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Veeneya Bedagu – Life & Music of Veena Seshanna Lec-Dem by Prof. Mysore V Subramanya @ Essae Music Foundation, 17 Mar 2012

Lecture  Demonstration :  Prof. Mysore V Subramanya

Supported by :

Ashwin Anand ( Veena)

Ramani Sankar ( Vocal)

Giridhar ( Vocal)

Aditya ( Violin)

B R Srinivas ( Mrudangam)

The Lecture Series at Essae Music Foundation is back with another Lec-Dem on a Karnataka vaggeyakara. Prof V Subramanya, eminent musician and critic, and most importantly, the great grandson of Veena Seshana, came in to introduce the life and music of his great grand father.

The tri-murtis of Carnatic Music is known to every one who are interested in this genre of music, started Prof. Subramanya. But, he continued, that many would not be able to name the “Mysore Sangeetha Trimurtis’. Few will be able to name one, but not beyond that. Naming Seshanna, Subbanna and Bidaram Krishnappa as the trimurtis from Mysore, he said Seshanna was the most prominent of these musicians by far.  You always prefix Veene before Seshanna, as one does ‘Mahatma’ in front of Gandhi. Veena and Seshana had attained the status of ‘abhinnabAva’ or synonymous to each other.

Similarly, Mysore is known for its palace and the Maharaja. After that, it is Veena that comes in to one’s mind after that( masala dosa, set dosa, Mysore pack etc to follow) . Mysore Kingdom was associated with this divine instrument for a long time. He said “veeneya belagidu Mysuru’….

Seshanna was born in the year of 1852, when the kingdom was under the rule of Mumudi Krishnaraja Wodeyar. He has a long lineage of musical heritage in his family. Unless the present musicians, where we see 2-3 generation of musicians in their family, Veena Seshanna was 24th generation of the musicians , both vainikas and the palace vidwans. The early generations, were in the palace of Tanjavur during Nawab’s time n Mysore. Bhakshi Venkata Subbayya, the great grand father of Veena Seshanna, was brought back to Mysore by Mummdi , to start the music again in the palace. He was not only given the asthana Vidwan post, but was also given the powers of a ‘Diwan’.

Of his ancestors, Pacchimirium Adiappayya, famous for composing the varnam Viriboni, stands apart from the rest. Viriboni is considered as the crown jewel of all varnas, and Prof Subramanya said, a concert can not fail, if it started with viriboni varnam, which is the most popular varnam till date.  Viriboni is a complete composition, even though it is a varnam, with all the beauty of Bhairavi. Adiayappayya was given the citation as ‘Veena Margadarshi” – Guiding lamp. He referred to a 78 rpm record of M S Subbalakshmi,in which she had sang this varnam. He said, after listening to that rendition, one DO feel like stopping the plate, without continuing, wanting to listen to it again, such was the beauty of that piece. King Sharabhoj(?) of Tanjavur in recognition to the contribution of Adiappayya, presented an entire village of ‘kapistala’ to the musician. This village is later came in to the hands of the family of Moopanar. The family was moved back to Mysore, where they were given utmost respect. The king himself was a musician, who has written a geete in the respect of the musician, composed in Reetigaula, and is called ‘sapta tALESwari gItE’.

Seshanna was born in 1852, to Bhakshi Chikkaramappa,as his last son. Chikkaramappa, himself ws a vainika in the court of Mysore Maharaja. At the age of 10, Seshanna had his major break through. King Mummudi, though a Kshatriya, was very pious. Apart from his regular ‘trikala sandhyavandana’ he used to celebrate all the religious functions. during Shivarathri, he used to invite all the major musicians of South India to have a full night musical fair.  The musicians used to sing elaborate pallavi in various raga and tala, and the court musicians were asked to perform in the same raga or tala immediately after that , keeping the local musicians fully attentive and on guard.  In one such occasion, a musician from Tamil Nadu performed a complicated pallavi, to the shock and surprise of the court musicians. No body could grasp and sing the same, and while they were anticipating the wrath of the king, the young boy ( of 10 yrs) Seshanna, came forward ( to his father) and offered to attempt. His father was taken aback and was scared. The king, not only a learned musician, his physical appearance with all that huge mustache was very intimidating. However, left with no option, he said, this can be performed by my son. Seshanna, matching the shruthi, sang the alapana for 10 mins and pallavi with trikala. The court , mesmerized by his singing, gave him a standing ovation. Extremely pleased Maharaja, placing the child in his lap, showered him with presents. He asked Chikkaramappa, to take care of the young prodigy prophesying him to be a great musician.

