Biography of a Musician's Muscian - by Shri Sampathkumaracharya
Prof. Mysore V. Ramarathnam (1917 - 2008), is a well know carnatic musician, author, teacher and composer. His 91st birthday and nearly 70 years of contribution to music were celebrated in December of 2007. The only vocalist disciple of Sangeetha Rathna Mysore T. Chowdiah, Prof. Ramarathnam was highly regarded by such stalwarts as Mysore Vasudevachar, Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, Chembai, Alathoor Srinivasa Iyer & Musuri Subramanya Iyer. He occupied center stage on the concert platform for more than 6 decades. He was the first Principal of the University College of Music and Dance, University of Mysore since its inception in 1965, a position which he held till his retirement in 1987. He has trained hundreds of students, guided Ph.D students, authored books on the theoretical and practical aspects of carnatic music, and composed nearly 25 scholarly compositions in major raga-s under the mudra “rAma”.
Vidwan Ramarathnam who has been hailed as a musician’s musician was born at Chittor, Andhra Pradesh in 1917 in a family of music lovers and landlords to V.Subbaramiah and Parvathamma. Introduced to music at a young, Ramarathnamloved to hear his aunt Sharadamma sing. A self taught person, Sharadamma, learnt music by keenly observing and listening to the lessons given to her husband Kodandaramiah by none other than the legendary Pallavi Shesha Iyer- son and sisciple of Manambuchavadi Venkatasubiah, a direct disciple of saint Tyagaraja. Ramarathnam’s uncle Kodandaramiah, a businessman and a great connoisseur of music lived in Chennai on Thambuchetty Street and through his friends, approached Pallavi Shesha Iyer who was about sixty years old at that time and requested him to become his guru and stay in his house to teach music. Pallavi Shesha Iyer graciously accepted this invitation and stayed with Kodandaramiah and Sharadamma for a period of over three years. During this time, Pallavi Shesha Iyer taught Kodandaramiah his own compositions along with those of the trinity. Kodandaramiah very much wanted his guru Pallavi Shesha Iyer to publish a book containing about 300 of his compositions that would include varnams, kritis and thillanas and provided monetary help to the tune of Rs. 3000. Unfortunately, his wish would not be fulfilled. Aunt Sharadamma returned to Chittoor after Kodandaramiah’s untimely demise in Chennai.
It was at Chittor that the young boy Ramarathnam learnt from his aunt, compositions of Pallavi Shesha Iyer (Ika Nannu Brovakunna – Bhairavi), Tyagaraja kritis (Kalaharanamelara, Rama Nannu Brovara, etc.), Patnam Subramanya Iyer kritis (Inka DayaRaLeda NaPai – Chakravaka), and tillanas of Pallavi Shesha Iyer including a tillana in Dhanyasi composed in praise the Mysore royalty.
“Ramarathnam recollects an interesting anecdote related to this thillana from his aunt. When Shesha Iyer went to Mysore to see the Maharaja of Mysore for the first time, he was not allowed to sing in the palace by the palace vidwans. The then Maharaja of Mysore, Chamaraja Wodeyar was a great connoisseur of the arts and provided patronage to many artists from all over the country. Shesha Iyer came to know that the Maharaja would visit the temples in the nearby Chamundi hills frequently and planned to have an encounter with him there free of the court musicians. Shesha Iyer met the king at the famous bull temple. He approached the Maharaja and stated his purpose for the trip to Mysore and narrated to him the treatment at the hands of the palace vidwans. Then Shesha Iyer composed, on the spot, a tillana in Dhanyasi, Adi in praise of Chamaraja Wodeyar:
Pallavi: Dheem, Dheem NadirDheem Charana: Bhoomivelayu Somakulavara Chamabhoopa SheShuni Manavini Vini Kamitartha Phalamu Lichhi Kavumu Kalyana Gunasheeluda Jham Jhma Tha, …
Immensely pleased, Chamaraja Wodeyar invited Shesha Iyer to the palace to the envy of many palace musicians and profusely honored him. Shesha Iyer was invited to the palace on many occasions from this time onwards.”
At Chittor, even as a boy, Ramarathnam’s skills in singing were noticed by a Nagari Varadachar, a High Court Advocate. Ramarathnam and his elder brother were acting main and support roles in puranic dramas featuring songs produced by the Rama Vilas Sabha, founded by the cultural elite of Chittor made up of highly educated people, members of the judiciary, artists and dramatists alike and many plays were produced when the court was not in session in summer. Members of this Sabha included personalities like Ananthashayanam Iyengar who later became the Governor of Bihar, High Court Advocates like Rao Bahaddur TV Rangachar and Nagari Varadachar, Ramakrishna Raju, who served as Speaker of Madras Province Assembly, and officials of district and municipal offices and Chittor V. Nagiah, who played the harmonium and later became a famous actor.
Noticing his innate talent in music, well wishers helped Ramarathnam undertake the first foundational steps that would start his long journey in the field of Carnatic music. He started formal training under stalwarts like Ganakalasindhu D.Subbaramaiah at first followed by Palghat Someshwara Bhavathar and L. S. Narayanaswamy Bhagavathar, a disciple of the great Nayana Pillai of Kanjeevaram.
