The Editors have requested me to write as a son my impressions of what it was to have a famous father like GNB. I respond to their request not without a great deal of
difference and some embarrassment.
I was the first child and son and perhaps have spent the longest time with him.
Growing up in a large family and being the eldest is a lone- some affair. I was luckily
that I have had for company, his disciples who were staying with us. At one stage of my life, I became more a rasika of GNB than his son!
I do not remember much of my father as he was seldom in town, since it was the busiest time in his career. Naturally, we his children hardly saw much of him. And when he was in town and at home, he always had visitors calling on him and spending hours with him. We, the children, didn't have a chance !
I can recall only a few instances when all of us have been together as a family. On several days, when he was in the City, he had concert engagements and we were asked not to disturb him and to stay away from the house till evening. Sometimes, we would be sent away to a cinema or a friend's house.
When he had a visitor he used to call me up and introduce me. Often he was not sure what class I was studying in. His hectic career, left him so few opportunities to mix with his children. I suppose that must be the lot of the children of other busy musicians also.
For several years after his death, I could not help feeling that he was just on one of his usual trips! So used were we to his absence.
He was firm on one thing, that none of us should take to music as career. He used to describe the music world as a jungle and
that one in the family was enough ! My sisters did learn music more to acquire a marriage qualification than for art's sake. That too only when he was away and when the teacher was free. one Sri Chinnaswamy, a Nadaswara Vidwan, used to teach everyone
as they grew up. He has played at my father's wedding and is still alive.
At one stage, I became an ardent worshipper of Sri Palghat Mani lyer and wanted to
learn Mridangam. Father, in a moment of weakness agreed and a mridangam was obtained. One day, I made the mistake of
practicing on the mridangam, forgetting that father was taking rest in the afternoon.
out went the mridangam for good from the house! Mani Iyer just smiled when he heard the episode.
I cannot truthfully say that none of us cannot sing, since most of us learnt several songs as he was teaching his
sishyas. Once or twice, he used to chide them and say, ' See he is able to sing just
by hearing, why can't you?' We were all ' bathroom singers' and that too when father was away.
He used to expect absolute silence while he was at home and had a calling bell by his side to ring when any noise was heard. I can never recall his ever coming down and
pIaying with the
children. After the 7th child was born, sometimes mother or sister will take the ' Child upstairs and he would play with it.
One feature that stands out most in my mind was the attitude of my father on the day of concert, be it a free or paid one. From the morning, his mood will be rather serious and he would not talk much to people and giving an impression of being tense. He would have a
very simple meal and would include bitter gourd as a dish in one form or the other for lunch.
He would like a small quantity of rice uppuma at 4-60 p.m. and munch a
handful of roasted almonds. Even when he went out on tour,
he used to take this in a sealed bottle.
He normally chewed pan often, but on the concert day, after lunch, he would stop till the concert was over. He would be humming various tunes and being very curious to know what he was going to sing that day, we used to eavesdrop to hear that raga it was. He would think of Kalyani as the main raga at, one time, Thodi while going in the car and would eventually sing Shanmugapriya or Kambodhi in the end! Many admirers used, to ask us before the concert what he was going to sing
- as if we
knew - and our forecasts have never been right!
Another very important aspect is that he was never late to a concert. Invariably, he would always be there well in time and.
sometimes accompanists will arrive only later.
It is equally strange that he never liked to listen to recordings of his own
music, I remember when HMV made some records in 1946, they had sent sample of these so that
father could listen
and decide what was to be finally selected. All of us very eagerly gathered to listen but within a minute of starting, he asked the machine be shut off and the record was sent to his very close friend, Sri C.K.Venkatanarasimhan's house so that he would decide what was best? He was equally against any one recording his music, as he felt very conscious of the instrument in front and did not feel at home. Most of the recordings we have now were either taken without his knowledge or from someone whom he
would have found it very difficult to refuse.
Particularly, during the Music Academy's season he used to get phone calls from his admirers every minute requesting him to sing this song or that song or that raga or the
other. I do not think he ever knew what he was going to sing till he actually sat on the platform. People used to joke and say that
printing of a programme
sheet for him was a waste.
As I grew up and came in contact with. other musicians, I noticed that this reverence to the court and the tension gripped even great masters like Ariyakkudi,
Pandit Ravi Shanker and a few others. Their humility. and respect for the listening public was a Common factor.
