lines in the madhyama kaalam – the effect of the climax is increased multi fold thanks to the picture that you already have in mind.

It is the drama that he creates with unusual pauses (example after ‘Chinnachiru Padangal – that are beautifully filled by the Mridangam) and dramatized vocalization (‘Sadai satrE’), apt lyrical improvisations (while Panniru kai iRaivan is the original sahithyam – he beautifully adds a sangati with ‘murugan’ adding to aesthetics) and the unexpected twists and turns in both gait (gatibedam to tisram ‘Kanaka maNi asaiyum’) and tempo (Padi varum azhaga in two speeds) that makes it possible for anyone to fall in love with his rendition in the first hearing.

I can possibly write an analysis on each and every song in that album. But I will save you the trouble and let form your own image by listening to it.

When someone told Ariyakudi, “Your rendition this year seemed better than last year’s”, he responded, “My rendition remains the same. It is possible that your cognition has gotten better”. Although tongue in cheek, there is an element of truth in it. In the journey as a sincere carnatic music rasika, there are only a few renditions that remain close to your heart throughout the journey.

I’m lucky that I found Murugadas early and could take him along for life.

Dedicating this post to Ranjani Kumar. Thank you Ranjani for making it possible for me to meet “Muruga” not once but twice!

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Raja Govindarajan has tagged me in this FB chain game of choosing 10 albums. Here is the sixth one.

It is common to first hear an artist in a recording and then seek for live concert experience. But, there are rare occasions when you hear an artist live and when you are done you want to find every possible recording that exists of that artist. One such artist was Vid. Suguna Purushottaman.

I first heard her in Dec 2007 during the morning session of Music Academy. It was after 2003 I started developing some interest in theoretical aspects of Carnatic music. I’m no expert in theory. But, I’ve genuine interest in it. I hope to understand at least a little bit of it someday. When you read theory on talas, you come across the commonly practiced 35 tala system and then you also come across the ‘not so common’ 108 tala system.

When you read about great artists who lived before pre-twentieth century, you often come across their prowess in singing pallavis in complex talas and their victory over their rival through such renditions. Even hundred years back, every village used to boast of great nagaswaram artists. While some artists were sought after all over the country, many artists remained confined to their village. The artists in demand used to charge a hefty fee. The tradition was such that, the organisers could pay any amount to call to invite the artist from outside. However, the local artist is the one who will start the proceedings. Also, when it came to playing the pallavi, the local artist will lead it and the outsider, however big name be, will have to follow and repeat it. There are multiple instances where the ‘big name’ was made to eat humble pie.

Many a times, these pallavis – especially during contests, were based on the 108 talas. The names of Talas like Lakshmeesam, Simhanandanam are known because of the existence of compositions in them. The period between 1910 to 1960 is often looked upon as the golden period of Carnatic “Kutcheri Music”. In that time, it was Mudicondan Venkatrama Iyer who carved a niche for by performing demonstrations on pallavis in such rare talas. The old timers still speak about the demonstration of Simhanandana Pallavi he gave along with the then young Lalgudi Jayaraman and the legendary Pazhani Subramania Pillai.

While I have heard and read about pallavis in such talas, I have personally not heard anyone sing in them until 2007. When I knew Vid. Suguna was scheduled to deliver a lecture demonstration in Simhanandana I was sure I would be there. Little did I know that I was going to experience something that I would share it with grandchildren when I become an old timer.

By the time, I had reached Music Academy along with my brother, the lecdem had already started. In the recent years, unless you reach early, you may not get entry into the hall for lecdems that kindled interest among fans and students. Even until ten years ago, that wasn’t the case. I remember attending a lecdem in 2010 by Shri. Lalgudi Jayaraman on GNB. I felt that was the most crowded lecdem I have ever attended. Even on that occasion, no one was denied entry.

So Fortunately for us, despite a short delay we were able to enter the hall and even manage a seat. She was still singing a short raga alapana and followed it up with short tanam. I vividly remember Vid. Charulatha Ramanujam was in the violin and Vid. Thanjavur Kumar was on the mridangam.


Within a few minutes I was completely engrossed in the beauty of the thodi that she was serving. Only when she started talking about the structure of the talam, I realized I had actually come for a lecdem on Pallavi.

I had taken extensive notes on the Pallavi. I’m not going to explain all that in this post. I’ll share just the pallavi line from my notes:

“Narasihma Nandanapriya Ahobilavasa| Bhakta Poshaka| Prahlada Varada| Nin Charane Gati| *Arudhi Kaarvai* Parama Krupanidhi! Nee anro Shankaranai Kaatha Abathbandava| Kaa Vaa – Lakshmi” (Narasihma)

I was coming across tala elements such as Guru, Plutam and Kakapadam for the first time in a live rendition. I had great difficulty in concentrating on those elements though. I wanted just close my eyes and mentally keep a Chatusra Eka talam and bask on the sheer beauty of the thodi phrases that she was serving in a series of waves.

Often people term artists who venture into such exercises as Lakshana Vidwans (I met her for an interview and I started my question with this statement on the term “Lakshana Vidwan”, she interrupted me with a twinkle in her eyes “You can call a good looking Vidwan as Lakshana Vidwan as well”). It is often said, if you venture too much into Lakshana aspects, it will have a negative impact on the aesthetic quotient (Sowkhyam) in your renditions. one need not look beyond Vid. Suguna’s renditions to rubbish that theory.

