GNB AND HIS GREAT NEW BANI
Memorable -this is how GNB's music can be described. So much of his music is still reverberating in the ears of those who had been fortunate enough to hear the Master during his peak days. ' Divine ', ' Memorable ', ' Scintillating ', ' Excellent ',
' Gandharvaganam ', ' Entertaining ', etc., had been the words used by critics and laymen alike to describe his concerts. What is it that made GNB so great in an era of great musicians? Was it his charming personality? Was it his pleasing and sonorous voice which served him like a slave? Was it the artistry and poetic appeal that permeated his music? Was it his originality and analytical approach to music in general? Was it his extraordinarily competent way of kriti singing that made further improvement in those kritis well nigh impossible? Was it his way of presenting RTP embellished with technical niceties like Sruti-beda, swara ragamalika, etc.? Was it his captivating
' thukkadas ' that created a special interest for the listeners in the post-pallavi sessions of his concerts?
Fusion of factors
It is impossible to single out any of these as the reason for his greatness or for the special irresitible appeal of his new ' bani '. By sheer technical skill, astute judgement and masterly craftsmanship, GNB kept all these element in such subtle equilibrium that his listeners were enraptured and swept off their feet to eternal heights. It is the artistic fusion of all the factors mentioned above that
mode his concerts remarkably wholesome and emotionally satisfying to all sections of his vast audience. To quote Richard Burton, the great English actor, " sometimes there is a
mystical interaction between an audience and the artist and it is that that distinguishes the great from the talented". It is
again this subtle chemistry that enables his listeners to vividly recall his music even after three decades.
Mr. Justice K. S. Venkataraman, I.C.S., wrote this about his concerts: " No words of praise will be adequate to describe the excellence of his platform singing. His voice was never dull, birkas spanning fully two octaves and more". The emphasis he laid on the jeevaswaras of a raga, the penumbral effects he could produce around such swaras, the smooth glides from one swara to another, the thought provoking matrices he would weave around swaras, the alternate ending in jeevaswaras, e.g., Dhaivatha and Panchama of Kalyani or upper Shadja and Rishabha of Sankarabaranam and Kamboji or the Madhyama and Rishaba of Kapinarayani and the majestic loop around Tharasthayi Panchama, all helped him to present a complete and comprehensive picture of the raga in a way not heard before.
Sangeetha Kalanidhi T. V. Subba Rao was so full of
praise for his methodic approach to raga alapana that he called it the' Sopana Paddhathi ' or the ' stair-like' pattern of raga delineation. The fantastic way he rendered Kalyani, Kamboji or Simhendraniadhyamam in the early days made people crazy and run after his music like those possessed. Younger musicians and those training themselves to emulate him became totally desperate and many had no courage to continue in the profession.
Sangeetha Kalanidhi T.M.Thyagarajan, an intellectual musician said that after. hearing GNB render Kamboji at Thanjavur once, he had developed such a complex as to give up singing for a few months.
It is said that the great violinist, Kumbakonam Rajamanickkam Pillai, after accompanying GNB for the first time, was so dumb-founded by his memorable and inimitable raga alapana .and swara singing tha.t he had to take some rnonths off for rigorous
practice before he could accompany him again in the next concert. Even after accompanying GNB in numerous concerts, Pillai would hesitate to follow him in certain places and would request him to proceed further. The great Sundaresa Iyer of Thiruvalangadu did not accompany GNB except on a few occasions merely because he feared that he would be virtually lost in his music and would not be able to fill the role as an accompanist effectively. It was very difficult for any violinist to reproduce successfully all the sancharas of GNB. Knowing the limitation, Pillai would sometimes play in the upper register preceding GNB's own singing, of course with the tacit approval of GNB. Such was the greatness of his raga alapana that he could produce hitherto unheard of sangathis and swara korvais even in standard ragas like Thodi and Kalyani.
Even the alltime great T.N.Rajaratnam Pillai whose Thodi has became legendary could not but wonder at the way GNB sang Thodi. Once at Kallidaikurichi, GNB sang Thodi at the request of TNR. The delineation was so superb, full of rasa bhava and uncommon swara korvais that TNR literally wept and embraced GNB saying tha the virtually lost himself in the Thodi alapana. Instance of how great musicians like Gayakasikamani Muthiah Bagavathar and great connoisseurs like the Late Maharaja of Mysore were
moved by his raga alapanas have been dealt with earlier.
The GNB touch
In almost every raga he rendered, there were special swara
combinations and sancharas which can be described as ' GNB TOUCHES '. These embellihed and enriched the ragas so well that without some of these ' touches', the delineation of such ragas to-day seems pedestrian and lifeless. It is the ' Gamaka Suddham ' ana the bee-like tendency of hovering round a swara that made his raga alapana so soul-stirring and aesthetically so pleasant that one could vividly picturise these effects even after decades. So full of life
Jeevan and ' rasa bhava ' permeating it right
through, GNB's music did not only satisfy the ears but went right in and touched the finer chords of the mind.
