Memorable Moments at the Music Scenes!
Ashok Madhav

Musicians like all of us have had interesting and unusual events occurring in their lives some of which are quite fascinating to read or listen to. Here are some interesting anecdotes about musicians that have been gleaned and collected from various sources.

Gottuvadyam vidwan – Sakharama Rao ( guru of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer} was asked by a wealthy listener, the difference between similar sounding ragas such as Saveri and Asaveri. Though these ragas have like sounding names they are widely different. Sakharama Rao pitied the man for his poor understanding of musical knowledge despite his material wealth. He gave a humorous but apt answer citing the difference between the two ragams was similar to the difference between karandi (ladle used for cooking } and padala karandi ( a device used to retrieve vessels accidentally dropped into well}.

Chembai Vaidynathan Bhagavatar – the noted vocalist gave a concert in 1966 attended by Subbudu ( the acclaimed music critic}. Subbudu noted that the artiste had donned a nice dhothi, jubba and angavastram. Subbudu attended another Chembai concert in 1968 where he observed that the artist had removed the jubba and performed before the audience wearing a dhoti and angavastram. In 1969 Chembai had discarded the angastram too and gave a concert performance wearing only a dhothi. Subbudu on observing Chembai’s diminishing costumes in successive concerts remarked that “I feel nervous and apprehensive of attending his next concert in 1970”.

The great composer Mysore Vasudevacharya who also happened to be an Asthan Vidwan in the erstwhile court of the Maharaja of Mysore narrated an interesting incident. He likened it to a circus elephant who walks upright on two feet while the circus ringmaster is watching, and the moment the masters back is turned resumes its walk on fours. Vasudevacharya and Bidaram Krishnappa – another Asthana Vidwan had to resort to similar tactics to fool their patron – the Maharaja.

During the Dasara celebrations in Mysore, a float festival is conducted. The Maharaja asked these two vidwans to sing the Dikshitar Kriti –“Mahishasura Mardhini” in ragam Narayani. Neither of the vidwans knew the kriti and were reluctant to tell the Maharaja about their ignorance. Their violin accompanist – Dodda Venkataramiah partly knew the pallavi of the song and sang it to the two vidwans. That was all that Vasudevacharya and Bidaram Krishnappa needed. As the float with the Maharaja moved away from the bank of the lake, the two vidwans quickly learnt the pallavi. As the float with the Maharaja returned and approached the two singers, they started to sing the kalpanaswaras to the pallavi. The two artists congratulated themselves on having fooled their patron and felt that God has spared them.

However their elation was short lived because they were summoned by the Maharaja the next day who told them that they had sung the Pallavi to the kriti well but he wanted to hear the song in its entirety. He asked them to learn the song completely and sing it in a couple of days. So the two vidwans had not fooled the Maharaja after all and they felt mortified about the incident.

Maharajapuram Vishwanatha Iyer was a musician of an enormous stature, however he was also noted for his humourous retorts. Numerous stories abound about this virtuoso’s wit . In one of his concerts he sang an elaborate neraval and swaraprasthanams for a particular anupallavi, however he forgot to sing the charanam for the kriti. When gently reminded by his son Santhanam who was on the stage providing vocal support to his father, Vishwanatha Iyer cleverly disguised his omission by loudly remarking that there was no need to repeat the charanam in front of such a knowledgeable audience .Only Vishwanatha Iyer could get away with such remarks!

Like his father, Maharajapuram Santhanam was also quick witted and would make his audience laugh with his comebacks. In a concert just after singing an elaborate kriti in Saveri he was requested by a listener to sing a kriti in Shuddha Saveri. Santhanam immediately retorted “Ippodu thaan naan Saveri yai shuddha maaga padinen!! meaning I have just completed singing Saveri with clean (shuddha) notes.

The great vocalist G.N. Balasubramaniam (GNB} had a wonderful sense of humour too. During the conclusion of one of his concerts he happened to notice a young lady heading towards the exit, he immediately began the song “Nalla sakunam nokki selladi” indirectly hinting to the lady to watch for the proper moment before she left. With good humour, the lady sat down and waited for the concert to finish.

Varadachariar was one of the foremost vocalists in the nineteen thirtees and forties. He acquired the nickname “Tiger” because of his musical stature. At one of the Tyagaraja Aradhana festivals held at Tiruvaiyar in 1940, Varadachariar and his disciples occupied rooms where the Aradhana officials also happened to be staying. Varadachariar, who was seen sleeping in the hallway was snoring loudly making strange sounds. A Parsi engineer who happened to pass by remarked to his friend. “Is this the man you refer to as Tiger, he certainly sounds like one”.

Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer was honoured with the Sangita Kalanidhi title by the Madras Music Academy in 1947. After receiving the award he prostrated before his guru Maharajpuram Vishwanatha Iyer and held the prostrating stance for a long period. The irrepressible Guru loudly told his student “That is enough, you may stand up now, everyone has seen you doing the namaskaram .”

Mysore Chowdiah the violin virtuoso and the eminent flautist T.R. Mahalingam enjoyed humorous banter with each other. Once Chowdiah remarked that whenever he played the ragam Charukesi, paddy grew better in the fields. Mahalingam immediately rejoined that he should play that ragam to Veena Balachander so that some hair would sprout on Balachander’s head as he was totally bald.

The famed vocalist, M.D.Ramanathan rendered a short alapana in ragam Kapi. M.Chandrasekharan – the violinist who accompanied him that evening played a better version of that ragam which a drew a huge applause from the audience. Ramanathan graciously complimented his violinist by saying “Chandru – I sang Kapi, but your playing made the ragam Neskapi”. Incidentally coffee is referred to as Kapi in colloquial Tamil. Neskapi referred to Nescafe which in those times was thought to be more exotic than regular home made coffee.

Most singers get carried away during their concerts and are known to wave their hands or move their heads while singing. The singer Kalakkadu Subbiah Bhagavatar had the unique ability to render his concerts without the movement of any part of his body. He once placed an uncut lemon on top of his head and performed a three hour concert which included a ragam, tanam and pallavi and amazingly the lemon stayed put.

The singing twin brothers B. V. Raman and Lakshmanan were performing a concert in Rajahmundry in the early 1960’s. They selected the Thyagaraja kriti –“Adigi Sukhamu” as the main piece . As they were singing the charanam-“ Neeke daya butti brotuvo brovavo”, which when translated meant “Rama I hope your compassion protects me” the electrical wiring in the Pandal started sparking setting of a small fire and turning off the mike. An alert listener put the fire out and then loudly remarked “ Avunu, Ramudu brotunne unnadu (Yes, Rama has been taking care of us).

The Hyderabad Brothers during one of their concerts, picked a Shyama Sastri’s kriti – “Parvathi Ninnu”. Two ladies sitting ahead of me kept trying to identify the ragam. When I told them it was Kalgada they looked at me incredulously and remarked that there was no such ragam as Calcutta (Kalgada) or Madras. At the end of the kriti, the musicians announced name of the ragam. The ladies were embarrassed and asked me I were a music teacher.

I am sure most of us do experience similar such interesting moments in musical settings.

Collated from Sruti magazines, N. Rajagoplan’s Garland books and other sources.

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