A look at some of the recipients of the prestigious award from the south of India for their lifelong services to performing arts.

The gems of south India This years Sangeet Natak Akademi awardees
Features Sunday, October 09, 2016 - 14:10

Every year the world of Indian classical arts look forward to the most coveted awards given by the Government of India. The Central Sangeet Natak Akademi (SNA) is the official body of the government that recognises artistic merit and bestow them with this honour.

The current chairman of SNA, theatre personality Shekhar Sen, the vice-chairman Carnatic Vocalist Aruna Sairam, secretary Rita Swamy Chowdhary and members of the executive and general council of the Akademi announced the awardees for 2015 recently.

The awards were given at the Rashtrapati Bhavan on October 4 by the President of India in a glittering ceremony.

Let us look at some of the recipients of the prestigious award from the south of India for their lifelong services to music.

The Akademi Ratna, the senior most Fellowship award of the Akademi, is given to veteran artistes. This year it was conferred to only one person- veteran Bharatanatyam guru, dancer, musician, and composer C V Chandrasekhar, who is also the world’s oldest performing male soloist Bharatanatyam dancer.

C V Chandrasekhar

Fondly addressed as "CVC Sir" or "Chandru Anna", he is a graduate of one of the first batches of Rukminidevi Arundale’s Kalakshetra in Madras. He took his training in Bharatanatyam from legends like Sarada Hoffman, Karaikkal Saradamba, S Sarada, K N Dandayudhapani Pillai and Mylapore Gowri Ammal. He also trained in Carnatic music under Budallur Krishnamurthy Sastri, T K Ramaswamy Iyengar, M D Ramanathan, Mudicondan Venkaramana Iyer and Mysore Vasudevachari.

CVC taught at the Banaras Hindu University in 1958 and later at Maharaja Sayajirao University in Baroda for a decade. A number of students trained under him. In fact, most male dancers look up to him as an ideal inspiration to have a long and successful performance career. CVC was honoured with some of the most prestigious awards including the Kalidas Samman and Padma Bhushan.

Several Carnatic musicians were awaded other senior SNA awards this year. The first among them are the famous "Rudrapatnam Brothers". R N Thyagarajan and R N Tharanathan are barely known by their names.

For the last five decades these brothers have been enthralling audiences across the world with their music. Hailing from a musical family, they were trained by their father R K Narayana Swamy and other gurus like R K Venkatarma Shastry. The "Rudrapatnam Brothers" represent the last of the glorious Carnatic vocal music tradition from the state of Karnataka.

R N Tharanathan

R N Thyagarajan

Shy and charming in her persona, Suguna Varadachari is known more as a teacher and less as a performer. She trained in Carnatic vocal from legendary gurus like P K Rajagopala Iyer , Musiri Subramaniya Iyer and K S Krishnamurty. She is also a trained Veena artiste. For two decades from 1984, Suguna served as a faculty member at the University of Madras. She has also received numerous awards including the "Sangita Kalacharya" award from the Madras Music Academy.

Suguna Varadachari

Among instrumentalists who received the SNA award this year, the selection seemed scant. The first award was given to Carnatic violinist Lalgudi G J R Krishnan. The son and disciple of the legendary Lalgudi Jayaraman, Krishnan began his training at a very early age form his grandfather Pallavi Gopala Iyer. Krishnan accompanied several stalwarts of Carnatic vocal like Semmangudi and Nedunuri. He currently plays concerts with his sister Lalgudi Viji.

Lalgudi G J R Krishnan

Krishna has composed music for documentaries and recorded several albums of his own music. He and his sister keep the flag of Lalgudi Bani of violin flying high by training a large number of students across the world.

Among the Nagaswaram artistes Mambalam M K S Siva was awarded with the SNA award this year. Siva belongs to the traditional community of performing artistes in Tamil Nadu. He took his training from gurus like M K Swaminathan and Kalakadu Ramanarayana Iyer. Both Krishna and Siva are "Kalaimamani" awardees, the highest culture award given by the government of Tamil Nadu through the Tamil Nadu Eyal Isai Nataka Manram.

Mambalam M K S Siva

In the category of "music for dance" this year’s SNA awardee is V Rajkumar Bharathi. What would the world of Bharatanatyam have been without his musical contribution? Rajkumar took initial training in music from his mother Lalitha Bharathi. He was further groomed by stalwarts like Valliyur Gurumurthi, Dr Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna and T V Gopalakrishnan. And he is the great grandson of the one and only poet Subramanya Bharathi.

V Rajkumar Bharathi

Rajkumar was a genius of a prolific concert singer for many years. An unfortunate series of health issues that affected his vocal chords brought his successful performing career to a grinding halt. But that did not stop or discourage him. He channelised his energies towards becoming a music composer for dance. Today, he is the "go to" person for every Bharatanatyam dancer. His musical scores have often enriched many a dance performances.

It was however a bit disappointing to note that no recognition was given to India’s national instrument, the Veena. The instrument and its practitioners are on a steady decline. We barely have a dozen decent Veena artistes of any international worth. It would be a matter of great shame and embarrassment if India’s national instrument ends up being a museum piece.

Images courtesy : The Central Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi

(Veejay Sai is an award-winning writer, editor and a culture critic. He writes extensively on Indian performing arts, cultural history, food and philosophy. He lives in New Delhi and can be reached at vs.veejaysai@gmail.com)

Also read:

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Remembering the magic of Lalgudi Jayaraman, a genius musician and composer

How Munshi Premchand made his way into south Indian cinema

How Krishna is celebrated in south Indian classical music and dance

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