By M.V.Ramakrishnan

Sunday, August 4, 2013

MDR Saga : When God Was More Merciful Than Mere Earthbound Music Critics!

The trouble with the severely adverse criticism which the legendary Carnatic vocalist M.D. Ramanathan (alias MDR) used to attract from time to time from some hard-hitting music critics was that there was a small grain of truth in it, which was often either grossly exaggerated or was viewed in a flawed perspctive without considering all relevant aspects.  And MDR's own provocative way of responding to harsh criticism was to make an exaggerated display of the disputed feature now and then.
As an articulate layman and self-appointed advocate, I found that one of the convincing ways of defending MDR against severe opposition was to concede the basic element of truth in the adverse criticism.  So I was very happy whenever he made a real faux pas which attracted my own unpleasant comments  --  for it gave me an excellent opportunity to prove my credentials as an unbiassed observer, which enabled my high praise for MDR's music to carry absolute conviction.

The following review in the Hindustan Times Evening News in 1976 firmly established MDR's iconic status in New Delhi, which could never again be diminished by any amount of adverse criticism in the Capital's Press.


Glossary/Annotations(in same order as in text)

Vaathapi Ganapathim Bhajay  --  A well-entrenched initial song in Carnatic music recitals, in the tune Hamsadhwani, composed by Dikshitar, one of the three most venerable classical composers known as The Trinity.

Basic tonic  --  Deep droning sound of subsidary string nstrument in background, anchoring the chosen pitch. 

Lord Ganapathi  --  Benevolent Hindu God, in human form with majestic elephant's head, whose blessings are invoked in the beginning of many religious proceedings and cultural events, including (and especially) Carnatic music recitals.

Krithi  --  Song. the predominant (but not excluusive) form of compositions in Carnatic music.

Hindolam  --  A major raga, or codified melody.

St. Thyagaraja  --  One of The Trinity.

Endaro Mahaanubhaavulu  -- The last of a set of five famous recitative songs composed by St. Thyagaraja, known as the 'Pancharatna Krithis', (meaning 'Five Gem Songs'), which are rendered as a chorus by whole congregations on ceremonial occasions, mainly on the Saint's birth anniversary. 

Long pauses  --  MDR's slow and stately style had many silent stretches, which needed to be filled by a delicate touch on the percussion instruments. 

Limpid pool  --  Dipping in the holy waters of a sacred river, lake, seashore or temple tank, is a standard Hindu ritual of meditative worship or worshipful meditation.


Evening News, New Delhi
October, 1976

A Tale Of Two Concerts

I have repeatedly written in these columns telling the public what musical treats to expect from M.D. Ramanathan.  But his recital for the Karnataka Sangeetha Sabha at the Patel Auditorium on October 10 surpassed even my own hopes and predictions.

What would you legitimately expecxt in the best Carnatic music concert you can imagine?  Form?  Content?  Soulfulness?  Spiritual joy?  Excitement?  Repose?  Mystic Vision?  Fulfilmemt? . . . .   Mention what you will, and it was there in this recital.

Nothing in this wretched world is so perfect that it doesn't have a flaw.  And so perhaps it was inevitable that in the first half hour (most of which was taken up by the invocative prayer Vaathaapi Ganapathim Bhajay) the recital should have tended to drag badly.

I am constantly urging others to recognize that MDR's anbormally slow tempo (like his extremely low basic tonic) is a vital root of his serene style.  Yet I found it difficult to appreciate the way he stretched this song, as if every phrase and syllable of it was a piece of rubber whose elastic properties he was determined to test to the limit. 

But Lord Ganapathi is apparently more merciful than mere earthbound music critics!  MDR's extended prayer must have moved Him greatly, for in the next three hours He bestowed on the singer the kind of inspiration which can only be the product of a devotee's communion with the Almighty.

After singing a krithi in Hindolam in a fast tempo which quickly restored the balance, MDR rendered a few substantial, reposeful and beautifully constructed pieces, each one of which stood out like a Roman pillar.  The imposing dome of the edifice was St. Thyagaraja's Endaro Mahaanubhaavulu in the raga Sree.  The maestro spent a whole hour on the raga and the composition, but his spellbound audience had already lost its sense of time.

Though MDR had been down with flu recently, he was in full command of his powers.  His rich, forceful voice and calm, recitative style produced a majestic pattern of sound, which was at the same time a tidal wave which carried you away and a limpid pool in which you dipped and meditated.

The masterful but unobtrusive accompaniment provided by Lalgudi Jayaraman on the violin and Umayalpuram Sivaraman on the mridangam blended well with the vocalist's style.  Sivaraman's admirable way of filling in the long pauses which characterize the unhurried progression of MDR's music enhanced the reposeful tenor of the recital.

There was a large and adoring audience, whose concentration was absolute.  I am happy to note that music-lovers in the Capital also have come under this musician's magic spell at last  And the organizers deserve many kudos for recognizing this trend (or should I say for making it possible?). . . . .

     (The rest of the article concerned a different event, featuring a brilliant young vocalist)


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