Remembering khanjira legend Harishankar


It was early February in the year 2002.

I was travelling by bus to Pudukkottai (in Tamil Nadu) to witness the Aradhana of the khanjira legend Pudukkottai Manpundiya Pillai and to sing two or three krithis as my offering.

It was raining cats and dogs (unusual for February in those times) and I finally arrived at the samadhi fully drenched!

Mridanga vidwan and my good friend Mannarkoil Balaji and kanjira artiste Nerkunam Sankar were there frantically making arrangements for the main event, a laya vinyasam by legend Guruvayur Dorai.

HarishankarDorai mama, on seeing me arrive immediately changed plans: he wanted me to sing and himself accompany on the mridangam instead of the laya vinyasam.

I immediately sat down, my veshti, angavastram still undried:), switching my sruti box on when there was a mini commotion.

Kanjira legend G Harishankar arrived on the scene, travelling from a concert in a remote corner of Kerala, also fully drenched and seemingly very sick.

He instantly sat down beside Dorai mama with his kanjira, as expected. I started singing, with a voice that seemed to have an extraordinary felicity for kampitha gamakam (since I was already shivering with cold)!!!

That concert went on and on with Dorai mama and Harishankar anna egging me on to sing krithi after krithi. The main song was Chakkani Raja after the kharaharapriya alapana (there was no violin accompanying us, for your information).

After the swaraprastharam, the thaniavarthanam commenced..what a thundering thani it was! Dorai mama and Harishankar must have played one of the greatest of thanis we ever heard. The now well-known Khanjira artiste Amrit was there too in the team playing turns after his guru Dorai sir and Harishankar anna.

The spartan mandapam of the samadhi was reverberating with the majestic tone of mridangam and dexterity of the kanjira. After the mind blowing thani, the percussion legends asked me to sing a couple of Thiruppugazhs in sanda thaalams which I complied with, gladly.

After the mangalam Dorai mama quipped, 'ஆராதனைக்கு வாசிப்பதற்கு வகையான பாட்டு கிடைச்சதுக்கு அப்புறம் எதுக்கு லய வின்யாசம்? அதனால தான் plan மாற்றினேன்!

'It was indeed a profound blessing for me. All of us returned to Chennai musing on the events of Aradhana, albeit a bit worried about Harishankar anna.

Less than a week hence, we were shocked to hear of the passing of Harishankar. His final concert was at the samadhi in Pudukkottai.

SuryaprakashIt is really my privilege to perform on his memorial day in Chennai on Feb 11, 2021 with V V Srinivasa Rao, Poongulam Subramanian and Papanasam Sethuraman. It is my tribute and I will share my emotions for the doyen as one who shared the platform with him in his final performance.

<< Suryaprakash is a senior Carnatic music vocalist based in Chennai.>>