Medicine man, music master

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Jospephs Gate

Dr MS Ramanathan was instrumental in popularising the Carnatic genre in Australia

Dr MS Ramanathan is a name known in Australian Carnatic music circles not only because of his singing skill and knowledge of the classical genre, but also the role he played in planting the seed of traditional music in the somewhat barren local Indian music culture, many moons ago.

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You could call him the doyen or ‘Pitamaha’ of Sydney’s classical music clan.  A medico by profession, but equally outstanding as a musical practitioner. A name that crops up is the great Dr L Subramanian, the violin virtuoso, who is also a medical doctor. The story goes that the redoubtable Carnatic guru Chembai Mama — who is worshiped by LS  — predicted before the violinist got qualified as a doctor, that he will excel as a musical great, but would not earn name, fame or money as a doctor; and it came true.

While writing on DrRamanathan, to my mind comes some dominant features of his musical personality like the steadfast way he sticks to age-old musical tradition, with no gimmicks, gesticulation and theatrical actions in his singing. He is a clone of the great SangeethaKalanidhi KV Narayanaswamy, in all aspects of musical thinking, presentation ‘padhathi’, the slow lasya tempo of singing, gentleness with no pretensions. His voice culture is very similar to that of KVN. I remember listening to the two talking to each other in another room from where I was seated and not being able to differentiate their voices. He is one of the few who enjoys his music with no intentions of blatantly impressing on the listeners, for name, fame or money. He even expanded his repertoire by scripting, choreographing and directing the musical opera “SundaraKaandam’.

KVN is Ramanathan’s ‘Manasika guru’ whose Guru-Sishya lineage could be traced to the Tiruvayyaru Bard, Saint ThyagarajaSwamy. DrRamanathan says, “The age old tradition is proven and I relish and teach this pattern to all my students. I view my music as a sadhana towards mental peace and as a means of self-realisation.”

Dr Ramanathan is from Maraiyur, a well-known hill station near Munnar, (Kerala) and belongs to a musically gifted family. He was moulded musically by some stalwarts like Smt. Andal Ammal (disciple of Chittoor Subramanya Pillai), CV Krishnamoorthy, PN Raghavarao, and Ramnad Krishnan and KVN , the two top disciples of Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar. During the first half of 60s, Dr Ramanathan won quite a number of accolades (AIR, Music Academy, Madras).

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