Carnatic music is poorer today with the demise of one of the senior women vocalists, Sangeeta Kalanidhi Mani Krishnaswami, on July 12, 2002. Musicians and rasikas had barely recovered from the shock of having other eminent vidwans like K V Narayanaswami, G Harishankar, V Nagarajan taken away from their midst earlier this year, when Fate struck another cruel blow. Will the vacuum ever be filled? - is the oft-asked question these days.

Mani Krishnaswami, christened Mani Perundevi by her parents Lakshminarasimhachari and Marakathavalli, was born on February 3, 1930 at Kangeyanallur in the North Arcot district of Tamilnadu. She had the unique distinction of acquiring and enriching her musical knowledge from several stalwarts. Not many have the good fortune of having a strong foundation laid, but Mani Krishnaswami was lucky to receive her initial training from musical giants like Jalatarangam Venkataramanayya Chetti and Tirupparkadal Srinivasa Iyengar.

Her decision to join Kalakshetra to do the Sangeeta Sironmani course was perhaps a major one that shaped her future. Kalakshetra was then run by stalwarts like Tiger Varadachari, Budalur Krishnamurthi and others. Her training further continued under Mudicondan Venkatarama Iyer (from whom she acquired proficiency in the Laya aspects), Mysore Vasudevacharya (special compositions, including his own), T K Jayarama Iyer and Musiri Subramanya Iyer. She eventually was branded as an authentic representative of the Musiri style, with the special emphasis she laid on bhava. Her huge repertoire, and especially her expertise in the compositions of Mysore Vasudevachar was a matter of common knowledge. Her rendition of kritis like Koluvaiyunnade (Devagandhari), Sivakamasundari (Jaganmohini) etc will remain evergreen in the hearts of rasikas. Her voice retained its sheen and malleability throughout her concert career. It is perhaps a little-known fact that Mani Krishnaswami was also proficient on playing the violin.

She was a fairly busy concert performer, having traveled worldwide, and participated in major festivals. She also received a range of awards like the Sangeeta Kalanidhi, Padma Shri, the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi award, Sangeeta Vidya Saraswati, Divya Gana Praveena, to name just a few. Some of her cassettes containing devotional hymns like the Soundarya Lahari etc are in the proud collection of music rasikas. Mani Krishnaswami, along with two of her classmates, Suguna Purushottaman and Suguna Varadachari, created waves during the centenary year of Musiri Subramanya Iyer, by forming a unique vocal trio to highlight the great aspects of the Musiri style. Today, we only have her memories and her music but they are eternal.

She is survived by her very supportive husband Krishnaswami and a son, Sudarsanam.

Tributes from other musicians:

Suguna Purushottaman, vocalist and good friend of Mani Krishnaswami: "Mani, Suguna Varadachari and I were extremely thick friends, all of us having learnt from Musiri. A couple of years ago, we celebrated his centenary year in a grand manner all over India, beginning at the Music Academy, Chennai. Mani used to sing at 5 ˝  kattai (G #) in her younger days. But obviously it came down in recent times. However, her age never interfered with her music otherwise. She rendered the kritis that were taught to us several decades ago in perfect patantaram, without missing a single sangati or phrase. Unlike today, we never had the luxury of writing down the notations or recording our classes in those days. We had to totally cultivate and rely upon our memory. Mani also didn't like to refer to notes while she sang. Her rendition of compositions and other musical aspects were excellent. She had a good repertoire of Tamil songs too, which she made sure to include in her concerts. Two years back, the Kharaharapriya that she sang in Academy completely moved me, and is still ringing in my years. As a person, she was of a friendly disposition, easily mingling with everyone. She also treated her accompanists very well. I simply don't have words to describe the sense of loss that I am feeling right now."

Senior vocalists Bombay sisters - Saroja & Lalitha: (We spoke to Lalitha over the phone, and as soon as we mentioned Mani Krishnaswami's name, we could hear her sobs): Mani Krishnaswami was older to me by 8-10 years. Vedavalli, Mani Akka, Saroja and I were all in the same group while learning from Musiri. We almost grew up together. Mani Akka was a torch bearer of the Musiri style of music. Her voice was like honey, and there is no parallel for her in the Carnatic music world. Her adherence to classicism and her style of rendition were very good. She used to address my sister and me as "kutti". Whenever we sang a good piece she used to call us and express her appreciation. Such open appreciation is seldom shown by other musicians of her calibre. She was a constant source of encouragement for us. We can never come across another Mani Akka. I can only say, "Akka Manikkam madiri" (She was a gem).

Senior vocalist T R Subramaniam: "Mani Krishnaswami and hard work go hand in hand. Nowadays many artistes lack the kind of dedication that she had. She had a repertoire of over a 1000 compositions, and each piece bore the stamp of the Musiri school. Every time she sang, she reminded us of the great “Neraval King", Musiri. She was one of the few who reproduced exactly what she learnt from her guru-s. As a person, she was very friendly. She had students all over the world and treated them with affection. A very sincere lady, and a perfectionist. We shared mutual respect. Her demise is a great loss to the music field."

Vocalist Vijay Siva: "I respected her as a good musician, although I didn't have the fortune of getting acquainted with her very well at a personal level. I have attended a lot of her concerts. Her death is indeed a great loss to the music world."

Meera Sivaramakrishnan, regular violinist for Mani Krishnaswami for several years: "I knew Mani Mami for more than 10 years. I accompanied her in several concerts. She was in fact, the first one to take me abroad, and has helped me immensely in building my career. Both Mama and Mami have been very nice to me. She was more than a mother to me on several occasions, and has even corrected me when I made mistakes. Although I knew that she was not keeping very good health, it was a shock to hear of her demise. I was supposed to accompany her at Narada Gana Sabha on September 3rd this year. It is not to be."

Vocalists-violinists Ranjani & Gayatri: Mani Krishnaswamy stood out for her faithful adherence to her patantaram. She never deviated from the tradition and convention of her style of music, and was rightly considered the torch-bearer of the Musiri school. She had a very facilitative voice and a good repertoire. She also had the unique distinction of learning from 6 different Sangeeta Kalanidhi-s. She was an extremely warm and friendly person, very gentle and soft spoken, and easy to approach. She was keen that the young musicians of today should acquire the right kind of repertoire, and easily shared her knowledge with others. An incident that comes to mind is that when we went to her house to learn a particular composition of Vasudevachar in raga Ranjani, she immediately taught it to us, without any hesitation. She was such a great stalwart, but very down to earth as a person. Anybody who doesn't know her musically will never realise her true worth."

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Posted on July 16, 2002


Tributes to other musicians


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