Lecture on MDR by Prof. P.P. Ramakrishnan

Prof. P.P. Ramakrishnan, disciple of Sri M.D. Ramanathan (MDR), presented a lecture demonstration on the maestro and his compositions at the Narada Gana Sabha Mini Hall in Chennai today. He was accompanied by his son Vid. Easwar Ramakrishnan on the violin and by Vid. Kallidaikurichi Sivakumar on the mrudangam. The 1.5 hour lec dem was organized by Narada Gana Sabha as a part of its golden jubilee celebrations and to mark the 23rd anniversary of the demise of the maestro.

Sri Krishnaswamy, Secretary, Narada Gana Sabha, introduced Prof Ramakrishnan and spoke at length about his own association with MDR. He said he had handled two legal cases for MDR as his lawyer and had the opportunity to move closely with the maestro. He said the way MDR used to speak in Palakkad Brahmin language and address him as “Oy” was still ringing in his years. He introduced Sri Ramakrishnan as a senior violin artist, a former professor of violin in SST College of Music, Trivandrum and former Principal of Chembai Memorial Government Music College, Palakkad and said that he was serving currently at Kalakshetra Chennai, the same place where his guru MDR taught for a number of years.

The lec dem started with a composition composed by Prof. Ramakrishnan on his guru MDR in the rAgA rItigauLa, rendered by the professor’s student Vid. Shilpa Shankar. The song went like this (noted down while the song was being rendered; corrections welcome):


vAggEyakAram lakshya lakshaNa sangItagyam

bahu bhAshA panDitam mahA gAyakam


dEvEsha putrau vyAghrasya shishyam

kEraLa sutam bhArata padma shrIyam


ghana shArIram AjAnu bAhum

guru rAmanAtham shishya krishnadAsoham

manasA smarAmI

shirasA namAmI

vacasA vacAmI

Prof. Ramakrishnan started by addressing Sri M.D. Ramanathan as ‘Majestic Dexterous’ Ramanathan, ‘Maha Divya’ Ramanathan and ‘ManoDharma’ Ramanathan. He presented the following songs:

1) vighnarAja ninnu cAla nammiti – srIranjani – Adi – m.d. rAmanAthan (ANS)

2) tyAgarAja gurum AshrayE – kEdAram – Adi (tisra gati) – m.d. rAmanAthan

3) saraswati sarasa vANi – khamAs – Adi – m.d. rAmanAthan

4) padayugamunu nammiti – janaranjani – Adi – m.d. rAmanAthan

5) sAgara shayana vibhO – bAgEshwari – Adi – m. d. rAmanAthan

6) dhIm nAdhrudhIm dhIm (tillAnA) – ranjani – Adi – m.d. rAmanAthan

I must confess that his voice was attractive and loud to the extent required and he pronounced the words clearly. Wonder why he doesn’t give vocal concerts.

Excerpts from the lec dem (which had content on MDR as well as advice to present day students) are as follows. This is based on notes I took while Sri Ramakrishnan spoke and there is a possibility that some errors might have crept in. Corrections, if any, are most welcome.

  • MDR was a great bhakta of Saint Thyagaraja, Lord Rama and his guru Tiger Varadachariar. He used the mudra “varadadAsa” (dAsa of Tiger Varadachariar) in his compositions. (Prof Ramakrishnan uses the mudra “krishnadAsa” as he is a devotee of Lord Krishna and also a disciple of veteran violin maestro Sri T.N. Krishnan, apart from being a disciple of Sri MDR)
  • A person gets one-fourth of his knowledge/education in any field from his teacher, one-fourth on his own by practice and by applying his own intelligence, one-fourth from fellow students, and the remaining one-fourth gradually over time through experience

AchAryAt pAdam AdattE pAdam shishya svamEdhayA

pAdam sA brahmacAribhyAh pAdam kAlakramENa ca

  • MDR started off by singing like his guru Sri Varadachariar and later evolved a distinct style of his own that suited his shArIram and his vidwat. Today’s students should not plainly copy the style of their guru blindly. They must adapt it to suit their own shArIram and level of knowledge. They must imbibe the style and as the shlOkA above says, refine it by observation and with experience
  • MDR bought sAhitya bhAvam into his renditions. There was once a period in carnatic music when sAhityA was not much stressed upon because it was not available like it is today through various channels (like books and the internet). Access to words and meanings was very limited and artists back then had to do a lot of hard work to get hold of the correct words and their meanings. Our ancestors have struggled a lot to bring the art to the form it is in today
  • The tradition of singing according to a particular school is slowly disappearing in Carnatic Music as these days gurukula vasam is almost non-existant and institutes/universities are the places of learning. Though students may get to learn from teachers belonging to different styles, they do not get training a particular bANi. They get patantaram of different styles. He sang the dharmavati kriti “bhajana sEya rAdA” as an example in Sri T.M. Thyagarajan’s patantaram
  • The first kriti sung in the concert “vighnarAja ninnu” is in the Thyagaraja mould
  • The second kriti “thyAgarAja gurum AshrayE” is in the Dikshitar mould, reflected especially in the madhyamakAlam used towards the end of the caraNam.
  • The fourth kriti “padayugamunu” has been composed in Syama Sastri style
  • The fifth kriti in the list above “sAgara shayana vibhO” was composed by MDR after getting inspired from a lec dem on Dhrupad style of Hindustani music which he attended one fine morning at the Music Academy, Chennai. He got so impressed that he came home and composed this composition on Lord Padmanabha in the rAga bAgEshwari (bAgEshrI) in the afternoon itself.
  • It is a common misconception that tillAnAs should only be fast paced. MDR has composed several gems in slow pace. The ranjani tillAnA (the last item in the song list above) is a masterpiece
  • Many people had this misconception that MDR was not strong in kaNakku (calculations) while singing. This is false. Though he did not use much kaNakku usually in his concerts, he made full use of calculations while composing ciTTaswarams for many songs. MDR had a passion for composing ciTTaswarams and he did this not only in his compositions but also for songs of other great composers like Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar. Prof Ramakrishnan sang ciTTaswarams composed by MDR for the three kritis “hariharaputram” (vasantA), “chandram bhaja mAnasa” (AsAvEri) and “divAkaratanujam” (yadukulakAmbOji) and also for MDR’s own composition “thyAgarAja gurum AshrayE“.