It may sound strange these days when I say that my mother had never been to any of father's concerts! Only once when we were living in Pelathope and there was a function in the residence of Sri K.V.Krishnaswamy Iyer. We compelled her to come. She came very
reluctantly and sat in a corner where father could not see her. As ill luck would have it, on the same evening my grandmother's brother's wife, who had undergone a very simple operation that afternoon died by about 7 p.m. We had to call mother back home.
When father got the President's Award, she came with us to Delhi and was present when he received the award from the Vice President of India, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan.
One other aspect of father was his great reverence for his mother at all times. He would seek her blessings every time he went out on tour and even for concerts in the city.
The disciples had full control of father's finance. All of us had to take money only from them for our needs.
I have never heard him speak disparagingly or ill of any fellow artist nor would he allow anyone to do so in his presence. When he heard a good song on the Radio that caught his fancy, he used to ask the singer to come home and learnt the song from him.
He got the Government appointment in the All India Radio when normally people retire from service but he was acutely conscious of his responsibilities and took his job very seriously.
It amazes me that there are still countless admirers of his music who can recall
vividly even the songs in his concerts and who go into ecstasies in their
nostalgic memories. The younger generation to-day are taking very keen interest
in his music and style of singing and want to know, more about him.
Musician par excellence!
GNB - the first and arguably the most
famous acronym in Carnatic music. The name somehow still
retains freshness even now, many decades after his passing
away. A reflection of his style perhaps. This possibly
explains why, as we are aware, youngsters born after he
passed on have drawn inspiration from his tapes to take to
music as a way of life and a means of livelihood. They
couldn't have been swayed by his striking personality.
G N Balasubramaniam was the son of Shri
G V Narayanaswamy Iyer, who was himself a keen student of
music with an almost professional thoroughness. GNB, a
musical prodigy grew up under his father's guidance.
He could produce super fast gamakam
laden sangathis with strength and weight and with great
imagination. But in such a voice of his, running at so
fast a speed the effects of Brighas, twists and turns
would come in quick succession that he became an instant
hit with both the lay audience as well as those initiated
to the mathematics and science of carnatic music!
His style of Raga elaboration,
rendering of standard kritis in the classic traditions and
apt swaraprasthana endeared him to the average music hall
audience as well as to the knowledgeable musically trained
critical audience of his time
He had taught and groomed a number of
his disciples during his active years. Many had reached
the top grade even during his time, chiefly among them are
M. L. Vasanthakumari, Radha Jayalakshmi, S.Kalyanaraman,
Trichur V. Ramachandran.
"Mani", as he was affectionately
(G.N Sir, to many!) had acted in 5 films, (or, is it only
4?) - including the one with the celebrated musician M. S.
Subbulakshmi in "Sakunthala" as Dushyantha.
Apart from being a great vocalist, GNB
also composed several krithis. Unfortunately his life was
cut short and he pass away in the prime of his
musicianship at the age of just 55.
It was festival in the Kapaleeswarar
temple, Mylapore, Madras. The top artiste to give the
concert of the day did not turn up and the temple
authorities were in a quandary. They decided upon the
substitute and proceeded to meet G.V.Narayanaswamy Iyer,
Head Master, Hindu High School, Triplicane to depute his
young son, Balasubramaniam to take the concert.
Narayanaswamy Iyer could not comprehend the request and
was as confounded as Dasaratha was when sage Viswamitra
wanted him to depute his son Rama. The authorities pointed
out that Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar shot into fame only
in similar circumstances by ascending the dais when the
senior Vidwan Madurai Pushpavanam failed to turn up and
had never an occasion to look back.
The parallel thrilled the ear of the
father. He acceded and the son gave the concert, a
memorable debut in which his guru Madurai Subramaniam and
Pudukottai Vakil K.Rajamani accompanied on violin and
mridangam. Fame and glory crowned G.N.Balasubramaniam
quite soon even as the eastern sun in summer shoots into
the sky and spreads its floodlight with dynamic speed and
no twilight. Balasubramaniam was born on June 6, 1910 at
Gudalur in Mayiladuthurai taluk. He studied in the Wesley
College while learning music under his father, a disciple
of Karur Chinnaswamy Iyer and under Madurai Subramania Iyer. He obtained his B.A. (Hons.) in 1929.
