Saturday, June 2, 2012

M.J.Srinivasa Iyengar - the Veena artiste and my aunt

Music does not run in the family, but it touched two ladies, my paternal aunts. The younger one, Gowramma, that lived with us all her life pursued her passion with dedication to the extent of becoming a tutor.  The elder one did not, after her marriage in 1941.  

There was a Mridanga at home.  
But this is a web-grabbed image.

The mridanga lay idle in a corner, like a corner-stool.  It had a hole in the leather near the black patch.  I still do not know who used to play it.  But I used to 'beat' it just to hear its sound for fun.  Subba, a poor man who used to come and help grind the spices in our kitchen had noticed this.  Since it was not in use, he asked it.  We gladly gave it to him.

There was a Harmonium, made in France, which my grandfather had bought for his eldest daughter [the elder paternal aunt] when she was young.  

This was in the attic in a nice box, a beautiful home to cockroaches!  Its 'blow-cloth' had been damaged by silver fish and the roaches.  It had beautiful original French brass reeds inside.  I gave away this instrument to a good friend whose daughter is rising in the vocal music world.  I took some pictures of it before giving.

I grew up watching, listening and fiddling the three Veenas at home and admiring the painting by Ravi Varma of Goddess Saraswathi with the Veena.

The melodious notes produced by the Veena is said to be closest to human voice and hence it is considered divine.

Gowramma was into music since her young days.  She had taken 'Music' at Christ the King Convent in her teens.  

This is like a small booklet.

This is a page from a bound book notes.  One date in it says1'948'.  She was 13 then. This is the handwriting of the music teacher who taught at the school.

Report card

Two of the three Veenas  were given by Chitra, a 'step-relative'. Since she did not play it anymore, she had given it to my aunt for use.  The remaining one was said to be made for the elder aunt.  It was later taken away by her descendants after Gowramma's death. You will see the third and smaller Veena later. 

Gowramma was learning Veena under the tutelage of the renown Vidwan, Sri M.J.Srinivasa Iyengar. 

This photo was taken in 1971 in our garden. 

What prompted this post was a news item in our local paper (Star of Mysore, May 26, 2012) reporting about the celebration of his 87th birthday, by his pupils.  

What his pupils performed was also reported in the paper. It was a very unique way indeed.

I wonder how they can make a mistake with Mrs. Padma's initials?  She is 'A.S.Padma'.

It is observed that dedicated musicians live a long life.  Music itself is a health therapy as the boffins are discovering in recent times.  No wonder they keep an active lifestyle and keep themselves occupied, emitting positive vibrations all around.

I remember MJS since the mid 1960s.  He used to come home and teach my aunt for about an hour.  It was in the room adjacent to the hall.  Two straw mats were spread on the floor on the day he was supposed to come - on alternate days.  He was given a certain monthly fee for his noble service.  He would arrive on his bicycle, usually after 7 pm on his way back to his house from the market place or somewhere as our house was on his way to his Jayanagar home.  His arrival was announced "Maeshtru bandidaaray". Maeshtru=Teacher.  He was always costumed in a white collarless-full sleeved, cuffless long shirt and a full white loincloth [panchay]. Sometimes a 'valli' adorned the neck.

The instruments were kept safely in the room, one in a large box and one above it, covered with cloth.  Only two were in regular use. After he came, they were taken out and kept on the mats. They would sit facing each other.  The string tensions were checked for shruti before they started lessons, may be after a silent prayer.

I sometimes went to the room, when I heard my favourite 'keerthanas' being taught.  They attracted me.  I would lean my back against the pile of rolled up beds and listen for a short while and then run away for play.  I think they both played one old lesson and one new in each class.  Sometimes, they repeated the old one many times until MJS felt satisfied with the perfection she attained.  I observed he was a perfectionist.  He would repeat and show many times till she perfected.  He would also sing in his typically deep voice and demonstrate the tune [raaga].   After the new lesson, he would write in the book for her practice like this:

They are MJS's notes from 1979. There are many volumes bound together, serially.  Probably he was teaching from 1962, going by the handwriting and dates written in earlier notes.

I do not remember how much fees he was given, but I clearly remember the manner in which he used to ask before due date. I can never forget his sheepish look.  He did this when about to leave and usually ready with his bicycle!  Sometimes he used to ask as soon as the lesson was over.  I can only make a wild guess [1970s] that it could be about fifty rupees which was not very high even going by his reputation and expertise. Those were still the 'good days' and he was in his late 40s and one can understand the needs of running his family at that stage. Musicians lived mostly on such income from teaching. 

I cannot recall when she stopped his tutions.  May be he left for Bangalore in the 1980s, I remember not, clearly. My aunt was also a veteran by then with a vast experience.  She became a tutor to young students since about 1970.  She was passing on the knowledge even till a fortnight before she died aged just 54, in 1989.  Her end was sudden and premature. The following picture is of a diary in which she recorded the fees collected from her pupils.  

The last entry is just 15 days before she breathed her last. Twenty five rupess/month was a very nominal fee considering that other teachers at the same time were collecting up to one hundred a month.  She was not after money.  Music and Veena were her passions and she pursued it to her heart's joy.  

