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P S Narayanaswami, popularly known as 'Pichai' to his friends and admirers, is one of the foremost disciples of the Semmangudi bani, a highly-respected musician himself, and arguably the most sought-after gurus in Carnatic music today. Hailing from the Cauvery belt of Tanjavur district, famed for producing some of the finest artistes in the field of classical music and dance, Sri. Narayanaswami carries on his shoulders, an experience of over five decades in the field.

On the eve of his being crowned with Sri Krishna Gana Sabha's coveted title, Sangeeta Choodamani, Sri. P S Narayanaswami shares some of his memories and experiences with the Carnatica team.


Carnatica Team (CT):  Sir, can you please tell us about your family background and how it influenced you to take up Carnatic music as a career?

P S Narayanaswami (PSN): I was born in Annadomapuram of Tanjavur district, but my native place is Puliyur in the same district where my parents and their forefathers lived. My father P N Subramanian, who was a doctor by profession, was also interested in Carnatic music and was a source of inspiration for me in my childhood. In those days, Tamil film songs were mostly based on Carnatic music and as a child I took keen interest in the same.

CT: Who were your initial gurus?

PSN: As a child of 7, I had my first lessons in Carnatic music from Tiruppambaram Somasundaram Pillai. Later I underwent training from Pandu Dikshitar and the well-known musician Mudikondan Venkatarama Iyer. By the age of 21, I became a disciple of the doyen of Carnatic music Sri. Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer.

CT: Can you share some of your experiences as a disciple of Sri Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer?

PSN: When I was about 21, I went to Trivanantapuram to learn music under the traditional 'gurukulavasam' system. While other students would just come for their music lessons and leave, I was the only person who stayed with Sri Semmangudi. Although under the 'gururkulavasam' system, a student not only learnt the art from his guru, but also helped in the domestic chores, it was not very difficult for me as I was given only odd jobs. Only in the initial stages when I had to attend music concerts along with my master I used to feel tired since in those days concerts would start only at 10 pm and go on till about 2 or 3 am. So by the time we reached home it would be around 4 am.

CT: What were the methods that Sri Semmangudi adopted while he taught you and other students?

PSN: Normally, he would sing a song once or twice, and the disciple, who would have have to listen to it will full concentration, would pick it up. If a student was unable to pick it up, he would get upset. Students would have to then notate the song (with tala of course), and show it to him in writing. Incidentally, the quality of Sri. Semmangudi's rendition of a song at home used to be at least a 100 times better than what he used to sing in his concerts.

CT: Can you please explain the difference between learning music under the traditional 'gururkulavasam' system as compared to the present day teaching methods?

PSN: Under the old method you not only learnt the art of music but also various useful lessons and techniques that a professional requires.

Today, students mostly learn their lessons from cassettes, and these are not without mistakes. There is nothing wrong in learning from recorded music rendered by veterans, but one should first be able to understand when one commits a mistake and rectify himself. In the earlier system, when you made a mistake, it would be promptly corrected by the teacher. Also under the 'gurukulavasam' system, the student could enrich his knowledge by repeatedly listening to his master in person. When one changed his guru, it would normally take some time to readjust oneself to the style of the new guru.

CT: Earlier, only after the student equipped himself fully would he be allowed to perform. However, one sees a change in this trend, and students with just a couple of years' training start performing. What is your opinion about this?

PSN: It is not a good trend. 

CT: When did you give your first concert and how was your experience at that time?

PSN: At the age of 10, I gave my first concert, and people encouraged me very much at that time. However, only at the age of 22 did I give my first full-fledged concert. Since even before my full-fledged concert, I had sung several concerts along with Sri. Semmangudi I didn't feel shy or afraid of the audience.

To be continued


Posted on June 25, 2002


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