If GNB's raga alapana lifted his listeners to ethereal heights, his kriti rendering, neraval and swara singing helped them to stay at such a rarefied atmosphere for hours at a stretch, the cascade-like sangathis, the emphasis on swarakshara combination, Jaru prayoga and the carefully structured chittaswaras - a went to make his kriti singing perfect and wholesome in every respect. His method of rendering old kritis in a new mould was so gripping and elevating that connoisseurs and laymen alike couldn't help applauding almost involuntarily.' Even those not initiated in music could memorise the phrases and hum them while travelling in buses and trains. Such was the impact of his kriti rendering on all sections of his audience.
Rare kritis unearthed
The world of Karnatak music owes a special debt of gratitude to GNB not only for his intellectual feat of recasting old kritis in a thoroughly pleasing and highly attractive manner but also for the great pains he took to unearth some rare kritis and present them with thought provoking and mind boggling chittaswaras. The kritis in Chenchu Kamboji, Dakka, Narayani, Deepakam etc. can be cited as examples. The chittaswaras of ' Vararagalaya ' in ' Chenchu Kamboji ' and' Raka Sasivadhana' in Dakka are gems to be treasured and pondered over. They speak volumes for GNB's creative genius, his incomparable raga gnana and mastery over swaras.
Few have popularised so many kritis in so many ragas as GNB did. He used to perfect and bring out some kritis, popularise them through his concerts and switch over to another set of kritis.When listeners were attuned to some kritis and wanted him to sing them again, he would have selected another lot, equally moving and appealing. The previous set of kritis were left by him to be exploited by his disciples and numerous others who strove to 'emulate him as Ekaliva Sishyas. In Kalyani alone
it once used to be "Ethavunara" which was followed by the kritis 'Evaramadukuthura " 'Nijadasa Varadha " 'Vasudeva- yani " 'Sivakameswarim " 'Bajare Chitta Balambikam', 'Nidhichala Sukama' etc. 'Staleness' is one thing that GNB avoided at all costs. No two of his concerts were alike. Even if he sang the same kriti, there used to be some new flashes or new swara combinations which made it different but pleasant and soothing. The ' eduppu ' for niraval will be different. Thus, on one occassion he would take up
Mamata Bandhanayutha ' in Nidhichala
for niraval, while at a subsequent concert, he would switch over to 'Sumati Thyagaraja' of the same kriti. The
niraval and swaraprasthara will be so entire different that the public as well as the puritans were caught spell bound in the" pure melody" that poured out.
It was a concert in Delhi in 1956. Justice T.L.Venkatarama Iyer and many other rasikas went to the concert as usual with high expectations. GNB sang Kamboji ; he could not execute his memorable sancharas in the' tharasthayi' but satisfied the audieace with a finely carved image of the raga, with rare touches here and there. He then took up
' Sri Subramanyaya Namaste ',
completed the Pallavi and Anupallvi in his characteristic way and when there was no niraval or swaraprasthara on ' Vasavathi
' ,the audience felt a little disappointed. But in the charana, he took up the passage ' Thapathraya ' for niraval, decorated it with sneh lively' Pada vinyasam ' and swara matrices that the listeners were amply compensated.
Justice TL V stood up and choked with emotion said: " I am supposed to be an authority on Dikshitar sahityas.I have heard this kriti handled by so many illustrious vocalists including GNB. Still when today GNB skipped the usual niraval of ' Vasavathi ' I was a bit disappointed. But when he took ' Thapathraya' for
niraval and swaraprasthara, all of us were lost in the melody and felt like floating somewhere
in the higher atmosphere. I couldn't imagine that there was such a fine passage with ' Swarakshara Samyoga ' in the charanam. Only a genius like GNB with an inquisitive mind can make such ' discoveries' in time-tested kritis. One will not like to hear any other passage for niraval after tasting the nectar-like niraval of
GNB in the charanam".
This is ample proof of GNB's intellectual capacity and his deep rooted desire to bring out something fresh whether it is raga alapana, kriti singing or swaraprasthara. Once, while singing a kriti in Bhairavi, GNB made such fantastic strides in swaraprasthara with alternate endings in Ma and Pa that Chowdiah just kept bowing at the ending swaras and didn't follow the swaras after GNB completed his round. Apparently he felt that it would have been a futile attempt and might have interfered with the,
' sukhabhava ' that was enveloping the hall. Such was the stunning appeal that GNB's music often had over his illustrious accompanists.