Seshanna’s father passed away, when he was only 12 yr old. He came under the protection of his widowed elder sister Venkamma, since then. Venkamma, molded the musician in Seshanna. Seshanna continued his learning under Mysore Sadashiva Rao and Dodda Seshanna ( father of Subbanna).  Venkamma’s regime was very strict. The boy has to practice his lessons every day and was fed only on completion. There was a daily practice chart, which was followed by Seshanna and Subbanna ( who was his cousin).

Sadashiva Rao was the direct disciple of Walajpet Venkataramana Bhagavathar, who was a direct disciple of Thyagaraja himself. Sadashiva Rao had the privilege of performing in front of Thyagaraja, singing a kriti in Thodi, in respect of the great composer himself. Prof. Subramanya said, there is a ‘bhajana mandapa’ in Walajpet on the way to Chennai, which was build by Walajpet Venkataramana Bhagavather, and there you can see a painting of Thyagaraja, drawn by one of the disciples. In the same premise, there is another painting of Walajpet Bhagavatar teaching his students, which also feature Sadashiva Rao as one among them.

Seshanna was the ‘asthan vidwan’ in the court of Maharaja Chamaraja Wodeyar, who himself was proficient violin player.  There are confirmation of concerts where the Maharaja himself accompanied the main singers. Later Krishnaraja Wodeyar, became the king of Mysore, and Seshanna continued to be the asthan Vidwan in his court as well. It was Krishnaraja Wodeyar, who gave the title of ‘Vainika Shikhamani’ to Seshanna. He received titles and gifts from almost all the kingdoms of India, from Travencore to, Baroda. All in all, Seshanna received 42 Gold Medals from various parts of the country. To his magnanimity, all the 42 were given away to people by Seshanna. One Barkathulla Khan, Chowdiah when he demonstrated the 7 string violin, Bidaram Krishnappa and many more were recipients of these medals. His house was thronged by musicians and music lovers. 40-50 people were regular for lunch and many more during the day.

Seshanna had the rare privilege to perform in front of the visiting Emperor George IV in 1912, the only musician from South India. The memorabilia of the same is present in the Buckingham Palace. There was also a famous painting by Raja Ravi Varma on Veena Seshanna. He later joked that he was planning to bring a replica of that painting to present to Essae Music foundation, but will do it on a later occasion.

Seshanna can be said as the principle archtect of the Mysore lineage of Veena. He gave a new definition to all aspects of Veena playing, be it its fingering technique, the importance given to the lyrics, or the method of holding the Veena. He was even mastered the art of playing the Veena standing, which Prof Subramanya said, he atempted once and failed miserably.

There are many books and publications on Veena Seshanna, Yuga Purusha, Purusha Saraswathi, Vainika shikhamani etc.

Music

Veena Seshanna’s kritis are not very popular in the current concert scene. Barring a few musicians and few compositions ( especially Thillanas) , his name is not regularly heard. Prof Subramanya said, it is not surprising, since most of the musicians learn to sing 25 odd kritis and sing the same for next 50 years. He joked that he can predict most of the singers, these days.

Seshanna had a large ‘sishya-parampara’ to boast. Most of the current vainikas of Karnataka are insome way or other connected to this great musician. some of his direct disciples include Bhairavi Lakshminarayanappa ( L Raja Rao’s father) , Chitrashilpi Venkatappa, Thirumalai Rajamma, A S Chandrasekharappa, V N Rao and Veena Venkatagiriappa ( Guru of Doraiswamy Iyengar).

He composed kritis for performing in Veena, Vocal and for Bharatanatya. His compositions include swarajatis, varnams, devarnamas, keerthanas, thillanas and javali ( one javali). He has composed in various tala, many ragaas including a few rare ragas.

Swarajati or Jatiswara

There are 12 swarajatis of Veena Seshanna. He said in Tamil Nadu music circle, they differentiate Swarajati and jatiswara by sahitya. In Karnataka, there is no such practice of differentiating between swarajati and jatiswara. Most of the swarajatis of Veena Seshanna are without ‘sahityam’, hence can be called Jatiswara. Recently, he said, the sahitya of Junjhuti swarajati was found. He has written swarajatis in common ragas as well as a few not so common ragas like Vanaspati and Manavati. He deployed various tala structure from the common chaturasra triputa( Adi) to khanda aTa ( 1 ), sankIrna tripuTa ( 1) and roopakam (1). Apparently, there are only two compositions in Sankeerna Triputa and one of them is by Veena Seshanna. He said, the bhairavi swarajati can also be sang as a pallavi.

Kamboji swarajati, is special. Each charana starts at each swara starting from shadjam , progressing to tara shadjam. There are two charanams starting at nishadam.