GNB, as he was popularly known, was a
top vocalist of repute in a period which had seen fairly a
large number of top-ranking musicians. His bracing,
resonant and impressive voice and his special style rich
with brisk brikas and pleasing delivery of kritis was a
satisfying and thrilling experience to the vast concourse
of admirers. His unique style, regulated tempo and
masterly delivery were the delights of the audience. His mellifluous
voice would traverse the three octaves and the
three 'kalas' with ease. His brikas were infectious and he
kept his ears and mind open to receive what was best in
other musicians. He had high respect for Ariyakudi
Ramanuja Iyengar, the senior artiste of eminence. He had
a partiality for Thodi, Kalyani and Kamboji and for
Andolika, Nalinakanti, Vasantabairavi, Jothiswarupini,
etc. His disciple, Trichur V.Ramachandran states that his
master's style was essentially of a madhyamakala which
sustained the interest of the audience. His command of
ragalakshanas was amazing revealing the quintessence of
the ragas at the very outset. His singing was crisp and 'sangathis' measured.
GNB was one of the prominent composers
of recent decades. Out of his 250 compositions in
sanskrit, Telugu and Tamil in traditional and his own
invented ragas like Chandrahasita, Sivasakti, Amrita
Behag, etc., sixty had been published. A gentleman with
humility as he was, he would not sing his own compositions
in concerts. His respect for values was prodigious. He
would return the nominal honoraria he got from the Music
Academy as donation. A further feature of his concerts was
that he would review the performances of his accompanists
and his own. His joy would be immense at the excellence of
others. He had a soft heart for rising artistes. His
anxiety to satisfy the susceptibilities of the audience
1>Even as a boy, he had taken part in
musical and dramatic activities in the Hindu High School
which he joined in the sixth standard. Later he took the
lead role of Dushyant in the famous Tamil film 'Sakuntala'
in which another great musician, M.S.Subbulakshmi was the
heroine. He had played the role of 'Narada' in the films
Bhama Vijayam and Sathi Anasuya. Udayanan, Vasavadatha is
another film in which he had acted. He was also pleased
with the rendition of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan that he
became an ardent devotee of Khan.
GNB, the good
GNB - THESE three letters weave a web of magic in the minds of Carnatic music
lovers. As long as he lived - he passed away on May 1, 1965 - he was the
uncrowned Prince of Carnatic Music. His style, his knowledge of music and his
brighas have made him a legend.
My father, Sri Devakottai Narayanaswamy Iyer, was a close
friend of GNB. How this friendship blossomed makes an interesting story. One
day, sometime in the 1930s, my father's friend (Karaikudi Muthu Iyer, the
mridangam vidwan, if memory serves right) visited him. Sri Muthu Iyer mentioned
about Mani, an honors graduate in literature, son of the headmaster of the
Hindu High School. He went into raptures about Mani's voice. He wanted my father
to meet him and listen to him and it was decided to implement it the same
evening. GNB at that time lived in a house on Singarachari Street, Triplicane.
Accompanied by another friend, Babu (C. K. Venkatanarasimhan) Sri Muthu Iyer and
my father made the visit. Asked to sing a song, GNB sang a piece in Kalyani and
according to my father, who himself was the first disciple of Sri Ariyakkudi was
mesmerised by that rendition. Thus started a friendship among the three that
continued till GNB breathed his last.
GNB, in his concerts, tried several permutations and
combinations and would indulge in Sruti Bedha extempore. This was a gift, which
came naturally to him. His brighas were electrifying, to say the least. Once in
the hall of hundred pillars in Srirangam, he kept an enlightened audience like
Chembai and others spellbound with his masterly alapana of Jaganmohini. When the
kirthana, "Sobillu" was finished, Chembai is said to have exclaimed "Oh,
Indha Pillayandan kshemama irukkanum" (``Long live this young man"). Such
was the greatness of GNB that till his death musicians and music lovers used to
flock to his performance. He was also a great teacher and his disciples included
the great MLV, Radha Jayalakshmi, T. R. Balu, T.S.Balu, Thanjavur Kalyanaraman
The friendship flourished. In fact, whenever he saw something
good and worth being possessed, GNB would buy it and present it to my father and
Sri Babu. He had once gone to Calcutta for a concert. After the concert was
over, the Bengali gentleman who arranged the concert was so happy he presented
GNB with a huge tin of Badam Halwa.
