Five songs for the week — 5

RK Suryanarayana, TV Ramprasadh, M Balamuralikrishna, Bharat Sundar, DK Jayaraman

Vishnu Vasudev
5 min readJul 30, 2023

One: RK Suryanarayana — Taanam (Ragamalika)

Perhaps the most famous veena player of the 20th century from the Mysore tradition was Doreswamy Iyengar. There was another very highly regarded older contemporary of his from the Rudrapatnam clan — RS Keshavamurthy. Keshavamurthy was a disciple of one of the veena stalwarts of the Mysore court — Veena Subbanna. Remarkably, Keshavamurthy had 11 sons, all of them veena players. It could not have been easy for them to make a steady living. Of these 11, perhaps the most traditionally successful and well known was his second son, RK Suryanarayana. Suryananarayana’s style seems to be unfettered and playful — his music always gives a sense of him having fun with the instrument, without necessarily being frivolous. I share with you a tanamalika recording of his in four parts, from a private recital somewhere in the US in 1984. The veena tanamalika is one of my favourite forms of music, and this is a lovely example spanning 64 ragas and a whopping 6 hours (the only raga repeated is Shubhapanthuvarali). Most of the ragas are dealt with in ~3–5 minute capsules, but he does let himself wander for up to 30 minutes through some of the ragas. We really get a sense of him almost jamming with himself, enjoying the company of his veena. He also covers some obscure ragas which I assume are scale-based ragas that he invented.

Here it is in four parts: one, two, three, four. This is from the site You need to log in with a single click with Google. If you have trouble accessing the music directly, go to this link first and go down to folders 661–664. If all else fails, go to the homepage, go to the ‘Search and Catalog’ tab and type in ‘Suryanarayana’. And navigate from there. All of this is better on the desktop than on a phone. I assure you, the music is worth the pain of access.

Ragas in Part 1: Shanmukhapriya, Begada, Vaaram, Gambheeranattai, Revagupti, Kadanakuthulam, Mayamalavagowla, Chautrananapriya, Simhendramadhyamam, Valaji, Kharaharapriya, Hindolam, Kapi, Mohanakalyani

Ragas in Part 2: Niroshta, Yadukulakambhoji, Mukhari, Dhanyasi, Bhairavi, Varunapriya, Vijayashri, Abhogi, Kuntalavarali, Chandraprabha, Sunadavinodini, Jhunjhuti, Punnagavarali, Kurinji, Nadanamakriya, Hamsanadam, Shubhapanthuvarali, Bhogavasantha, Madhyamavati

Ragas in Part 3: Vachaspathi, Reethigowla, Sama, Amritavashini, Anandabhairavi, Bowli, Malayamarutham, Hamsanandi, Nagaswaravali, Bilahari, Behag, Revathi, Surutti

Ragas in Part 4: Kiravani, Sahana, Kaanada, Chandrakauns, Ganamurthi, Kambhoji, Chalanattai, Saranga, Hamsavinodini, Saramathi, Shubhapanthuvarali, Gowla, Vandanadharini, Sindhubhairavi, Shri, Shivaranjini, Shriranjini, Chittaranjani, Rasikapriya

Two: TV Ramprasadh — Rama Rama Kalikalusha (Raga Ramakali, Muthuswamy Dikshitar)

It is well known that Muthuswami Dikshitar, by virtue of his wanderings in northern India at a formative age, was quite influenced by the music he heard there, specifically Dhrupad. Not only did he bring some Hindustani ragas to Carnatic music (for instance, he is credited with introducing Jaijaiwanti as Dwijaiwanti), several of his compositions show marked Dhrupad influence in their structure, use of beautiful long jaarus or glides and relatively plain notes. This piece is from a concert on the theme — Dikshitar and Dhrupad — by TV Ramprasadh. The piece is a great exemplar of the influence as it is in a Hindustani raga — Ramakali — and exhibits many dhrupad-like characteristics.

[Rama Rama Kalikalusha is an example of a Dikshitar kriti which departs from the classic form of pallavi (opening line) anupallavi (follow up stanza) and charanam (verses, of which there can be multiple, but often just one, usually with the same tune across each charanam). Instead, the pallavi is followed by a single passage / stanza known as a samashti charanam (the combined anupallavi and charanam).]

