This was also the time when Smt Rukmini Devi Arundale had initiated the Sangita Siromani music course at Kalakshetra with the distinguished and respected Sri Tiger S. Varadachariar as Principal of the college. MDR auditioned for the course and was the only vocal student in the very first batch commencing in 1944.
Being the only student in the course meant that Ramanathan could receive extra special attention from Tiger Varadachariar. It is to be noted that Ramanathan is recognised as Tiger's most renowned disciple. Ramanathan held his guru in very high regard and always showed the highest respect towards him. Indeed, a special relationship between the guru and sishya developed with Tiger also recognising his sishya's talents. It has been said that MDR inherited even his guru's squint! This relationship continued for six years until the death of Sri Varadachariar.
After his graduation at Kalakshetra, MDR continued on at that institution - firstly as an assistant to his guru and later as Professor of music. He held this post, as well as being principal of the college of fine arts teaching both music theory and practice. Through his association with Kalakshetra he taught many students out of which perhaps the late Jaya Pasupathi is the best known.
Ramanathan's musical knowledge was highly respected among fellow musicians. He received the 'Padmasri' in 1974, the Sangeet Natak Akademi award in 1975 and the Indian Fine Arts Society's 'Sangita Kala Sikhamani' title in 1976. He was a member of the Madras Music Academy's Experts Committee for many years. He was coveted for the Academy's Sangeetha Kalanidhi award in the 1983-84 season but the politics within that institution did not grant him the honour. Some have suggested that he be granted the award posthumously.
After a long illness, MDR passed away aged sixty on 27 April 1984. His death was due to heart failure. He is survived by his wife and his adopted son (MDR's sister's son), Balaji, who was about 10 at the time of MDR's death. A memorial fund was set up by a number of musicians and music lovers (including Sankara Menon, T. N. Krishnan, K. J. Yesudas and T. V. Gopalakrishnan) to assist his family after his death. There has been a film made about his life but it yet to be made commercially available. I believe there are only three pre-recorded cassettes of his available (one starts with Mahaganapathim in Nattai and the other the Kanada Ata tala varnam. The third is a double album starting with Viriboni in Bhairavi and has a Pallavi in Sankarabharanam). (A short video of MDR is now available. See the Postscript.) His music was heard for many years as the first item of the day on All India Radio in Madras.
M. D. Ramanathan is remembered as a gentleman and a musician's musician. His dedication to his guru, God and music was below none and his music lives on in the hearts of his admirers.
Ramanthan's music was sober, serene and soothing. There was prasanthi in his recitals. is slow rendering not only gave him time for introspective exploration, but also provided the audience with the opportunity to receive the message and ponder over it. The atmosphere he created during a performance was comparable to the bliss one would get while seated on a river bank on a moonlit night. (B. V. Raman & B. V. Lakshmanan in Sruthi No. 8)MDR's music is easily recognised. Perhaps foremost is the rich, deep voice. Next, is the tempo of his music. By and large MDR preferred the vilambita kala (slow speed), although it is wrong to classify his music as totally slow - he would often include a few faster items with speedy kalpana swara passages. Nonetheless, MDR knew where his musical strength lied and his deep voice was suited to the vilambita kalam and it is was in this that Ramanathan excelled. The combination of these two features makes his music very relaxing. It has been suggested that continued listening to his music can lower the blood pressure and relieve stress.
His raga alapana-s were characterised by effective use of gamakam. They were full of bhavam. Again, his bass tone complemented this facet. His raga essays were not long but were concise and precise. Close listening to these essays will reveal the necessary phrases of the raga, without going into gimmickry or wizardry. The listener was always clear of what the raga was and could get the sweetest essence of the raga. Ramanathan's alapana-s in Sahana, Sri, Ananda Bhairavi, Reethigowla and Yadukula Kambhoji will forever hold a special place in Carnatic music history. These moving ragas took on a new dimension when rendered by MDR. Some other ragas that were his favourites include Kedaram, Kambhoji, Hamsadhwani. Like many of the old time greats, MDR did not venture into complicated arithmetic during kalpana swaras but was always had a good control of layam.
