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Sri R K Srikanthan is the most senior performing vocalist from Karnataka. Getting closer to his 88th year, he is still performing and stealing the hearts of Rasikas. Here is the English translation of an interview with Sri R K Srikanthan that appeared on the Kannada portal : www.thatskannada.com on 28/04/2004. This conversation was held in Washington DC area when Sri RKS visited USA during the Nadatarangini Annual Music Festival.
Sri R.K.Srikanthan was interviewed by Sri M.S.Nataraja, a columnist on www.thatskannada.com. Nataraja says that even though the interview is not a word-to-word transcription of the conversation, he has kept the message intact.
The inspiration for this translation came from www.rasikas.org, a wonderful community of music lovers. I want to add that I have tried to keep the message intact to the Kannada original that appeard on www.thatskannada.com as much as possible.
Now lets get on with the interview:
MSN: Could you tell me about your forefathers and the place of birth- Rudrapatna? Also tell us about the musical background of your family, and interesting episodes from your childhood.
RKS: I was born on the day of Makara Sankaranti, January 14th 1920 at Rudrapatna, on the banks of river Kaveri. My father, Sri R Krishnashastri was a very learned person. He was an oraor, gamaki, playwrite, poet, and a harikatha vidwan all in one. My maternal grandfther, Narayanaswamy of Bettadapura was indeed well known as Veene Narayanaswamy. He was a contempoary of Veene Sheshanna,and Veene Subbanna. I have heard that my mother Sannamma was also singing very well. Because she passed away very early, I do not recall that at all. My sister took care of me when I was young. My father was a teacherm and after working at several places such as Keralapura, Ramanathapura etc, he moved to Mysore after my mother passed away.
My eldest brother R.K. Venkatarama Shastri was almost my foster parent. He is indeed my mother, father and teacher. Narayanaswamy and Ramanathan are the other two brothers. I am the youngest. I went to school at Sadvidya Pathashale and Banumayya High School in Mysooru. I graduated with a BA from the Maharaja College.
MSN: When and where did you get attracted to music?
RKS: Every Friday and Saturday we used to host bhajana sessions at our home. My brothers Ramanatha and Narayanaswamy used to sing during these sessions. Venkatarama Shastri used to either accompany them on the violin, or join in vocal singing. I used to sit and listen to these. During my high school and collge days, I regularly attended concerts. During Ramotsava and other festivities, all the senior vidwans came to Mysooru. And that was the era of Mysooru Odeyaru. His Highness welcomed the artists to Mysooru. This way, I was fortunate to listen to all wonderful performers. The nAgaswara vAdana of artists of that time is still ringing in my ears. Actually I would say my singing style is very much influenced by those nAgaswara players.
MSN: Tell us about your musical lineage
MSN: My father was my first teacher. Then my brother Venkatarama Shastry became my primary guru. As a teen-ager, I was performing at small venues. I used to visit Rudrapatna during my summer break. My learning showed me the path for the future. Later, I got guidance from several vidwans. In 1947, after I got my BA degree, I started working for Mysooru Akashavani. This was a stepping stone for for my musical life. I got to meet and interact with several great artists, and learn from the interactions . Many of these artists would come and stay at our house when they performed at Mysooru. I’d also go to Madras with my brother, and attend concerts there. Even there I got opportunities of meeting, and learning from other artists. Whenever possible, I leant different compositions from different artists, and impreoved my reperotoire. I also imbibed the good points of singing from all such artists.
MSN: Do you have your own style? Is it different from other schools of musicians? How do you define your style?
As I said earlier, I soaked up the good points from other artists, and developed my own style. I have rigourously practiced shrutishuddham. In AlApane, and neraval, I have followd SemmaguDi Srinivasa Ayyar’s style. In kriti singing, I have followed Musuri’s style. I have been influenced by all artists such as Ariyakkudi, Semmangudi, Musari, GNB and Maharajapuram Vishwanatha Ayyar.
MSN: What is your emphasis on? Is it on the bhAva and sweetness in singing? How about sAhitya shuddhi? And the laya aspects? In your opinion, what ranks highest?
RKS: I feel all these are equally important. None of them should override what is due to each of those. The notes should be clean and clear. There is no scope for a false notes. Sangatis should be clearly enunciated. There should be no secrecy in singing. Music should be transparent. While singing a composition, the singer should understand it and sing it with feeling. A singer should see himself as Tyagaraja, Dikshita or Purandaradasa – and be one with the composition and sing. Then only he or she can produce good music. Laya has it’s importance, and it is lifelike to our music. But it should not come in the way of rasa anubhava. Kalpana swaras should never become a jugglery of notes. The aim of the vocalist should be to please the audience. Frills are not important, and the enjoyment the listener derives is very important. A singer should sing with a melodious voice, in a way to fulfill the listener.
MSN: You have received innumerable number of awards. You have also performed at innumerable places. Tell us about the performances, and the awards that you gave you great sense of satisfaction and pride.
The Sangeetha Nataka Academy award given in 1979, the Sangeetha Kalanidhi from the Music Academy (in 1996) and the Kanaka-Purandara Award from the Government of Karnataka are those awards I am very proud of. I just can not forget some of my concerts – such as the first concert at the Music Academy in Madras in 1954, Singing for the Akashavani Sangeetha Sammelana in front of an invited audience in Delhi in the same year, and singing in the Navaratri Mandapam in front of dEvi for six-seven consecutive years starting from 1978. These are all unforgettable experiences.
MSN: What do you say about the politics in the world of music?
RKS: Is there a place or a profession in this world where you don’t find politics? Music is just one such profession. Language, regionlism, caste, creed all creep in here. Unfortunetly, among performers taking music as a profession, there is more jealousy than co-operation.
