After returning home from a concert tour in Hyderabad in early February, he developed congestion in his lungs, which turned into pneumonia, his son RS Ramakanth told Scroll.in from Bangalore. He could not withstand the heavy antibiotics and drugs that were needed to treat the infection, Ramakanth said.
"He was perhaps the only musician in his 90s in this country who continued to teach, travel, perform," said Ramakanth.
Srikantan gave three concerts in February itself, two of them outside Bangalore. He had also performed at several venues during Chennai's famous annual music season in December, including a concert at the premier Music Academy that attracted several musicians who came to listen to the great man. In 2013, he gave his usual quota of about 70 concerts, lecture-demonstrations and workshops, his son said.
Srikantan belonged to the distinguished Rudrapatnam family of musicians from the eponymous village in Karnataka's Hasan district. He first learnt music from his father, Rudrapatnam Krishna Shastri, and then from his elder brother, RK Venkatarama Shastri, a violinst who was based in Chennai and accompanied the late MS Subbulakshmi over the course of three decades.
The Rudrapatnam family belongs to the small Sanketi community, Smartha Brahmins who migrated from Tamil Nadu to Karnataka via Kerala, some say about nine hundred years ago, settling on the banks of the Tunga and Kaveri rivers. Two of Srikantan's nephews, the Bangalore-based Rudrapatnam brothers, sing as a duo, and his Chennai-based grandnephew, RK Shriramkumar, is an accomplished violinist.
Srikantan leaves behind five daughters and two sons, all of whom learnt from their father. Of them, two became performers -- his son, Ramakanth, who often accompanied his father, and his daughter, Ratnamala Prakash, who branched off into light music.
Born in 1920 in Rudrapatnam village, Srikantan grew up in Mysore, where he went to school and college and later worked for All India Radio. He moved to Bangalore in 1954, where he continued to work for the national broadcaster, while also teaching and performing.
Srikantan grew up at a time that is often described as the second golden era of Carnatic music, the mid-20th century, one in which vocalists such as Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer and Musiri Subramania Iyer were among the reigning stars. Srikantan's violinist brother, RK Venkatarama Shastri, would take his younger brother not only to their concerts but also to their homes, where they would teach the young vocalist both popular and rare compositions. The first golden age is said to have been in the early-19th century, a period that saw the flowering of Carnatic music's three iconic composers -- Muthuswami Dikshitar and Shyama Shastri and Thyagaraja.
"Srikantan Sir's repertoire was not only excellent but highly reliable," said N Ravi Kiran, the great chitravina player and musician who has accompanied him several times in lieu of a violinist. "His renditions were very good models for students because of his consistency."
Srikantan belonged to the Walajapet school of singing Thyagaraja's compositions, one of three schools of musicians who stand in a chain of students leading back to direct disciples of the most prolific of the 19th century trinity of composers, a school that he shares with titans such as singers T Brinda and Ramnad Krishnan.
To these influences, which trace their roots to Tanjore in Tamil Nadu, Srikantan added a unique Kannada sensibility. In particular, he unearthed, set to ragas and refined hundreds of dasara padas -- lyrics of Kannada saint poets who lived between the 12th and 16th centuries, the most well-known of who was Purandara Dasa.
His interpretation -- or 'tuning' as Carnatic musicians call it -- of Purandara Dasa's Narayana Ninna Namada in raga Suddha Dhanyasi became particularly popular because it appealed to MS Subbulakshmi, who sang it widely.
"He brought to Carnatic music a signature style of his own," said Ranjani Govind, a Bangalore-based journalist whose biography of Srikantan was released on the musician's 94th birthday this January 14. "You could call it the Srikantan school."
It stood for clarity in the enunciation of lyrics, a purity of tone and a kind of minimalism.
"When the gamakas (embellishments to the note) interfered with the lyrics, he cut them out," she said. "He could, of course, render long ragam-tanam-pallavis (an improvisional form that is considered the highlight of a Carnatic concert), but also believed in the brevity of the raga alapana (the introductory improvisation without rhythm)."
He won a slew of awards, including the Sangita Kalanidhi given each year by the Music Academy in Chennai. This year, he was to get Karnataka's Puttaraj Gawai award, named after the Hindustani singer-scholar.
Srikantan trained dozens of students, some who became performing musicians, such as MS Sheela, TS Sathyavathi and G Ravi Kiran, as well those who went on to other professions, such as K Radhakrishnan, the chairman of ISRO.
Srikantan was meticulous in everything he did, including as a performer, and had thought about the most minute aspects of presentation, such as how to distribute one's body weight on stage in the most efficient manner for singing, said N Ravi Kiran.
"At this age, he was able to sit on stage for three hours and sing," he said. "This also had something to do with his disciplined lifestyle. And as a performer, till the very end, he had that combination of solidity and elegance that is rare to achieve."
Vidwan RK Srikantan sings a composition of Purandara Dasa's in raga Durbar, with his son RS Ramakanth accompanying him on vocals and his grandnephew RK Shriramkumar on the violin.
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