During his time at Kalakshetra, MDR taught many students. Since Kalakshetra was primarily an institution for dance, many leading dancers have had music training under MDR. I have spoken to several graduates from Kalakshetra and many have told me that at first they thought MDR's music was strange and unconventional (perhaps due to his mannerisms) but as they learnt more about the art they could appreciate his music more and could realise its greatness. Rukmini Devi too, was also full praise of MDR's music and told her students that it was something special.
MDR had a large repertoire of songs but also had his favourite ones. Nonetheless, every rendition (even of the same song) was different. I have heard his Endaro Mahanabhavulu many times but each is different. On some occasions he begins with 'Mahanubhavulu'. During the raga alapana of Sri raga preceding the Thyagaraja's Pancharatna, he correctly avoids the use Dha as this swara does not occur in this particular composition. In many of Dikshitar's compositions where a madhyama kala passage occurs he will sing the passage in two speeds creating a dazzling effect. This is the case in Sri Subramanyena Namasthe (Kambhoji) and Manasa Guruguha (Ananda Bhairavi). Also, in the Arabhi pancharatna, he sings the charana-s in two speeds as in a varnam. He has started Sogasuga (Sri Ranjani) with the line 'mridangatalamu'. While singing kalpana swaras for the Vallachi (Navaragamalika) varnam he has returned to the pallavi line in (Kedaram) on one occasion while he has used Kambhoji finishing phrases with Ma Ga .. Padasaroja on another. There are many more such examples of his imaginative music that other MDR fans can relate. I look forward to listening to his renditions because they always offer something different.
MDR would take his own time before a concert, between items and even sometimes during items if he wasn't quite ready. Perhaps his kudumi was a little too tight (or loose) for his liking and he would thus tie and untie it on many instances during a concert. The mridangist would always have to be prepared to play an extra few avartanam-s (or three) between sections of a krithi. Likewise the violinist had to be careful not to rush on to another line or sangathi as MDR loved to repeat lines several times.
Some of his compositions include:
Krithi Ragam Talam Language Anaimakhkattanai Manirangu Misra Chapu Tamil Aparadhamulellanu Gowrimanhohari Adi Telugu Bhaja Bhaja Manuja Behag Adi Sanskrit Bharatesanute Arabhi Misra Chapu Sanskrit Brindavanaloka Kalyani Adi Telugu Brochudaku Samayaide Begada Rupaka Telugu Dandapani Ramapriya Rupaka Telugu Dari Neevale Begada Rupaka Telugu Dharmavathi Dharmavathi Rupaka Telugu Durgadevi Sri Adi Sanskrit Emdukichapalamu Purvikalyani Adi Tamil Ennakutram cheideno Huseni Adi Tamil Gajavadana Hamsadhwani Rupaka Sanskrit Gurucharanam Kannada Adi Sanskrit Guruvaram Bhaja Manasa Dhanyasi Rupakam Sanskrit Hariyum Haranam Atana Rupakam Tamil Innamum I Chalama Begada Adi Manipravalam Jagadambike Kedaram Rupakam Sanskrit Janani Natajanapalini Sankarabharanam Misra Chapu Telugu Jaya Jaya Sri Vasanta Triputa Sanskrit Kamalakshi Sankarabharanam Jhampa Telugu Kanda unakkinda Thodi Adi Manipravalam Krishnananda Mukunda Kharaharapriya Misra Chapu Sanskrit Lalithe Natakurinji Misra Chapu Sanskrit Mahadeva Abhogi Adi Sanskrit Manamai Ramanai Sindhu Bhairavi Misra Chapu Tamil Manasa Sriramuni Bhupalam Adi Telugu Mayamma Ranjani Rupakam Telugu Narayananenru Sollu Desh Misra Chapu Telugu Neepadamula Nera Nammiti Chakravakam Jhampa Telegu Neranamminanura Hamsadhwani Adi Telugu Neranammina Anandabhairavi Misra Chapu Telugu Nivale Daivamu Yadukula Kambhoji Misra Chapu Telugu Nivamti Dhaivamu Kapi Adi Telugu Nive Dinarakshakudu Devagandhari Adi Telugu Palaya Mam Begada Rupakam Manipravalam Pavana Rama Atana Rupakam Sanskrit Padasaroja Mukhari Adi Telugu Padasaroja Saveri Adi Telugu Padayugamunu Janaranjani Adi Telugu Paduvom Parandham Purnachandrika Adi Tamil Palayamam Ritigowla Adi Telugu Parakelanayya Mohana Tisra Laghu Telugu Parthasarathe Surutti Rupakam Telugu Parvathi Parameswaram Natai Adi Sanskrit Purnatrayesa Purnachandrika Adi Sanskrit Ramam bhaja Arabhi Adi Sanskrit Raghuvara Bilahari Adi Sanskrit Rama Raghava Thodi Rupakam Telugu Rama Rama Nilambari Adi Sanskrit Sagara Sayana Vibho Bagesri Adi Sanskrit Saketanatham Bhaje Kamavardhani Khanda Chapu Sanskrit Sambo Satatam Kapi Adi Sanskrit Sami Ninne Kori (Varnam) Ranjani Adi Telugu Sankaram Sankarabharanam Rupakam Sanskrit Sarasijamukha Yadukula Kambhoji Adi Telugu Sitamanohara Kanada Adi Telugu Sri Ramadutam Darbar Adi Sanskrit Sri Valmikapuravesa Sama Adi Telugu Sriguruvaram Hamsadhwani Rupakam Sanskrit Srimohana Rama Mohana Rupakam Sanskrit Stanumalayum Kambhoji Adi Tamil Sundaramurthini Natakurinji Rupakam Telugu Thyagarajagurumasraye Kedaram Adi Sanskrit Tillana Bilahari Adi Tillana Kapi Triputa Telugu Tillana Kathanakuthuhalam Adi Tillana Sindhu Bhairavi Adi Tamil Velavane Sahana Adi Tamil Venkatesa Girisa Madhyamavathi Adi Telugu Vighnaraja Sri Ranjani Adi Telugu Vinave Gowla Adi TeluguMDR's Bilahari Tillana in Adi talam
dhIm nAdhrudhim thOmdhridhIm thana dhIm
thathar thirAni thOm tillana (dhIm ...)
nAdhru thadIm thOmdhrithadhIm thana dhirAna
nAdhru dhridhru dhIm thana dhirana dhirana
nAdhruthathAni thOmdhrithadhAni thillAna
gugum thillAna gugum thillAna gugugu thillana (dhIm ...)
thripurasundari manOhara trijagadiSa vAlmIka purESa
prabhalamaina kalAkshétramunu kApadumaiya varadadASa sannutha
thAm tha-kita P D n P D P M G R G |jham M G R jham | jham S R G P D ||
S'S'N D S'R'G'P'M'G'R'S'N D dhi thAm|ginathOm dhi thAmgi-|nathOm dhi
thAm ginathOm || (dhIm)
this last section has the following notation:
x 1 2 3 x . x . S', , S'N D P D n P D P M G R G | P , , M G R S , |, S , S R G P D || S'S'N D S'R'G'P' M'G'R'S'N D G'R'| , S'N D R'S , N |D P D P , G P D ||
Rajagopalan, N. (1991), A Garland, Bharitiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay.
Sruti (1984), Issue 8 (June), pp. 30-32.
Postscript: A short video on MDR is can be ordered through http://www.apsara-media.com
12th December 1994
mohan at india.com