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Sangita Kalanidhi: Keeping with an eight-decade-old tradition

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Four artistes, known for their proficiency in different aspects of music, will be honoured with the Sangita Kalanidhi this Season

Four artistes, known for their proficiency in different aspects of music, will be honoured with the Sangita Kalanidhi this Season

Every year music aficionados wait with bated breath to know which musician has been chosen for the Sangita Kalanidhi. Since its inception in 1942, the award has been considered the highest accolade for a Carnatic musician. Also, over the decades, the recipients have been stalwart performers with a distinct style and dedicated following. So the Music Academy’s recent announcement about honouring four artistes this Season has infused a new energy into the music world, hit hard by the pandemic. As for the rasikas, they are looking forward to an in-person December Music Season after a two-year gap.

Neyveli Santhanagopalan

Vocalist, teacher and composer Neyveli Santhanagopalan, Sangita Kalanidhi for the year 2020, is known for his emphasis on purity of nada. He was initiated into music by his mother Jayalakshmi Ammal. He later honed his skills under Madurai T.N. Seshagopalan.

Also an exponent of the veena, the gayaki style comes through in his playing. Proficient in the percussion instruments too, Santhanagopalan is popular among audiences of ‘SaRiGaMaPa’ on Jaya TV, where he guided young participants. His daughter and disciple Sriranjani, following in his footsteps, is carving a niche for herself.

A critic described his Bhairavi alapana, classy, partly delivered in closed-mouth style, Santhanagopalan’s hallmark. He often experiments with swara sequences, for instance while singing the composition ‘Prathayaksha parameswara’ on Sri Chandrasekarendra Saraswati in raga Poorna Chandrika, he embellishes the chittaswara with elegant swaras. His crisp swaraprastaras in ‘Tatvamariya tarama’ in Ritigowla and ‘Umaiyur bhagane’ in Nattai are much-appreciated too. So also the niraval at the charanam line, ‘Alarmelmangai manala, ambuja nabha dayala’ in the Latangi piece, ‘Venkata ramana’. An artiste who appeals to the cognoscenti, in recent times, Santhanagopalan has been performing in the morning slots during the Season, and letting the audience experience the bliss of Margazhi morning ragas.

His passion for Tamil is evident from his rendering of Thiruppugazh and Divya Prabandham at his concerts. A specialist in Papanasam Sivan songs, Santhanagopalan’s expertise in manodharma sangeetham comes to the fore whenever he experiments with swara sequence. Despite being a teacher, who believes in traditional values, he is probably among the first to use modern technology in training students.

Neyveli Santhanagopalan
| Photo Credit: V.V. Krishnan

Tiruvarur Bhaktavatsalam

According to Tyagaraja’s Sriranjani kriti ‘Sogasuga mridanga talamu jata gurcchi ninnu sokkajeyu dheerudevvado’, the true spirit of music gets conveyed to god only when the kriti is accompanied by mridangam and tala. Sangita Kalanidhi for 2021 goes to Tiruvarur Bhaktavatsalam for mridangam. He had his gurukulavasam training under his maternal uncle Tiruvarur Krishnamurthy and started accompanying musicians from a very young age. He has criss-crossed the continents for performances and has disciples all over the world. Bhaktavatsalam, though belonging to the Thanjavur style, developed his own unique way of accompanying, which made ICCR (Indian Council for Cultural Relations) take him on a world tour.

He had the rare privilege of playing at the opening ceremony of the 1992 Summer Olympic Games held in Barcelona, Spain. He was conferred the title ‘Mridanga Vadhya Mani’ by Sri Chandrasekarendra Saraswati.

On the occasion of the 68th birthday celebrations of Ganapathi Sachchidananda Swami in May 2010, Bhaktavatsalam made a rare musical presentation, ‘Laya madhura mridanga yagna’, with 108 mridangam artistes dedicating a new raga Sachidananda to the Swamiji. The raga is woven around the four notes sa, ga, pa, and da representing four rhythmic cycles — chatusram, tisram, khandam and misram. Four korvais were also presented. Due recognition came in the form of inclusion in the Limca Book of Records. He has also led an ensemble featuring 76 mridangam artistes in Kanchipuram. In February 2019, he was invited by tabla maestro Ustad Zakir Hussain for a tribute performance in memory of Ustad Alla Rakha.

Bhaktavatsalam is the founder-director of the Laya Madhura school of music, which imparts systematic training to young enthusiasts. His Laya Madura ensemble features traditional instruments like nadaswaram, and flute. The annual Laya Madhura Sangeetha Utsavam he conducts in Chennai, honours Carnatic music veterans. He is the secretary of the Mummoorthigal festival held annually at the Tyagarajaswamy temple, Tiruvarur. He has performed in a number of fund-raising concerts for social and national causes such as the Kargil Fund, Sankara Nethralaya, Cancer Society and more. He is known for his lec-dems organised for the youth by SPIC MACAY.

 Tiruvarur Bhaktavatsalam

Tiruvarur Bhaktavatsalam
| Photo Credit: R. Ravindran

G.J.R. Krishnan and Vijayalakshmi.

Sangita Kalanidhi 2022 goes to violinists Lalgudi G.J.R. Krishnan and Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi. Their father Lalgudi Jayaraman, direct descendant of the Tyagaraja sishya parampara, was an exceptional performer, lyricist, composer and teacher, all rolled into one.

Jayaraman’s great grandfather Rama Iyer learnt at the feet of Tyagaraja, who had visited Lalgudi, and sang in praise of the deity there. Jayaraman’s father, Gopala Iyer, was a vidwan and composer. Remember the Mohana Kalyani piece ‘Thamadham thagadhu aiya’?

Lalgudi Jayaraman established his own bani and composed kritis, thillanas and varnams and dance pieces blending raga, bhava, tala,and lyrics. In 1966, he introduced a new concept of musical ensemble with violin, venu and veena.

Krishnan and Vijayalakshmi have taken this legacy forward even while creating their own distinct space. When the trio — father, son and daughter — performed on the dais, the audience felt the resonance of sublime music. They were the first to initiate Ragamalika swaraprastara on the concert platform. ‘Sukhi evvaro’ in Kanada, ‘Sollavallayo’ in Ragamalika, ‘Sringara lahari’ in Nilambari, and ‘Santhamu leka’ in Sama are among the many pieces that left a deep impact. In the tukkadas section, their playing of Bharati’s ‘Theeradha vilayattu pillai’, particularly the phrase ‘kallal mayanguvathu pole’, was a celebration of both poetry and music.

When the Lalgudis performed, it brought alive Periyazhwar’s description of Krishna’s music that had a mesmerising effect on Nature.

The siblings have imbibed their father’s impeccable technique and the perfect blend of rhythm and melody. Pt. Ravishankar, an admirer of Lalgudi Jayaraman, told Vijayalakshmi in 2015, “Your music has touched my soul.” Their bani comes closest to the gayaki style.

Krishnan and Vijayalakshmi, who are also composers, have participated in jugalbandis with Hindustani musicians. They have performed across the globe showcasing fine aesthetic sense, laya prowess, and perfect understanding.

The Chennai-based writers are Carnatic music connoisseurs



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