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Thursday, December 23, 2010

My friend Essel & his collection of rare Carnatic music recordings


On a working day, sometimes you would not find enough time to read the newspaper fully -   a casual browsing of “The Hindu” newspaper made me awestruck. 

Quite often, one tends to ignore the neighbourhood – often we would not realize the greatness of some individuals simply because they are near and move so freely with us.  

To a vast majority seeing something about them in mass media is rejoicing.  You would observe that in a cricket match, when camera zooms on the audience, people would wave, make faces, stand up and do every thing to catch the attraction and immediately call their relatives and known persons to boast of them being on air for some time.  If your face is one amongst hundreds in a function and that photo appears in a newspaper, it is time for celebration.

I know this person for more than 30 years now – so do most of us living in Triplicane. Popularly called “Essel” – he studied in Hindu High School, roamed in the streets of Triplicane, played street cricket, would vociferously speak on sports (we call it cricket) and on public issues and lives in the precincts of Sri Parthasarathi Swami temple tank.   There are days when we argued about Indian performance (the days of Krish Srikkanth………..) as also on Tennis matches (the times of Mats Wilander, Ivan Lendl, Stefan Edberg and ……). Being a close friend of Woorkeri Venkat Raman (WV Raman] he was a vocal supporter of WV.


Then as we grow up, we maintain healthy friendship though not knowing what he is or what his capacities are !  that way – today’s article in a newspaper of esteem was an eye opener and made me jump with joy.


Yes a close to quarter page report on “The Hindu” page 5 with a photo.  It is about his passion for Carnatic music – nay not as a causal listener but as someone who possess archives of recordings of rare outstanding concerts of yesteryears.  The greatness lies in not possessing them but being benevolent of making them available to thousands of rasikas as also to the musicians who rendered them.  The article states that Narasimhan’s collections include recordings of stalwarts like : Veena Dhanammal, Tiger Varadhachariar, TN Rajarathinam pillai.


The link to the article is here. Also the entire article that appeared in ‘The Hindu’ is pasted below.


The long life of surprises did not stop [perhaps it has just started]  Essel is closely related to the great scholar and literary figure – AK Ramanujan, of whom the legendary writer Sujatha had referred many a times in his articles.


Attipat Krishnaswami Ramanujan was a scholar of Indian literature who wrote in both English and Kannada. Ramanujan wore many hats as a Indian poet, scholar and author, those of a philologist, folklorist, translator, poet and playwright. His academic research ranged across five languages: Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Sanskrit, and English. He published works on both classical and modern variants of these literatures and also argued strongly for giving local, non-standard dialects their due.  An Iyengar from  Mysore City [born in 1929], he was a Fellow of Deccan College, Pune in 1958 - 59 and Fulbright Scholar at Indiana University in 1959 - 62. He was educated in English at the Mysore University and received his Ph.D. in Linguistics from Indiana University.  He was a lecturer in English at Quilon and Belgaum, taught at The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda for about eight years.  He went abroad and from 1962, taught at  University of Chicago. In 1983, he was appointed the William E. Colvin Professor in the Departments of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, of Linguistics, and in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago, and, the same year, he received a MacArthur Fellowship. He has written about Vaishnavism and Thiruvoimozhi of Nammazhwar.


Essel presently coowns RALTES Technologies – a Technology consulting company  offering affordable, innovative, flexible and value added software solutions to customers across the globe and is committed to be the number one Service Providers with flare for quality.

We have another reason to celebrate and feel proud. Essel  is a Life member of our SYMA (Srinivas Youngmens Association] – a social service Organisation dedicated to service from 1977.


Regards – S. Sampathkumar.


The Hindu - Thursday - Dec 23,2010 Chennai Edition, City Page 5


What's common to an industrialist, a U.S.-returned entrepreneur, an Ayurvedic doctor and a software professional? Besides a shared passion for Carnatic music, these aficionados have an enviable collection of recordings of rare concerts.  

Their personal archives include recordings of concerts of yesteryear artists as well as recording of outstanding concerts of contemporary musicians.
Their efforts have ensured that these rare recordings are now not only available to thousands of rasikas, who would otherwise have been denied a chance to listen to them, but also the musicians themselves.
“Violin maestro Lalgudi G. Jayaraman wanted a few recordings of his concerts. I gave him a solo concert, two concerts he performed with his sister, two concerts he played for Alathur Brothers, and a few concerts with Madurai Somu and M.D.Ramanathan,” says S.L. Narasimhan, who runs a software company.

“A lot of other musicians have also borrowed recordings of their own concerts from me,” he adds. Mr. Narasimhan's collection includes recordings of concerts of stalwarts such as Kancheepuram Naina Pillai, Veena Dhanammal, Tiger Varadhachariar and T.N. Rajarathinam Pillai. His recordings help organise evenings devoted to a single legend. He says he does not record anyone's music without their knowledge. “I don't have any recordings of the concerts after 2000. In fact, I don't have any recording covered by copyright.”Cleveland Sundaram, a patron of Carnatic music, received recordings of old masters from friends, but his forte lies in the collection made through his own recordings beginning in 1969.

“I started recording concerts of musicians when they performed in the U.S. I would always get permission from the musicians before recording. Now I have digitised them,” says Mr. Sundaram, whose collection runs into thousand of hours. Mr. Sundaram, one of the main organisers of the Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhana, considers the concerts of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer in Mumbai accompanied by Lalgudi Jayaraman, and a New York concert performed by flautist N. Ramani along with Lalgudi Jayaraman and Tiruchi Sankaran, the best among his collection. He confirms that Mr. Jayaraman, who was against the idea of recording his concerts, now feels that he was perhaps wrong. Both Mr. Narasimhan and Mr. Sundaram say they are ready to share their collection with any music lover, provided it is not commercially exploited. The 6,000-hour-long recordings of R.T. Chari, the Managing Director of Tag Corporation, have already become part of The Music Academy-TAG Digital Listening Archives. 

Recalling the days when many collectors were reluctant to share their music recordings, Mr. Chari says he bought a special tape recorder and converted long tapes into small tapes. “While making a copy for the owner, I also made one for myself,” he says. ‘Vintage concerts' Mr. Chari's collection includes many thematic concerts, organised specially by him. Some of these collectors even organise ‘vintage concerts' playing these recordings for a select audience. For instance, fans of Madurai Mani Iyer would gather one evening and listen to a scintillating concert of the ace singer like they would listen to a live concert.

Nagercoil-based Ayurvedic doctor L. Mahadevan can boast of an unique collection. “When it comes to nagaswaram, I have quite a few rare recordings. I have a huge collection of Karukurichi Arunachalam, Thiruvidaimaruthur P.S. Veerusami Pillai, Vedaranyam Vedamurthy, Kottur Rajarathinam and Thirumeignanam Natarajasundaram Pillai, who was known for playing pallavis and mallaris at break-neck speed,” he says.

Mr. Mahadevan, who has recorded all the great concerts performed in temples and marriages in Kanyakumari districts, says he has fantastic recordings of Thanjavur S. Kalyanaraman. “Come home and take whatever you want,” says the doctor grandly, when asked if he would share his possessions.



  1. Hi Sam,

    Thanks for your blog on ESSEL


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