There is no photograph of her with the Veena except for this one, when she gave a group performance at Rotary Club around 1980. Extreme left. Extreme right is Mrs. Lalitha Sitaram [Sitaraghava Vaidyashala].

After her demise, we had come to know that her close friend Vatsala had a tape containing the recording of her Veena.  She lived in Bangalore and we searched for her house and finally collected it, copied it and returned through a relative.  She too is no more now. So, this is the only recording I have of her.  In the tape, a dozen of her most and my favourite 'keerthanas' are played. She had recorded them with the new 'radio-cassette-player' for Vatsala.  It is so pleasing esp. to listen to 'Raghuvamsha Sudha', 'PraNamaamyaham' and 'Bhaavayaami Raghuraamam'.  One more was 'Marugelara', which is not in it.  May be one day soon, I will find a way to upload the music from that cassette tape and add it here.
I am coming back to add this widget, thanks to my friend Krishna Rao who helped digitize the audio from the cassette: Now you can listen to five minutes of Bhaavayaami Raghuraamam.... played by Gowramma.

I was fond of listening to Chittibabu's concerts and looked forward to the 'koel number' [kooOooo] and at its climax, he would show his creative skills and stunts. The classicists did not favour his style, but then he was unique! MJS and my aunt at times used to discuss the various styles of different artistes. 

Only recently, I came to know that MJS was a direct pupil of the renown Veena Venkatagiriyappa, who was a Royal Musician in the Mysore Palace.  It is such a pleasant feeling to know that my aunt was in that line through MJS.  MJS did, because music was his profession also.  But for some reason not known to me, never went to give concerts, like many of her contemporaries did.  Later, MJS moved to Bangalore and with that ended his visit to our house.  His services to music as a Veena player was by then well established.  He was already a top grade artiste with All India Radio.  He fully deserved all those prestigious awards he was later bestowed upon.  He now had a name of his own.

Here is an interview that is available on the web:
In the interview MJS mentions that he played the Veena in the Mysore style!

Now, this is the third Veena.

My daughter is posing but not playing.  The smallness of the Veena can be observed here.  This picture was taken before we gave it away to another good friend.  We are happy to learn that it is being used regularly now.

This Veena is also said to be Chitra's.  It was probably made to order in small size to suit children.  It produces very melodious vibrations [naada].  I sometimes played one line of 'lambodara lakumikara' after 'sa-ri-ga-ma-pa-da-ni-sa'.  That is all I had learnt from watching.  Both MJS and my aunt wanted me to learn, but it never happened probably because Music did not run, as fast as Sport in the family.  Yet, I have 'an ear for music'.  After all, 'music is the language of the soul.  

Long live, MJS.


prasan said...

I am Veene Chokkamma's nephew. I hereby wish to point out gross inaccuracies in your blog about this great lady.
Chokkamma was born on Sep.18,1922
She passed away on Dec.10,2010.
She was the youngest of 10 children (four sons and six daughters) of my grandparents -- Nuggehalli Narasimha Iyengar and Rukmini.
Chokkamma was single -- so, the question of being the wife of your grandfather's cousin Gundanna, is totally false.
Since you say you were very young and only vaguely remember her playing the veena in the midst of a gathering, and have no memories of her thereafter, your statements may be due to lack of your knowledge about Chokkamma. But, I would suggest that you check the veracity of your information in future before you publish them in a blog for the benefit of your readers. A correction in your blog on the above will be appreciated.

Dinakar KR said...

Thanks Mr.Prasan for the response with information. The confusion is because of my vague memory of the lady. Let us clear at least some points. Did she live in Mysore? I may also be wrong to mention that it was 'our relative Chokkamma' who in fact could be your aunt herself visiting our house! But now there is no way we can confirm this.

It is the same name that has confused me. I also doubt now, that our Chokkamma was playing Veena at all. I brought in Gundanna also. Another fact is that Gundanna who was my father's cousin was not in good terms with him [I can clearly remember this]. So it is unlikely that they might not be the ones at all, but may be your aunt, really. But one thing is clear. Name is Chokkamma. On hearing from you, I'll certainly make amends with the information in the post. I really appreciate you pointing this out to me.

Dinakar KR said...

Gundanna = read "my grandfather's cousin".

prasan said...

Yes, Chokkamma lived in Mysore. She was close to all her siblings (all have passed away) and well loved and respected by all her nephews and nieces. Her father was from the Nuggehalli family while her mother was from the Setlur family. So, unless you are from one of these two families, your being related to her when you were young is very remote. I do not wish to add anything more to this clarification. I think you have adequate info now to post a correction in your blog.

Dinakar KR said...

Sri Prasan,
Many thanks for your response. I have removed the confusing part totally and have spruced it up a bit more. So kindly read again and let me know. Again, thanks for bringing this out.

Dinakar KR said...

I heard in the news today, 13.2.2013, that MJS passed away, aged 89. May his soul rest in peace.

Raja said...

Hi Dinu,

I had not read this blog.

Sad to know about the death of MJS. RIP.

But Veena Chokkamma was indeed a very famous musician of her time.