GNB brought it straight to Madurai (since he had a concert at
the Madurai Music Academy a couple of days later) and gave it to me saying that
I would like it. After the shooting of the film, "Udayanan Vasavadatta" was
over, in which GNB acted as Udayanan opposite Vasundara Devi, he presented the
veena which he played in the film to my father. Incidentally, my mother was an
excellent veena player and he thought she could use it. It is being preserved as
one would cherish an heirloom. Another such treasure is a wall-clock which
reminds us of GNB when it chimes.
GNB had the courage and humility to prostrate before Ustad Bade
Ghulam Ali Khan in the Music Academy in the true traditions of Thyagabrahmam who
sang "Entaro Mahanubhavulu, Antariki Vandanamulu". If Shakespeare had been alive
today, he would say, "Nature might stand up and say to all the world `Here was a
musician when comes such another'"?
GNB & SST
Music College: The True Story
I happened to read G.N.B., The Man,
His Music and (Now) Memories. This interview with G.B.
Bhuvaneswaran, a retired employee of the State Bank of Travancore
and one of the sons of the late Carnatic music maestro G.N.
Balasubramaniam, in which he has given a vivid picture of his
father's musical career.
about his father's last days, Bhuvaneswaran has mentioned that GNB
accepted the post of Principal of Sri Swati Tirunal Music College,
Trivandrum, after getting a telephone call from the then Chief Minister of
Kerala through an intermediary, Papa Iyengar of Alleppey. Bhuvaneswaran
says his father never consulted anybody, but straightaway accepted the
job. This is at variance with what I know really
the true story.
goes back to early nineteen sixties when I was working as a clerk at
Indian Overseas Bank, Trivandrum. Deeply interested in music that I was, I
was a member of Sri Swati Tirunal
Sabha (SSTSS) right from its
inception. The Sabha was functioning at the Victoria Jubilee Town Hall.
Since I knew GNB very well, he would stay with me whenever he
made a visit to Trivandrum for giving performances. He treated me
like a younger brother and I had many opportunities to have fruitful
discussions on music with him.
in 1963, I learned that Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, who was Principal
of the Swati Tirunal College of Music (then known as Music Academy), was
going to retire from service. In fact Semmangudi himself called me one day
and told me he was going to retire. I made no comment, although he seemed
to think I would.
Secretary of SSTSS at that time was Amirthanathan, while its Chairman was
S. Vaidyanatha Iyer, Secretary to the erstwhile Maharaja of
Amirthanathan rang me up one day at the bank and voiced his
desire that, somehow or other, GNB should be brought to
Trivandrum to succeed Semmangudi. Though Amirthanathan was only a typist
in the Finance Department of the Secretariat of the Kerala Government, he
wielded tremendous influence in the political circles and could
access any of the ministers directly, without getting a prior appointment.
Since he knew I was very close to GNB, he wanted me to talk to the maestro
in Madras over the phone and get a commitment from him that he would
of the College were it to be offered to him. I
told Amirthanathan that it would be a pleasure for me to contact GNB on
days there were no direct-
dialing facilities and so I had to make an
operator-assisted trunk call. As often as not, one had to wait
for minutes to get trunk call connections but that night I was lucky and
got through to GNB very quickly. I explained to him that Semmangudi was
due to retire soon and he should take up his place. He flat out said No,
explaining that he was not interested in moving out of Madras. Around this
time, he had even stopped giving concerts at the Navaratri Mandapam, which
he used to do as asthana vidwan of Travancore. In fact, he had resigned
this appointment. It was
that he had some difference of opinion
with Palakkad Mani Iyer and that he wanted to avoid the embarrassment of
declining to perform with him as the sideman, in the event this was
suggested. But none of us knew the real reason for GNB's decision not to
perform again in Trivandrum. In any case, I felt this too could be behind
his lack of interest and the negative response.
