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Monday, April 22, 2013

LALGUDI VIOLIN'S FINAL B(L)OW

Violin maestro Lalgudi Jayaraman -- Photo: Special ArrangementThey say disaster strikes in sets of three. Hopefully, this  would be the third and final blow to the Indian Music world, specially South Indian. Violin virtuoso non-pareil Sri. Lalgudi G. Jayaraman is also no more with us not with us any more (per my son's correction of my grammar). The bow wielding hand that commanded every melodious note to its insuperable will, has made its last bow. God has once again swept into his Kingdom another servant of divine music. It is an irreparable loss for all Carnatic Music rasikas and music enthusiasts across the world. He passed on to the heavenly realms on Monday April 22, 2013 at Chennai. India Pundit mourns his demise with a contrite heart. A detailed obituary follows.

Veteran film composer TK Ramamurthy passes away

Sri. T. K. Ramamurthy,  of the redoubtable Tamil Film Music Director pair Viswanathan-Ramamurthy passed away in Chennai. He was 92. Together this pair had ruled the roost in the Tamil Film industry for decades scoring magical numbers for as many as 500 films. This sound recording wizard is also an accomplished violin player, apart from his expertise in keyboard and harmonium. He parted amicably from Sri. M.S. Viswanathan (popular as MSV) in 1965 and came together only after 29 years in 1995.

The legendary Tamil film music composer pair TKR and MSVBoth Ramamurthy and MSV were assistants of C.R. Subbaraman, the music director of HMV. Subbaraman died at the age of 28 and it was left to his assistants to complete music for the films he had agreed to score. "The title mellisai mannargal was conferred on them by thespian Sivaji Ganesan at a function organised by Triplicane Cultural Academy to mobilise funds for the Kasturi Srinivasan Library” said Ranimynthan, biographer of M.S. Viswanathan. It was the duo that first set to music the songs of late Pattukottai Kalyanasundaram and their career graph touched new heights when Kannadasan joined hands with them. 

In her condolence message, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa said it was an unforgettable experience that she had acted in the film Naan and danced for the song Ammano Samiyo composed by Ramamurthy. She also said Ramamurthy’s contribution to the song Yengay Nimmathi and his solo violin for the song kan pona pokkiley were invaluable. DMK leader M. Karunanidhi also condoled his death. 

It is noteworthy that M.S. Viswanathan was so grief stricken that he mourned the death as a loss of a great friend. "I suggested that we should work together as a team. Initially, he was not game for it, but I convinced him with great difficulty. We had great memories of working together and when we faced differences, we amicably parted ways," he said. MSV quipped further that "He would supervise most of my compositions. He would also conduct most of the recordings at the studio. Since he hailed from a family of musicians, his suggestions were always respected and taken seriously". 

"Actor N.S. Krishnan introduced us as a team in our debut film Panam. He suggested that since TKR was senior to me, he would lead me" MSV concluded.

Singing legend P.B.Sreenivos no more


India Pundit records with inconsolable sorrow and deep regret that Sri. P.B. Sreenivos, the phenomenal South Indian vocal legend is no more with us. His singing career spanned 61 years, in its own right celebrating a Shashtiabdapoorthi. This 82 year old legend born on September 22, 1930, experienced breathing difficulties days before his sudden and shocking demise due to heart attack. Sreenivos was laid to rest on 14 April 2013, the start of the Vijaya Samvathsaram. What a timing to leave to that eternal abode where his eternally lilting songs (many of which are devotional albums) will be heard for eternity by The Eternity himself.

Prathivadi Bhayankara Sreenivos actually stood up to his family title. He could give any other competing, competent singer a run for his/her money. This multilingual polyglot could speak, read, compose and sing in many Indian languages. Active and agile till the end, he easily belied his age. You could meet with him at siesta time in his favorite haunt, the Woodlands Drive-in restaurant in Chennai. His head would usually be up in the clouds as he would be scribbling a new song and setting it to tune himself. My mother told me yesterday that he once conducted Sernthisai which is All India Radio Tamil Choir Music, setting to tune my mother's lyrics. A very simple, modest and humble man, he always left an everlasting impression on whomsoever was lucky enough to meet this legend with his characteristic unassuming smile and affable, mild-mannered disposition. No wonder he was always the ready choice for all national and international programs on Music, specially film music.

