A perfect setting for kutcheri, a rich voice, a balance and harmony with the accompanists in his presentations, an artiste who approaches his art within the parameters of its tradition, maintaining dignity, poise, simplicity, sincerity with humility and devotion, this is a crisp identity of a highly accomplished Carnatic Vocalist namely Vidwan S. Shankar, who is also a recipient of prestigious “Sangeetha Kalarathna” and “Karnataka Rajyotsava” Awards.
Initiated into Carnatic music by his mother, Smt. Rajamma Sastry at a tender age of eight, guided by Smt. Nagarathna Bai for about 4 years, tutored and fine-tuned by his Guru for more than 25 years, Smt. Vallabam Kalyanasundaram, cemented a quintessential platform to effectively hone his skill sets. His dedication through continuous practice, application to imparted knowledge, long association with musical stalwarts like S. Krishnamurthy (Grandson of venerable Mysore Vasudevacharya and Retd. Station Director of AIR) and A.V Krishnamachar (Padmacharan, Extraordinary composer and violinist), Sri. T.N Padmanabhan (Erudite Sanskrit-Telugu Scholar, composer) scaled up his experience of this divine art form and hence one of the most sought after Carnatic Music artists for distinguished Sangeeta Sabhas for over five decades.
Many facets of Sri. Shankar’s personality have shades of the above stalwarts and have been listed by innumerable critics, fans, journalists and fellow artists. With a deep rooted practical philosophy, humility, he comes across as a thinking and considerate musician and human being and treats his accompanists with respect, regardless of age, calling, ability or any other criterion. It is a no wonder that he is among the elite list of artists graded “A-Top” by both AIR and Doordarshan.
Sri. S. Shankar was born as third son to Sri. G V Sastry and Smt. Rajamma G.V Sastry on November 27th 1950 in Jog, the town of world famous waterfall. His father was in the appointment of the Mysore State Electricity Board, as a Superintendent in the Accounts Department. After his transfer from that place the following year (1951), the family settled down in Bangalore where they have lived ever since. He attributes all his success to his mother for the early initiation to music. In 1961, he passed his junior exam in vocal. As a young boy, he had many opportunities to attend many concerts, particularly Malleswaram Sangeetha Sabha. In the year 1961, at the age of ten, he received the 1st prize from Sri. Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar at a competition. His early schooling was at well-known Malleswaram Ladies Association and completed his school education at Bangalore High School. Later obtained B.Sc. degree from Renukacharya College, Bangalore. He completed his M.Sc. in Mathematics from the Central College, Bangalore.
The major breakthrough in his music endeavor was in 1973, when he got the first Prize at All India Radio’s annual music competition and later Best Young Musician Award of Madras Music Academy and Bangalore Gayana Samaja. He was selected as B-high AIR artist in the year 1980, A-Grade AIR artist in 1986 and A-Top in 2001.
He had a long 38 years of Government service in the Accountant General Office, Bangalore and retired in November 2010. A music troupe of talented singers was formed in AG’s office and had the distinction of directing music for several dramas directed by his senior colleague, Abburu Sri Jayatheertha. Several Prizes were won by the troupe. He has also directed music for Gyanpeeth Awardee D V Gundappa’s “Anthahpura Geete’s” and cassette & CD’s were released for the same.
In the year 1994, he had the opportunity to participate in several Musical recordings directed by S. Krishna Murthy (SKM) for Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan. He accompanied Sri SKM to London center of Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan to conduct Vadya Vrinda etc. and also presented concert too. In 2009, he had performed in Musical concerts in the United States at Detroit, Huston, and San Antonio and at several places in Australia in 2019.
Having illustrious career in music spanning five decades, he has consistently lived upto to high standards of singing in the original Carnatic tradition. Thus earned the rightful place among the most respected, celebrated and acclaimed artists of this generation. His contributions to the field of music is not just restricted to concert performances but extended to lecture demonstrations, thematic presentations, innumerable recordings and his sincere and painstaking efforts to bring to light several relatively unknown compositions as compiled and edited by him in the book “Sangraha Krithi Mala”.
Many Sabhas have felicitated him for his rich contributions to Carnatic Music. Some of them are Sangeetha Vidyanidhi, Nadanidhi, Chandana Awards etc. He is “Asthana Vidwan” of Kanchi and Aavani Shankar mutts.
He fondly recalls the occasion when he received praises from legends like Smt. M S Subbalakshmi and Dr. Balamurali Krishna. He cites the examples of several brilliant and incomparable vocalists such as Sri. M D Ramanathan, Sri. Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Sri K V Narayanaswamy, Sri. Musiri Subramanya Iyer, Sri. Madurai Mani Iyer and open throated singing of Sri. R K Srikantan.