But I did
not give up, nor did Amirtham allow me to do so. I kept calling GNB-- I
must have contacted him at least half a dozen times-- and each time tried
to convince him that he should consider the invitation to head the music
college in Trivandrum as an
and accept it. He finally agreed to
consider the offer and said he would make a final decision after
consulting his bosom friend Babu-- C.K. Venkatanarasimhan, a
criminal lawyer and a former Secretary of the Music Academy, Madras. I
hoped Babu would persuade GNB to accept the job if offered. That's what he
apparently did because, in the event and as a preliminary to making a
final decision in the matter, GNB said he would come over to
Trivandrum to ascertain the formalities involved. I
told him not to worry since Amirtham had
already used his influence and contacted Chief Minister R. Sankar
himself and apprised him of GNB's credentials-- his educational
qualifications and his high standing as a concert artist. I also told him
that the CM was keen on meeting him directly before offering the
Principal's post formally.
point, Amirtham and I managed to arrange a concert of GNB's at Sri
Sabha, with Lalgudi G. Jayaraman and
Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman as his sidemen. The concert, which lasted four
hours plus, was a grand success, but unfortunately the CM could not attend
because of a conflicting engagement.
following day, after securing an appointment, Amirtham and I took
GNB in a taxi to the official residence of the CM. While
Amirtham and I waited outside in the car, GNB met the Chief Minister and,
when he returned to the car, after about 30 minutes, he said the CM seemed
pleased with him and wanted him to take up the
maestro met the CM, Amirtham and I took him to the Durga temple at the
Sankumugam Beach. GNB was a Devi upasaka and he was all the more happy to
have a darsan of his
goddess immediately after his fruitful
interview with the CM.
GNB went back to Madras, he received the formal order appointing him as
Principal of the music college. Very likely, it was at this time that Papa
[Parthasarathy] Iyengar, an advocate in Alleppey, a connoisseur of music
and a very close friend of GNB's, telephoned the maestro in Madras. He
would have learnt about GNB's appointment from his own sources, conveyed
this news to GNB-- not knowing GNB had already received the formal
orders-- and congratulated him. For sure, though, he had absolutely played
no part in the appointment. Bhuvaneswaran is probably right in saying
that, after he received Papa Iyengar's call, GNB proceeded to Trivandrum
without consulting anyone, but it seems he does not know what had
happened prior to Papa Iyengar's call.
is that it was Amirtham who played a crucial role by persuading the
CM that GNB had all the credentials anyone could have to discharge
the responsibilities of the principal of the college successfully. I
played a role too in persuading GNB to accept the job but my part was
nothing compared to that of Amirtham's.
GNB got his appointment order, I was promoted and transferred to the
Quilon branch of the Indian Overseas Bank. But this did not put a distance
between the maestro and me. Quilon-- now called Kollam-- was not far away
from Trivandrum-- now called Tiruvanantapuram. We would meet whenever he
had concert engagements in Quilon or in its vicinity.
event, I was transferred to Lalgudi. It was when I was working there
(during 1964-66) as the Manager of IOB's branch office, that I heard
the shocking news that GNB had passed away-- on 1 May
almost 37 years now since the great and noble Balasubramaniam made his
exit from the Carnatic music stage, but he still fills the air with his
music-- through his recordings and also through the music of many who have
found inspiration in his brilliant music-making.
this is the true story behind GNB's appointment as principal of Sri Swati
Tirunal Music College. I would not have to swear even if one of the other
parties involved-- Amirtham, CM R. Sankar or Babu-- had survived to
confirm the truth of what I have said. All three of them have gone and I
can only presume that, wherever they are-- they are probably sharing space
amidst the twinkling stars with GNB-- they would be nodding their haloed
heads in approval.
Gift of Voice
A musical prodigy was born with all the blessings of God in an environment
and facility for a musical prodigy to grow up under his father G.V.Narayanaswamy
Iyer, who was a teacher in Hindu High School, a keen student of music with an
almost professional thoroughness. The other inmates of the house being Shri.
Guruswamy Bhagavather, a favored disciple of Patnam Subramania Iyer, Madurai
Subramania Iyer, a good violinist who had completed his studentship with Karur
Chinnaswamy Iyer (one of the four great violinists of the day) and frequent
visits of many musicians who came to see Mr. G. V. Narayanaswamy Iyer, who was
then the secretary of Parthasarathy Swamy Sabha. (This house in Sivaraman street
in Triplicane was the meeting place of established vidwans, who were in Madras
or came to Madras).
One of the earliest prestigious music sabhas Sri. Parthasarathy Swamy Sabha
had the distinction of being run by some of the real music lovers, scholars,
pandits, vidwans, patrons and rising artists. Monthly concerts were arranged in
the 1st floor of a building, where G.N. Balasubramaniam had every opportunity of
hearing good music.
The gift of voice is an asset to any musician and should be grateful for, but
then there is a practical problem involved, which a momentís calm analysis will
show. In such a voice running at so fast a speed the effects of Brighas, twists
and turns, come in quick succession that most of the audience, the lay audiences
fail to appreciate and feel restless. Those with a musical ear, sure knows some
of the nuances but this is loss to the lay audience, of course, and also a loss
to the musician that his great achievements pass unnoticed. This was what I had
to impress on Mani (G. N. Balasubramaniam) in those days. The cascade of notes
were so overwhelming that our intimate friends failed to grasp the subtleties as
confessed by them. In this attempt, another close friend and well-wisher was a
trained mridangam expert K. Rajamani, B.A.B.L. (one year my junior in Presidency
College, Madras) trained by Sri. Krishna Pillai of Pudukkottai, another disciple
of Manmudia Pillai. The residence at No. 73, Big Street, Triplicane, Madras was
where we three met. Mani got to practice to the accompaniment of mridangam. This
helped him a lot and taught him many useful bits about mridangam technique which
he could make use of in his concert. Some of the earlier appearances of Mani
were with Rajamani on mridangam. Very many of the earlier performances of the
few early years were at some friendsí house parties, college functions etc.
A performance was arranged by one of his admirers a well-wisher in
Theosophical Society, Adyar under the world famous Banyan Tree (which has been
there for centuries and ever green) Srimathi Rukmani Devi Arundale was the
patroness of the occasion. Her appreciation and applause were noticed by the
press representatives present on the occasion and they gave a glowing report of
the concert in the next day dailies and that meant Mr. G. N. Balasubramaniam (
still my Mani) had arrived and the road to name, fame and fortune were open to
him. Tributes paid to G. N. B. by the press did start the period when he
received invitation from many of the music sabhas in Madras and some important
mofussil towns where they had established Music Sabhas. Nothing succeeds like
success and within a few years, he was among the most sought after male vocal
musicians. His style of Raga elaboration, rendering of standard kritis in the
classic traditions and apt swaraprasthana endeared him to the average music hall
audience as well as to the knowledgeable musically trained critical audience of
this time. He had restricted the speed, ideally suited to his voice at the same
time easily followed by the audience. He had gained by attending the vocal
recitals of the all time great Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar the Kalpana Sangeetham
of Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer and achieved a synthesis of the two models,
most attractive and technically perfect.
No wonder, he was at the top of the profession and he had gathered around him
a large number of admirers, and ardent audience. His fan mail grew fast.
This was not an unalloyed good. The inevitable frequency of kutcheries, the
frequent travel by air, and surface route, the irregular hours of food and rest
began to tell on his health. When remonstrated with his undertaking 18
engagements a month often in places distant from each other, he had only one
thing to say - I must meet my needs. They are great - my family is big, frequent
marriages do and cost quite a bit and I cannot spoon pick and choose and not
undertake so many engagements. This he again said when he came to Bombay for a
concert and stayed in Wadala with his kinsman. The next evening he called on me
at my house in Chembur, stayed for a few hours - would not eat - could not eat -
just a mouthful of payasam and left early to take rest. This incident depressed
me and all members of my family to see him in poor health.
He had taught and groomed during his active years number of his disciples to
reach the top grade among professional musicians of the day - Radha Jayalakshmi,
M. L. Vasanthakumari, Trichur V. Ramachandran, S. Kalyanaraman - to name a few -
and they in their turn had trained musicians fast approaching the top. G.N.B.
had the honor and pleasure of seeing his second generation shisyas numbering
among the top of the profession. He had won all the top honors and distinctions
in the field of music. He was made the state vidwan of Travancore, a Sangeetha
Kalanidhi of Madras Music Academy etc. He developed and perfected a new style of
vocal music rich-classical and very effective, appealing to the people as well
as the pandits
Mani was persuaded by his friends and admirers to act in a film called "Bhama
Vijayam". This film was unique in the sense that Mani and M.R.Krishnamoorthy
(brother of Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer) together gave some excellent music in
perfect unison. Later he acted with the celebrated musician M. S. Subbalakshmi
in Sakunthala as Dushyantha. This film gave occasion and medium for the two top
class musicians of the male and female groups to act and sing together - a feast
of reason and flow of soul.
