Five Songs for the Week — 9

Nedunuri Krishnamurthy, KP Nandini, MD Ramanathan, DK Pattammal, Sattur Subramaniam

Vishnu Vasudev
6 min readSep 17, 2023

One: Nedunuri Krishnamurthy — Swara Raga Sudha (Raga Shankarabharanam, Thyagaraja)

I do not listen to Nedunuri Krishnamurthy much, but decided to revisit his music on a whim. This is a lovely, free flowing Shankarabharanam piece, especially the alapana. This is from a 1984 concert at the Rama Seva Mandali concert series in Bangalore.

One of the songs prior to this piece is Idhi Samayamu by Mysore Vasudevacharya, perhaps as a nod to the Bangalore audience. It is in the raga Natakapriya, a scale-based raga with all seven notes, and therefore one of 72 melakartha ragas. It is a bit of an obscure raga, so much so that Krishnamurthy felt the need to announce the raga so that the audience understood what he was up to. There was an extensive alapana in the raga, but it did seem like this was a purely cerebral exercise for the singer — his heart did not seem to be in it, and while it may be harsh to call the exercise stilted, it certainly seemed effortful. He followed it up with Vasudevacharya’s kriti, wrapped up quickly without any neraval or swara improvisation.

In contrast, by the time he got to the Shankarabharanam piece, also a 7-note melakartha raga, it almost seemed like he had found the child in him again — free, playful, delighted, creative and exuberant. It was fun for him and it shows. To me, these two renditions, one of an ‘artificial’ scale-based raga and one of the old, organic, majestic Shankarabharanam in the span of a single concert, is a data point in favour of the view, expressed most often and stridently by TM Krishna, among others, that the older, more organic ragas are aesthetically more valid as actual ragas and more authentic to Carnatic music than the new scale-based ones like Natakapriya.

Swara Raga Sudha (begins at 01:24:11). Nedunuri Krishnamurthy (vocal), Lalgudi Jayaraman (violin), Vellore Ramabhadran (mridangam).

Two: KP Nandini — Shri Kanthimathim (Raga Deshisimhavaram [Hemavathi], Muthuswami Dikshitar)

In a blog post from 2017, in response to TM Krishna’s views on ‘artificial’ ragas, I argued in favour of giving these relatively new ragas a chance to evolve into authentic Carnatic ragas, especially 7-note ones (like Natakapriya). My prime example of a raga with hope was Hemavathi (known as Deshisimhavaram in the Muthuswami Dikshitar school).

Here is the singer KP Nandini singing the famous Shri Kanthimathim in the raga. [I was recently introduced to her music by my father]. Hers is a lovely, deep voice, much like that of Pantula Rama. I really enjoyed this rendition, enhanced terrifically by Vittal Rangan on the violin and Sai Giridhar on the mridangam. There is a small innovation in presentation — after the alapana, Vittal Rangan does not follow up with his own alapana, instead embarking on a tanam in the raga. His grip on the rhythmic pulse was so ‘tight’, I thought to myself:

oh, this is a good opportunity for the mridangam to come in and provide accompaniment, like they do in the Navaratri Mandapam concerts in Trivandrum!

And right on cue, Sai Giridhar entered the picture with his mridangam! My only quibble about this rendition is that Nandini begins quite a few alapana phrases with an awkward sound — ‘twa’, which sound a rather odd.

Shri Kanthimathim (begins at 00:47:57). KP Nandini (vocal), Vittal Rangan (violin), Sai Giridhar (mridangam).

Three: MD Ramanathan — Tulasi Bilva (Raga Kedaragaula, Thyagaraja)

Sometimes, when you get into MD Ramanathan’s music, it is difficult to get out. I tend to go on MDR binges, listening to one concert after another, sometimes for weeks at a time. This was not such an occasion. I chanced upon this single-song upload of him singing Tulasi Bilva in the raga Kedaragaula. Kedaragaula is a somewhat neglected raga. Partly perhaps because of the plethora of popular ragas that share its notes (all with many popular pieces in them). And partly, perhaps because it is not an easy raga to pinpoint emotionally — it is not obviously anything — cheerful, energetic, doleful, serious, wistful, romantic or calming. I think of it more as a mood enhancing chaperone — whatever state you are in, it takes you slightly deeper, with gentle and firm care.

This piece is a complete and consummate encapsulation of the raga, as evident by the thunderous applauses. Maybe you will have better luck defining what this raga means to you!

Tulasi Bilva. MD Ramanathan (vocal), TN Krishnan (violin), Umayalpuram Sivaraman (mridangam).

Four: DK Pattammal — Subramanyena Rakshitoham (Raga Shuddha Dhanyasi, Muthuswami Dikshitar)

This is recording for DK Pattammal’s from the early 1950s has been recently uploaded by Vaak on to Youtube. It is a treat because her voice in the recording is a young, smooth one, not the slightly gravelly deeper voice of her later years, and you really get a sense of the inherent fluidity of her music. The other reason this recording is special is the second percussion instrument (which you can especially here during the violin passages of kalpana swaras). Play close attention and it sounds like it is a percussion instrument that is struck with a stick one one of its two membranes, like a tavil, but higher pitched. I had a tough time guessing what it was. Apparently it is the sound of the ubiquitous dholak! And apparently it was not an uncommon secondary percussion instrument in the early 20th century. It sounds like it belongs and I wonder why it disappered from the Carnatic stage.

Unfortunately, the recording is not a complete one, with very little of the actual kriti, but still well worth the listen for the neraval and swara passages.

Subramanyena Rakshitoham (partial). DK Pattammal (vocal). Other musicians unidentified.

Five: Sattur Subramaniam — Brovavamma (Raga Manji, Shyama Sastri)

Recent weeks brought the news of the launch of ISRO’s Aditya L-1 mission to the L1 Sun-Earth Lagrange point. A Lagrange point is the point where the gravitational pull between two bodies balance out, and L1 is one of four such Sun-Earth Lagrange points. The idea of the mission is fascinating — not only getting a satellite to this precise point, but then inserting it into a ‘halo’ orbit around it, so it keeps circling around that point. It seems like a mission of fine balances. Even the depictions of its flight paths are evocative of a lasso, that has to constantly be kept in motion by its wrangler in order to keep it in shape and up in the air.

Aditya L-1 flight path and orbit. Sourced from CNBC TV-18

This reminded me of a few ragas that I consider tantalizing, almost ephemerally delicate. Among them, the ragas Manji and Asaveri. The composer I most associate with this sense of fragility is Shyama Sastri. He has a whole host of songs that evoke this feeling of teetering — of a mix of unsureness in the moment but sureness of destination. Brovavamma in Manji prime among them.

And the singer I most associate with this nebulous emotion and state is Sattur Subramaniam. To me, he is the most complete musician I have encountered. His style is robust, in keeping with his times. His voice, ringing. His engagement with each song complete and energetic. His concerts, packed with songs and never slagging. And also capable of lingering ever so slightly between two notes to bring a great unspoken tenderness to his music, whether singing a piece in the jaunty Nagaswaravali raga, or a Brovavamma in Manji.

I do not recall exactly how I discovered his music, but I think it was from a cassette tape recording of his that my grandfather gave me from his collection, and I believe it was of this concert. I wish there were more recordings of Sattur Subramaniam’s music around.

Brovavamma (begins at 00:56:18). Sattur AG Subramaniam (vocal), M Chandrasekharan (violin), Umayalpuram Sivaraman (mridangam).



Vishnu Vasudev

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