MSN: What do you say about the special connection between music, and the Sankethi community you belong to?
RKS: I don’t know how Sankethis got to excell in the study of vedas, agriculture, and music! But definitely there seems tp be a connection. It might has come from our ancestors who migrated from Tamilnadu Kerala border.
MSN: What is your opinion about younger artists today?
There are a number of young vocalists who sing very well. They also sing very enthusiastically. They can get even better by learning to sing within the context and appropriateness.
MSN: Tell us more about your experiences outside your home state of Karnataka.
I have sung all the way from Kalkatta to Kanyakumari. I have sung at a large number of towns and cities and villages in and out of Karnataka. Probably I have had the honour to sing at almost all places where there is an audience for karnAtaka sangeetha.
MSN: What is your experience in the USA?
RKS: Even here there are a large number of connoisseurs. There are good artists too. The rasikas here are more direct, and call a spade a spade! When they don’t like something, they say it directly. It is really heartening to see some kids who are learning music here. It makes me wonder if there is more interest here compared to even India. There are a large number of sabhas. In summary, I feel good about the situation here. It is almost as good as in Bengalooru or Madras.
MSN: What are your suggestion to serious students of music?
RKS: While practicing have a sense of softness (naya), and don’t be rough and tough! Too much of hand movements are a distraction. Avoid constatly looking up or down , or singing with closed eyes, or making strange facial gestures. Just like an orator does, a vocalist should practice sitting in front of a mirror to make sure it is a pleasing experience for the audience. Practice Alapane of at least one rAga in detail everyday. A vocalist should explore the possibilities of expanding a rAga, and ask himself/herself what would be the best combination of sanchAras for a given rAga. He/She should always have a smiling face in a concert. Never forget that concert is a team work. Learn to appreciate, and express that appreciation to your supporting artists on stage. During a concert, make a connection with the audience, and evaluate their reactions to mould the performance to their taste. Don’t burden yourself with too many stage performances. Neither you will have the enthusiasm necessary for the success of a concert nor will your manOdharma co-operate. The voice also would lose it’s sweetness with excessive stress.
As I told you earlier, tALa is very importanct, and is the embodiment of life to your sining. But, I do not give prominence to mathematical kalpanA swaras. If you score well in mathematics aspect of it, you would lose the bhAva. Have a sense of proportion. That is the key point. You should be able to fully explore a rAga in about ten minutes. If you try to expand it longer inordinately, you will be repeating yourself over and over. South Indian music pays more emphasis on gamakas. So it does not sound good when they are expanded too long like in uttarAdi (North Indian) music style.
MSN: Why didn’t you compose any compositions?
RKS: When many composition of great composers are not being sung, why should everyone compose? Even if we did, who would listen? There is great variety among the compositions of composers like Tyagaraja and hari dAasas. Sri Tyagaraja has composed more than thirty compositions in tODi rAga itself. Each one of them is different. When Tyagaraja visited Veena Kuppaiyyar, he composed eight grand compositions in rAga dEvagAndhaAri alone. Where do we stand compared to their knowledge of language, poetic meter, poetic and musical sense? When earlier composers have given us compositions to show us the nine-fold bhakti, and ways to improve society, and teachings for our everyday life, isn’t it enough if we sing those compositions properly? I think it is enough if we guard this great treasure.
MSN: What is the secret of your enthusiasm and great voice even at this age?
RKS: I’d attribute this to the grace of the Almighty, and to continuous practice. A singer should keep the health, particulary the mental health. Everything else will follow.
MSN: Have you accomplished your life’s ambitions?
RKS: Not yet! The desire to improve, and achieve greater heights is still progressing. So is my age!
MSN: What about your students? Who do you consider as those who will carry on with your path.
RKS: I should name my son Ramakanth, M.S.Sheela, T.S.Satyavati, H.K. Narayanana among my students. Even though my daughter Ratnamala did not make a name in the classicl music arena, she is also one of my students.
MSN: When your daughter chose sugama sangeeta over classical music, were you hurt by her decision? What is your opinion about sugama sangeeta?
RKS: No, Not at all. She has made so much name and fame as though she was born to sing sugma sangeeta. That is also a form of music. But one that has more emphasis on the lyrical aspects, more than the musical aspect. It is mainly bhAva pradhAna. There are a good number of bhAvageetes which are very nice to listen. It is necessary to have a special sense of art to sing sugama sangeeta.
MSN: Even though south Indian music is called Karnataka Sangeeta, don’t you feel that this art has more followers and pride outside Karnataka? Why there aren’t many famous artists from Karnataka?
RKS: Starting from Vidyaranya, Venkatamakhi, Matanga, Shargadeva – All these were kannaDigas indeed. Sangeeta Pitamaha Sri Purandara Dasa paved the way for teaching our system of music.
MSN: Are any of your grand-children learning music?
RKS: My six year old grandson Achintya, seems to be bright in this direction. He seems to have a good samskAra, and is learning well.
MSN: What is your opinion about North Indian and western Music?
RKS: The basis of northern and southern music is the same – seven svaras. North Indian music lacks the diversity of compositions we have in Karnataka sangeeta. There are great singers there. They give more proninence to bhAva. Sahitya is very less. Bhakti aspect almost does not exist. The aim of the perfomer is to please a king or a conossieour. That’s why it was called “Court (darbAri) music”. I really con’t comment on western music, because I am not even aware of what to listen to and how to enjoy it.
MSN: What do you say about the future of Karnataka Sangeeta?
RKS: Karnataka Sangeeta has a great future. The presence of excellent artists is both satisfactory, and makes me really happy.
The original interview in Kannada is available here: