Soaring on guru bhakthi

“Is it not a great blessing to be awarded a Puraskaram, the first recipient of which was my Guru,” was veteran musician Mangad Natesan’s reaction when he learnt that he was the recipient of the Swati Puraskaram of the Government of Kerala for the year 2015.

Mangad Natesan has groomed many leading Carnatic musicians and playback singers.

When the Swati Puraskaram was instituted by the Government in 1997, the award committee was unanimous in selecting maestro Semmangudi Sreenivasa Iyer for the honour.

A living symbol of ‘guru bhakti,’ Natesan remembered how he was groomed by a galaxy of legends with Semmangudi at the helm in his capacity as Principal of the Sri Swathi Thirunal College of Music in Thiruvananthapuram. They included C.S. Krishna Iyer, K.S. Narayana Swamy, K.R. Kumaraswamy, M.G. Seetharama Iyer and Hariharan. Natesan holds that it was their combined efforts that moulded the musician in him. “Semmangudi advised us to follow Krishna Iyer closely, saying that his full-throated singing would inspire us,” Natesan reminisced. According to him, this team was instrumental for the renaissance of Carnatic music in Kerala. Maestros such as Vina Sambasiva Iyer, Ariyakudi Ramanujam Iyengar, M.S. Subbulakshmi, T. Brinda and T. Muktha were invited to sing at the college. “The students benefited considerably from the live concerts of these icons of Carnatic musicians.”

Small wonder then that for the young boy from Mangad in Kollam district, born with an innate passion for music, the college was a dream come true. What triggered his interest in classical music was his exposure to annual concerts in the nearby Sree Kumarapuram temple near his home. The temple music festival attracted rasikas from distant places. Apart from classical concerts, Nagaswaram concerts and Harikatha recitals by famous exponents were regularly staged at the venue. There used to be elaborate discussions on their performances to which Natesan listened closely. An insatiable urge for music was naturally created in him that was further whetted by listening to gramophone records of M.S. Subbulakshmi, Musiri Subramania Iyer, Chembai Vaidyanatha Iyer and Ariyakudi. Post Ganabhushanam from the college, Natesan longed for Gurukula learning, which he still considers the most ideal mode of education for all art forms of Indian origin. But times had changed.

The only option was hard work that lasted for several years. B-Grade and B-High from AIR followed before he joined the Thrissur Station of All India Radio in 1975 as a staff artiste. His services to the station were exemplary in terms of innumerable concerts in the annual programme of Radio Sangeetha Sammelan.

In course of time, A-Top grade followed. Encomiums chased him even from the Madras Music Academy. The title of Sangeetha Kala Acharya was conferred on him by the Academy, apart from Akademi awards and fellowships. The last such accolade was the Chembai Puraskaram from Guruvayur Devaswom.

Radio listeners across Kerala still cherish the memory of Natesan’s lessons aired through ‘Sangeetha Padham’ (music lessons). In this respect, his role as a guru is unparalleled. Many outstanding performers and music teachers of today are his disciples. He has no regrets that some of them have migrated to light music. But what baffles the octogenarian musician is the absence of young talents on the concert platform.

“Look at the number of young talents who are rolled out of the diploma mill of universities and other institutions of music. No sabhas or even governmental agencies give them opportunities. They always go after musicians from outside Kerala. This is reprehensible,” he rued.

A stickler for tradition, Natesan is endowed with a rich repertoire and his concerts are marked by inimitable creativity. Though not active in concerts nowadays owing to poor health, musicians both young and old frequent his home for wise counsel and guidance.