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Friday, September 6, 2013

A composer of rare ragas

A composer of rare ragas

Sheshagiri Achar’s was a short life of 50 years. But his contributions to the music field are immense, writes Sumana Chandrashekar.

The soil of Bellary has more to offer than the glory of Hampi. Right from the days of the Vijayanagar empire, music and religion, here have walked hand in hand, each supporting and nurturing the other. While religion saw the advent of Haridasas, music saw the birth of great musicians who have enriched the Carnatic music traditions. Coming in the line of such musicians was Bellary Sheshagiri Achar.

Sheshagiri Achar was born to Kamalamma and Raghavendrachar on June 24, 1935, in Bellary. Originally hailing from Mundargi in Dharwad district, the family, generations earlier had come to settle in Bellary in search of greener pastures. Raghavendrachar, a gifted musician himself, performed dramas before he was appointed as a music lecturer in the Madras Presidency Collge. After four years of service, Raghavendrachar returned to Bellary and persued teaching music at the Bellary high school.

Music was the family’s life and living and Sheshagiri naturally started learning music under his father. Raghavendrachar’s demise in 1947 left the family shattered but financial difficulities could beam no discordant note. A radio that played in the town’s tiny eatery was their only precious link to the music of stalwarts and Sheshagiri along with brother Venkateshachar and friends would regularly visit the hotel to listen to the music over a 1/4 cup of coffee.

The ritual continued until a disgruntled hotel owner began to switch off the radio when the boys came. Undettered, the boys would then ‘hide and seek’ the music; come home and pratice it to perfection. With rigorous sadana the brothers carved ut a unique style of their own and became popular among the learned and the laymen as the Bellary Brothers. On the advice of Parameswara Bhagavatar (father of Vid T A S Mani), the brothers came to Bangalore where better opportunities bekoned them.

A-grade artistes of the AIR, the two performed in most major sabhas of the country accompanied by great artistes like Lalgudi, M Chandrashekaran, Palghat Mani Iyer, Guruvayoor Dorai, to name a few. Their refined style won generous appreciation from connoiseurs and critics. Gayana Gandharva, Ganasudhakara, Kalanidhi, were some of the titles showered on them. While Venkatesh Achar served at the AIR Mysore, Sheshagiri Achar served as lecturer in music at the Bangalore University.

Sheshagiri Achar was a priolific composer too. A “man of pious disposition and a musician of rare calibre”, his compositions drew largely upon his intense bhakti. As he himself has written, on the Naraka chaturdasi day of 1961, he heard the Pranavanaada in his right ear and within minutes a kriti in praise of Lord Ganesha had flowed out bearing the signature Vishesha. True to this signature, the 400 odd kritis that he composed thereafter are extraordinary.

As Lalgudi Jayaraman observes, his compositions “are a spontaneous outflow of his heart”. They are not carefully made constructions but divinely inspired creations. The compositions would occur to him either while travelling, standing at a bus stand or even sleeping and snatchng a piece of paper, he would immediately write it down.

Surprisingly, Sheshagiri had no knowledge of Tamil but has composed a kriti in flawless Tamil. The simple yet scholarly sahitya of his Kannada, Telugu and Sanskrit, compositions also belies his very modest formal education. Many a time, a raga would occur to him and then he would research books to find its name and lakshanas. That is how unheard of ragas came to light in his compositions.

After a seven-hour concert in Shimoga in 1969, Sheshagiri Achar lost his voice, something that he, in a kriti composed in 1964, had subtly prophesied. But the fountain of forbearance and strength flowed perennially in him.

“As a true Guru and a staunch perfectionist, he selflessly taught his disciples all that he knew and spared no effort to see that they got it right. When his troublesome voice failed to carry his ideas through, he would play the sangatis on the tambura with a pen to show how they had to be sung,” recalls his daughter and disciple Vidushi M S Vidya.

Sheshagiri Achar’s was a short life of 50 years. But his contributions to the music field are immense. A book containing 25 of his compositions and a very rare 1965 live concert recording of the Bellary brothers has been released. Vidushi Vidya has also taken up the task of documenting his works.

Such great artistes, gems in the true sense are the invaluable assets of any art form. Keeping them alive in collective memory is how an artiste reveres his tradition.

I have added these two links for the benefit of readers

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