GNB The Prince Of Carnatic Music
His music had tradition, innovation
GNB would tailor his music to keep the audience engrossed, without compromising on the quality.
One of the criticisms against GNB was that he sang in the
Nadaswara bani. GNB saw this not as a criticism, but as a compliment.
"To expatiate on the sweetness of music is to elaborate the obvious," GNB said in a radio lecture in October 1955. Who needs to be told that sugar is sweet? By the same token who needs to be told that GNB's music
mesmerizes? This article then is a humble tribute to the artiste and the veritable feast he laid before his rasikas.
GNB wrote thus in an article about his hero Ariyakkudi, "Sri Ariyakkudi's music is the touchstone on which we can judge the standard of music of others." GNB signed off with the words "At the feet of the master."
Like Ariyakkudi, GNB too sang in madhyamakala. In his AIR speech, he said that chouka kala should be resorted to when the audience consisted of middle-aged people. A younger audience would get impatient if they had to listen chouka kala singing. Here again, we see shades of Ariyakkudi, who always had the interest of the audience in mind. He tailored his music to keep the audience engrossed, without compromising on the quality of his music. This probably explains the appeal of Ariyakkudi and GNB across generations.
Although there were those who argued that sruti bedham was against tradition, GNB believed that it wasn't. He resorted to sruti bedham, which is especially difficult for a vocalist. It requires perfect sruti alignment and great virtuosity on his part. GNB of course had both.
Criticism against GNB
One of the criticisms against GNB was that he sang in the
Nadaswara bani. GNB saw this not as a criticism, but as a compliment. After all he was a great admirer of T. N. Rajaratnam Pillai. When TNR, moved to Madras, he stayed in GNB's Adyar house. Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer was another of GNB's heroes.
Just as GNB admired Viswanatha Iyer, the latter's son Maharajapuram Santhanam admired GNB's singing, especially his delineation of ragas like Kalyani and Shanmukhapriya. Kalyani was, of course, one of GNB's
favorites. GNB also popularised "Evara Madugudura," also a Tyagaraja kriti.
M. K. Tyagaraja Bhagavatar was a great fan of GNB. Once when GNB sang in the Purasawalkam
Sangeetha Sabha, Bhagavatar cancelled all other engagements, and stayed on till the end of the cutcheri. One reviewer wrote that Palghat Mani's mridangam playing should be called `keerthana mridangam," and GNB's swara singing "swara konnakol." For a GNB concert in the 1940s, the accompanists were Rajamanickam Pillai, Palghat Mani Iyer and Palani Subramania Pillai on the kanjira. This concert was reviewed in the Swadesamitran under the title, "Mummanigalum Maanickamum." GNB popularised ragas like Andolika and Jayantasri. "Marugelara" (Jayantasri) was his
favorite. This writer's father said that he had heard GNB sing Vasudevachar's "Sridhara Pahimam" a couple of times in the Jagannatha Bhaktha Sabha. In 1944, Ananda Vikatan brought out limited copies of their Deepavalai Malar. That year at the Academy, they had a pleasant surprise when GNB sang Desika Vinayakam Pillai's song, "Sonnadellam Marandaro" which had been published in that year's Vikatan Malar. GNB was a vidwan who went through the
rigors of formal university education. The advertisement for his first film, "Bhama Vijayam" (1934) referred to him as "Hutchins records fame GNB - B.A. (Hons)" Although he played the role of that great Vishnu bhakta Narada in the film, GNB sang three Tiruppugazh songs and a Thevaram verse too.
GNB's music would caress and soothe one minute, and excite and exhilarate the next. He had a pliant voice that he manipulated with a skill that was amazing. He could demand of it and it would deliver the goods. He, more than anyone else, showed that tradition and innovation can co-exist peacefully, and that it is wrong to think, "the twain shall never meet."