S. KALYANARAMAN – Legend 5 – Compiled by Sashi Kulkarni & T.V. Ramprasadh


Resource Person: Sashi Kulkarni

Content Review: T.V.Ramprasadh (www.tvramprasadh.com)
Biography courtesy: Wikipedia

S. Kalyanaraman (6 February 1930 – 9 January 1994), popularly known as SKR, was a legendary vocalist in the Carnatic tradition. Hailing from a famed musical family, where his great-grandfather was Komal Muthu Bhagavathar and his grand uncle was the celebrated vocalist Madirimangalam Natesa Iyer, S.Kalyanaraman became one of the foremost disciples of G. N. Balasubramaniam and established himself as an original musician in his own right.

Early life and background

(6 February 1930 – 9 January 1994), popularly known as SKR, was a legendary vocalist in the Carnatic tradition. Hailing from a famed musical family, where his great-grandfather was Komal Muthu Bhagavathar and his grand uncle was the celebrated vocalist Madirimangalam Natesa Iyer, S.Kalyanaraman became one of the foremost disciples of G. N. Balasubramaniam and established himself as an original musician in his own right.


Like his master GNB, S. Kalyanaraman’s musical acumen is beyond the ordinary and within less than a year of instruction under GNB, he was providing vocal support. GNB once remarked “What’s there for me to teach, you are already singing so well”.

So versatile was his voice that even before his debut in 1949, Kalyanaraman was already getting attention from the audience as a leading vocal accompanist to GNB. At times, realizing the rich manodharma of Kalyanaraman’s musical intuition, GNB would hand him the reins for improvisations in his own concerts. The brief moments of Kalyanaraman’s music captivated the audience who came to listen to GNB.

At his debut in the Gokhale Hall in 1949, guru GNB was in the audience and was carried away in musical wonder for Kalyanaraman’s originality while retaining the mesmerizing bani of his own. GNB further added “The best respect to a guru is to follow his style in total. The best tribute to a guru is to embellish a style of your own. My dear boy… I am proud you are… indeed your own.” Once while listening to Kalyanaraman’s rendition of Nilayam Onru Enukku Arulvai, a Suddhananda Bharathi composition, GNB walked up to Kalyanaraman and demanded “Teach me this and give me the notation.” So vast was his musical acumen and knowledge that G.B. Duraiswamy (the eldest of GNB sons) used to remark “the way he discussed intellectual queries and doubts with GNB was a treat to watch.”

From then, S. Kalyanaraman’s rise in Carnatic music was phenomenal. Like his guru, he emphasized on artistic individuality and won acclaim as a great artiste in his own right. His musical acumen transcended Carnatic music and when performing with [Hindustani] musicians, he would sing aptly with the Hindustani touch when rendering Hindustani ragas. Such was his admiration of Indian music, that he saw more similarities than differences in both Carnatic & Hindustani systems. He would go on to explain the gamaka technique in Carnatic music which most Hindustani musicians criticize as being detrimental to shruthi clarity. His climb to the ‘A’ Top rank in All-India-Radio (AIR) was meteoric. In his later years, Kalyanaraman gave some whistle concerts whistling away compositions of the Trinity, an art that he learnt with passion.


 As a soloist he planned his concert items differently, often singing rare compositions while keeping popular numbers to a minimum, specializing in vivadi (dissonant) ragas rarely attempted by most popular musicians of his time and was full of musical complexities. He became a specialist in the handling of  vivadi   ragas and popularized the Śruti bhedam technique (modal shift of tonic note) introduced by his guru. He used nadais (transposed rhythmic patterns) extensively and unfortunately to the uninformed audience, his concerts are painstakingly challenging to be understood and interpreted. His renditions of vivadi ragas like Chandrajyothi, Sucharitra, Hamasanadam are well loved by the connoisseur and the informed audience for the musical weight Kalyanaraman’s genius had given. The buzz word that went around was “if it was easy, Kalyanaraman would not do it”.

However, Kalyanaraman didn’t completely ignore the legacy of his guru to forge that of his own, he popularized the GNB bani (style) of singing and also immortalized his guru’s hallmark ragas likeShanmukhapriya, Kalyani, Dheerasankarabharanam, Kapi Narayani and many more. He gave Hindustani touches to Hindustani ragas like Dwijawanthi, Brindavana Saranga and Hamir Kalyani. Such was his voice that it had an almost perfect substitute to the inimitable voice of GNB and while singing his guru’s signature compositions it would often confuse the acute listener whether it is GNB singing or Kalyanaraman singing.


 He notated a book, the first volume of GNB compositions with Trichur V. Ramachandran which was released by the GNB Foundation.