01 swarajati – kAmbOji   by  Ashwin Anand ( Veena )

The kapi swarajathi has another interesting take on the raga. Set to Khanda Ata tala with ateetha eduppu, it is fairly difficult to play on Veena.  The kapi has the arOhana of kharaharapriya and a vakra avarohana  ( Note : I could be wrong here in understanding, do correct me if I’m wrong).

02 swarajati – karNaTaka kApi  by  Ashwin Anand ( Veena )

Varnam

Seshanna composed 9 varnams in total, in both Ghana ragas and apoorva ragas ( like jhala varALi). There are two ragamalika varnams one in 14 ragas and the other in 18.

03 nIrajAkshi ( varNam 0 – sAvEri – mishra jhumpa  by Ashwin Anand ( Veena )

Keertanas

He composed 11 keertanas again in popular ragas and few in rare ragas like gowri, natakapriya etc. King Krishnaraja wodeyar once remarked that there are no sufficient kritis in many of the melakarta ragas that can be performed in concerts and asked the court vaggeyakaras to create in each of these ragas. Seshanna took up this challenge and composed one in ‘rishabhapriya’. There are other notable compositions in this raga by Koteeswara Iyer and Vasudevacharya.

04 manasulOni (?) – rishabhapriya   Roopakam  by  Ashwin Anand ( Veena)

Thillanas

Seshanna is widely known as a vaggeyakara for his thillanas. He has composed 17 thillanas, most of them in praise of his maharaja ( poshaka mudra). He has composed in varied ragas including a few inspired by hindustani music ( like darbari kanada, behag and kapi).  Thillanas are usually fast paced suited to perform towards the end of the concert. However, Seshanna’s thillanas are usually with ‘vilamba kala’ starting. In his thillanas, the raga bhava is preserved as is the case with a keertana.

The junjhuti thillana is said to be his signature composition. Unlike its hindustani equivalent, here it is not a ‘sampoorna raga’. The arohana stops at dhaivata. on a side note, he said Mysore and Junjhoti has a long connection. Junjhoti is often used in the music of dramas, and the audio versions of some of the old drama performance are available even now.

Veena Seshanna, to his credit, has explored all the possibilities of this raga composing swarajati, javali, devarnama and thillana. Prof Subramanya recollected a discussion he had with Doraiswamy Iyengar, who had high regard for the junjhoti thillana of Seshanna.

06 thillAna – junjhoti   by Ashwin anand ( Veena)

He said, Veena Seshanna’s compositions are difficult to learn and perform but are good to listen. He commended on the effort by Ashwin in taking up some of the difficult compositions to perform today, as the Vainika paved way to vocals.

Vocal

The demonstration continued with the vocalists on the stage.

06  swarajati – bhairavi   by giridhar

07 varNam ( mAyA A mELarA ?) – nAtakurinji   by Ramani Sankar

08 rAma ninna nera nammiti – Anandabhairavi  by Giridhar

Seshanna has composed two thillanas in thodi which are noted for its dhAtu and jati prayogas.

09 thillAna ( na diri diri dhIm dhIm tanana tana dheeem) – thODi  by giridhar

Devarnamas

There are 5 devarnamas by Seshanna on 5 deities

10 shiriyE twaritadindalendanu ? – junjhoTi  by Ramani Sankar

Prof V Subramanya concluded his lecture thanking the organiser, the artist who supported him and the audience. He said, Seshanna’s compositions are difficult to perform, but remembering a great vidwan is a great way to honour the artist and the blessings of Seshanna will be bestowed upon all those who performed and listened to him today.

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Essae Music foundation by choice, bring presenters who has direct connection with the artists and Vaggeyakaras being presented. This gives tow fold advantage. One, the unknown facets of the musicians and his compositions will be presented with a new insight and two, they bring in a kind of authenticity to the lecture. Prof V Subramanya is known for his knowledge and his command on the subject and language. His presentation today marked by his trademark humour and clarity of thought. He never bore people with mundane and unimportant data, but make the lecture attractive by his appropriate measured approach.

On the artists part, they all participated effectively to the proceedings and a special mention should e given for Ashwin who was very impressive in his Veena play.

Note : This is from the notes of a running lecture and I might have missed a lot of important aspects. More over, Prof Subramanya gave his lecture in his stylish, clear Kannada ( no mishra Kannada) which make me handicapped from absorbing the complete essence of his words. This report would have suffered from that as well, an aspect I am trying to improve. That said, if there are any errors, factual or interpretation, they are entirely mine and request you to let me know if you notice any. I would like to make the corrections as appropriate.

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Posted by on March 17, 2013 in Essae Music Foundation, Lec-Dem

 

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