A conversation with Sangeethacharya K. R. Kedaranathan

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“What do you want to write about me? I have done nothing great to write home about. I can give you my bio-data if you wish”, was what Shri. K. R. Kedaranathan said when asked for an interview. I push my request more, saying that this is what exactly charges me to write. A musician of such eminence, committed to music for the sheer love of it and absolutely oblivious to the commendations and citations he has received just lately...

A warm welcome, an affectionate greeting and we settle down for a chat. Meera, his wife would be here soon and would give me some more information, he adds. They are both musicians and were working at the same music college when Shri. Kedaranathan was Principal. The Kedaranathans have composed the music for the poems of Ambujam Krishna and Smt. Lakshmi Krishnan. The togetherness is very apparent and I am prompted to ask if they ever performed together. “We have done that once. That was for Doordarshan in the early days of TV”, she replies as she plays hostess, offering me a steaming cup of delicious coffee.

Shri. Kedaranathan studied initially at PS High school, Mylapore. He had an extraordinary talent for music and he was advised to join the Maharajah Swati Tirunal Music College, Trivandrum. His elder brother Shri. K. R. Kumaraswamy Iyer gave him intensive training in music. Recalling the greatness of Kumaraswamy Iyer as a musician, Shri. Kedarnathan says that Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer used to go into raptures when a raga was rendered with so much bhakti and that he would be moved to tears by it. Coming from the pitamaha himself, it was the tribute of tributes and spoke volumes for the quality of Kumaraswamy Iyer's music.

There has been a close association with Shri. T. R. Subramaniam, the esteemed musician from the age of 15. Shri. Kedaranathan sang a varnam in which the sahitya was by Ambujam Krishna and it was set to music by him. The varnam was in raga Simhendramadhyamam set to Adi tala and TRS was so impressed by it that he repeatedly kept referring to it. Shri. Kedaranathan recalls how TRS had been invited to his house for lunch and after the welcome honours it was TRS’ turn to honour Shri. Kedaranathan with a Ponnadai.

Besides being a performing musician for AIR, DD and public concerts for over 50 years, he is now into teaching young musicians and it is a matter of deep satisfaction that many of his disciples have been recognized in the field. Shri. Kedaranathan has many special achievements on his scroll of honour. He has tuned compositions of Maharajah Swati Tirunal and has conducted a musical feature in a National Programme by All India Radio, Trivandrum. “Geeta Mala” Volumes IV and V contain over hundred pieces written by Smt. Ambujam Krishna and Smt. Lakshmi Krishnan for which the music has been composed by Shri. Kedaranathan. “Shri Thyagaraja Charitra Pancharatnam” is a work on the life of Saint Thyagaraja written in a fashion identical to Shri. Thyagaraja’s Ghana- Raga Pancharatna Kritis. He has tuned “Shri Adi Sankara Charitram” composed by late Shri. V. S. V. Guruswamy Shastrigal, Professor of Vedanta, University of Kerala.

The list of awards includes Kerala Sangeet Natak Academy Award for services rendered to Carnatic music in 1980.He was honoured by Semmangudi Sri Srinivasier Trust for contributions to music. The title “nAdakkanal” for his outstanding contribution to classical music was conferred by Nadakkanal Trust, an organization set up by late Vidwan Pattamadai Shri. Krishnan. The Thyagaraja Sangeeta Vidwat Samajam, Mylapore conferred the title of “Sangeeta Seva Virata” on him. Coming from an organization of senior musicians, the honour is proof of the calibre of Shri. Kedaranathan. In 2001, the Mylapore Fine Arts club presented him with the Senior Musician award.

Come September 2003 and there have been three awards given in a row. Charubala Trust confered the title “Sangeetha Praveena”, Kala Sadan of Mumbai honoured him with “Kala Ratna” and just a couple of weeks ago, Narada Gana Sabha presented the title of “Sangeetha Acharya”.

Though there have been many honours and adulation, what is mind-boggling is the incomparable simplicity of this great vidwan. Were it not for the journalistic tendency to probe and get it all, Shri. Kedaranathan may not have even talked of these honours. “I never wear a ring or chain and I am always attired in a simple veshti”, he says candidly. Perhaps it is this very humility that often is taken for granted and at the insistence of his well-wishers, he wrote to the Tamil Nadu Eyal Isai Nataka Manram to give some recognition to him in his twilight years.

Bharat Ratna Smt. M. S. Subbulakshmi, in a testimonial refers to him as “an outstanding musician and an excellent teacher of his time”. Only a person of high calibre and ability could tune the many varnams of Smt. Ambujam Krishna and Smt. Lakshmi Krishnan and many others. In her concluding sentence, she strongly recommends him to the Tamil Nadu Eyal Isai Nataka Manram for appropriate recognition, which has been long overdue, considering his musical skills and abilities. A similar sentiment is expressed by Padma Vibhushan Smt. D. K. Pattammal.

Any observations on the young artistes of today, I ask. “They are certainly a very bright and promising lot but it is sad that the true guru-sishya relationship is not there anymore. The respect and regard that we accorded to our teachers is not present nowadays in most walks of life, leave alone music”. Our meeting ends with a quote from a Malayalam proverb which goes like this: "We will never get what we want but we will get what we are destined for”. Without a shadow of doubt, recognition is not what Shri. Kedaranathan wanted but it certainly is what he is destined for.

Geetha Iyengar.

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