As a musical innovator he faced much criticism in his time for creating new ragas such as the dwi-madhyama ragas in which he eschewed the panchama of the first 36 mela ragas substituting it with the prathi-madhyama. Apart from theoretically creating a new set of 36 of his ragas, he demonstrated them at a lecture held in the Music Academy in 1993. He was also ridiculed by critics that he would only handle the “rare stuff” of Carnatic music. But nothing bothered his style and preference. He also composed several varnams, krithis (some in ashtaragamalika format) and thillanas in both popular and vivadi ragas and like his guru, he refrained from using a mudra.

He was a strict teacher and expected nothing less than devotion to the art from his students. As such, many of his students, unable to understand his teaching methods, left him. He would also take a back seat and analyze his teaching methods whether anything went wrong in his teaching. Noted among his disciples are Bhushany Kalyanaraman, (his own wife), Prof.Gowri Kuppuswamy, Brinda Venkataraman and the popular cine playback singer, Anuradha Sriram.

Above all, he emphasized a lot on shruthi clarity which he felt Carnatic musicians lacked unlike their Hindustani counterparts. He formulated and tested methods to improve shruthi clarity in Carnatic musicians as well as some of his innovative teaching methods. He planned for the release of a book of all his findings, but it was never published.


 Kalyanaraman’s influence undeniably bore the GNB mudra. Though criticized many a times for his unique and misunderstood musical prowess, his renditions and contributions are finally gaining popularity among the younger generation as well as recognition. Held in high regard by most of his senior contemporaries like T. N. Seshagopalan, Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna, M. S. Gopalakrishnan andLalgudi Jayaraman, Kalyanaraman’s contribution to the world of Carnatic music is noteworthy.

The SKR Trust, established by his wife and student promotes his music and his legacy. A documentary of his life and work, has been released by Kalakendra Sanskriti Series “The Sunaadha Vinodhan” in an audio visual DVD format.

Our Resource person’s observations…..

For someone who started listening to Carnatic Music seriously in the 80s, the introduction of   Tanjore S Kalyanaraman (TSK) into the listening scheme of things had to wait for two decades. During those long years, concert recordings were hard to come by. And so the initials TSK stood out mainly during discussions of his Grahabhedam Lecture, his RTP on the 4 Ranjinis, his effort to popularize his Guru GNB’s Compositions, his recordings on the 72 raga Koteeswara Iyer Krithi set and so on.

It was only much later, that I bumped into the soft kernel of TSK’s singing in his prime, in the form of recordings with friends. In fact these friends would boast   of having watched from the sidelines, the likes of TSK-MSG – Karaikudi Mani going through their Sadhanas of Asura proportions – sometimes in all night sessions.

And once introduced to the magic of TSK, little else mattered to me.
Listen first to a tribute, during a concert.
001 – Tribute during a concert.
And here is a sweet song in the company of Lalgudi Jayaraman.
Makaelara Vicharamu-Ravichandrika-
Lalgudi Jayaraman, during one of my many meetings with him at his home, once asked me: Have you heard Kalyanraman’s Concerts. I must have said Not Much, since he went on to advise me

“Make it a point to listen to as much as possible of him and Balchander. …..very Brainy artists. Did not get what they deserved…….” 

Years later I was happy to see Swathi Soft Solutions bring up an exclusive 2 DVD profile of TSK with an accompanying CD of his hits as mp3. I was a bit disappointed with the MP3 tracks that had been compiled and so here is my balancing act. Tracks which I think should have made it to that set.

For starters, here is a bunch of fine aalapanas which will give an indication of the kind of effort TSK puts in.

aa1 Bhairavi.
aa1 Kalyani.mp3
aa1 Keeravani
aa1 Panthuvarali
aa1 Shanmukhapriya
aa1 Shubhapanthuvarali
aa1 Todi

Next two renderings, which will always be associated with the memory of TSK.

aa2-Amboruha Padhamae(tv)-Ranjani
aa2 ArulSeyyaVendum-Rasikapriya-Adi

TSK’s classic poise and delivery on show in some well known krithis.
aa2 Bhuvanathraya – Mohanam.
aa2 Gana Murte Sri Krshna

And in some rarely heard krithis
aa2 Kamalacharane-Amritha Behag

aa2-Satileni – Naganandini

Here he can be seen to be such a master of the Hindusthani Idiom too.
aa3 Ashtapadi-Miyan Malhar.

aa3 Ashtapadi-Shudh Sarang.

Two beautiful Slokas
aa3 Slokam(JanathiRamam)-Ragamalika.
aa3 Slokam-Ragamalika.mp3

And lastly to deeper waters of Carnatic Music.
Song after song, one can notice the fluidity of his voice trying to reach the inner most recesses of the raga. Very often waking up the accompanists from slumber into exotic duels. 

aa4 Cakkani Raja Margamu – Kharaharapriya
aa4 Mokshamu Galada – Saramati -Tyagaraja.Mp
aa4 Svami Nathena – Brndavani – DIKSH
aa5 RTP-Dharmavati.mp3
aa5 RTP-Ranjani
aa5 RTP-Simh madhyama
aa5 RTP-Thodi.mp3
Will there be another like TSK, ever?

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