The undying legacy of Carnatic vocalist RK Srikantan


It has been 10 years since legendary vocalist RK Srikantan passed away and the upcoming annual music festival and award function helmed by the Vidwan RK Srikantan Trust will shine a light on the milestones of the maestro.

His son and vocalist, Rudrapatnam S Ramakanth, who currently steers the Trust, says, “My father lived up to the age of 94, and was on stage for 83 years. This year marks the 70th anniversary of his first performance at the Music Academy in Chennai in 1954; it has been 30 years since he received the Academy of Music’s T Chowdiah National Award in Bangalore.”

As his student and accompanying musician, Ramakanth says he has observed Srikantan’s diverse skills in the classical genre. “His penchant to teach and demonstrate earned him thousands of students and the ‘Best Teacher Award’ by the Bangalore City Corporation 50 years ago. Since this is a milestone year, students and connoisseurs of his music will cherish what is in store at the event.”

On January 14, 1920, Rudrapatnam Krishna Sastry Srikantan or RKS, was born in Rudrapatnam, a small village on the banks of the Cauvery River in Karnataka’s Hassan district. Srikantan was born into a Sanketi family known for their connection to Carnatic music. 

 Dr.R.K.Srikantan with Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer

Dr.R.K.Srikantan with Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer
| Photo Credit:
The Hindu archives

Rudrapatnam is an ancient musical village that has produced scores of musicians recognised by the erstwhile Mysore Royals. Srikantan’s father, Krishna Sastry, was not only a musician, but also a Harikatha exponent, playwright as well as a Kannada and Sanskrit scholar. His maternal grandfather, and elder brothers were also academicians and accomplished musicians.

Music critic BVK Sastry often said the family could easily have established a choral society or a music ensemble with its members, without bothering to recruit extended family, many of whom were blessed with musical talent.

Even though the radio had not arrived yet in RKS’ childhood hometown in Mysore, music filled the house. Much like his brothers, Srikantan revealed an aptitude for music early on, and they all received lessons from their father. Later, Venkatarama Sastry, Srikantan’s eldest brother, took over as his tutor and following which he relocated to Madras to further his musical education.

COIMBATORE, TAMILNADU, 01/12/2013: Vocal concert by R.K. Srikantan and his son R.S. Ramakanth at “Bharat Sangeet Utsav 2013”, in Coimbatore, Tamilnadu.
Photo: M. Periasamy

COIMBATORE, TAMILNADU, 01/12/2013: Vocal concert by R.K. Srikantan and his son R.S. Ramakanth at “Bharat Sangeet Utsav 2013”, in Coimbatore, Tamilnadu.
Photo: M. Periasamy
| Photo Credit:
PERIASAMY M

There, he met iconic musicians such as Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer, Musiri Subramania Iyer and Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. His exposure to their style and work had a profound impact on him.

Be it the expansive taana of Mysore Vasudevacharya, the sparkling janta-swaras of Veena Seshanna, the butter-smooth bowing of Dwaram V. Naidu, the exciting swara-kalpana of Madurai Mani or the poignant portrayal of Yadukula Kambhodhi of Sheik Chinna Moulana on his nadaswara — Srikantan believed their work brought peace in purity.

As a student and teacher

Apart from his musical education, Srikantan pursued a BA degree at Maharajas College of Mysore University and found a job in broadcasting with the Mysore State Radio Station. Post-Independence it came to be All India Radio and eventually Srikantan was transferred to AIR Bangalore. His stint as a music producer saw the introduction of features such as the ‘GanaVihara,’ a music class. 

“The programme was so popular that when it concluded after a decade, students and connoisseurs protested and succeeded in having it recalled,” says Ramakanth.

NEW DELHI, 24/03/2011: President Pratibha Patil presenting Padma Bhushan Award to musician R.K.S. Srikantan, during the Padma Awards 2011 presentation function at Rashtrapati Bhawan in New Delhi on March 24, 2011. 
Photo: S. Subramanium

NEW DELHI, 24/03/2011: President Pratibha Patil presenting Padma Bhushan Award to musician R.K.S. Srikantan, during the Padma Awards 2011 presentation function at Rashtrapati Bhawan in New Delhi on March 24, 2011.
Photo: S. Subramanium
| Photo Credit:
SUBRAMANIUM S

Srikantan trained hundreds of students, many of whom came to be recognised in their own right, such as MS Sheela, TS Sathyavathi, chitraveena maestro N Ravikiran, flautist Shashank and vocalist G Ravi Kiran, as well as other professionals such as K Radhakrishnan, the former chairman of ISRO.

Srikantan was also a composer who crafted numerous haridasa compositions and vachanas for Saivite saints Basaveshwara, Akkamahadevi and Allamma Prabhu as well as for the great seer, Kaivara Nareyanappa. He has also composed for Kannada litterateurs Masti Venkatesha Iyengar’s Binnaha, DVG’s Anthapurageete and Kagga, as well as for the poems of Putina, Kuvempu and Bendre.  

Steadfast disciplinarian

“I had to balance my father’s traditional values of presentation with the demands of the present day when it came to accompanying him and my solo presentations,” says Ramakanth. “His beliefs and focus were strong — neither time nor the changing music scenario tempted him to compromise on his personal integrity in music or his lifestyle.”

Srikantan believed teachers had to be conscious of the fact that they were role models for their students. “My father always stressed that his music, life and habits were the legacy he would leave behind for posterity.” 

Music and Awards

The RK Srikantan National Eminence Awards function will see the Srikantashankara conferred on mridanga vidwan Trichy Sankaran and Shankaradwaita Tatvagna on Sanskrit and Adhwaita scholar KG Subbaraya Sharma on January 14, in the presence of Mahaswamiji of Hariharapura Shankaracharya Peetah and educationist, Gururaj Karajagi.

This would be followed by a vocal performance by RS Ramakanth that would weave in a percussion performance led by Trichy Sankaran on the mridanga, with N Amrith on the khanjira and Giridhar Udupa on the ghata.

On January 15, vocalists Rajeev Ramakrishnan from Chennai and Yagneshwara Shastry from Kerala will perform as will Bhargavi Venkatram and Sampagodu Vignaraja from Bengaluru.

The RK Srikantan Anniversary and Sankranti Music Fest will be held at Seva Sadan Hall, 14th cross, Malleswaram on January 14 from 5pm and on January 15 from 9.30pm. Entry free.

BANGALORE, 11/09/2011: Padmabhushana Sangeetha Kalanidhi R.K. Srikantan being felicitated at a function organised to release a set of audio CDs of H. Yoganarasimham 'Devagitam' at Gayana Samaja in Bangalore on September 11, 2011.
Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

BANGALORE, 11/09/2011: Padmabhushana Sangeetha Kalanidhi R.K. Srikantan being felicitated at a function organised to release a set of audio CDs of H. Yoganarasimham “Devagitam” at Gayana Samaja in Bangalore on September 11, 2011.
Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy
| Photo Credit:
SREENIVASA MURTHY V



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