A rare trait which engulfs Sri. S Shankar is the hunger for learning. He regularly interacted with Sri. S Krishnamurthy and Sri. A V Krishnamachar (Padmacharan) in the past which gave him rare insights into music appreciation and more. Even now he interacts with Dr. R Ganesh, an established Sanskrit Scholar and Shathavadhani to decipher and verify complex “Sahitya” in Samskritam, Telugu and Tamil. As a result of this influence on him, his music lovers are invariably enriched with amazing range of compositions of various composers, ragas and talas which are appropriate to the context or theme of the concert. He infuses life into the rendering of Sloka’s and traditional Ugabhoga’s and transports listeners to a world of spiritual beauty, bliss and divinity.
His versatility is exemplified by the fact that he has performed in nearly a hundred concerts in the company of Hindustani Vocalists
He is prompt and wholehearted in his appreciation of a well delineated nuance and quick to spot and encourage new talent. This has earned him deep respect, affection and constant support of his accompanists.
Shankar feels beholden to his Guru Smt. Vallabham Kalyanasundaram for her unique teaching methods and priceless inputs she gave to him. In fact, these unique teaching practices are passed on to his students in the “Guru-Shishya” Parampara, both traditional and enriching from his experience in music. As a dedicated teacher, he makes every effort to inculcate these qualities in his students. His constant strict observation of discipline from his disciples, gauging of their alertness level in grasping the nuances of Krithis taught, has made his classes representing a high standard of teaching as “Shankar Paata” to innumerable student / followers. This unique ability to imbibe his teaching and blessings has propelled many of his disciples to kutcheri level performers and AIR artists also.
He had organized a programmes in Bangalore to celebrate 90th year of Sri. S Krishna Murthy in 2012, the Birth Centenary of his Guru Smt. Vallabam Kalyanasundaram in 2012, 125th Birth year of Mayuram Vishwanatha Sastry in 2018 and Birth Centenary of Sri Padmacharan in 2020.Short documentaries on life and achievements of Sri S Krishnamurthy, Mayuram Sri Vishwanatha Sastry and Sri Padmacharan also bought out by him.
Many of his students had the rare opportunity to visit several temples in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Kerala and enjoyed singing compositions on the deities visited. These memorable trips were very well organized by him with the help of his close office friend, Sri. Balan.
He has written several Musical features like Life-Music of Sadashiva Brahmendra, Bhadrachala Ramadas, Purandaradasa, Jayachamaraja Wodeyar, Bidaram Krishnappa, Mysore Vasudevacharya, Padmacharan and several other composers where in many of his talented students joined him in the presentation. A few Musical features were directed by him for Akashavani (AIR) and Doordarshan also. He has written on music related subjects, life sketches of many musicians for several dailies / monthlies.
Thus he is a role model for aspiring young musicians in many ways. A healthy respect for all forms of music and the arts, the constant pursuit of excellence and furtherance of knowledge at all times, steadfast adherence to values and principles are but a few of many traits that make him eminently worthy of emulation by his disciples.
He considers himself fortunate that his lofty pursuits are ably supported by his wife Smt. Swarna Shankar, who is also an accomplished musician and an astute teacher. Their son Ramani Shankar, daughter-in-law Smt.Ramya Ramani, daughter Ranjani Raghunathan Son in-law Sri Raghunathan and grand daughters Sow.Rashmita & Rachana do them proud with their prowess in Music.
Ramani Shankar is now himself an established Vocalist and “A” graded artist in AIR and accompanies his father on stage for many years apart from solo concerts.
Adding to his multifaceted talent, Sri S. Shankar has also emerged as an author. Sri. S Shankar has made commendable contributions to the cause of propagating and preserving the riches of Carnatic music for posterity. After establishing his institution “Shankarabaranam Kala Mandiram” in the year 2010, he has published many books namely,
- Sadashiva Brahmendra – Life and Compositions in Dec 2011.
- “Sangraha Krithi Mala”, a collection of very rare collections of songs composed by various composers including Vid. Mysore Karigirirayaru, Vid. Bhakshi Veena Subbanavaru, Vid. Bidaram Krishnappa, Vid. Mayuram Vishwanatha Sastry, Vid. Belakawadi Srinivasa Iyengar, Vid. B K Padmanabha and many more.
- “Vasudeva Kirtana Manjiri”, which is a collection of compositions of Mysore Vasudevacharya with notations in English.
- A collection of various compositions of multi-talented composer and music director Sri Padmacharan (Sri. A.V Krishnamachar) has been released.
- On the occasion of his 70th (Bhima Ratha Shanthi) year of my beloved teacher, it is my honour and privilege to have got an opportunity to pen down some of his contributions to the world of music and the share many incredible facets of a great human being, that he is.
Guest Author: Narayana Achutha