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Tuesday, February 23, 2010



One of the strongest and strangest characteristics of genius is the power of lighting its own fire. As Carlyle (1795-1881) put it the purest ore is produced from the hottest furnace of genius and the brightest thunderbolt issues from it. GNB was such a type of genius.

In June 1937, GNB gave a magnificent concert at Madras. Kalki the editor of Ananda Vikatan paid rich tribute to GNB’s genius in the issue of 27 June 1937. The greatest cartoonist in the history of Tamil Journalism Mali portrayed GNB for Kalki’s article. I am presenting below Kalki’s article together with Mali’s cartoon of GNB.

In December 1943, the Tamil Isai Movement started thanks to the great leadership qualities of Sir.Annamalai Chettiar. Many senior Vidwans of the earlier generation deliberately did not participate in the Tamil Isai Festival and disgraced themselves for all time.

It was GNB who ALONE among the leading artistes of the day took part in the inaugural function of the Tamil Isai Festival organized by The Tamil Isai Sangam in December 1943.GNB was a man of great moral courage and unlike other senior Vidwans of his time was never swayed by petty sectarian or regional or communal and other petty considerations.

GNB’s performance at the Tamil Isai Festival was hailed as Mahattana Kacheri by Kalki. In fact in that year, GNB, was the only great artist who sang that year in all the 3 Festivals—-those of the Music Academy, in the Indian Fine Arts Society and in the Tamil Isai Sangam. In the succeeding year, one after other of the senior Vidwans started participating in the Tamil Isai Sangam concerts and GNB thus got hid bold stand vindicated by the musical profession as a whole. This is ample proof of the catholicity of GNB’s thinking, his freedom from prejudice and narrow mindedness.

MUSIC ACADEMY CONFERENCE 1944 SITTING LEFT TO RIGHT (3rd From Left): Tl Venkatrama Iyer, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Palladam Sanjeeva Rao, Harikeshnallur Muthiah Bagavathar,Musiri Subramania Iyer, KV Krishnaswami Iyer, TV Subba Rao and Palghat Mani Iyer.STANDING L to R (From 4th): GNB, CV.Venkatnarasimhan, Alathur Subbu, Palani Subramania Pillai and Mayavaram Govindaraja Pillai.

The above photograph was taken in December 1944. We can see that all the giants in the world of Carnatic Music are sitting in the front row. We can see GNB standing behind the front row along with his bosom friend C.K.Ventkatnarasimhan, father of the internationally known Diabetologist Dr.C.V.Krishnaswamy, who was an eminent lawyer and Secretary of the Music Academy at that time. It was he who was responsible for introducing Ragam Thanam Pallavi (RTP) in all the competitions of the Music Academy in 1945. Another not so well known fact is that GNB always took the care of obtaining the prior clearance of C.K.Ventkatnarasimhan before accommodating the request of Gramaphone Companies for recording his songs.

Between 1940 and 1950, GNB gave innumerable concerts all over India. Most of the time he was accompanied by Kumbakonam Rajamanickam Pillai on the Violin and Paghat Mani Iyer on the Mridangam.

Music Concert by GNB with Kumbakonam Rajamanickam Pillai (Violin)and Paghat Mani Iyer (Mridangam)

January 1951 began with a memorable programme for GNB at the Thiruvayaru Aradhana Celebrations. GNB’s performance was hailed by one and all as an outstanding performance. Ariyakudi who was in the audience went to GNB and patted him affectionately on the back and said “Mani (family nickname for GNB) you sang in a divine manner. This is what real sangeetha is”. In this context it has to be pointed out that it was Ariyakudi who had told GNB’s father G.V.Narayanaswamy Iyer as early as in 1923: “I am thrilled to hear Mani’s voice and his rendering of Kirtanas. He seems to be a child prodigy. I have no doubt that the impersonal and timeless Court of Time will vindicate my judgment today”.

In 1955, GNB was appointed Producer of Carnatic Music in the All India Radio. His close association with AIR lasted for a decade. This was a ‘Golden Period’ for the AIR. This would be clear from the many new programmes GNB introduced and the Seminars and Conferances he arranged on subjects of interest to musicians and performing artistes.

In 1958 the Music Academy honoured GNB by inviting him to preside over 32nd Conference and the deliberations of the Experts Committee and conferred on him the much coveted title of SANGEETHA KALANIDHI. In the inaugural address itself, Shri.Bishnuram Mehdi, the Governor of Madras, paid rich tributes to GNB. The relevant portion is reproduced below:

Early in 1959, GNB received the other equally coveted President’s Award. Early 1964, GNB was appointed as Principal of the Swathi Thirunal Academy of Music in Trivandrum. The Rasikas and admirers of GNB arranged for a farewell to him at the Krishna Gana Sabha on the 28th of March 1964. Sangeetha Kalanidhi Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer was the Chairman of the Felicitation Committee. The function was presided over by Justice KS Venketraman ICS. Rich tributes were paid to GNB by a galaxy of great musicians like Musiri Subramania Iyer, Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer, Mudikondan Venhkatrama Iyer, Budalur Krishnamoorthy Shartrigal, TL Venkatrama Iyer and K.Balasubramania Iyer.GNB was a great composer in his own right. He did not compose his songs mechanically; he simply gave musical form to the products of his artistic imagination. This is how GNB himself put it:

One very great and noble thing about GNB was that he never used to sing his own compositions at any of his concerts. He never believed in blowing his own trumpet.As an Honours Graduate in English Literature, GNB was a gifted writer. This is how he paid his tribute to his Manasika Guru Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar:

Of the all time great Nadaswaram Vidwan wizard Thiruvaduthurai T.N.Rajarathanam Pillai, GNB wrote eloquently as follows:

Finally what is not so well known is that GNB was a great lover of English Poetry and that he composed some verses in English. He had the poet’s imagination and the gift of the apt poetic word. I am presenting below an English poem of GNB titled THE GOLDEN MEAN.


You know the golden mean
That makes us all, both strong strong and clean
The horse that saints from far and wide
Have given to us – which few can ride.

Be strong and supple, be bold and kind
Be rich and simple, improve the mind
In joy in pain, with equal grace
Your life to lead and death to face.

In all the things of earthly life
It is a mixture true and rife
Of Good and Evil for even entwined
For nought is single in all mankind.

The truth is always in between
Between goodness and evil mean
No one is good, no one is bad
Not as you think, or he feels, my lad.

We all do know this common fact,
The trouble arises when we act,
Our words and thoughts may seem alright
In deeds alone we prove our might.

It has been said of Evil and Good
A nation’s poison, another’s food
The two are but relative forms
In social values shifting norms.

GNB would never be forgotten by this generation which had the pleasure and privilege of hearing his incomparably superb music, rendered in a voice and with a manodharma for which there were only 2 equals, Madurai Pushpsvansm and SG Kittappa. His name will live fore ever in the music of his vast shishya-parampara. The new genre—GNB Pani—created by his aesthetic and intellectual improvisations and spirited singing will continue to mock at time, remaining intact and imperishable.

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