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INTERVIEW A DOCTOR OF MUSIC LOOKS BACK

The Father of the Tanjavur Bani in Andhra
Nonagenarian Sangita Kalanidhi Sripada Pinakapani, recipient of the Padma Bhushan award, has carved a niche for himself in Carnatic music. A great scholar, he took the Tanjavur bani to Andhra Pradesh. He set several Annamacharya kritis to music. He treated passing on his knowledge as a mission and moulded such giants as Nedunuri Krishnamurti, Voleti Venkateswarulu, Srirangam Gopalaratnam and Nookala Chinna Satyanarayana. His bani has been the subject of research theses. Age may have confined him to bed for the last five years, but his music-soaked mind continues to be young even as he approaches his 98th birthday in August 2010. This wonder-man recalls events of the 1930s with crystal clarity. Here are some excerpts from Lalitha Ram’s recent conversation with him at Kurnool. Let’s start with your youth.

I was born on 3rd August 1913 at Priyagraharam of Srikakulam district in Andhra Pradesh. My father Sripada Kameswara Rao was a junior professor at the government training college at Rajahmundry. Fluent in more than five languages, he translated plays from Bengali to Telugu and vice versa. His deep knowledge of theatre drew many leading actors of the day to him. Our home was filled with music, as it was an essential part of theatre those days. P.S. Lakshmana Rao was the name of the gentleman who came home to teach my elder sister music. I used to listen to eavesdrop and reproduce what she learnt. Once I pointed out a mistake in a sangati she sang. A very pleased Lakshmana Rao offered to teach me music, but I declined, believing that music was strictly for girls. Lakshmana Rao taught in my school too, substituting for my I Form Telugu teacher whenever he was absent. He taught poetry, singing the verses in class. After a few classes, he stopped midstream and asked me to continue the singing where he had left off. I continued singing in the raga Bhairavi that he had started. Surprised, he persuaded my father to arrange music instruction for me. My music lessons started on 9 November 1924.
Did you listen a lot to concerts?

Young Pinakapani

guru taught the students. A strong foundation was being laid for my music without my being aware of it. My guru learnt his music in Mysore. Though he was not adept at alapana and swaraprastara, he knew many rare kriti-s. He was very good at telling good music from ordinary music. With him the teaching of a kriti was not complete before I learnt all the sangati-s properly. I spent months learning kritis like Chakkani rajamargamu from him. Between 1924 and 1929, I learnt some 100 compositions. I resumed my Intermediate in 1930.
Was Saraswati Gana Sabha famous even then in Kakinada?

Even though I did not know the extent of its greatness, music drew me like a magnet to my guru’s residence everyday. After my lessons, I paid close attention to other classes. Gradually, it became my job to notate whatever my

Yes, I heard many concerts starting from 1928 both at Kakinada and Rajahmundry. A ten-day long annual music festival was held at Kakinada. Andhra musicians performed on the first five days, after which guest musicians from Tamil Nadu gave concerts This is where I first heard the wonderful music of great artists like Ariyakudi, Naina Pillai, Malaikottai Govindaswamy Pillai and Kumbakonam Rajamanickam Pillai. The way Tamil
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vidwans rendered kriti-s like Ra ra ma inti, Swararaga sudha, and Giripai was different from the way I had learned them. The concerts of the Tamil vidwans made for better listening than those of the local musicians. The moderate audiences for the local vidwans’ concerts swelled for the visiting vidwans and filled the halls. I found the Tanjavur bani extremely attractive.
You are well known as the person who established the Tanjavur bani in Andhra. Today, the two bani-s, Andhra and Tamil, are indistinguishable. What was the state of Carnatic music in Andhra when you began to learn it?

If someone has mentioned me as the founder of the Tanjavur bani in Andhra, I will consider it my life’s very purpose accomplished. Those days, any music enthusiast from Andhra wanting to train to be a musician had to go to where the Tamil musicians live – on the banks of the Kaveri. Travel was a difficult proposition and so was learning Carnatic music. Some Andhra musicians lived in Tamil Nadu to learn music and came back to spread it in Andhra, yet the Andhra bani continued to be less developed than the Tanjavur bani. When I was young, Andhra’s vidwans did not attempt such aspects of music as niraval or ragam-tanam-pallavi. Thanks to the advances in transport and communication in the last 50 years, Tamil artists are heard regularly in Andhra and Andhra musicians too are able to perform and earn praise in Tamil Nadu. That is the reason why there is hardly any difference between the bani-s of these states.
How did you acquire proficiency in the Tanjavur bani 50 years ago, without the benefit of these advances?

