Guru Vandanam



Calcutta K S Krishnamurti, a highly acclaimed teacher, and a musician of great merit passed away on May 16, 1999. Vocalist K N Shashikiran,  one of KSK's numerous students, pays his 'vandanam' on the occasion of his second death anniversary.
Calcutta Krishnamurti was an ideal teacher, a real friend, philosopher and guide. My first experience with him was as a BA (Music) student attending a special contact class for the correspondence programme of the Madras University. I am afraid that, at that stage, I did not know who or how great a teacher he was. At the end of the class, I ventured to ask him a couple of questions and, after answering them, he enquired whether I hailed from a musical family. He was thrilled when I told him that I indeed belong to a family of vidwans.

While he was about to leave, I asked him rather sheepishly what his name was. Without batting an eyelid, he humbly answered that he was Calcutta Krishnamurti. I was speechless.

Within a couple of years of this incident, I had the great fortune of having him attend a concert of mine for YACM. It was then that he called up my father to say that he was impressed with my performance and that he was interested in imparting some of his knowledge to me. I thought that it was a great day because till then I had only heard a lot about his musical prowess.

I was nervous on the first day of my class. I was also determined to win his goodwill, which was my father's wish too. I was wondering what he would teach me.

He started with a masterpiece of Syama Sastri in a raga many believe is bound to break, rather cement, the relationship between teacher and learner. As you may have already guessed, the raga was Varali and the composition, Karuna joodavamma, which I had never heard before. The sangati-s were quite different from the usual pattern and I tried hard to reproduce them. But when I sang the full composition the next day, KSK was highly pleased and, after blessing me, joked that in his case, Varali had helped to create a bond between him and me! I was amazed to learn later that his repertoire consisted of some 2500 to 3000 songs.

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Calcutta K S Krishnamurti

KSK was different, in more ways than one, from many conventional teachers. He never imposed his style on his students and taught them each in a manner that would suit his or her own endowments. He believed that music should have spontaneity and originality, and his method of teaching was calculated to nurture these attributes.

He was a very innovative and creative person and this was obvious when he sang during classes. He never considered a student arrogant if he questioned him. In fact, he welcomed questions and discussions. His raga gnana was very special. He would be able to bring out the subtle differences between allied ragas like Nayaki and Darbar; Anandabhairavi and Reetigowla; Kannada, Begada and Sankarabharanam very precisely. He was sure of the gamaka-s that would go well with particular phrases of a raga. As a teacher, he was so committed that he never thought of time as a barrier. He was available at any time of the day for tutoring or clarifying doubts. Music was life for him. I have never heard him shout at his students when they made mistakes. Instead, he had the knack of making them strive for better results each time. He himself strove for perfection and on more occassions than one, had the large heart to correct himself or accept a better musical expression. I had the great privilege of giving vocal support to him in some of his concerts. And he treated me more as his son as a student.

KSK was a traditional musician but knew where and how to blend in innovation. He encouraged youngsters a lot and was not a person who thought that music had gone with the past generations.
Note: This article first appeared in Sruti magazine and has been reproduced here with a few changes.

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Posted on 17th May 2001