Guru Vandanam




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A salutation by Sri V Subramanyam, one of the premier disciples of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, who at 92 is perhaps the oldest performing artiste in the world!

To be in the top echelon of Carnatic music as a vocalist for over seven decades is no mean achievement. Dr. Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer is a living legend still ready and able to give concerts at 92 plus. God blessed him with an abundance of "Sangeetha Gnanam" (musical insight), apparently to compensate for his lack of voice felicity. Sri Srinivasa Iyer spared no efforts to do tireless "Sadhana" (practise) to tame his voice to favourably respond to his reservoir of musical prowess. It is commonly observed that musicians with uncooperative voices bring forth music laden with more "bhavam" (emotion/passion).

An analytical study of the various aspects of music handled by the veteran would reveal the forces, which shot him, aloft to great heights in the sphere of Carnatic music.

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His Patanthara:

Carnatic music has been handed down the generations through the oral tradition, especially the creations of great composers. The core of Carnatic music being the use of 'anuswaras' (minute notes) and 'gamakas' (musical ornamentations) and subtle nuances, only a guru could impart such subtleties correctly. A written notation of a composition shows only the basic structure of the piece and not the nuances. Even a recorded rendition of a song cannot replace the guru in conveying the finer aspects of the Raga bhava (the spirit of the Raga).

Sri Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer belongs to the Tyagaraja sishya parampara (musical lineage), and in particular, the Umayalpuram school, which is acknowledged as one of the most authentic in the rendition of the compositions.

In the oral tradition, there are always possibilities of unsuitable 'Sangatis' (musical phrases) that are not in conformity with the lakshana (grammar) of the raga, getting unwittingly introduced into the compositions. Semmangudi usually examines any composition that he chooses to render in detail and eschews such sangatis. Thus, these compositions are reshaped by the doyen to ensure better musical appeal. He would then write the final form of the song in notation.

Thereafter, he would teach the song to his disciples and ensure that all the musical contours of the song are completely understood by them. After this, he would render it with them at least twenty times before presenting it on the concert platform. After such a thorough analysis and practice the song would become such a wholesome complete musical mould, that any attempt at improvising it would totally fail. The mould of the song never undergoes any change even when rendered tens of years later.

The musical continuity that Sri Srinivasa Iyer builds into the compositions with definite, smooth-flowing sangatis pregnant with raga bhava and linkages are noteworthy. In addition, the sangati patterns would be so structured that they would perfectly set into the basic rhythm (sarvalaghu). Thus, even if the singer does not keep beat externally, the song will flow perfectly on the tala structure. Sri Semmangudi has held audiences spellbound with mere kriti renditions without any raga-alapana or kalpana-swaras. Kritis which rasikas (music lovers) look forward to listening to at every one of his concerts include masterpeices like Ksheenamai (Mukhari), Marubalka (Sriranjani), O Rangasayee (Kambodhi), Amba neelayatakshi (Neelambari), Akhilandeswari (Dwijawanti) and Kamakshi (Bhairavi).

This great veteran, indeed a legend of his times, has been captivating his listeners with his unparalleled wholesome kirtana patanthara for over three-quarters of a century with the blessings of the Almighty.

Semmangudi's concerts - Part 2
Semmangudi's handling of Raga alapana - Part 3
Semmangudi's handling of Tanam and Pallavai - Part 4

Guru Vandanam home