- By Dr. S Pinakapani

An artiste is born with the gift of music. He succeeds in studying at the feet of great masters of the art and picks up principles, practices, and idea with great faith and devotion. He works hard for years and becomes a real vidwan. He performs all over the country with great merit and scholarship, setting up ideals for the younger generation. Great honours cling to him, honouring themselves in turn. At a time when he is most needed by the times, death claims him. Can God give the world another stalwart musician like him? Perhaps, he can. But will He?

Mudikondan Venkatarama Iyer, was a stalwart among top-ranking musicians of the past five decades. His music was known for its scholarship than for popular appeal.

Raga Alapana

In raga alapana, he gave us glimpses of the Konerirajapuram style. His method of raga alapana was unique, was not heard from any other vidwan of his generation. However little the scope for elaboration treatment, he handled vakra-raga with great ease and control. He revelled in the creative rather than the decorative style. The average listener may not find reason to applaud his raga alapana, but musicians had lessons to pick up. The phrases and patterns of raga alapana were all his own, more exploratory than ornate.

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His neraval, in slow tempo, resembled raga alapana set to tala; while in fast tempo, he set up standards to follow, using rich sanchara-s and jati prastara-s, producing great effect. His kalpanaswara had a charm of their own. Janta swara-s, datu swara-s, and jati prastara-s, woven over a wide canvas provided great variety, which was the hallmark of his swara kalpana. He would reel of with great relish, 40 to 50 varieties of swara kalpana patterns within the scope of one avartanam, be it Adi tala or Khanda Triputa or Misra Chapu, in quick succession. Far from being tired, his audience always asked more of such kaleidoscope presentation of swara kalpana. He believed in sarvalaghu patterns of renditions, keeping the calculative aspect of swara kalpana at a distance, for he was a lover of spontaneity and creativity.

Great in Pallavi

Mudikondan’s Ragam Tanam Pallavi recitals were more sought after than his regular recitals. The phrases he sang in Tanam belonged to the past generation. Greater proportion of ‘akara’ than of ‘na’, ‘ta’, ‘tom’ and ‘nam’ syllables, was perhaps responsible for the variety and scope of elaboration. Tanam is madhyama kala elaboration of ragam, no doubt; but Mudikondan’s Tanam phrases were entirely different from his madhyama kala elaboration of raga alapana. The phrases, carrying a flavour of their own, were beautifully set, giving Tanam an individual entity, a personality of its own, saving it from being a mere segment of raga alapana.

A Great Laya vidwan

The ease and skill with which Venkatarama Iyer handled Pallavi are well known. His hold on laya was extraordinary. Kalapramanam was as near to perfection as possible. The way he marked Tala while handling a 4-kalai, slow-tempo Pallavi, whatever the nadai, was remarkable. He would mark each of the kriya-s of the Tala only once at its proper time without sub-dividing the matra-s of each kriya into halves or fourths. For example, when he took up Adi tala, in four kalai, slow-tempo in Chaturasra nadai, he would mark only 8 kriya-s that belong to Adi tala but not (for convenience of maintaining kalapramanam) subdivide 8 kriya-s into 32 beats. This skill in itself was extraordinary and deserves high praise. When an unusually difficult Pallavi, set to a rare and difficult tala, is exhibited before a learned audience, the marking of tala correctly on the one hand and extemporization of Pallavi on the other must each claim 50% of the vidwan’s concentration. When Mudikondan did such a Pallavi, he appeared to give 100% concentration to Pallavi elaboration and all the 100% of his attention again to Tala marking. So consummate was his skill in the total presentation of Pallavi that the audience could only gape in utter admiration at Mudikondan's mastery of Pallavi and Laya. Those who had witnessed in 1972 his demonstration in the Madras Music Academy hall of the Kambhoji raga Pallavi set to Simhanandina tala, will, I am sure, nod in assent.

Mudikondan Venkatarama Iyer, the great lakshya-lakshna vidwan, had a natural modesty to match his greatness. He lived the life of a wholesome musician, dedicating his entire lifetime to acquire mastery over the art of music, not bothering about limelight and headlines. His stature made him immortal in his field; it is did not choose to give him material gains. Let us hope and pray that he might be born again in South India to recapture the glory of Carnatic music.

Courtesy: Shanmukha


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