The tala was so internalized that it looked as if she need not take any effort to keep a tab on it. She could just lose herself in the beauty of the raga and keep exploring the grandeur of thodi all day. She did Trikaalam and tisram on the 128 akshara tala and rendered swaras in multiple eduppus.

May be I was imagining things by then. But to me, it occurred for every eduppu there was a different thodi showcasing a totally different bhava. The emotion when calling out Ahobila vaasa was totally different from the one that showcased surrender to the Lord as “nin charane gati”.

After a thunderous applause that lasted for several minutes, Vid. B.Krishnamurthi gave a poignant speech on the pallavi and the artist.

While I was making my way out of the hall, I could hear someone say that the Pallavi was available as a commercial album for purchase. I immediately rushed to the Shankara Hall in TTK road and bought that CD.

I must have heard the CD many times and then had moved onto other things.

Many years later, when I watched Simone Biles perform – I was starting to get visions of that experience at the Music Academy mini hall. I could hear the Simhanandana Pallavi. It was Vid. Suguna who was leaping in air with a beautiful smile!

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Raja Govindarajan has tagged me in this FB chain game of choosing 10 albums. Here is the fifth one.

As I mentioned earlier, GNB’s music influenced me like no one else’s. In my twenties, if I met someone who was likely to have attended a concert before 1965 – my first question to him would be “Have you heard GNB live?”

I have written/given lectures on GNB extensively on several occasions. I’ll save you from all that in this post.

The first GNB full concert I heard was in 2001 – his last academy concert in 1964. Within the next couple of years, I probably had close to 90% of what was available. But, there was one concert that was eluding me.

During the sangeetham.com days, Vid. Sanjay used to write about his thoughts on ragas and would mention what he considered were great renditions in that raga. When he wrote about Hindolam, he had mentioned about a private recording without accompaniments of GNB and had heaped heavy praise on that rendition. Unfortunately, none of my contacts possessed that recording.

In 2003, I moved back to India after completing (I’m amazed I even managed to complete my degree) my Masters. I found a job in Bangalore and I wrote about that to my friend Lakshmi. When he mentioned GNB’s last son Gudalur Balasubramaniam Rajasekar lived in Bangalore – I was more thrilled about meeting him than my job.

I think I met GBR on the first weekend I spent in Bangalore.All I can remember was, I was behaving like crazy. I was really dazed that I was actually talking to GNB’s son! That was the closest I had gotten to GNB till that day! Nevertheless, I had the sense to ask him about that private recording and GBR had it in an audio tape. I immediately offered him to digitize it. I used to have Creative Nomad Player and a Sony walkman. Those two gadgets were good enough for digitizing audio tapes then.

GNB’s students like MLV, HMV Raghu sir have talked about the “touches” he would sing casually during conversations at home. Those touches were rarely seen in his concert renditions – according to them. To get an idea what they meant, may be repeated listening of his hindolam from concert recordings and juxtaposing it with this particular rendition would help.

GNB cover

One of the reasons I get Goosebumps every time I listen to this recording is because it is probably one of the last recordings of the maestro. This was recorded in Trivandrum during his final days when he was mostly restricted to home. A foreign rasika had come to visit him and was shocked to find about GNB’s health and was endlessly disappointed that he cannot hear his hero live. GNB, in that health condition, has sung for a little over an hour for just one rasika without accompaniments. I thank that rasika everyday for recording that rendition for posterity.

GNB starts of with Reethigowlai – a swati thirnal kriti – Paripalayamam. In the middle of the rendition – he enquires if the recording is coming out fine and if he should continue with the recordings. You may think I’m crazy. That’s all alright – but leave alone his singing – just hearing him speak in the middle of concert renditions – used to thrill me endlessly. There is one rendition at Thazaiyuthu in which he says “periyavaaL ellam vandhu irukkaa – edho enakku therinjadhu”. I went about researching who was that ‘Periyavaa’ until I found the answer that it referred to Kallidaikuruchi Ramalinga Bhagavatar as told by Vid. Trichur Ramachandran. Apart from Reethigowlai and Hindolam (Ma Ramanan), GNB has rendered an elaborate Todi (Thamadhamen), Kambhoji (Ragam alone) and a slokam in ragamalika.

When I had the opportunity to compile the centenary volume of GNB, we wanted to give a CD that would be rare and representative of his genius. It was an easy choice as we knew that this rendition was not popular among the collectors and had greatest of content available in the form of recording.

I make it a point to play the hindolam on every lecture I deliver on GNB.

Listen to it when you get a chance and ask yourself this question, “Can an artist in deathbed sing like this?”

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Raja Govindarajan has tagged me in this FB chain game of choosing 10 albums. Here is the fourth one.

I started collecting music from the late nineties. In a few years, I was obsessed with the recordings of Mandolin Shrinivas. I wanted to have every available recording of the maestro. I can actually do this 10 day series just based on albums of Shrinivas. The recordings and the memories associated with it are vividly etched in my mind for life. I had written one such experience with a Shrinivas album (in Tamil) here:


I was in college when I started collecting these albums. I studied in Thanjavur. Three of us had rented a 1 BHK apartment. I used to live on a monthly allowance of 1500 Rs. per month. I had to pay rent, manage my food/travel expenses within that amount. There wasn’t much leftover by the end of the month. Every rupee was precious as I had to buy the music albums I wanted only from what I could save out of the monthly allowance. A tape cost anywhere between 30 to 40 bucks.