Despite this being a short samashti charanam krithi, Ramprasadh imbues the piece with great heft, with a dhrupad-style alapana, chittaswaras (which I assume he composed), and kalpanaswaras to follow. In this whole meditative experience, I am taken in each time by the peculiar slide of note in at the second Rama… that transforms the scale of Ramakali into a raga.

Rama Rama Kalikalusha. TV Ramprasadh (vocal), TKV Ramanujacharyalu (violin), HS Sudhindra (mridangam), Giridhar Udupa (ghatam).

Three: M Balamuralikrishna — Ne Pogadakunte (Raga Shubhapantuvarali, Thyagaraja)

It was a performance of Dikshitar’s Shri Satyanarayanam by Ramprasadh at the Brahma Gana Sabha many years ago that opened up the raga Shubhapanthuvarali to me. Before then, I thought of it as a toxically depressive raga that ought never to be played or sung. Just this week, after a long, tiring day at work, I stumbled upon Ne Pogadakunte sung by Balamuralikrishna as part of a concert in London. It was surprisingly captivating, even strangely energizing. His longtime violin co-artiste Annavarappu Ramaswamy often stays in the shadows but in this concert, I found myself taken in as much by his alapana as I was by Balamuralikrishna’s singing. The alapana had touches of the Dhrupad style, so much so that it would not have been out of place to have it followed by a Dikshitar piece. This rendition is one of the few instances that I have heard Balamuralikrishna sing a neraval, albeit of a very short blink-and-you’ll miss-it variety. My guess is that he was so taken by the music that he naturally lapsed into a neraval, before consciously deciding to cut it short because that’s not his thing! Having said that, he sings a short neraval in a song that follows as well, so maybe he was in a mood of sorts that evening. Perhaps in a nod to the tastes of a crowd in a foreign locale, the artistes also indulge in a bit of sawaal-jawaab type musical banter in the kalpanaswara section. This is followed up by a lengthy tani-avartanam (percussion solo) by Tanjore Upendran. Incidentally, fans of Balamuralikrishna owe a lot to Upendran as he is the one who convinced BMK to settle in Chennai and went on to accompany him in several concerts as he made his home at Carnatic music’s Mecca.

There is a bit of ambiguity around this composition — some lists mention Desiya Thodi as its raga, and apparently KV Narayanaswamy sang it in the Raga Varali.

Ne Pogadakunte (Starts at 00:37:21). M Balamuralikrishna (vocal), Tanjore Upendran (mridangam), Annavarappu Ramaswamy (violin).

Four: Bharat Sundar — Ninnada Nela (Raga Kannada, Thyagaraja)

I have written about the pivotal role that Ramnad Krishnan played in my Carnatic listening journey, and specifically the two concert albums he recorded for the label Nonesuch — ‘Vidwan’ and ‘Kaccheri’. One of the songs recorded was Ninnada Nela, a composition of Thyagaraja in the raga Kannada. I have loved both song and raga ever since. Bharat Sundar, in a concert inspired by past masters featured this song as representative of Krishnan, and delivered beautifully.

Ninnada Nela (Song begins at 00:03:25). Bharat Sundar (vocal), L. Ramakrishnan (violin), Sai Giridhar (mridangam),

Five: DK Jayaraman — Shri Raghuvara (Raga Kambhoji, Thyagaraja) + Umayalpuram Sivaraman — Tani-avartanam

I had mentioned this piece in passing in a post on Thyagaraja compositions that I miss. This seems to be a favourite piece of DK Jayaraman and his disciples. I have selected this piece as much for the percussion solo by Umayalpuram Sivaraman as I did for the song itself. I found myself taking more notice of tani-avartanams lately. This one really took a hold of me — the variety of tones, changes in rhythms and the sureness of play stood out. I can’t really say more than that, as I do not know the technical intricacies of tani-avartanams, though I have tried now and again to understand them. Maybe I will try again.

Shri Raghuvara + Tani-avartanam (Starts at 01:09:35). DK Jayaraman (vocal), Umayalapuram Sivaraman (mridangam), VV Subramanyam (violin).



Vishnu Vasudev

I write mainly about my experience as a listener of Carnatic music.