Walk down your memory lane with PBS sir, viewing the slideshow PBS NO MORE, courtesy of THE HINDU Newspaper.
Awards Won:
  • The highest award of Karnataka State, the prestigious Kannada Rajyothsava Award awarded by the Chief Minister of the state.
  • The Tamil Nadu state's honorary Kalaimamani Award.
  • Dr Rajkumar Souhardha award given by the super star's family.
Celebrity Tributes:
  • Legendary singer S. Janaki said, His songs were imbued with melody and lot of emotions. We sang many duets together in Kannada and Telugu. As a singer he was a good teacher who believed in quality singing. His humility was what drew people to him. His death has left a vacuum in the industry. I have lost a good family friend and a great colleague.
  • Top most lyricist and Film Maker Yograj Bhat said, He had a devotional voice, that also had an intimate tinge to it. His songs made every one feel that he was next to them whenever they heard them.
  • Veteran director Rajendra Singh Babu said, He was a simple man who never aspired for money. He has sung for my father Shankar Singh’s Dharmasthala Mahathme in 1963. After the recording, father would ask us to give the envelope with money, but he never checked how much money it had. A great personality he was.
  • Kannada Super Star Ramesh Aravind was among the first to post on a social networking site, RIP PBS sir. Last saw him singing joyously in a restaurant in chennai with his fan.
  • Tamil Nadu Chief Minister (at the time of the demise) Jayalalithaa said, Sreenivas had sung in 12 languages and bagged various state government awards. All his songs are evergreen and songs like Mayakkama Kalakkama, Nilavuku En Mel Ennadi Kobam, occupy a special place in his fans’ hearts even today. The name PBS was synonymous with Play Back Singing. His loss is not just for the film and music industry but to me also. None can fill his place.
A video of the coverage on this vocalist par excellence and a jukebox of his everlasting songs for your listening pleasure:

Sunday, April 21, 2013

HAPPY SRI RAMA NAVAMI TO ALL

Repost of RAM SHALAKA as a RAMA NAVAMI treat:
Ram Shalaka or Ram Prashnavali as it is popularly known, is a Sanskrit letter chakra that provides you answers to your heartfelt wishes from out of the verses of Ram Charit Manas, the epic work of Goswami Tulsidas the great devotee of Lord Rama. Go ahead and try this well made one courtesy of AstroJeevan:
Close your eyes, pay obeisance to Lord Ramji, frame a clear question in your mind and click on any of the following squares in the Ram Shalaka. May the gracious Almighty Lord Ramji bless you!

Monday, April 15, 2013

April 13th - More than a New Year

panchaWelcome Vijaya Samvatsaram, vedic new year and harbinger of happiness and prosperity to all. I hope all the Kannada, Malayali, Telugu and Theistic Tamilians had a great time welcoming and celebrating Ugadi/Vishu/Tamizh Putthaandu. I am far away from the rest of my family in India and rueing why, but still celebrating it sombrely. In our family tradition, we celebrate Ugadi as well as Tamil New Year. So it was a double treat. But I have always been inclusive enough to ponder about Chaitra Vishukkani (April 14) also, and the sumptuous keralite food that goes with the New Year.

New Year for Dravidians (South Indians to be politically correct) means a whole lot of things. Cleaning the house and surroundings with sanctified water (containing cow-dung, cow-urine etc), decorating the house, adorning themselves with new dresses, jewellery, bindi etc, bonhomie with relatives, community feasts, temple worship, panchaanga paatanam, astrological readings, business renewals and celebrating bounty in general. Of course, not to forget the Cricket season also - after all we are somehow Rahul Dravidians as well, aren't we?

But amongst all this mood of celebration and overflowing love for humanity, I am also grimly reminded about what April 13th means to humans in years to come. Not too far off in the year 2029, on exactly April 13th, we will be visited by an asteroid 99942 Aphophis or Destroyer (official name is 2004 MN4 since it was located in the year 2004). This day incidentally happens to be another Friday the 13th, if that would scare you further. If this asteroid passes through what the scientists term as a half a mile gravitational keyhole in space while coming as close as 19,400 miles (31,300 kilometers) to earth, then the asteroid is doomed for a collision on Sunday, April 13, 2036 (exactly 7 years later). As I write this post on April 13, 2013, it is a Saturday. Coincidence?