Here is a brief pen sketch about Veena Chokkamma:

Born to Narasimha Iyengar and Rukkamma couple in 1922, she learnt her music lessons from scholars such as Virupaksha Shastri, V.N. Rao, Vidwan Devappa, Thitte Krishna Iyengar and Tabala Seshappa.

Popularly known as 'Veene' Chokkamma, she presented her first music concert at the age of 16 in 1938 and later on presented concerts in Akashavani and Mysore Dasara festivities etc.

She received Rajyotsava award in 1975.

She was also conferred Kanaka Purandara award.

She died at Bangalore on Dec 10, 2010.

Abhiram said...

When did MJS died? And from which news source you got the information?

Dinakar KR said...

I was listening to Mysore AIR's 'Pradesha Samachara' in the evening of 13th Feb, 2013. There was a mention of this news. I am wondering why today's papers [14.2] are not carrying this.

Venugopal Ts said...

Thank you Dinakar K R
It was a pleasant surprise. Any body writing any thing about MJS, the great soul is most welcome. An artist of his calibre needs much more publicity than what he has recieved.


Gayathri Kulkarni said...

Thanks Sri Dinakar, for the Blog and the information.
Is Mrs. A.S. Padma still at AIR, Mysore. I used to hear about Sri. MJS from her, a great soul. I was learning Veena from Mrs. A.S. Padma, in early 70's, before I left to Bangalore for Ph.D. at IISc. Later I came to US and lost touch with her. I love to meet her when I visit Mysore next year 2014. Please provide her address,
if you have?
Gayathri Kulkarni

Gayathri Kulkarni said...

Thanks Sri Dinakar for the Blog and the information on Sri. MJS and Mrs. A.S. Padma, she used to talk about her great GURU, MJS many times.

Is Mrs. A.S. Padma still at AIR, Mysore. I used to learn VEENA from her in early 70's, before I left for Bangalore to do Ph.D. at IISc. Later I came to US, so I lost touch with her. I love to meet her next time when I visit Mysore in 2014. Please provide her address or phone number, in case you have?.
Thank you once again, I was thrilled to see her photo in your Blog.
Gayathri Kulkarni, NJ. USA

Dinakar KR said...

Smt.Gayathri Kulkarni,
Good to hear from another Veena player! Smt.A.S.Padma is here in Mysore [Krishnamurthypuram]. Am not sure of her AIR engagements. May be she is still a top grade artiste with them. Post your e-mail ID here. I shall collect Smt.Padma's address etc. and send you over.

Gayathri Kulkarni said...

Thank you Sri Dinakar for your quick response. I am happy to know that Smt A.S. Padma is in Mysore [Krishnamurthypuram]. She actually moved to Krishna- murthypuram (near Ballal circle) from Devamba Agrahar, when I was still in Mysore, working at Yuvaraja's College (in mid 70's). My email ID is - KULKARNIGV@YAHOO.COM. Please send Smt A.S. Padma's email ID if possible.

Thank you so much,
Gayathri Kulkarni

MJS's another student said...

As I am listening to the Veena by Smt. A. S. Padma on SVBC channel, I am writing this blog.
Sri. M. J. Sreenivasa Iyengar started teaching Veena to me in January 1961. He taught me for few months. Before him I was a student of Sri. L Gopala Rao.
I did not lead my life as a musician. But I still play veena.

Hemmige S Prashanth said...

Dear Sir,

Are recordings of Sri MJS available?

Hemmige S Prashanth

Dinakar KR said...

Hello Prashanth Hemmige.
My aunt had recorded some keerthanas I think it was at home. Recording on cassette tape is not very good but those are the only ones I have in may be 2-3 tapes.
Please leave your e-mail ID here, let me see what I can do.

Hemmige S Prashanth said...

Dear Dinakar Sir,

I apologize for my delayed response.
Wow! I would be very grateful if you could digitize and share the recordings. I stay in Bangalore and can help digitize as well.

My e-mail id is HEMMIGEdotSdotPRASHANTH

replace the "dot" with "." -

My phone (Bangalore): 2658 6532

The reason why I'm interested in Sri M J Srinivasa Iyengar's recordings are many. I will tell you if we can speak over phone!

Thanks again and look forward to hearing from you.

Hemmige S Prashanth

Hemmige S Prashanth said...

Dear Dinakar Sir,

I apologize for my delayed response.
Wow! I would be very grateful if you could digitize and share the recordings. I stay in Bangalore and can help digitize as well.

My e-mail id is hemmigedotsdotprashanthatgmail

Please replace the "dot" with ".". Basically my name with dots inbetween at gmail (hemmige s prashanth)

My phone (Bangalore): 2658 6532

The reason why I'm interested in Sri M J Srinivasa Iyengar's recordings are many. I will tell you if we can speak over phone!

Thanks again and look forward to hearing from you.

Hemmige S Prashanth

vijay patil said...

Hello sir my name is vijaykumar patil,i stay in dharwad, karnataka. i am hindustani vocalist. i have same Harmonium made in France. i want to see your harmonium which you have given. please let me know the address

My num: 09886903343
vijay patil