Gayana Ghandarva – R. K. Srikantan

The year 1920 was a blessing to the world of music as it witnessed the birth of R.K.Srikantan, a man who would grow up to become one of the greatest exponents of Karnatic music. Born to a traditional family of musicians of Rudrapatnam in the Hassan District of Karnataka, Srikantan was the youngest son of Krishnashastry, a noted poet, a scholar of Sanskrit and Kannada as well as a Harikatha Vidwan. Srikantan’s Grandfather, Narayanappa of Bettadapura, was also a well-known musician. His brother Venkataramashastry, a leading violinist and a disciple of the revered T. Chowdaiah was one of Srikantan’s earliest teachers and made a significant contribution to his growth as a musician. Continuing the family tradition are his children, all of who are accomplished musicians. His daughter Rathnamala Prakash is a well-known playback singer of Kannada cinema.

Having breathed the air of such a scholarly and artistic home, it comes as no surprise that R.K.Srikantan chose to tread the path of classical music. Noteworthy features of his brand of music are the emphasis placed on Sruthi Shuddham; clear pronunciation of the Sahityam and his Bhava-laden Kriti renditions. He has been highly instrumental in popularizing Dasaranamas, especially those of Purandaradasa. His pure Paataantharams are a great treat to the ears.

R.K. Srikantan has been conferred many awards and titles including the coveted “Sangeeta Kalanidhi”. He belongs to that rare breed of Karnatic musicians who have striven hard within the rather rigid framework of traditional music and have successfully achieved perfection and brilliance. His commitment is further exemplified by the fact that he continues to teach and contribute to his chosen field of music even at the age of 83.

In this exclusive interview to Drishti, R. K. Srikantan traces his passion for music, his eventful journey as an artist and his dreams for the future of music in India.

Q : You are one among the legends and treasures of carnatic music in Karnataka. How do you feel about this?
I feel extremely happy if people hold me in such high regard and I am grateful to them. This honour can only be the fruitful culmination of many years of dedicated effort.

Q : What satisfies you after a performance?
A unanimously expressed approval of my performance fills me with a sense of satisfaction. It makes my efforts worthwhile and gives me a feeling of achievement.

Q : At what age and from whom did you start learning music?
I began taking lessons in music at the age of five from my father the Late Sri Krishnashastry, Subsequently, I trained under my brother Sri. R. K. Venkataramashastry who was an accomplished AIR artiste.

Q : You hail from a family of great musicians. Did that make it easy for you to reach your present position?
Partly! The early lessons from my father and then from my brother certainly contributed immensely to my growth as a musician. It was privilege for me to learn from my brother who was a violinist of high repute and had performed with musical giants of Tamil Nadu for several years. It is through him that I came in contact with great stalwarts like Maharajapuram Vishwanath Iyer, Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar and many others. I have learnt great compositions and many Kritis from them. Maintaining a close rapport with great artists, attending all their performances and listening with rapt attention enabled me to imbibe several qualities from them for which I am eternally grateful.

Q : Can you recall your first performance?
Hmm…can’t really remember. I started performing when I was thirteen or fourteen years old. People used to appreciate my performances and that boosted my confidence to perform before large gatherings. That was the beginning… I have grown since!

Q : What have been the main features of your style of music?
Passion, interest, effort and an urge to delve into the depths of music!

Q : What would you rate as your main contribution to music in Karnataka?
I have spent a lifetime popularizing Dasa Sahitya and Bhajana Sahitya. Not only I, my students, who now run into hundreds, have also been very active in spreading this form of music. It gives me endless pleasure to learn that people now quote my style of rendering Devaranamas as a touchstone. I accept this honour in all humility.

Q : Will you please elaborate on the beauty of Dasa Sahitya and Devaranamas?
Dasa Sahitya is like light music where importance is given to Sahitya, Neeti, Dharma and Artha. While staying well within the parameters of pure music, it is wonderfully free of the rigid constraints of classicalism.

It is possible to convey a devotional thought better through music than by mere words Even those without a formal knowledge of classical music can enjoy the lilting rhythm of a Devaranama. By popularizing Devaranamas, I feel that I have popularized the usage of the Kannada language too. One is really grateful to all the Haridasas for their immeasurable contribution to music.

Q : Chennai has always been the dreamland for classical musicians, especially in the past. Why then did you choose to stay on in Bangalore?
Well…my brother did try to persuade me to leave Bangalore and go to Chennai on many occasions. He even mentioned that it would help my career and enable me to achieve much more. But, I preferred staying back. I felt that even a grain of success in one’s own land was much more valuable than that achieved elsewhere. Whatever I have achieved here is my “Punya”. Today, when people say that I have contributed something to the growth of music in this land I feel very happy and satisfied.

Q : Any special moments that you would cherish for a lifetime?
When Palghat Mani Iyer appreciated my music and blessed me it felt wonderful. It is an occasion I will remember forever. I have had the privilege of being accompanied by Lalgudi Jayraman on the violin and Palghat Mani Iyer on the mridanga at the Tiruvankur Samsthana is also very memorable. Receiving the Sangeeta Kalanidhi award is also one of my life’s special moments. Another memorable event is being chosen to sing at Kanakadasa’s 400th birth celebrations in Kagi Neleya. Being the first one from Karnataka to receive the Sapthagiri Sangeeta Vidwanmani is one big achievement in my life. My other awards include the Sangeeta Nataka Academy Award and the Gayake Ratna Award. Travelling all over India and abroad for various performances and popularizing music has also been memorable. Well…as you can see, when one is 83, life holds many memories!

Q : You have been a Guru to innumerable students. How does it feel to be a source of inspiration and knowledge to so many?
I love teaching and do so even today with the same zest and enthusiasm that I had decades ago. My students’ achievements are great. They have made their Guru’s name popular and that makes me happy. I take this opportunity to wish them good luck and hope that they grow in their field.

Q : What has been the role of your family in all this?
My wife Mythreyi has been a perfect life partner. It is now 58 years since we got married and it has proved wonderful. We share all aspects of our lives. She is one of my severest critics and gives me feedback after every concert. She also makes sure that I’m well prepared before any performance. Indeed, she has been a wonderful life partner.

I have 5 daughters and two sons. All my children are good singers and Rathnamala and Ramakanth are the two who are doing a great job. Music runs in our family and I feel extremely happy that the tradition is being continued.

Q : What are your suggestions regarding the perfect diet for musicians?
Anything in excess whether it is ice cream, spicy food, sour foods, salt, fried foods, tea or coffee…is bad. Badami, Kesary and Milk are good. Good food and sleep at proper times are much needed…!

Q : Is there any particular time of the day that is ideal for practice?
Morning Ushakala – 4.30 am to 6.30 am is a good time to begin. Suryastha i.e., 6.30 pm to 9.00 pm is also a good time. Practicing in the afternoon is not advisable. Consumption of cold water during practice sessions or during performance is not advisable. On the other hand, warm water is better.

Q : Your message for upcoming performing artists…
The younger generation sings well but one gets the feeling that they are complacent. It appeares that they strut around feeling omniscient. This sort of overconfidence is the enemy of advancement. It is also important that one pays attention to improving ones vocal abilities as well as creating new compositions. Constantly performing in “Kacheris” is good economics but bad music. Lastly, maintaining professional honesty & personal dignity is the responsibility of every artist. In the end, I feel I owe everything to God!