Space scientists have recently updated the trajectory of Apophis and claim it will not impact our planet. But it will still be a close shave in 2029, and it could possibly change course and hit us as well with an impact energy of 880 MT (17 Tzar bombs). But for now we have the following photo and trajectory supplied by NASA JPL's NEO Program to keep us discomforted. I sincerely hope it will force some of us to look up at the wonders of the night sky, and appreciate the valuable contributions of astronomy and space science to our short lives. By the way, there is also another NEO program of NASA, which deals with Near Earth Observations.
Click image below to view the video of Apophis Orbit.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Thane Building Collapse Roundup

Five days ago, a poorly constructed building in the Shil Phata area of Thane in Maharashtra (India) collapsed, killing 74 hapless people. A total of around 9 people connected to this incident have been remanded to police custody on Sunday, until April 20. Two key persons arrested are the builders Jamil Qureishi and Salim Sheikh who were held from UP and Thane respectively. In a nation where corruption is wide awake while the civic authorities continue to doze, this is bound to happen someday. By the way, of the 9 arrested 2 are in the rank of municipal commissioners.

A slideshow timeline of the collapse and its horrific impact on the affected victims:

Sunday, April 07, 2013

A Tale of Two Emperors

Some stories sound remarkably alike. So it does with the lives of two great Emperors from the history books - Qin Shi Huang (Zhao Zheng) and Gautamiputra Satakarni (Shaalivaahana after whom the most recent Indian era or shakabdham is named) who was born centuries later. Both were known more by their mother, had an Emperor for a father, ascended the throne at the age of 13, and had united all the warring states under one banner of their dynasty. Here's what's unbelievably spooky - both of them are associated with warriors and army made of Terracotta. Whereas Emperor Zhao Zheng is believed to have been buried along with these life-size toy soldiers who are now world famous ancient artifact, Shaalivaahana's story relates him to being their creator, in order to defeat Emperor Vikramaditya I (after whom the earlier era is named). Interestingly the term Shaalivaahana has many imports such as owner of a vehicle made of Shaali stone same as what a Shaaligram (the Vaishnavaite sacred stones from Nepal) is made of, or made of the Saala tree or fine grain rice or even Terracotta. It could even be a reference to bronze metal. The name could also have been a wanton word reversal of Vaahana Shaali or capable driver of a chariot. Vaahana in the context of Shaali being "violent" could also imply Vahanthi meaning "wearer". It is very striking that Emperor Zhao Zheng's history is also replete with instances of coups, violence and bloodshed.

Shaalivaahana's story reads straight out of a fiction. A poor widow's son born into a poor potter's family, whom a holy man foretold that he would be king one day. It is not clear if he was adopted or born to the then Emperor Satakarni of Satavahana empire. His tale is obtained from an inscription composed by his mother Gautami Balashri called Nasik Prashasti or Ekabamhana which means either unrivaled brahmin or the sole protector of brahmin community.

Gautamiputra Satakarni or Shaalivaahana, is often acknowledged by historians as the greatest of the Satavahana rulers after his father, Satakarni. Satakarni had earlier expanded the Satavahana Empire and gained considerable prosperity due to his Ashwamedha and Raajasooya sacrifices. When Gautamiputra ascended the throne, the Satavahana Empire was loosely attached and was facing the threats of invasions from Shakas and Yavanas. Gautamiputra defeated the Yavanas, Shakas, and Pahlavas and re-established the ancient glory of the Satavahana dynasty. He overthrew Nahapana and re-struck a large number of Kshaharata coins of the Jogalthembi hoard.

The Nasik Prashasti describes Gautamiputra as the ruler of all the territories down until Central Deccan, which had been lost by the Satavahana empire during the earlier rule of his predecessors. Under him, the Satavahana arms must have reached as far south as Kanchipuram. He is also credited with the conquest of territories in the Kolhapur area in the Southern Maharashtra, which he seized from the Ananda rulers. Gautamiputra also annexed the Banavasi area, thus established his sway over portions of Karnataka. But his greatest success was defeating the Shaka king Vikramaditya, thus starting the Shaalivaahana era or Shaka Calendar which is still used by the Gujarati, Marathi, Telugu, Tamil and Kannada speaking Indians.

