The Carnatic music community on Friday night mourned the loss of one of its all-time greats – TV Sankaranarayanan – a singer who carried on the glorious tradition of Madurai Mani Iyer. Suddenly he collapsed in his house.
What popular singer Sanjay Subrahmanyan recently took to social media in his series On that Note captures the greatness of Sankaranarayanan’s music. It was about a concert that took place in 1979 at the Academy of Music. “Finally he sang ‘Eppo Varuvaro’ and the audience erupted in applause. The kind of applause [he received] reverberated. And then requests came. Someone called out that song, someone called out that song. Then he sang the English note and ended the concert. We walked out and my mother said, ‘He brought in the soul of Madurai Mani Iyer’,” recalled Mr. Sanjay.
His narration captured the effect Sankaranarayanan had on his audience. Mani Iyer died in 1968. In the decades that followed, it was his nephew Sankaranarayanan who maintained his music school, although Mani Iyer had taught a few students.
Sankaranarayanan’s mother Gomathi was Mani Iyer’s sister and his father was TS Vembu Iyer. Sankaranarayanan learned from his father, mother and uncle.
As chairman of the Academy of Music Music Festival in 2003, the year he was awarded the Sangita Kalanidhi Prize, Sankaranarayanan said he was fortunate to be born into a family of great musicians. His maternal grandfather Ramasamy Iyer and maternal great-uncle Madurai Pushpavanam were legends in their day.
He would say that by the grace of God he had become a musician despite having a degree in commerce and law. “Great musicians would visit my uncle and I would have the opportunity to learn and sing through this connection. They honored me by accompanying me to my concerts,” he had said. He also recalled his uncle Mani Iyer’s advice: “To listen to an experienced musician is to practice for ten days.”
N. Murali, President of the Academy of Music, said while continuing the lineage of Madurai Mani Iyer, Sankaranarayanan developed his own singing style. “He sang at the Academy for many decades and his concerts were a great attraction. He truly deserves the Sangita Kalanidhi award,” he said.
Music lover SL Narasimhan, who has a vast collection of recordings by great masters, explained that Sankaranarayanan has a relatively high pitch for a male singer. “He was a crowd puller in the 1980s and ’90s. I remember a concert in RR Sabha. Suddenly the electricity went out. However, he continued to sing the song in Poorvikalyani-Ragam that he had already started, doing “keerthana paramabhavana rama” followed by “swaram”. Only then did the power come back. The incident speaks volumes about the cast of his voice,” he said.
Mr. Narasimhan said Sankaranarayanan introduced ragam tanam pallavi chanting in ragas such as Kapi, Behag, Bindumalini, Revathi and Brindavanasarang. He has also popularized the compositions of Thulaseevanam, a Kerala-based composer.