Thanks to my natural swara gnana, I was able to write down every phrase I heard on the gramophone in notation. At concerts, I took down detailed notes of all the highlights to incorporate them in my own music. I had this God-given ability to discern good music. I never hesitated to sing whatever I deemed worthy of imbibing. I had a natural grasp and ability to immediately vocalise.
Who was your guru after Lakshmana Rao?

A Telugu teacher who was our neighbour was also a good singer. He often asked me to demonstrate the way well known singers performed. I tried to sing like Govindaswamy Pillai, Naina Pillai and Ariyakudi for his benefit. I became a devotee of Ariyakudi’s singing. The beauty of his kriti-rendering, the sangati-s he produced in alapana, his gamaka, the delicacy of his niraval and swaraprastara, and the compactness of his concerts made a huge impact on me. Gramophone records were becoming popular during my schooldays. My brother’s friend’s family owned a gramophone player. I regularly visited the house of that music enthusiast and developed my music by listening to many of his records. I learnt to reproduce the music of famous north Indian vocalists like Bal Gandharva and Abdul Karim Khan by listening to their records (Sings Bal Gandharva’s Syama sundara).
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I once accompanied my guru to Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu’s kutcheri. My guru knew him and we talked to him. He inquired about me. He was surprised when my guru informed him I knew more than 100 kriti-s. He asked Naidugaru to teach me the finer points like raga alapana and swara kalpana. Dwaram agreed and asked me to join him at Vizianagaram during the next summer vacation. I went to Vizianagaram in 1932 after my Intermediate examination and stayed with Naidugaru for three months. One night, he started doing niraval for the kriti Arakimpavey. I continued the niraval after he sang a few avarta-s. Delighted that I internalised his creative thoughts and reproduced them in my singing, Dwaram played a number of raga-s everyday on his violin and made me pay close attention to them. He was then the principal of the Vizianagaram Music College. He did two sessions of practice everyday without fail at home. He allowed his students to sit and listen to him practise. His evening practice session was as good as a full-fledged concert. Once when listening to his violin at his residence, I involuntarily burst into a ‘sabhaash.’ He stopped playing and said, “Pani, you are a student. Don’t applaud like a lay rasika, but listen with attention.” Soon afterwards, another ‘sabhaash’ slipped out of my lips. This time, he asked me

INTERVIEW
to sing what he had just played. When I did it correctly, he smiled at me and resumed his practice. During those three months, I learned enough to stand me in good stead for many years. In particular, it was from him that I learnt to punctuate raga alapana properly. (Pinakapani demonstrates Todi alapana).
Did you attend the famed Madras music season?

later, I attended a Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer concert in which Chowdiah played the violin. He pointed me out to Semmangudi and said, “This is the lad I spoke to you about.” Next day, he stopped his car after it had passed me returning from lunch, and said, “Remember my words. You must come to Mysore.” Only then did I realise the sincerity of his invitation.
Did you accept his invitation?

My parents went to Rameswaram in December 1930. I asked them to leave me in Chennai at my aunt’s home. I enjoyed listening to a veritable feast of music from Ariyakudi, Flute Swaminatha Pillai, the Karaikudi Brothers and so on. Musiri’s niraval for Enta veduko haunted me for days on end. It was from his music that I learnt to sing kriti-s in vilamba kala and perform niraval. I was mesmerised by the ease with which Chembai landed every time on the eduppu of a four-kalai pallavi. When I went to pay my respects to Venkataswamy Naidu the day I was leaving Madras, he asked me: “Can’t you stay another day?” There is an old lady named Dhanammal who is a rare musician. Listen to her performance on the veena tomorrow and then go.” I stayed back and listened to Dhanammal. What a treasure of veena music! Its impact continues to affect me even today.
When did you perform your first kutcheri?

Yes, I did go to Mysore. I stayed with Chowdiah at his residence. He introduced me to Mysore audiences in a packed hall. On the way home after the concert, he praised my performance and said, “I made a mistake. I should have accompanied you myself.” He was peerless in appreciating merit wholeheartedly. He asked me to sing everyday. One day, I sang Inta saukhya in the style I had heard from a Salem Krishna Iyengar gramophone record. As it was different from the usual pathantara, he made me sing it everyday and accompanied me. One day, I heard new voices singing downstairs while I was bathing upstairs. When I went down, I found two girls singing before Chowdiah, whom they had approached for help in obtaining concert opportunities. Though they did not succeed in that greatly, one of them found a husband. They were Telugu people and at Chowdiah’s recommendation she married me. Our wedding took place in 1940.
You have said in an interview that Ranga Ramanuja Iyengar and T.S. Vasudevan taught you music. They lived in Madras. How did you manage to learn from them?