Palghat Ayyamani Iyer, a well known mridanga vidwan in Bangalore, also a classmate of Palghat Mani Iyer that introduced Ramarathnam to the renowned violin maestro Mysore T.Chowdiah, who readily accepted him as a disciple, after listening to him sing a few krithi-s. Ramarathnam settled down in Mysore and Chowdiah taught him for nearly ten years, grooming him in to a mature vocalist. During this time Vidwan Ramarathnam to become a mature vocalist. During this time Ramarathnam came into close contact with the renowned Sri Mysore Vasudevacharaya, Sri Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavattar, Maharajapuram Vishwanatha Iyer, Musuri Subramanya Iyer and Alathoor Srinivasa Iyer. From these giants he learnt many kriti-s, pallavi-s. The close contacts, discussions, lessons and influence of their music helped him evolve a style his own that is a fine blend of classicism & creativity.
Ramarathnam’s first concert was in the presence of his holiness, Sri. Chandrashekara Bharathi of Sringeri Sharadha Peetam. His most notable concerts include those at the Bidaram Krishnappa Rama Mandiram, in Mysore, Music Academy in Chennai, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, New Delhi, Sangeetha Sahitya Kalakshetra in Mumbai, as well as concerts at Bangalore Gayana Samaja, and Aralikatte Ramamanidiram festivals, and Bangalore Karnataka Gana Kala Parishat. He has performed extensively over AIR. He has performed to the accompaniment of leading artists including his guru T. Chowdiah, Palghat T.S. Mani Iyer, T.N. Krishnan and his brother T.N. Mani, V. Govinda Swamy Naickar, Sri Chalukudi Narayana Swamy, M. Chandrashekar, Sikkil Bhaskaran, T.K. Murthy, Kamlakara Rao, Vellore Ramabhadran, Umayalapuram Sivaraman, Guruvayur Dorai, etc. He has also given vocal concerts in the USA in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus, San Diego and San Jose.
In Prof. Ramarathnam’s music one finds a harmonious blending of raga, bhava, talam and charm of a very rich tradition, coupled with his brilliant and imaginative swaras and marvelous neravals. The famous quote from William Shakespeare
"Age cannot whither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety" ….. Ant & Cleo, Act ii, Sc.2,
might very well describe Prof. Ramarathnam’s music. Prof. Ramarathnam continued to perform solo concerts well in to his 80’s. His last concert was a one hour All India Radio concert recorded and broadcast in spring of 2004 when he was nearly 87 years of age, from AIR Trichy station, accompanied by Vidwan Sri Ramanuja Charyulu (from Dwaram school) on violin and Salem K. Srinivas (Mridangam), Coimbatore V. Mohanam (Ghatam).
Prof. Ramarathnam’s teaching and administrative career started in BIdaram Krishnappa’s Prasanna Seetha Rama Mandira, Mysore. His guru Sri T.Chowdiah started the Ayyanar College of Music in Shri Bidaram Krishnappa’s Prasanna Seetha Rama Mandira, Mysore in the year 1945 and appointed Ramarathnam as vice-principal. Ramarathnam served this institution for 20 years as a teacher and administrator.
With the opening of the Mysore University College of Fine Arts in 1965, Prof. Ramarathnam became its first principal serving it until 1977. During this tenure, he nurtured the growth of the college into a premier institution. There he helped establish bachelors, masters and doctoral degree programs in music, dance and drama and many students have and continue to benefit from these programs. He also served many universities including Venkateshwara University, Thirupathi, Benares Hindu University and Kerala University in various capacities.
He spared no efforts to foster the creation of a dynamic environment for the study of theory and practice of vocal and instrumental music, Bharatha Natyam and drama by enabling interactions with leading personalities in the respective fields. The College of Fine Arts was the venue for many concerts, lecture demonstrations and discussions and performances with famous artists like T. Chowdiah, Dr. Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Smt. D.K. Pattamal, Smt. M.L. Vasanthakumari, Legendary T.R. Mahalingam, Sangeetha Kalanidhi Alathoor Srinivasa Iyer, Ramnad Krishnan, Emani Shankara Shastry, Chitti Babu, Dr. V. Raghavan, Prof. P. Sambamurthy, Dr. Narayana Mennon, Yamini Krishnamoorthy and her father Prof. Krishnamoorthy an expert in Bhratha’s Natya Shastra, Vaijayanthimala, Hemamalini, Kamala Lakshman, etc.
After retirement in 1977, he served as an emeritus UGC professor for three years from 1977-80 at the University College of Fine Arts. During this period he researched and wrote an authoritative record of the Patronage and Contribution of the Mysore Wodeyars to Carnatic Music. The Karnataka Govt. Book Authority later published this research work, in the form of a book Contribution and Patronage of Mysore Wodeyars to Carnatic Music.
Prof. V. Ramarathnam has trained a very large number of students. His distinguished disciples include late Neelamma Kadambi, T.R. Srinivasan, T.M. Madhuranath (also a disciple off T.R. Mahalingam), N. Nanjundaswamy, Dr. B.R. Shamachar, K.J. Venkatachar, Katapathoor Krishnamurthy, Prof. T.S. Rama, G.R. Jaya, Dr. Sukanya Prabhakar, Vijaya Murthy, Dr. R.N. Srilatha, Dr. Nagalakshmi, Dr. T.N. Padma, Prof. Nagamani Srinath, Dr. K. Vageesh – Director, AIR, Trichy, AIR Artists K.G. Kanakalakshmi, Chandrika and P. Rama, Smt Gayathri Satyanarayana, and his own son and daughter Vidwan V.R. Subramanyam and Vidhushi Smt. Uma Prasanna, as well as grand daughters Pallavi Srinivasan and Meghana Srinivasan & others. Many of them are well known musicians and performing artists of the AIR and Doordarshan (TV).