The Shaalivaahana era is used with Hindu calendars, the Indian national calendar, and the Cambodian Buddhist calendar. Its year zero begins near the vernal equinox of the year 78 AD. The initiation of the era was solely to celebrate his victory against the Shakas and annexing of their empire. We are 1935 years into this era. This era was also used by Javanese courts from Old Javanese times until 1633, when it was replaced by Anno Javanico, a hybrid Javanese-Islamic system. It is also this particular era which aided historians in dating the Laguna Copperplate Inscription, the earliest written document found in the Philippines.

Shaalivaahana also took the additional titles of SatavahanaKulajashaPratishtankar (One who re-established the dynasty of the Satavahana), Trisamudrapitatoyavahana (whose horses drunk water from 3 oceans), ShakaYavanaPahlavaNishudana (destroyer of the Shakas, Yavanas and Pahlavas).

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

The Greek Antikythera Mechanism

I had to somehow post on this immediately. I came across this subject while viewing a PBS program on it just now. The existence of this mechanism came to light way back in 1901 during an accidental diving discovery and there are you tube videos even as late as 2012. That I came to know about this just today, is a pitiful demonstration of moronic apathy to such important news in the humdrum of my insipid daily life. I will stop the self-tirade here and instead offer to reproduce the excellent write-up of you tube user Ziggurathss (who has 294 videos to his credit) and his wonderful video on the 3D view of the Antikythera Mechanism, a sort of an Ancient Mechanical Analog Computer that could be packed in a small box and carried anywhere!

The Antikythera Mechanism is currently housed in the Greek National Archaeological Museum in Athens and is thought to be one of the most complicated antiques in existence. At the beginning of the 20th century, divers off the island of Antikythera came across this clock-like mechanism, which is thought to be at least 2,000 years old, in the wreckage of a cargo ship. The device was very thin and made of bronze. It was mounted in a wooden frame and had more than 2,000 characters inscribed all over it. Though nearly 95 percent of these have been deciphered by experts, there has not been a publication of the full text of the inscription.

Today it is believed that this instrument was a kind of mechanical analog computer used to calculate the movements of stars and planets in astronomy. It has been estimated that the antikythera mechanism was built around 87 B.C and was lost in 76 B.C. No one has any idea about why or how it came to be on that ill-fated cargo ship. The ship was Roman though the antikythera mechanism was developed in Greece. One theory suggests that the reason it came to be on the Roman ship could be because the instrument was among the spoils of war garnered by then Roman emperor Julius Caesar.

Nature Video presents the mechanism details and uses in 2 parts: Part 1  Part 2
Click on the image below to get to the video, hover to view the 3D reproduction:

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Have Fun With English - Part A

Atlast, a post with absolutely no external links, photos or videos. Boy, am I glad too!

Many of us Indians feel easily intimidated by the very thought of having to learn, speak or write in English. Incidentally, we often tend to substitute the word intimidated, where we intend to say intimated or imitated. Like most languages, English can also be easily mastered using a targeted, rules based approach to grasp its nuances. Let's take a closer look at how that's achieved.

Let me take a sample set of words that have nearly opposite meaning. All that it takes to arrive at either words in a word-pair, is a rudimentary understanding that a prefix like Ap- could possibly have an opposite effect to the prefix Re-.
Example: Approbate and Reprobate.
Approbate is someone or something that wins the approval or stamp of authority. Reprobate on the other hand, is what's unacceptable and unworthy. With this context in mind, let's examine some more word pairs where an understanding of the meaning of one of the words in the pair automatically hints about the other:
Prefixed by AP                  Prefixed by RE
Apprehend (understand)     Reprehend (rebut)
Approach (Approval)           Reproach (Reproval)
Appeal (petition/add)           Repeal (rescind/remove)
Sometimes Ap- and De- can also serve to create word pairs that are direct opposites to each other:
Appreciate (go up)              Depreciate (go down)
Apposition (adding new)      Deposition (settling away)

But there ends the Ap-/Re- or Ap-/De- pairing comparisons. There are instances like Appraisal where there is definitely a Re-Appraisal, a Reprisal, a Reprise but no corresponding Repraisal. The irrepressible desire to indiscriminately extend the rules of any language's grammar is aptly described by the famous Tamil expression "Yaanaikku Arramna, Kuthiraikku Kurram" (Elephants, not Helephants and Shelephants). We will explore other interesting word pairs like EX/RE, EX/IM and EX/IN later, in subsequent posts (or supersequent pres, if you please).