Calculations for last avartanam of the ciTTaswarams in this song as sung by the professor were as follows:

  • 1 Avartanam of Adi tALam (tisra gati) = 48 aksharams
  • Last avartanam of ciTTaswaram had the kaNakku: 6 + 15 + 10 + 5 + 1 + 5 + 1 + 5 aksharams to make a total of 48 aksharams
  • It came like

tha dhi ki Na thom , (6)

tha ; dhi ; ki; Na; thom; (15)

tha, dhi, ki, Na, thom, (10)

tha dhi ki Na thom, (5 + 1)

tha dhi ki Na thom, (5 + 1)

tha dhi ki Na thom (5)

  • Equivalent swaram representation was sung as

S S M G M , (6)

G; R; S; N; P; (15)

G, R, S, N, P, (10)

G R S N P, (5 + 1)

R S N P M, (5 + 1)

M G R S R (5)

Prof Ramakrishnan felt that the time given to him to talk about a maestro of MDR’s greatness was very less. He said he had wanted to cover a lot more things but couldn’t for want of time. Hope other sabhas/organizations take a cue and invite him for similar lec dems.

11 thoughts on “Lecture on MDR by Prof. P.P. Ramakrishnan

  1. Hello Ram,
    Nice review!By the way,is WordPress better for a blog than Blogspot?I observe that you have changed from Blogspot.The reason I am asking is that I plan to start one by the next week(hope I’ll be able to post atleast half as regularly as you!).

  2. Well there are things that you will like and dislike with both wordpress and blogspot. The biggest advantage that blogspot offered me was that I could change the blog template (the way the background appears etc) for free to whatever my imagination and html would allow me to. Its been ages since I used blogspot; so I don’t know if this feature is still there. Later I found out that though I couldn’t change the wordpress template, there were enough that I could choose from and still stay happy with my choice. Why did I shift from blogspot to wordpress? Here are a few reasons I remember (there were more which I can’t readily recall now):

    * WordPress gave me detailed web-site/post statistics (Blogspot didn’t at the time I shifted; I had to use external sites to get detailed stats)

    * I could import all my old posts from blogspot into my wordpress blog. I lost the formatting on many of the posts but then that was not enough to prevent me from switching.

    * The Indian ISPs had decided all of a sudden one fine morning to ban all blogspot blogs in accordance with a govt order which they might have misinterpreted. Though the ban was lifted a few days later, it proved to be the final nail in the coffin as I couldn’t blog for a few days and I had already been contemplating a move to wordpress for a long while.

    I would suggest you try out both blogspot and wordpress … may be make the posts private and explore both before choosing one and continuing with it. Looking forward to reading your blog soon !!

  3. Thank you for attending the best events in town and then remembering to post the details here!

    Looking forward to more.

  4. Hello Ram,
    This is just to let you know that my blog is up,atleast in the outer framework.I have not formatted it well enough.Will do it soon.
    The link is http://nadasudha.wordpress.com.
    It will take some time for me to figure out the numerous options available.

  5. Sorry.The link above is corrupted due to the inclusion of the full stop.I guess you should have the link now.I am posting while being logged in.

  6. Thanks for a wonderful and useful coverage of an important event concerning one of the unhonoured and unsung heroes of carnatic music, of whom I also happen to have been a disciple for a while.
    Is it not possible to get a copy of the lec dem from Sri Ramakrishnan?Better still, is it not possible to arrange for a full fledged lec dem by him somewhere, at my residence in Neelangarai for example?

    1. Thanks Sri Rangarajan. I do not know if any copy of the lec dem is available. I also do not know Sri Ramakrishnan personally and am hence unable to help you with your query as of now.

    2. Hi Rangarajan, Ram,

      Just came across this. Prof PP Ramakrishnan is my guru. He is currently staying in Kazhipattur, near Siruseri, Chennai. I can put you in touch with him. I am sure he will be thrilled to hear from you.


  7. Could some one please provide me with the contact details of Shri Prof PP Ramakrishnan sir . I am 80 years old and I am unable to guide my son .
    I would like my grandson and granddaughter to learn from him . If there is a address please provide me with the same .

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