This was the topic of presentation for Seetha Rajan. She was a student of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. Her classicism and her singing abilities came to the fore in today’s presentation. But on the content I cannot say I was impressed. It was merely a review of all that has been said on the three composers and there was nothing new. Perhaps there is nothing new. And if so, why this topic? Perhaps there were some in the audience to whom all that was presented was new. If that was so, then the matter deserves a session. Certainly the applause at the end was heavy. But since this subject has been presented at length earlier at the Academy, I am not sure if this was indeed a topic meriting a relook. I also had another issue – proportion- Syama Sastry took up most of the time and he is a subject on whom much has already been written, spoken and sung. Subbaraya Sastry took up ten minutes and Annaswami Sastry too up four. True, the proportion of compositions is also like that, but is it not necessary for lesser-known composers to be brought to the fore. In this I cannot help remember how skillfully S Sowmya presented an inchoate raga like Ghanta at a lec dem in the Academy a couple of years back.

I went in 10 minutes late and so missed some of it. When I went in SR was speaking of how in the bhairavi svarajati, all the caraNas begin with dhIrgha svaras. Then she took up the gItams of Syama Sastry of which there are four set in paras, madhyamAvati, sAvEri and bhairavi. Each has 3 to 4 stanzas of equal length. She sang the paras gItam.

Syama Sastry has composed 4 varnams all of which are in the viribhONI format of an anubandham at the end of the caraNam which has to be sung followed by the sAhitya of the muktAyi and then the pallavi. This aspect of the bEgaDa varnam was demonstrated.

Of his kritis, around 60 have survived of which 30 are popular. Most are in rakti and some in major ragas. He had a special liking for Ananda bhairavi and composed 6 pieces in it. Each has a different format and appeal. Select portions were sung from himAcala tanaya to show this.

His kritis have multiple caraNams and then speaker asked if we were doing justice by singing just one. (Later in the discussions, Dr N Ramanathan opined that in terms of music all multiple caraNams are repetitive and that is why musicians have limited themselves to singing one.) Syama Sastry according to SR chose not to space his syllables of sahitya to match the aksharas in the tala. (That perhaps explains his reputation for tricky rhythm.)

The kritis have svarAkshara very cleverly packed in like the svarajatis and varnams. Some kritis are filled with sAhitya, the words tightly packed. sarOja daLa nEtri is an example. Some kritis have pallavi and anupallavi in madhyamakAla with the caraNam in vilamba. A few kritis as demonstrated in karuNa jUDavamma (varALi) have the last part of the caraNam set in the same dhAtu as the anupallavi. He has used rare ragas such as cintAmaNi of which he may have been the creator and also kalgaDa. Vidya Sankar in her book (and this appears to have been the major source for this lecdem) has indicated that it is an upAnga rAga and not bhAShAnga with 2 D’s. The former version was demonstrated in dEvi brOva. I must say I prefer MS singing the latter variant. (Dr NR later also said that Balamuralikrishna has sung this raga as a janya of the 52nd mELa).

One third of Syama Sastry’s works are in misra – either as tisra triputa or misra cApu. These are in patterns of 3+4 or 4+3 (vilOma cApu as demonstrated in ninnuvinA) and 2+3+2 (mIna lOcana brOva)

Subbaraya Sastry, the son of the above, learnt from Tyagaraja also and was also exposed to the music of Dikshitar. He uses expressions and raga phrases freely from his father’s works. yEmA ninnE and pAlimpavamma show this extensive commonality between the two. In his ninnu sEvincina he uses a full line of svara from his father’s svarajati in the same raga. 8 of his songs have svara sAhitya passages and he invariably uses a madhyamakAla line prior to the beginning of the svara sAhitya to set the tone (what a genius this man must have been). Some of his songs have scope for sangatis which appear to be due to Tyagaraja’s influence. Perhaps his grandest work is janani ninnu vina which uses the dhAtu of the pallavi and the anupallavi in the caraNam.

Annaswami Sastry composed 10 kritis and 2 varnams. He structured his songs like Syama Sastry. He composed a daru in praise of his patron Kachi Kalyanaranga (that must have damned him sufficiently). It is said he composed the svara sAhitya for pAlimsu kAmAkshi in madhyamAvati. His shrI kAnci nAyikE in asAvEri is a lovely piece. It is his only kriti with svara sAhitya. Some say therefore that it may be his father’s work.

There was a prolonged discussion in the end. The two Vedavallis (MB and R) were of the view that Syama Sastry’s gitams ought to be classified as kritis as they do not follow the standard gitam format of one syllable of sAhitya for every akshara of tALa and every note of svara. They also have gamakas in plenty.

Dr NR was of the view that the widely-held opinion that Syama Sastry did not use hindustani ragas is not correct as he has used paras. TM Krishna and he entered into a discussion on this with much banter. Trichy Sankaran felt that it would be enough for us to enjoy the music.