Yesterday I sang a concert for the Maharajapuram Rasikas Trust at the Krishna Gana Sabha auditorium. The trust is run by Dr Ganesh, a senior disciple of Maharajapuram Santhanam, who accompanied him a lot in his last years. After the concert my mind went back a lot to the late seventies and early eighties. As a young kid, apart from GNB, the other big name in the family was Maharajapuram. My grandfather lived in Tiruvalangadu in Tanjore district, and Maharajapuram was a neighbouring village. It must have been the mid seventies when my grandmother was training me to identify ragas in a simple manner. This was my paternal grandmother, Bhagyam Subrahmanyan, and not my musical guru. It must have been 1975 when I first heard a recording of Naajeevadhara by Maharajapuram Santhanam. I had also started learning the violin and my grandmother taught me a simple way to identify ragas. “Try and sing all the compositions that you have learnt in your mind and see if it is similar to what you hear”-she would say. Of course my grandmother also knew the songs that I had learnt and so if I had a problem, she would not accept no for an answer. On one such occassion I managed to identify Bilahari based on my recollection of the Naajevadhara recording! In those days there was a general feeling in the family that the Maharajapuram legacy will be carried on successfully by Santhanam and they were all behind him in full spirit.
Again in the early eighties as TNS was breaking fresh ground, Maharajapuram Santhanam had established himself as one of the leading lights of Carnatic music. His concerts drew big crowds, accompanists like Lalgudi Jayaraman, TN Krishnan, MS Gopalakrishnan as well as some of the top mrudangam artistes supported him on stage. Some of his memorable concerts included a “Yaaro endrennaamale” in Sankarabharanam with MSG and a Saveri RTP at the Academy with Lalgudi. Once after an Academy concert where he had sung songs like Seetavara in Devagandhari and Naradaguruswami in Durbar, I met the Hindu critic NMN in the lobby and he was all praise for the concert saying that Santhanam could sing in anyway he wanted depending on the occassion/audience.
Another reason for the proximity of my family to Maharajapuram was Maharajapuram Nagarajan. Nagarajan is the son of MR Krishnamurthy, the cinema actor and younger brother of Viswanatha Iyer. Nagarajan had taught music to my mother and aunt in Tiruvalangadu and my grandfather was a sef appointed promoter of Nagarajan’s music. I think it must have been a late seventies mid year series in the Music Academy when I heard two concerts of Maharajapuram Nagarajan and the Tirukkodikaval brothers (they hailed from the same village as my maternal grandmother). My grand aunt Smt Rukmini Rajagopalan had also harboured hopes of getting Santhanam and Nagarajan to perform as the Maharajapuram brothers but it never materialised. The story goes that Santhanam was ready but Nagarajan declined. I have vivid recollections of listening to Nagarajan especially in Tiruvayyaru. Once a stunning Mohanam followed by Dayarani by Nagarajan had the legendary Madurai Somu nodding away, sitting on the ground in the first row.
Later in eighties when Santhanam floated the Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer Trust, I was one of the first receipients of the scholarship. The scheme devised by Santhanam and Maharajapuram Srinivasan had a syllabus that included learning pancharatnams, swarajathis, navavarnams, pallavis, besides a working knowledge of theory including the 72 melakarta scheme etc and learning to write music notation. There were periodic appraisals that had people like TMT as judges. Once B Rajam Iyer was a judge and he was very upset that I did not know how to write notation. Santhanam sir later took me aside and told me to learn it because it will really help me in the long run. In 1986 I had won the AIR music competition and in the finals I had sung Kapali in Mohanam. I was a huge fan of Santhanam and had copied several things from his Nannupalimpa recording. Later at the audition for the Trust scholarship Santhanam with a twinkle in his eye, asked me if I had sung Kapali in the AIR competition!
Coming to Dr Ganesh I was introduced to his father Shri Radhakrishnan at the lobby of the Music Academy in the late seventies. Shri Radhakrishnan was with LIC in Tanjavur and came to Madras every year for the music season. He used to personally type and cyclostyle schedules of all the sabhas and give to free to a lot of us. In fact he was the pioneer of the now popular “Nalli” book that has all the sabha schedules. Shri Radhakrishnan wa a big fan of Santhanam and Nedanuri Krishnamurthy. In fact I have seen sit him behind Nedanuri on stage at the Academy like a disciple!! I was hardly 10/12 years old and he used to call me and make me sit next to him on the stage at the Music Academy to listen to concerts. My mother never gave me money to buy tickets for the evening concerts, and people like Shri Radhakrishnan have just taken me inside to the stage. Later I think in 1985/86 Ganesh came to Chennai and joined the Veterinary college. It was the Dishitar kritis competition at the Music Academy and I was participating. That was when Shri Radhakrishnan introduced me to Ganesh and said he was in Chennai and was learning from Santhanam. It was also Dr Ganesh who first published a musicians diary of addresses and phone numbers before Mudhra took it over from him.
Anyway it was a pleasure to perform for the Maharajapuram Santhanam Rasikas Trust in memory of one of my musical heroes.