A conversation with

Madurai N.Krishnan

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A vaggeyakara ( vocalist-lyricist-music composer)  Vidwan Madurai N.Krishnan  is one of the loyal representatives of the Ariyakudi school. Born in 1928, in Madurai, his initial training was from his father and elder brother and later on under Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar His musical compositions which are the outcome of his musical competence and bhakti are known for their lakshana and lakshaya aspects and have the ‘edugai monai’ used in ancient  Tamil literary works.  As a composer, he has had many danseuses dance to his tunes. Krishnan also acquired a degree of skill in the art of Konnakol in his early years.  His role as a spiritual minister has been totally personal and through this he has been giving aid and comfort to many with satisfaction as his only compensation.  He has been a recipient of ‘Padma Sri’ and ‘Kalaimamani’ awards also. This year Brahma Gana Sabha will honour him with the title of  ‘Gaana Padmam. Excerpts from a conversation with V. Padmasini:

How do you feel about the award from BGS?

It means more service to music. It is a pride to the system of ‘gurukula vasa’ .

How did you choose Ariyakudi  as your guru?

My parents were from Papankulam. We stayed for many years in Kairaikudi. Ariyakudi stayed at Vaikal Street, Melavoor, in Muthupatnam. I was about 11 –12 years and used to see him often. At that time I was singing along with my father in Harikatha performances. My father M. Narayana Iyengar was a great Harikatha exponent, a Sanskrit and Tamil scholar and a violin player.  Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar was my grandfather’s cousin and Ariyakudi’s  wife was my cousin One day my father approached  Ariyakudi and said “ my son is singing a little for Harikathas . He has to learn more.  Please teach him.” Ariyakudi replied, “ gurukula vaasam is the best. He has to stay with me”. I was also adamant that I learn only from Ariyakudi . In Karaikudi there used to be many concerts and he used to come and sing.

How did you become his disciple?

Once violinist Kandadevi  Alagiriswami celebrated the first birthday of his child at Devakottai. Ariyakudi was to perform. The previous day I was talking to Ariyakudi and he said, “ You come with me”. It was my first concert with him. I was asked to twang the Tambura . He then told me “ sing along with me the  varnam  or any song you know”. I just murmured whatever I knew along with him. One week later I joined for training under him at Muthupatnam... I thought learning from him would be easy! It was no mean task. I learnt not only music, but also codes of behaviour one has to follow.

On the previous day of a concert he would teach a little. With our intelligence and knowledge we would put it into swaras and sing it the next day. For 18 years I stayed with him intercepted only in between for 2 ½ years when I went to attend the Central College of Music. Gurukula vaasam meant not only learning music but also serving him. We had to get things ready for his bath, wash his dhoti etc. In the afternoons he would never sleep but play on the swing. Then he would teach a few songs. Sometimes when he was teaching   to Dhannammal or teaching KVN, I would hear and learn. My first concert as Ariyakudi’s disciple was at Tirupathi with Palakkad C.R.Mani Iyer and Vellore Ramabhadran as accompanists.

Any unforgettable incident during those 18 years?

There was a concert in Tiptur in Srirangam; Karnataka immediately a day after one at Coimbatore. Ariyakudi was to sing with T.N.Krishnan and Palghat Mani Iyer as accompanists. He was already indisposed but asked me to tune the Tambura and started off with the Mohana Varnam. But he could not proceed further as he developed temperature and shivering. He immediately told his accompanists “My student will sing. You must play for him and bless him”. He moved aside. I sang with my guru by my side and from then, Palghat Mani Iyer was to accompany me for many more concerts.

Another was in a concert he started to sing the song ‘chintayAmi jagadamba’  a song of Mysore Maharaja in Hindolam . He asked me whether I would sing along and I complied. After the piece was over he asked me “ how did you sing it”? I replied that I had heard him singing it a couple of times in concerts and also when it was taught to others.

 K.V.Narayanswamy, Rajam Iyer and you were contemporaries?

Rajam Iyer was my senior and after I joined KVN left. Ariyakudi used to have nearly 10 concerts every month in Madras. We three used to meet at his house in Devanathan Street till his death.of all his disciples we are the most well known.

How did you enter the realm of dance?

 At a point in my musical career some people asked me to compose ‘Mettu’ for dance. The first one I did was for Vyjayanthi Mala’s Sanga Tamizh Malai and Azagar Kuravanji. Then I directed Ramanatakam. I have composed nearly 15 varnams and 25 thillanas.  It has been possible due to “Kelvi gnanam”. I knew music and had learnt Mridangam   at the Central College of Music, which sharpened my sense of layam.  For the varnams I myself compose the jatis which is normally done by a  nattuvanar. My songs are all bhakti oriented ones and  are not based on the Nayika Nayaki Bhava.

What are the highlights of a dance composition?

For dance jatiswaram is important whereas in a concert it is ordinary swaram. pada varnam will be good for dance. There should be clarity of words, exact splitting of words for eg. MayE, mAyan sOdhariyE…in the song. It should give elaborate scope for abhinaya.

How is the Carnatic music scene today?

Other types of music are welcomed.  Listening to a person and singing is different from listening to a tape and singing but everybody is doing the latter only. No gurukula vaasam. Ariyakudi used to sing full throated without a mike! With time Bani has also changed. Too many concerts in the season and people do not know where to go!

How did you associate yourself with Sree Bharatalaya?

I first initiated two students to learn dance from Sudharani Raghupathy. Then a few more joined. At that time my father suggested that a school be started. So  ‘Bharatalaya’ signifying Bhavam, Raagam and Talam was opened. The word ‘Sree’, which is synonymous with goddess Mahalakshmi, was added in front.  I became its director.

 You are  shakti upasaka. Can you tell a few words about it?

 My grandfather Swayamprakasa swamigal  was a shakti upasaka.  My father also influenced me in this  . I am a mantrik having lot of spiritual disciples. My pooja keeps me occupied till one in the afternoon. Whatever I am able to do is due to god’s grace. I give the petitions of people in difficulty to god  and most of the petitions are heard. it is  a kind of social service I perform.

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