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Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer


- Karthik Rao Kavale

angeetha Kalanidhi Semmangudi Shri Srinivasa Iyer is a man who commands the respect of the entire carnatic music world from the other world, ruling over rasikas' hearts through his numerous recordings and commonly available reports about his character. Not all of us have had the privilege of knowing him, but no one is left in doubt about the strength of his character, as it is universally agreed that he was a man of impeccable integrity, a man who rose through the ranks purely by hard-work and a man whose taste in music can only be matched by his musical skill honed by years of sadhana. Semmangudi was born in 1908 at Tirukkodikaval, Thanjavur District as the third son of Radhakrishna Iyer and Dharmasamvardhini Ammal. He was devoted to the gurukula system as a student, he stayed with all the teachers he learned from. Semmangudi had the benefit of learning from some of the most authentic practitioners of Carnatic Music: Gottuvadyam artist Shri Sakharama Rao, his cousin Shri Narayanaswamy Iyer, the authority on the Thyagaraja tradition Umayalapuram Shri Swaminatha Iyer and his shishya, the famous Maharajapuram Shri Vishwanatha Iyer. Semmangudi was also a great teacher and he never charged his students any fees. The list of students he taught being as impressive as the list of people he learnt from: Sangeetha Kalanidhis Smt. M. S. Subbulakshmi, Shri T. N. Krishnan and Shri T. M. Tyagarajan, noted Guru Shri P. S. Narayanaswamy and the young trailblazer Shri T. M. Krishna, amongst many others. It is often said that it is possible for aspiring vocalists to have too sweet a voice. Like Pt. Kumar Gandharva, Semmangudi also lost the sweetness of voice in his young days. Despite advice from giants like Dakshinamurthy Pillai to give up singing and take up the violin,


Semmangudi persevered with a vengeance practice that improved his voice and built his natural taste for music. His battle with his voice, however, never ended because of a throat surgery later in his life. Often he would struggle with the shruti, his voice desperately trying to find a foothold. But when he got back his control, what a majestic return it would be! Semmangudi's music was characterized by his adherence to raga-bhava (the emotion contained in the raga). Neither the sangatis (variations) to the kriti (composition) he was singing, nor the kalpanaswarams (similar to sargam) were allowed to mar the beauty of the raga, which was paramount to his music. This, of course, only enhanced the beauty of the kriti and the swarams, and provided for a coherent piece of music. In achieving this balance between the kriti, the laya (rhythmic) aspect and the raga, Semmangudi was a genius. His style of singing kalpanaswarams is described thus by his student Shri V. Subramaniam: “His style is based on strict adherence to the Sarvalaghu basic rhythm. The swarams that he renders in the slow tempo would abound in the bhava of the raga with all the nuances, gamakams (oscillations around the note) and anuswarams (auxiliary notes) … His fast tempo rendition of swarams would rush as the flow of the Ganga in Haridwar, the fastness in no way marring the melody of the bhavaladen raga packing the fast tempo swarams with speed, clarity, bhava and easy flow. Sri Semmangudi's kalpanaswarams would never leave the listener weary. His lengthy fast tempo swarams without even one elongated note (deergha swaram) is unparalleled and it would be no exaggeration to state that Semmangudi is the only maestro to achieve this… Semmangudi always feels that swaram singing should not be a mere rhythmic exercise which will tend to rob the music of bhava.”


Sandesh October 2008

Bengaluru Chapter

Semmangudi was never one to resort to vocal gymnastics for the entertainment of his audience. On this subject, Semmangudi's own words are worth repeating. “Today performers not only tolerate indiscipline, they also rely more on the razzle-dazzle of virtuosic skills, which do not permit depth…[Audiences] crave for ragas "new" and "rare", but so limited that there is no doing anything with them except racing up and down the scale. I have never indulged in such tricks.

Chandrani Choudhuri, our coordinator reports from Bengaluru that Dr. Kiran Seth had arrived Bengaluru on 29'Th Sept. 2008 in the evening on his way from Mangalore to Kolkata.

A regrettable modern tendency is to burst into applause for every little thing. This creates the illusion that the success of a concert is to be gauged by the volume and frequency of the applause. Determined performers work towards a crescendo of super-fast swarams tagged with the "tadinginatom" - in other words, arranging swarams to imitate drumbeats. Laya wizard Dakshinamurti Pillai would exclaim even in those days: 'Leave drumming to us! Sing from the soul!'…

In a brief meeting, he had on the same day with some old and some new faces of SPICMACAY, he formed a new body of the office bearers for the Bengaluru Chapter for next 2 years. New office bearers of the chapter are :

I would say that no attention-getting device has lasting value. Music must not draw attention to skills; it must make performer and listener forget themselves.”

1. Dr. K.N.Pushpalatha 2. Smt. Rajalaxmi Kamat 3. Mr. Velayudha Kurup 4. Mr. Alok Sharma

There are so many anecdotes about this wizard that it would be impossible to recount them all. For Semmangudi lived an eventful life, passing away at the ripe age of 95. In his life, as in his music, he was

Sandesh team congratulate all the members and wish all success to their endeavours. and proved a civilizing influence for musicians and listeners of all hues.

Karthik Rao Kavale,

a recent passed out from Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai with a B.Tech in Mechanical Engineering. His hobbies range from Indian Classical Music to Political Science and Philosophy to Mathematics. He has been associated with SPIC MACAY for the past three years and attended 23'rd National Convention at Kohima. conservative and traditional and yet forward-looking. Respecting shastric rules, he never travelled abroad and yet he always wore khadi and took part in the Vedaranyam Satyagraha. In his music too, he never experimented beyond the training he received, but he was always willing to accept the achievements of the new generation of Carnatic musicians. For many, he was a living library with extraordinary memory. For young generation, he was an icon. His very presence in the concerts was tonic enough for many to elevate their performance. He stood like a banyan tree. In an era of modernization and technological advancement, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer provided the re-assuring link

Sandesh October 2008

Chairperson Vice Chairperson Secretary Treasurer

For those who judge a person by the list of awards he received, he had many feathers in his cap. He was the youngest person, at the age of 39, to be honoured with the prestigious title Sangeetha Kalanidhi by the Madras Music Academy in 1947 and has received many awards including Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan Sangeet Natak Academy award (1953), Isai Perarignar from Government of Tamil Nadu and Kalidas Samman from Government of Madhya Pradesh. He was affectionately called as "Semmangudi Maama" (Semmangudi Uncle) by his disciples. He was also considered the "Pitamaha" or the grand sire of modern Carnatic Music. But his true achievement was the fact that, every now and then, when his voice collaborated, his mind would produce that stroke of genius which would leave his entire audience floored for days to come. We must be thankful that these masterpieces are not yet lost to us, that they have been preserved on tape, and that we may, in our moments of leisure, listen to these flights of a mind freed from the restraints of voice.





Semmangudi Article in Sandesh

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