Fortunately I had Sriram Vijayaraghavan as a partner in crime. He was equally crazy about Carnatic music. Our musical tastes were in sync. – rather we influenced each other heavily. Coincidentally, both our homes had an Aiwa double deck music system. We must have dubbed several hundred tapes in a span of five years. His budget was short stringed as well. So, every purchase of an album had to debated upon and planned upfront. Hindustani Albums used to frustrate us endlessly – for they were almost always double the cost of Carnatic tapes.

I don’t how, but Sriram struck gold one day by discovering Muthu musicals in RK Mutt road. They had so many Mandolin Shrinivas album releases from the eighties that were not available in the then popular outlets such as Music World and Landmark. The bonus was the tapes were also from the old stock – with the inlay card displaying the price from the pre-1990 days. We somehow pooled in a little over 200 bucks and purchased 7 or 8 tapes in a single day. I think that would count as a single largest purchase in terms of number of albums till date. When we headed back to Perambur in the 29C we felt as if we owned the world.

There is an album titled “Rama Sreerama” by Shrinivas. For some reason, the album was priced 125 bucks. After earning my first pay check as a teaching assistant at the University in the US, the first thing I did was ordering this Album in an online store.

By the way, buying an album was the last resort. We would meticulously explore every possibility of someone in our circle owning that tape. If we were successful, we had to only make a copy of the album. That was only one third the cost. We would also try to lure someone whom we knew was into carnatic music to buy the album so that we could manage to get a copy.

One time Sriram even managed to convince the priest of the temple he used to visit regularly to buy an album that we wanted and made a copy for ourselves. I vividly remember that album had a beautiful Sahana with ‘Giripai’ as main rendered in the Mandolin with Kanyakumari on the violin. Often our scapegoat was Sriram’s cousin (and my classmate in school) Srivatsan. With some coaxing it almost always worked with Vatsan.

My parents liked Sriram a lot. So, I would demand for an extra allowance to buy him a birthday gift. It was granted without any questions. Sriram did the same with his parents for my birthday. Those special allowances were saved for expensive Hindustani albums or carnatic albums of international fame artists (again expensive) such as L.Subramaniam or L.Shankar.

Occasionally, my dad would realize that we had a 3CD changer music system (that was a big deal then) and we hardly had any CDs. He would entrust me the job of buying CDs. I would invariably buy T-Series released CDs and report an inflated cost and silently use the remaining amount on tapes.

In the year 2001, BMG Crescendo released four tapes titled “Classical Encounters” – all four recordings were from live concerts. As I mentioned earlier, we never knew Live concert recordings existed in private. Most commercial albums were studio recordings. Live recordings available commercially were very rare. We were desperate to buy them – but there was a problem. Each tape cost 75 bucks. 300 bucks was well beyond our reach.

We had faced some bad experience when we had spotted some live concert recordings of Shashank that we postponed buying and were never able to locate again. The thought of such occurrence with Shrinivas tapes was giving us nightmares. After much thought, we decided to use our trusted trump card one more time. We convinced Srivatsan to buy these albums. He had agreed to buy all four tapes. Sriram went along for the purchase.

It was only during the purchase Sriram noted an interesting detail. Vol 2 and Vol 4 were both showing the same content. They both were having a Ragam Tanam Pallavi in the same raga – Kambhoji. It was ridiculous to spend an extra seventy five bucks on a recording that had the same raga on two recordings. Sriram did the prudent thing. He bought Vol 2 and let go of the Vol 4.

mandolin 1

We had made copies of the three tapes and were listening to the tapes happiy. In fact, the first time I heard the raga Sucharithra was in these recordings. I would later go on to name my daughter Sucharithra thanks to the impact that rendition caused. Ideally, I should have been happy. Buy what started as a insignificant irking about not possessing an album of our hero, started to grow bigger and bigger every day. I was close to buying that missing tape several times but managed to pull myself out of that temptation at the last moment.

Months passed by and after discussions with Sriram, we were ready to buy the next set of albums. Sriram couldn’t join me to Landmark that day. I was supposed to buy three tapes that day. One of those albums was out of stock. While it would take just a few minutes to finish the purchase, usually our visits to Landmark would last for well over an hour. We would go over the collection in every section and make a mental note for future purchases.

While I was doing my usual browsing, I ran into Vol 4 of Classical Encounters. I was caught between satiating my obsession and having to face Sriram for making the purchase. I was sure, he would take me to task if I bought the tape. I took the tape all the way to the billing counter and then went back to place it back fearing consequences. Eventually, the temptation got the better of me. I bought the tape and took the bus to Sriram’s place.

As expected, he was totally mad at me when he saw what I did. I silently let him have a go at me. I didn’t even feel like taking the tape along with me. Next day morning, our landline phone was ringing. It was Sriram on the line. He was hysterical. He was trying to speak but his laughing wouldn’t allow him to speak. I could imagine how his face would turn red and how his eyes would well up when he laughed uncontrollably.

He gathered himself and said, “Super news da! The tape that you bought did not have a rendition of Kambhoji”


“Want to take a guess?”

I was in no mood for guessing games. I urged him to tell me the contents of the tape.

It was an RTP in Charukesi.

