By Rasika Viswanath
Every once in a while there comes a person whose life and accomplishments touch you very deeply. Savithri Satyamurthy’s life and musical journey touched the hearts of many accomplished musicians, students, music connoisseurs as well as rasikas across eras and cities.
Born to Meenakshi and Ramanathan, Savithri started learning music in the town of Hosur with violin lessons from Madurai Subramania Iyer. A move to Trichy opened up a whole new world of music for her. She earned her stripes under the strict tutelage of Erode Viswanatha Iyer. Her growing years involved spending three years as an inmate of the Ariyakudi household, when she also honed her violin technique under guru RajamanickamPillai. Imagine the wealth of musical experience she would have gained in those early years with these stalwarts as her guiding light, RajamIyer, K.V.Narayanaswami, Madurai Krishnan as co-disciples and as a regular accompanist to Dhanammal.
Right from her childhood, Savithri was a meticulous stickler for discipline and punctuality. She learfnt these lessons from her primary school teacher in Trichy and lived by it all through her life. Marriage and a move to Bombay changed the direction of her music career, and the birth of “Teacher Savithri”. Her musical knowledge and urge to keep learning combined with her inherent qualities made her set exacting standards and expect nothing short of perfection from her students. Her music education continued in Bombay through the visits of stalwarts like Kumbakonam Rajamanikkam Pillai, Madurai Mani Iyer and Ramnad Krishnan, who stayed at her residence in Mumbai. Madurai Mani Iyer was especially fond of Savithri’s special idlis for breakfast.
After seeing her children well settled in life, Savithri came to Chennai in 1972 and the move resurrected the concert artist in Savithri. The musicians she began to accompany in concerts represented the who’s who of the Carnatic music world. M.S.Subbalakshmi, D.K.Pattamal, T.Muktha, Mani Krishnaswami and R.Vedavalli were examples.
The shift also saw her blossoming as a teacher under the guidance of Dr. S. Ramanathan to whom she had also become a regular concert accompanist. Her students would tremble at the thought of facing her even if they were a minute late to her classes or unprepared from the previous lesson. The quality of her teaching was the same regardless of where when and how she taught. Her students from across generations having learnt from her several decades apart could come together and sing the compositions learnt from her in perfect unison. It was this rigour that produced from among her students a number of concert artists as well as music lovers and connoisseurs. A strict disciplinarian as a teacher, she was a deeply loving person and friend to her students outside of her classes.
Complete devotion to music and her gurus as well as implicit faith in Lord Krishna were facets of her life that really stood out. Her meticulous maintenance of her music notations drew admiration from not only her students but many stalwarts as well. A number of Dr. Ramanathan’s compositions are alive today, thanks to her painstaking notation. She will be fondly remembered by all her students as well as the music fraternity.
(Rasika Viswanath is a granddaughter and disciple of the late Savithri Satyamurthy)