I sang at weddings and small festivals from the time I was very young. I also sang over the radio while a college student. I sang for radio under the assumed name of Vasant during my last year at college for fear of being penalised if found going to Madras to sing. My first sabha concert would have to be one I gave in 1939, at Visakhapatnam during my final year in medical college. Mysore Chowdiah, due to perform the next day, attended the concert. Enthused by the wholehearted encouragement of that genius – who was seated in the front row – I put in extra effort to sing well. I paid my respects to him at the end of the concert. There was a crowd of onlookers surrounding us, eager to know what Chowdiah thought of the concert. He told me, “You have been blessed with what many of us laboured hard for years to acquire. Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu has done Andhra proud. So will you.” Chowdiah then invited me to Mysore. I took his invitation to be no more than formal words. Two days

If I had my schooling with my earlier teachers, I graduated
In concert

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so to speak under the guidance of Ranga Ramanuja Iyengar. I had to go to Madras for “maternity training” in my final year in medical college. My guru Lakshmana Rao asked me to meet T.S. Vasudevan to gain knowledge. I went to him to learn kriti-s during my free hours. I also attended Veena Dhanammal’s Friday concerts without fail. One night, as I was returning from dinner, a man on a bicycle, called me. When I approached him, he introduced himself as Ranga Ramanuja Iyengar. He said he had heard I knew Tyagaraja’s Ahiri kriti and he wanted to learn it from me. I told him I knew the kriti Deena rakshaka in Ahiri and it was not a Tyagaraja kriti. He wanted to learn it from me and asked me if I could teach it to him. I went to his house and sang the song while he took down the swara-s in notation. After that, he made a list of the songs I knew and expressed a desire to learn all those from me. In return he would teach me songs from his repertoire that I did not know. He was Dhanammal’s disciple and I absorbed several treasures from him in the form of kriti-s and padam-s. He spoke at length about past masters and their styles of music. That is how I learnt so much about the nuances of stalwarts like Konerirajapuram Vaidyanatha Iyer and Simizhi Sundaram Iyer. Ranga Ramanuja Iyengar greatly helped me to recognise the dimensions of good music.
Did he say anything about your music?

to analyse the technical aspects of music and explain them clearly. That is perhaps why I was labelled a musicologist.
Perhaps that is why honours have come belatedly to you.

That may be true. For instance, I presided over the music festival of Indian Fine Arts Society back in 1970, but they did not invite me again to perform at their sabha until 1992. When many recommended my concert for the National Programme of All India Radio, the director of AIR-Delhi then, Emani Sankara Sastry, demurred, stating that I was a musicologist, not a concert musician. He was from Andhra, too. When he invited me in 1972 to perform, I refused. I said, “If I was not fit twenty years ago, my music has not become any better now.” He asked me to reconsider, but I wrote: “My previous reply stands good – for now and forever.” The Music Academy gave me the Sangita Kalanidhi award in 1983, but did not give me a chance to sing during the annual conference. “We do not want to reduce a high quality expert like Pinakapani to a stage artist,” was their clever explanation when challenged. My role was limited to presiding over the morning lectures, until M.D. Ramanathan fell ill one day and I was asked to perform in his place. I said, “Has the quality of my music now fallen enough to the level of a stage artist?” Eventually, I let myself be persuaded to perform at the Academy.
Lalgudi Jayaraman once praised a pallavi you sang.

He never said anything in praise or criticism of my music, even though we have together listened to my concerts on radio. He had heard the greatest of musicians and I did not expect my music to greatly occupy his ears. Once, after listening to my niraval at the phrase ‘Guruguha chamara bharanam’ in the kriti Mahasuram in a radio concert, he said to me, “Your niraval reminded me of Konerirajapuram Vaidyanatha Iyer’s singing.” That was the only time he praised me. The memory will sustain me all my life. (Pinakapani’s eyes moisten).
Though you are acknowledged as a fine musician in Andhra, you have been branded a musicologist in Tamil Nadu? How did that happen?