Within the next half an hour I was at his place to listen to the tape. The rendition was out of the world. As if the elaborate soul stirring RTP was not enough, Shrinivas has played a brilliant ragamalika swaras in Ranjani, Bahudari and Shubapantuvarali. The Shubapantuvarali swaras are particularly long – we almost forgot that the raga that was elaborated was Charukesi. The theermanam ending with a series of ‘kitathakatharikiadhom’ patterns rendered at unimaginable speed and precision cannot be described in words. We must have rewound and heard that portion at least a dozen times that day.

I used to tease Sriram for a long time asking him, what a miss it would have been if I had made a prudent choice like him.
Very soon, I had to go to the US. We couldn’t co-own tapes anymore. It was decided that the person who gets to keep the original tape cannot have the inlay card. I got the inlay card of the tape.

mandolin 2

Sriram had neatly scratched the Kambhoji with a black marker and written Charukesi on the inlay card. That looked like the most beautiful handwriting ever to my eyes.

P.S: I could manage to find the faulty inlay card in an internet search!

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Raja Govindarajan has tagged me in this FB chain game of choosing 10 albums. Here is the third one.

Today I’m a Madurai Mani fanatic. In fact, one of my lifetime goals is to write a biography on Madurai Mani. I spend at least a few hours in a week discussing one rendition or the other of Ganakaldharar with my friendVishnuramprasad Vasudevan.

But it might surprise you if I said it took me several years to warm up to this great musician.

The album I share today is a LP gramophone recording from the 1960s with Vidwans T.N.Krishnan and Vellore Ramabadran. The reason I share this is because this was my first brush with MMI.


It was in 1997 and my neighbor had this tape and I cannot remember what I felt when I listened to it. It still beats me why I didn’t get completely floored when I heard this for the first time. I didn’t even bother to give this a second time listening then. I just moved on and eventually found GNB’s music.

I was completely floored by GNB’s music and the personality I imagined myself through various stories I came to know off. I went to US for my Masters Degree in 2001. I didn’t have to go to browsing centers, sharing a thirty minutes slot with two other friends just to check my emails. Nor did I have to compose emails on notepad and patiently wait for the dialup modem to make all kinds of noise and manage to send the email after three failed attempts.

I became a net addict quite fast. Internet forums and yahoogroups introduced me to several wonderful people.

In fact, Raja – who has tagged me to do this series – is a friend I met online then.

There was an e-group called cmxchange. While MP3s had come into vogue, much of carnatic music collection were still dealt in tapes. Collectors usually were discreet. Anytime, you manage to get a concert recording from a collector, you were told a hundred times not share it with anyone. These days, people often reach out to me for my collection. When I ask them, what exactly they are looking for, many times I hear them say, “Dump whatever you have in a Hard Drive”. The digitization has no doubt made life easy. But, it has, to some extent, devalued the music as well. When we dealt in tapes, we actually listened to the collections. Today I know of a few who flaunt that they have 200 concerts of MDR alone. I wonder if they will finish listening to 10% of that in their lifetime.

OK! Enough digression! Let me come back to track.
In the cmxchange group, I found Lakshmi Subramanian. He did the unthinkable!

He had not only collected hundreds of concerts over the years and documented them meticulously into excel sheets but also he had shared those in excel sheets in public as well. Perhaps, he was too frustrated scouting for the concerts that he didn’t have and their existence was maintained as a guarded secret. He opened up his collection in the exchange forum. I was thrilled for several days just looking at the endless lists of GNB concerts. I probably had 4 or 5 full length concerts of GNB then. I somehow wanted to possess the entire GNB collection of Lakshmi Subramaniam.

But there were two problems.
1. It was a exchange forum. I didn’t have anything that I could offer Lakshmi in return for the GNB concerts I wanted.
2. His collection was in tapes. That meant, even if he agreed to give me his entire GNB collection, he will have to record them on 100+ tapes. Then there was TNR, Karaikuruchi, MLV and others. I wanted their concerts as well! How on earth someone will agree to copy that many tapes and ship them?

I was waiting for an opportunity to contact Lakshmi. Vid. N.Ramani had visited our university for a performance and I managed to get a recording for that concert. I wrote to him offering him the concert recording and was hoping that he would be interested in it. He politely refused my offer but said he was happy to share from his collection. He was ready to take ten requests at a time. We started exchanging mails and quickly moved onto phone conversations. We struck a chord from day 1 and I was mostly learning from him during the long hours of conversations. He would play great pieces from his collection on the phone and I would enjoy listening to them for hours. He was ready to take ten concert requests at a time. By then, I had known other collectors in who dealt in MP3s. For some reason, many of these collectors didn’t want to deal with Lakshmi directly but were interested in specific concerts from his collections. I quickly increased my collection by getting there digitized collection in return for the concerts they wanted from Lakshmi. Lakshmi was aware of this and was keen to help me build my collection.

I must add here that Lakshmi is a Madurai Mani fanatic. He would give an arm and an eye for an MMI concert that he didn’t already possess. I was mostly “putting up” with his raving for MMI during the conversation but never actually asked him to give me a concert of MMI from his collection. Every time I sent him a request he would offer me a MMI concert and I would find a reason to turn it down. It used to frustrate him but he put up with that for a few times. After all these years, I now realize that was big concession he gave me. When it came to MMI, even the slightest of offenses would have resulted in parting ways for good with Lakshmi. For some reason, he not only put up with me but also kept on offering MMi concerts.

