About My Gurus

Madurai Sri. T.N.Seshagopalan

NinnE nera namminAnurA – O rAmA rAmayya…..

       The Pantuvarali raga kriti of Saint Tyagaraja evokes treacly sentiments. Jogging back on my memory it was Saint Tyagaraja Aradhana at Sree Satguru Sangeetha Samajam, Madurai in 1971. Around midnight Sri.TNS opened his recital with this song. My aunt Ananthalakshmi Sadagopan and myself along with several others sat through mesmerized by his voice and music. Months later my sister and I came under the tutelage of Sri.TNS.

        It is almost impossible to do justice to writing about Sri.TNS – as a person, as a musician and as a teacher. He is so unique that anything I write will always fall short of reality.

         As a musician, he is an all-time great. The range and sweetness of his voice, his imagination in melodic and rhythmic patterns and his wide repertoire have very few equals. When it comes to manodharma sangita, he occupies a very unique place in the annals of Karnatic music. Sitting behind him on concert platforms, I have been a witness to the command and success he will bring forth to his ‘sangeetha sAmrAjya paripAlanam’. The ease with which he would weave through an obscure raga like Pasupathipriya’ as if it was a commonly-sung Todi and the ease with which he would present an unprecedented phrase in Todi has commanded the respect and admiration of everyone around him.

 I can recall a concert at the Vazhuvur Festival in early nineties. It was a late night concert in the December festival in the august presence of Vazhuvur Sri. Ramayya Pillai. After three or four songs, Sri.TNS launched on a very elaborate alapana for Dharmavathi. He touched upon each note and gamaka and made an exhaustive presentation to a standing ovation. Since the whole raga presentation was in a single phase, I was almost sure that it was not going to be a ragam-tanam-pallavi. I could not identify any song in this raga that could really handle such an elaboration. Little did I know that Sri.TNS would present ‘Kolam Kandu’, a composition of Smt. Ambujam Krishna, he himself has set to in Shanmukhapriya. He sang it with the finesse that would normally take a year to attain. That was not all. He sang swaras in the patterns of  ‘kolam’ and I can still recall how Sri. Ramayya Pillai enjoyed every avartanam. I mentioned this to Sri.TNS a while ago. He could not remember it vividly. But then to him, it is probably a concert-to-concert occurrence while it is an experience of a lifetime to me.

        As a teacher, he could come down to the level of his students and tailor each song to slowly build in strength and confidence. He was very munificent of his knowledge and erudition. He would explain the intricacy of a rhythmic-pattern to me as if I was going to be able to get it right then. Years later in my process of evolution as a musician, I understood that those lessons that were dormant for years came back to me. The day after a Vijayadasami, he taught me the Abhogi raga kriti of Pattanam Subramania Iyer ‘manasA vruthA garvamEtikE maharAjulaina manujulEgadA?’ (Why this sense of pride? Even if you were a king, you are after all a mortal human being). He had just got the version of the song from his guru the day of Vijayadasami.

With My Guru in Detroit

Watching him teach me, it was not just the music that I learned. I learned to listen to others and appreciate the nuances, show empathy and patience while teaching, be selfless when it came to sharing knowledge.

As a person, his intelligence, sense of humor and his multi-faceted talents have never failed to make me wonder with awe. Be it a day-to-day mundane incident or something of greater import, he is always the person to talk to. His scientific approach coupled with his aesthetic sense has always taken me off my feet.

I should like to call Saint Tyagaraja to help me convey my sense of respect and gratitude to my guru

        EnAti nomu phalamO?
        EdAna balamO?   

(What penance and vows have brought me this blessing? To which generous alms given by me do I owe this fortune?)

Smt. Ananthalakshmi Sadagopan 

Smt. Ananthalakshmi Sadagopan  

I was one of the few fortunate ones to grow up in a household where music was a part of the daily routine. Thanks to my aunt, Smt. Ananthalakshmi Sadagopan. Her sonorous and felicitous voice was my first introduction to Carnatic music at a very early age.

        Later when I started learning from her during her visits to Madurai, I understood what a great tradition she had imbibed in her music. Learning from the illustrious Sathur Sri. A.G.Subramaniam, Semmangudi Sri Srinivasa Iyer, Nedunuri Sri.Krishnamurthy, Sri. V.V.Sadagopan and Smt. T.Muktha, she had one of the best kriti-pAtAntarams. She had training in Hindustani music from Sri.Vaman Rao Sadolikar. Her tutelage in Carnatic and Hindustani music brought a lot of creativity into her raga expositions. Her alapana of ‘Sowrashtram’ won her the prestigious Vocal-Ladies prize in Madras Music Academy in 1943. The versions of songs she presented always had the mark of authenticity and she strictly enforced that her students carried forward the tradition. Her felicitous voice could traverse octaves effortlessly in fast speed and at the same time peg itself at a specific note like it was a huge cricket playground. The RTP in four ragas (Shankarabharanam, Todi, Kalyani and Durbar) that she had recorded for HMV while in her early teens stood testimony to her musical prowess. She had impeccable memory. I could wake her up and ask for the 6th variation in ‘chakkani raja margamu’, she would know exactly what it was. Talk about random access memory to a computer savvy. She was an ‘A’ grade artiste of the All India Radio.

        Even today her presence in my concerts make me nervous. While she has a lot of affection for me as her nephew, she is one of my fervent critics.