In swaraprasthara, GNB again adopted the star-like approach. Each swara matrix flowed out of the other in a natural sequence. He often enthralled his audience with his different swara endings. For the ' eduppu ' in '
Samajaraja ' in the Sankarabaranam kriti ' Emineramu ' he would employ the following swara endings:
Sa ri ga ma
Ri ga ma pa da ... "
Ga ma pa da ni
Pa da ni sa ni da ni
" and so on.
The endings were different for the same ' eddupu' but were smooth. His swaras were those improvised then and there at the concert platform. He didn't believe in pre-prepared swara mattices, as it was against his instinct to make anything artificial when it has to flow spontaneously out of manodharma.
RTP A Speciality
The Ragam-Thanam-Pallavi always occupied the pride of place in any GNB concert. He would sing a kriti like ' Rama chandram Bavayami ', ' Nenarunchinanu ', ' Vidajalathura ' or
' Vararagalaya ' in ultra fast tempo before taking up the main raga for delineation. This helped to clear the decks, so to speak, for the RTP and create the mellow mood that is required to appreciate the main raga that would follow. So
perfect, Complete and comprehensive were his RTPs that many of his memorable concerts used to be remembered by his innumerable admirers by the raga taken for pallavi, such as the Saveri concert, the Devamanohari concert, Nattakurunji concert and so on.
After a deliberate pause following the fast and breezy pre-RTP kriti, GNB would slowly start unfolding the raga in three or four phases. In the first phase, he would give an all-embracing outline of the raga bringing forth the essence of the raga in unmistakable form and in all the octaves. After that, he would go step by step expanding it, dwelling at length on ' moorchana ' swaras, creating umbral and penumbral effects round jeeva swaras and making majestic sweeps here and there. His sancharas in the upper register were so full of life and verve that a critic likened it to the downpour of honey on a pandal of choice
flower decoration. The finale used to be his inimitable birkas covering two and a half octaves in majestic sweeps.
As the discerning rasika V.R.Ramabadran had mentioned in his letter to " SRUTI " GNB's brikas had musicality and precision. Those having even a superficial knowledge of music will understand how difficult this combination of musicality and precision is. Many others copied GNB in this respect, who failed miserably precisely because they were unable to fulfil the two requisites.
His sancharas in manthara sthayi would be audible even to those at the farthest end of the hall. It was indeed a ' Nadasadhana ' and not a flash of vocal dexterity. Similarly, when he used to touch the Tharasthayi Dhaivata or
complete was the involvement of the vast audience in his singing that they felt like floating with him in the realms of the unknown in esoteric delight.
His raga alapanas used to Contain highly technical niceties as ,
'Sruti-bedam'. It was GNB who introduced this technique in the teeth of opposition, popularised and eventually got it accepted by the ' Experts'. He once described ' Sruti-bedam ' as ' transformation of co-ordinates '- a vivid description in terms of
analytical geometry. A more apt comparison
is hard to find. it is a highly involved process, as one has to literally walk on a razor's edge. It has to be handled with great dexterity. Any small onal variation may cause ' apaswara ' and spoil the whole raga
alapana. While explaining this to musicians, GNB likened it to the fine skill required by an expert cook in adding a bit of salt to Paall Payasam, a sweet dish. If it is too little, it will go unoticed; if it is too much it will spoil the whole dish. So is the case with '
Sruti bedam' said GNB. It is difficult to explain this more lucidly. One has to listen to the great masters, comprehend the technique and apply it with the dexterity required. It is something that has to be ' felt ' instinctively and applied intuitively.
The node of ' thanam ' adopted by GNB was again very pleasing and provided the effect of Veena. The tonal variations and the
nasal sound imparted the masculine character to his ' thanam '. Further, the pleasant and symphonic phrases adopted by him
on tha thanana - Ananda thabana thahanana - etc.
enriched the ' thanam ' which he used to sing in 3 phases, covering nearly two octaves. The' Thuraga' variety of thanam mostly employed by him gave the effect of
gallopping horses and the dextorous
brikas greatly enhanced its aesthetic valuc.
With regard to Pallavis, GNB adopted the well known ones in ' Two Kalais' or ' Four Kalais '. Often he used to sing short pallavis in ' Single Kalai ' which looked simple but which, according to Dr. MLV, were extremely difficult to reproduce. Only a gifted musician like GNB with his complete control over laya can handle such short pallavis successfully. With ' Anulo- mam ', cascade like swaraprasthara and the finely carved swara ragamalika, his pallavi used to be a full feast in itself as it comprised all the special features of Karnatak Music. The sequence of ragas in the swara ragamalika and the lucid swara combinations evoked appreciative nods and approbation from his vast audience.