One day, he snapped but to my surprise he said, “you know what! I’m anyway going to send you a MMI concert over and above what you ask for this time” and said he was going to send me a radio concert with Chowdiah and Palani as accompaniments. He also mentioned that there was an out of the world rendition of ‘manasu nilpa’ in abhogi in the concert and a fabulous ‘Endukku Peddala’ to boot. I immediately started to refuse. To me, any song rendered by GNB was not worth listening to when sung by anyone else. After listening to those cascading sangatis of GNB with Lalgudi and Pazhani and those lovely swarakshara poruttams at ‘Ma Dha Manasu Nilpa’, I was definitely not open to listening to anyone else singing that song. I tried to push back. But, this was an extra tape that we sending me. i could only push him so much.
The tape arrived and I reluctantly listened to it – only to tell Lakshmi that I heard it and close the chapter. That was the day I became a MMI convert. I have never heard anything like that before. Every swara lilting with beauty. I was hating myself to admit that this rendition was becoming my favorite rendition even before I was done listening to it for the first time. The famous sarva laghu swaras finally captivated me!

By the time I visited him in Tampa – I was mad about MMI’s music. A long ride when we listened to MMI singing nereval in “ethanaiyo piravi” with Palani on the mridangam is an experience I will cherish for the lifetime.

I went back to the gramophone record much later and this time it was total bliss. Be it a six minute 78 rpm, 30 mins EP or a 4 hour concert, one element that strikes you in MMI’s rendition is him hitting the strides right from the word go!

In life, many beautiful things loose sheen over time. We get used to them and finally forget their existence. We need a fresh perspective to go back and appreciate them.

Life would be blissful if one could recreate the first time like experience every time. MMI was able to convey that ‘freedom from the known’ through his renditions. It could be the zillionth Kamboji he was rendering, he was able to approach it with the freshness of the first time.

By the time, this record was released, MMI must have sung those songs for thousands of times – yet he is able to weave his magic and give us an ecstatic experience.

Thank you Lakshmi for your patience in converting me. I’ll be indebted to you for life just for this!

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Raja Govindarajan has tagged me in this FB chain game of choosing 10 albums. Here is the second one.

My dad got a sleek “Sharp” 2 in 1 in the mid eighties. I was thrilled to see a casual picture of Sunil Gavaskar at his home with the same music player. My dad was a banker was posted all over India. After one brief stint in Agra in the mid eighties where my mom traveled along with him, it was decided that only my father would travel to where his job took him and the rest of the family (at that time we were a big joint family with my grandparents and my father’s younger brother and sister staying with us) stayed back in Chennai.

After Agra, my mother could manage a job posting in Chennai but my father was posted in Salem. For some reason, he let the Audio Player be in Chennai. My grandfather used to meticulously guard it. It was played only when my dad used to come to Chennai. TV had arrived then, so even the Philips radio was hardly used. The only time an exception was made was on the occasion when a relative had gifted us a tape of a then newly released film ‘Apoorva Sahodarargal’. My mother manage to convince my grandfather that he should allow me to listen to the tape even during the absence of my father.

I used to eagerly look fwd for my dad’s visit as he always brought home stuff – that are usually bought in small numbers – in packets of 50 or more. It could be chocolates, pencils or pens! One time he brought a box and I remember feeling disappointed to find that it was box of seven cassettes.


It was a HMV compilation of recordings of many legends of carnatic music titled “Gems from the Carnatic Classicals”

I cannot remember a single instance that this collection was played in my childhood. It was mostly MKT songs as my grandfather had a special liking for them. Otherwise, it was MGR or Sivaji Ganesan hits. Since my father bought the music system in Agra, he had also bought several Hindi film cassettes. Almost after decade, I recorded carnatic music over them. even these tapes, I cannot remember being played at our home at all. While my grandfather was protective about the music player, he wouldn’t care much about what we did with the cassettes at home. As a kid, one of my favorite past time would be to remove the inlay cards and neatly arrange them in the room. I can’t remember the details now. But I faintly remember I had a game of my own with these cards. The central pieces in these arrangements were always this carnatic collection.

Eventually, I had forgotten about these collections. It was around 1996/97 I started developing an interest in classical music. I had run out of tapes from my father’s Hindi film collection that I can use to record classical music of my liking. It is when the wicked thought of reusing these classical tapes came to my mind. My friend Sriram suggested that we should at least listen to it once before we recorded over it. By then, we were ardent fans of Mandolin Shrinivas. To my surprise, this collection had an elaborate rendition of Saveri and the Shyama Sastri Kriti ‘Sankari Shamkuru’ by Shrinivas. That is when I started realizing I was sitting on a gold mine. My first brush with MLV’s classical music (excluding her Tiruppavai) was from this collection. I vividly remember listening to the Chaturdasa Ragamalika again and again. There was a TNS’s phenomenal rendition of Kanukontini in Bilahari. MSS’s ‘Paratpara’. Maharajapuram Santhanam’s ‘Nalinakanthimathim’. Master Shankaran Nampoothri’s ‘Kshira Sagara’ were other favorites from this collection. For about an year since I rediscovered the collection, I repeatedly listen to them over and over. It increased my Carnatic listening repertoire significantly. Suddenly, I knew a lot more names in Carnatic music. I had poured over the inlay card details and I knew the song, composer, tala etc.

I didn’t take good care of the tapes in 2000s. Due to excessive use, these tapes started falling apart. I always wanted to buy another set but never got around doing it. I do think, by investing enough time, it is possible to locate every recording in that collection. But the wonderful compilation served on a platter is something I will always miss.

