- By Padma Varadan


The role of Vina Dhanammal in Rangaramanuja Ayyangar's life

The advent of Vina Dhanammal in Rangaramanuja Ayyangar's life was at one a dramatic and a traumatic experience for him. Dramatic because he had never before been exposed to such depth and subtlety of aproach in music except for a few unusual snatches here and there in some of the then up-and-coming musicians like Ariyakkudi. Traumatic because all that he had acquired earlier seemed mere peripherals and trappings in music before the unmistakable essence that emerged with telling effect in Dhanammal's renditions.

Rangaramanuja Ayyangar


Vina Dhanammal

A good many heart-breaks and even more despair ensued before the Ekalavya could digest, let alone master the intricacies of Vina playing, through trial and error. For, indeed Ekalavya it was that haunted, incognito, Dhanammal's Friday salon sessions for ten years after his introduction to her music. Woefully lacking in expedient, social virtues that generally ensure ready acceptance and popularity among all and sundry, his natural reserve put even Dhanammal off the scent what the strange, reticent Ayyangar loner was upto, week after week, with a small diary in hand, furiously scribbling away in a corner of the dimly lit room, taking a note of unique turns in raga delineation now, of the nimble fingers moving effortlessly on the frets next, of the varied aspects of the fingering technique, of the judicious combination of deflection, plucking, striking, and so on and so forth.
It was not until a broadcasting opportunity that Father fortuitously came by in 1936 that the tide really turned for him. Dhanammal got wind of it in time through other sources and heard him out at the Panagal Park, Madras. Apparently she was highly pleased. The recital proclaimed Father's steadfast devotion to the style and his capacity for assimilation. In an extraordinary gesture of goodwill and encouragement, she promptly invited him to visit her on Wednesdays for exclusive learning sessions. She spotted in him a worthy, competent, musically mature person, enough to carry on her unique Vina tradition. This formal guru-sishya interaction that continued till her end in 1938 yielded rich dividends to Father in respect of repertoire and a convincing Vina technique which could articulate to perfection any musical phrase or nuance. Above all, the coveted association held an overall liberal education for Father. He felt honoured that she had opened up with stimulating accounts of eventful prime years with intellectual stalwarts for her companions. Her erudition left him in awe and her helpless acquiescence in her latter-day mediocre surroundings pained him.

One of my earlier memories is that of a toddler, bemused by the hustle and bustle that go with a celebration in a home. The occasion was Vina Dhanammal's 70th birthday in 1937. My father organised it with gusto mainly to mark his gratitude to a margadarsini in musical aesthetics and partly to set right an act of gross omission, her 61st birthday having reportedly gone by unnoticed. An old, shrunken frame performing to an audience in a speacially erected pandal on our terrace is all that I remember.

In this context, it is perhaps not irrelevant to give lie to a canard that Father had contrived to have his own photographs dubbed on to Dhanammal's in support of his bonafides as her disciple. On the contrary, the negative for the generally sported picutre of Dhanammal was made from the photograph of her and Father together. Moreover, such gimmicks were totally superfluous when he had more tangible, demonstrable worth as a Vina artiste and teacher for over 40 years after her departure. One had only to listen to Dhanammal's extant disc recordings to assess the closeness of his Vina technique to hers.

When the grand old lady passed away in 1938, Father sought to retain the association at a different level. The Friday geetanjali sessions became mandatory thereafter at Sabarmati, our humble dwelling in Egmore, Madras and wherever else we travelled together. Later when his finances improved, he had a life-size statue of Dhanammal installed in the hall upstairs in our house. This helped him draw further inspiration, from her astral presence as it were. An avid student of Theosophy and admirer of Dr. Annie Besant and Madame Blavatsky that he always was, he firmly believed in such possibilities.

The Publishing career begins - Part 3

The Rangaramanuja Ayyangar Saga - Part 1, The Early years


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