As a doctor by profession, I have not felt the need to canvas for concert opportunities. To seek chances to perform at Chennai’s sabhas, you have to approach many people. As I was not interested in doing that, I only accepted concert offers that came my way and found fulfilment in those. During my time, educated musicians were rare. Good musicians were not often capable of explaining the finer points of music. Those who could demonstrate the nuances well did not have the talent to perform on stage. I was able
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Once, when my friend Venkatarangam Iyengar asked me to sing at his sabha at Kurnool, I insisted on Lalgudi Jayaraman and Nagercoil Ganesa Iyer accompanying

INTERVIEW
me in the concert. When Venkatarangam Iyengar met Lalgudi in this connection at Madras, Lalgudi expressed some reservations, as he had never accompanied me. My friend managed to persuade him, and as was the practice then, arranged two concerts at nearby Adoni and Kurnool, the two sabhas splitting the expenses. At the Adoni concert, I sang many kriti-s, took up Sankarabharanam as the main raga and Saravanabhava Guruguha as the pallavi in the ragam-tanam-pallavi. I did trikalam in the chatusra nadai pallavi and rendered it in tisra nadai afterwards. Instead of returning as customary to chatusra nadai after that, I sang the pallavi in the khanda nadai as well. Lalgudi Jayaraman recalled this episode during the felicitation speech during my Sangita Kalanidhi award ceremony. Not only that, he actually demonstrated it vocally. He said he had never heard anyone do that before me.
What are the essentials of good music?

God has given us 24 hours a day. If we use this time well without watching TV or going to the movies, we can achieve excellence in four or five fields, not just two. I found six to seven hours a day sufficient to develop my prowess in medicine. I was also keen on physical culture besides music and medicine. I have contributed several articles to journals like the International Journal of Health. I even ran a gym we called Hanuman Gymnasium with a friend of mine, which I ran for some seven years. I loved tennis. I played at least two hours of tennis everyday. I was also drawn to spirituality by Chinmayananda’s talks. My interest in it was deep. I started the Kurnool chapter of the Chinmaya mission and headed it for many years. I say all this to reiterate that if we use our time well, we can achieve proficiency in numerous fields.
Can music be used in therapy? I ask you this question as you are a musician as well as a doctor.

We are speaking of the elements of good music as well as the correct admixture of these elements. The proper ingredients must be presented in the proper measure to produce good music. Every breath should drip with raga bhava in raga alapana. Every breath must be imbued with melodic substance. What is not melodious is not music. The intervals between sangati-s must be appropriate. This is very, very important. (He sings Saveri with and without the intervals to demonstrate). When you render a raga without the necessary pauses, it becomes devoid of raga bhava. Every prayoga has an apposite kalapramana. Some prayoga-s sound good when sung fast. The same prayoga grows severalfold in polish when slowed down a bit. Excessive speed may serve to showcase the singer’s virtuosity, but it is the slower kalapramana that highlights the aesthetics of the music. If you run, can you dance? When you expound a raga, you must offer a combination of its long firm swara-s its fast prayoga-s, and gamaka-s, which are the lifeblood of our music, all in the right proportions, at the appropriate places, in the correct kalapramana. A raga should be expressed in clear, well known sangati-s so that the listener has no confusion in his mind. That does not mean the total exclusion of creative new sangati-s. Whether alapana, kriti, niraval or swaraprastara, the sangati-s should ideally reflect the emotion of the lyrics of the song. I believe I have just listed the essential dimensions of good music.
How did you divide your time between the two fields of music and medicine, achieving equal levels of excellence in both fields?

I don’t believe music can cure diseases. If a man ruins his

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liver through alcohol abuse, how can we cure him with music? We can at best use music to forget our suffering.
A word about the books you have authored?

addition, my experiences in music are available in book form for students.

I want to record all the musical knowledge I possess for posterity. This urge led me to write books on music. Most of my books are in Telugu. I have brought out four collections of books in the name of Sangeeta Saurabham. I have published the many kriti-s, padam-s, tillana-s, and Tiruppugazh, numbering more than a thousand, in swara notation. In my book Pallavi Gana Sudha, I have rendered the swara-s for more than 100 pallavi-s in tisram and trikalam, in rare tala-s like Simhanandanam and Sarabhanandanam. In Manodharma Sangeetam, I write on creativity – one of the fundamentals of our music. The Chennai-based institution Brhaddvani has brought out a Tamil translation, I have brought out a book containing Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan’s mela ragamalika with the relevant sanchari swara-s for easy comprehension by students. In

My decades-long collection of material relating to laya are still in the form of handwritten manuscripts.
At 98, what do you feel when you look back on your journey so far?

Captivated by the superior music of the Tanjavur bani, I worked tirelessly to achieve excellence in that school of music. I absorbed all that is good to develop my own bani, and performed with a certain degree of success. I have shared my knowledge with deserving students to do my best to establish the Tanjavur bani in Andhra. My collections and thoughts are available to the public through books. I feel gratified when I look back on all that. As I left, Dr. Pinakapani closed his eyes, with a smile on his lips. Though visibly tired, he was humming the raga Mohanam. I left after thanking his family for their daylong hospitality. (Translated from Tamil by V. Ramnarayan).

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