I hope Saregama releases this compilation one more time.

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சென்ற நூற்றாண்டின் தொடக்கத்தில், கிருதிகளை முன்னிறுத்திய கச்சேரி பத்ததி உருவான போது, சங்கீத மும்மூர்த்திகள் என்று குறிக்கப்படும் தியாகராஜர், தீக்ஷிதர், ஷ்யாமா சாஸ்திரி, ஆகியோர் அமைத்த கிருதிகளே கச்சேரிகளில் புழங்கின. அதற்கு பல காலம் முன்னே, தமிழில், அருணாசல கவி, முத்துத் தாண்டவர், மாரி முத்தாப் பிள்ளை போன்றோர், பாடல்கள் புனைந்திருப்பினும், அவர்கள் அமைத்த மெட்டுகள் அதிகம் கிடைக்கவில்லை. இதனால் ஆங்கொன்றும், ஈங்கொன்றுமாய் கோபால கிருஷ்ண பாரதி போன்றோரின் பாடல்கள் கச்சேரிகளில் இடம் பெற்ற போதும், பெரும்பான்மையான பாடல்கள் தமிழில் அமையவில்லை.

இந்நிலை இன்று பெருமளவு மாறியுள்ளது. அதற்கு முக்கிய காரணம் இருவர். முதலாமவர், பாபநாசம் சிவன். இவர் பாடல்கள் சென்ற நூற்றாண்டிலேயே பிரபலமடைந்து விட்டன. அவர் சம காலத்தில் வாழ்ந்து பல அரிய பாடல்கள் புனைந்த மற்றொருவர் கோடீஸ்வர ஐயர். மதுரை அருகே நந்தனூரில் 1869-ல் பிறந்த இவர், ஸ்கந்த புராண கீர்த்தனைகள், பேரின்ப கீர்த்தனைகள் போன்ற பல கீர்த்தனைகள் புனைந்த கவி குஞ்சர பாரதியின் பெயரன். சிறு வயதில் பெற்றோரை இழந்த கோடீஸ்வர ஐயர், தன் பாட்டனாரிடம் சங்கீதமும், தமிழும் பயின்றதோடு, ஆங்கிலக் கல்வியிலும் தேர்ச்சி பெற்ற பி.ஏ. பட்டமும் பெற்றார். சென்னை உயர் நீதி மன்றத்தில் மொழிபெயர்ப்பாளராக பணியாற்றிய போதும், தன் பாட்டனாரின் கீர்த்தனைகளைப் பிரபலப்படுத்தும் வகையில் ஹரிகதா காலட்சேபம் செய்தும், அவ்ற்றைத் தொகுத்துப் புத்தகங்கள் வெளியிட்டும் வந்தார்.

படிக்கும் போதே மதுரை சித்தி விநாயகர் பதிகம், கயற்கண்ணி பதிற்றுப் பத்தந்தாதி, மதுரை ஷண்முக மாலை முதலியவற்றை எழுதியுள்ளார். பட்டிணம் சுப்ரமணிய ஐயர், பூச்சி ஸ்ரீநிவாஸ அய்யங்கார் ஆகியோரிடம் பயின்றதாலும், மஹாவைத்தியநாத சிவன், குன்றக்குடி கிருஷ்ணையர் ஆகியோருடன் நெருங்கிப் பழகியதாலும் இசையில் சிறந்த தேர்ச்சியைப் பெற்றார். இவரது மொழித் தேர்ச்சியும், இசைத் தேர்ச்சியும் ஒருங்கிணைந்து, எழிலுறு பாடல்களாய் வெளிப்பட ஆரம்பித்தன. தனது 47-வது வயதில், சம்பூர்ண மேள பத்ததியின் வழியில் உள்ள 72 மேளகர்த்தா ராகங்களிலும் கிருதிகள் அமைக்க விழைந்தார். பாடலுக்கான பொருளாக, தன் குல தெய்வமான முருகனையே கொண்டார்.

ஹம்சத்வனி ராகத்தில், பிள்ளையார் துதியில் தொடங்கி, 72 மேளகர்த்தா ராகங்களிலும் கோடீஸ்வர ஐயர் புனைந்த பாடல்கள் தொகுப்புக்கு ‘கந்த கானாமுதம்’ என்று பெயரிட்டார். கந்த கானாமுதத்தின் சுத்த மத்யம ராகங்கள் அடங்கிய தொகுப்பு 1932-லும், பிரதி மத்யம ராகங்கள் அடங்கிய தொகுப்பு 1938-லும் புத்தகங்களாய் வெளியாயின. அந்தக் காலத்தில், விவாதி ராகங்கள் எல்லாம் தோஷ ராகங்கள். அவற்றைப் பாடினால் கேடு விளையும் என்ற எண்ணம் பரவலாக இருந்தது. மேளகர்த்தா ராகங்கள் 72-ல், 40 ராகங்கள் விவாதி ராகங்கள் என்ற போதும், இந்தக் கருத்தே ஓங்கி இருந்தது. உண்மையில், விவாதி ராகங்களைக் கையாள்வது கடினம். இந்த ராகங்களைப் பாட, ‘சுத்த ஸ்வரங்களைக்’ கையாளும் தேர்ச்சி மிகவும் அவசியம். அவற்றை கையாண்டு சங்கடத்தில் மாட்டிக் கொள்வதை விட, தோஷ ராகங்கள் என்று பெயரிட்டுத் தப்பித்துக் கொள்வதையே பலர் விரும்பினர். ’தோஷ ராக’ கருத்தை ஏற்காதவருக்கும் விவாதி ராகங்களைப் பாடுவதென்பது அத்தனை சுலபமாக இல்லை.