Post Pallavi Phase
Normally, in many concerts, the audience used to melt away soon after Pallavi. Not so in GNB concerts. It was GNB who
created a special interest in the post-pallavi session of his concerts with his lively ' thukkadas '. He introduced successively many pieces, attractively set as ragamalikas. Earlier, it was the
era of 'Chinthai Arinthu Vadi' and' Thikku Theriatha KatiI '. Then came ' Velan Varuvarodi ' and ' Kettapozhuthu orul Koduppan Kannan '. Still later came' Kannanai Kanpadh po' and ' Sonnatkai Seithida'. Even in these pieces, GNB introduced special effects which, with the dexterous playing of Palgha Mani Iyer, caused thrills and spontaneous joy to his listener.
slole ragamalikas were no less entertaining. GNB paced them with highly intrieate but emotionally
pleasing sanchars which brought out the raga bhava as well as the artha bhava.
Everyone of his memorable concerts could be equated to
a sculptural masterpiece where different elements are well propotioned that
perfect in itself, yet the piece as a whole was aesthetically perfect and emotionany satisfying. His selections of ragas and keertanas was so judicious and so well suited to the moods of the audience that both the musician and the audience would be getting finely attuned and wrapped up as one entity and floating together to musical peaks. The carved sequence of the metrical and aesthetic balance of kritis, the variation of thalas, the studied pauses between one kriti and the next, all were so crafted by the artist in GNB that the concert became an organic entity, at once pleasant and soul elevating.
Guna, Naya, Bigu
Another connoisseur of music Sri V.P.Raman, once said that the three letters GNB stood for 'gunam'
' nayam ' and
,' bigu '
a fitting and accurate assessment of the music of GNB. GNB's music had that quality characteristic of every great work of art. As we define the' quality of life' as that which encomppasses so many factors that go to make life worth living, so was the quality of his music: with many features that made suoo music not only worthy of hearing but offering ground for reflec- tion retrospectively. Judged by this standard, GNB's music had quality in abundant measure.
The other two aspects alluded to by V.P.Raman are 'melody'
and ' sparkle' which were present in a highly balanced way in GNB's kriti singing. If one sangathi in the pallavi of a kriti, for example, is melodious, the other will be colourful, thus making the pallavi portion aesthetically balanced and musically sound. The sangathis of ' Sundaradhara Debam ' in Panthuvarali and those of
Hathamujesithivi ' 'Thyagarajanutha' in the Kapinarayani master-piece can be cited as examples of
this interesting mixture of ' nayam' and ' bigu'.
Scale of Proportion
Equally well versed in the grammatical as well as the practical
aspects of music, GNB had an uncanny sense of scale and
propartion, the two vital requisites of any artistic masterpiece. With regard to music, these have added significance. Every raga other than the major ones is circumscribed by certain limitations. For example, one cannot and perhaps should not, deliniate Rasikapriya raga to the same extent as Andolika or Hindolam as the rakti aspect will be diminished. Again, some prayoga in a raga which are important for bringing out the ragaswarupa have to be handled with a delicate touch
Yadukulakamboji, for example. Similarly, every kriti has its own ' gait '. Marked deviations from it will ruin the piece. Further, great
shrewdness is required in
the matter of selecting sequence of ragas. These are some of the aspects in music where an intuitive knowledge of scale and proportion is a 'must'. It is the perfect understanding of these two vital elements and their inteliigent adoption in practice that made GNB's concerts so lively, pleasant and famous.
Apart from his great competence, about which there Could be no two opinions, GNB was always a picture of confidence. The confidence and sure reliance on his. capacity enabled him to venture breath-taking birka patterns and uncanny sancharas. A less endowed person would not even dream of trying such prayogas. Discerning musie lovers and musicians in the making used to hold their breath when GNB executed those mind-boggling sancharas with effortless ease and amazing perfection and give a sigh of relief thereafter. The great Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, who was admired for his voice culture and manodharma, touched the feet of GNB and exclaimed" when I render a taan like. this, I sing in a false voice but you have done it wonderfully in your
own natural voice".
V.N.Rajan, ICS, in one of his articles on GNB had mentioned a few conditions for judging the true greatness of an artiste whether in literature, painting, sculpture or music - viz. (I) His work should evoke admiration of the tyro and the expert like (2) it should arouse pleasurable memories long after the event. Judged by these standards, GNB was a truly great artist. His music was
applauded by all ; it still rings in the ears of those who had heard it. Everyone knows that
several young artistes, vocal and instrumental, who had made rap id progress in
the later years of his life, had a helping hand from him.
As Prof. T.V.Ramanujam says " GNB can never be forgotten by the generation whieh had the pleasure and privilege of hearing his incomparably superb music, rendered in a voice and with a manodharma for which there were only two equals, Madurai Pushpavanam and S.G.Kittappa. His name endures in the music of his vast sishya-paramoara. The new genre he had created by his intellectual improvisations and spirited singing will continue to enrich and enliven Karnatak music for a long time to come."