கர்நாடக இசையில், ராகம் என்பது வெறும் ஸ்வரங்களின் சேர்க்கையன்று. ஸ்வரங்கள் என்பது வெறும் எலும்புக் கூடுதான். அதற்கு உயிர் கொடுக்கும் வகையில், ஒவ்வொரு ராகத்துக்கும் பிரத்யேக பிரயோகங்கள், ஜீவ, நியாஸ ஸ்வரங்கள் ஆகியவற்றை அறிந்தால்தான், எலும்புக் கூட்டிற்கு உடலும் உயிரும் கிடைக்கும். கல்யாணி. கரஹரப்ரியா போன்ற பிரபல ராகங்களின் சஞ்சாரங்களை உணர்ந்த அளவிற்கும், இந் நாளில் கூட, விவாதி ராகங்களின் அமைப்புகள் அதிகம் உணரப்படவில்லை. இந்த நிலையில், சென்ற நூற்றாண்டின் தொடக்கத்தில், 72 மேளகர்த்தா ராகங்களிலும் பாடல் புனைந்தது, மிகப் பெரிய சாதனையாகும்.

கந்த கானாமுதத்தின் முகவுரையில் இடம் பெற்றிருக்கும் பிரபலங்களின் அணிந்துரைகள் அந்தக் காலகட்டத்தை உணர ஏதுவானவை. பரூர் சுந்தரமையர், “குருடனுக்கு நேத்திரம் கிடைத்தது போல், உங்களிடம் சில கீர்த்தனைகளைக் கற்ற பிறகு, 72 ராகங்களையும் சர்வ சாதாரணமாகவே பாடலாம் என்று உணர்ந்து கொண்டேன்”, என்கிறார். “தமிழ் பாஷை இசைக்குப் பொருத்தமற்றது என்ற முடிவை பண்ணாளாய் கொண்டுள்ள கொள்கை தப்பானது என்பதை இந்நூல் எடுத்துக் காட்டுகிறது”, என்கிறார் பாபநாசம் சிவன். “Mr. Kotiswara Iyer made first comprehensive attempt to compose kirthanas in all Melas. The scientific value of his kirtanas is of high order and this publication is a landmark.”, என்கிறார் டி.எல்.வெங்கடராம ஐயர். தெள்ளு தமிழில் விளங்கும் இந்தக் கீர்த்தனங்களில் மிளிரும் ஸ்வராக்ஷரப் பிரயோகங்களை, தமிழ்த் தாத்தா உ.வே.சா, துவாரம் வெங்கடசாமி நாயுடு, கீர்த்தனாச்சாரியார் ஸ்ரீநிவாஸய்யங்கார், டி.எஸ்.சபேஸ ஐயர் போன்ற பண்டிதர்கள் பெரிதும் பாராட்டியுள்ளனர். ஒவ்வொரு பாடலிலும், பாடல் அமைந்துள்ள ராகத்தின் பெயர் வருமாறு சாஹித்யத்தை அமைத்திருப்பது மற்றொரு சிறப்பாகும்.

இவ்வளவு சிறப்பினைப் பெற்றிருந்த போதும், இந்தக் கீர்த்தனைகள் கச்சேரியில் அதிகம் பாடப்படாமலேயே இருந்தன. காலப்போக்கில் கந்தகானாமுத புத்தகம் கூட கிடைக்காத நிலை ஏற்பட்டது. அந்தச் சமயத்தில், வித்வான் எஸ்.ராஜம், டி.சங்கரனின் தூண்டுதலால், இந்தக் கீர்த்தனைகளை வானொலியில் ஒலிபரப்ப முனைந்து பாடுபட்டார். ராஜமும், விதுஷி ஜி.வைதேஹியும், கோடீஸ்வர ஐயரிடம் நேரில் கற்றுக் கொண்ட ஆர்.எம்.சுந்தரத்திடம் 72 கீர்த்தனைகளையும் பாடம் செய்து, வாரம் ஒரு சுத்த மத்யம ராகம், ஒரு பிரதி மத்யம ராகம் வீதம் வானொலியில் பாடி ஒலிபரப்பினர். இந்த ஒலிபரப்பு, பெரும் வரவேற்பைப் பெற்றது.

அப்போதிலிருந்து வித்வான் எஸ்.ராஜத்துக்கு கோடீஸ்வர ஐயரின் கீர்த்தனைகளைப் பரப்புவதே வாழ்வின் முக்கிய குறிக்கோளாக மாறிப் போனது. பல வித்வான்களுக்கு, “நிச்சயம் ஒரு கீர்த்தனையாவது, என் கச்சேரிகளில் பாடுவேன்.”, என்று சத்தியம் வாங்கிக் கொண்டு சொல்லிக் கொடுத்துள்ளார் எஸ்.ராஜம். இவரது தொண்டுக்கெல்லாம் மகுடம் வைத்தார் போல், சென்னைப் பல்கலைகழகத்தின் இசைத் துறையின் இந் நாள் தலைவரும், எஸ்.ராஜத்தின் மருமகளுமான விதுஷி பிரமீளா குருமூர்த்தியின் தூண்டுதலில், ராஜம் அவரது 72-ஆவது வயதில், கோடீஸ்வர ஐயரின் 72 மேளகர்த்தா கீர்த்தனைகளையும் பதிவு செய்து, ஒலிநாடாக்களாக வெளியிட்டார்.

ஒவ்வொரு மேளகர்த்தாவுக்கும் ஆரோஹணம் அவரோஹணம் பாடிக் காண்பித்து, சிறு சித்திரமாய் ஆலாபனை பாடியுள்ளார். ராஜத்துக்கு இயற்கையிலேயே நல்ல குரல் வளமும், நல்ல மனோதர்மமும் அமைந்திருந்த போதும், இந்தப் பதிவைப் பொறுத்தவரையில், அவற்றை முன்னிறுத்துக் கொள்ளவேயில்லை. கீர்த்தனைகளை அவசரமாகப் பாடி, தான் இன்னும் இரண்டு ஆவர்த்தம் அதிகமாக ஸ்வரம் பாடலாமே என்ற எண்ணங்களை எல்லாம் அரவே தவிர்த்து, கீர்த்தனையின் முழு அழகை வெளிப்படுத்தும் வகையில் அழகாகப் பாடியுள்ளார். இன்று மலிந்து கிடக்கும் பதச் சேதங்கள், உச்சரிப்புப் பிழைகள், சாஹித்யங்களில் தெளிவின்மை ஆகியவற்றை மருந்திற்கும் கண்டுபிடிக்க முடியாது. 72 வயதிலும் கணீரென்று ஒலிக்கும் ராஜத்தின் குரலும், இம்மி பிசகினாலும் இடரிவிடக்கூடிய ராகங்களை அநாயாசமாக அவர் கையாண்டுள்ள முறையும் ஆச்சரியமானவை. அதிகம் காணக் கிடைக்காதவை. ராஜத்தின் பாடும் முறையில் உள்ள மற்றொரு விசேஷம், அவரது சுத்த ஸ்வர நிர்ணயம். உதாரணமாக, ரிஷபப்ரியா ராகக் கீர்த்தனையின் சரணத்தில், “ஷட்ஜ, ரிஷபப்ரிய, காந்தார, மத்யம, பஞ்சம, தைவத, நிஷாத வித ஸப்தஸ்வர”, என்ற வரியில் ஒவ்வொரு ஸ்வரத்திலும் அவர் நின்று பாடியிருக்கும் விதம் வெகு அற்புதம். ஓரிரு நிமிடங்களுக்கு மட்டுமே ஒலிக்கும் ஸர்வலகு பாணியில் அமைந்துள்ள கல்பனை ஸ்வரங்கள், முயிற்சி இருந்தால் விவாதி ராகங்களையும், தோடியையும், கல்யாணியையும் போல பாட முடியும் என்று திட்டவட்டமாய் நிறுவும் வகையில் அமைந்திருக்கின்றன.

தீபாவளிக்கும் செய்யும் மைசூர் பாகில், பாகை, அழகாய், அடுக்காய் வெட்டியபின், ஒரே ஒரு துண்டத்தை அம்மா குழந்தையிடம் தருவார். அதை உண்ட பிள்ளைக்கோ, அனைத்து துண்டங்களும் தனக்கே வேண்டும் என்று தோன்றும். ராஜத்தின் கல்பனை ஸ்வரங்கள் அந்த விதத்தைச் சேர்ந்தவை. ஒவ்வொரு ராகத்திலும் இன்னும் ஐந்தாறு நிமிடங்களுக்குப் பாடியிருக்கக் கூடாதா என்று ஏங்க வைப்பவை.

சமீப காலமாக கோடீஸ்வர ஐயரின் கீர்த்தனைகள் கச்சேரிகளில் அதிகம் ஒலிப்பதில் இந்த இசைப் பதிவின் பங்கு கணிசமானது என்றால், அது மிகையாகாது. கிட்டத்தட்ட பதினெட்டு வருடமாய், ராஜத்திடம் மட்டுமே இந்த இசைக் கோவை விற்பனைக்குக் கிடைத்து வந்தது. குடத்தில் இட்ட விளக்கை, குன்றின் மேலிட்ட விளக்காக மாற்றியுள்ளது ஸ்வாதிசாஃப்ட் நிறுவனம். சென்ற மாதம், அந் நிறுவனத்தாரின் சன்ஸ்கிருதி வரிசையில், MP3 ஆல்பமாக ‘கந்த கானாமுதம்’ வெளியாகியுள்ளது. மூன்று தகடுகள் அடங்கிய இந்த ஆல்பத்தின் விலை ரூ.600. அரிய பதிவு என்ற போது, அதிகம் அறியப்படாத பதிவாக இருந்து வந்த இந்தப் பதிவு, அனைத்து இசை ரசிகர்களிடமும் இருக்க வேண்டிய ஒன்று.

கந்த கானாமுதத்தை இங்கு வாங்கலாம்.

ஸ்வாதி நிறுவனத்தாரின் அனுமதியுடன், தொகுப்பிலிருந்து லதாங்கி ராகப் பாடலை இங்கு இடுகிறேன். தட்டுத் தடுமாறி இந்த ஒலியிணைப்பைக் கொடுக்க ம்யன்றிருக்கிறேன். உங்களுக்குக் கொடுப்பினை இருந்தால் பாடும்:-)

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