Emani Sankara Sastri was born on 23 September 1922 in Draksharamam, East Godavari District, Andhra Pradesh. He belongs to a family of celebrated classical musicians. His father Vainika Bhooshana Veena Acharya Emani Achyutarama Sastri, a famed vainika was a contemporary of Tumarada Sangameshwara Sastri (1874-1932) and Venkata Ramana Das (1866-1948) of Andhra who used to follow the ancient tradition of holding the Veena vertically while playing it.
Emani Sankara Sastri showed keen interest in playing Veena at the age of 3 and bequeathed the skills of playing Veena from his father Achyutarama Sastri and also his grandfather Subbara Sastri. Sankara Sastri also had the opportunity to get exposure to Hindustani and Western styles of classical music in the early years of his career and this made him to become an integrationist in his approach towards music. He gave his first Veena concert in 1940 in Trichy All India Radio Station that got him very good name.
After completing his education from Pithapuram Maharaja College, Kakinada (Andhra University), he joined the famous Gemini Studios at Madras in 1942 where he was in the music division for more than a decade, initially supporting the famous film music director Saluri Rajeswara Rao. He composed tunes for hit films such as Mangla, Sansar, Bahut Din Huwe, Vindhyarani, Nishan, Mr. Sampat and English version of Chandralekha. Under him, playback singers like A.M. Raja and P.B. Srinivos blossomed in the film field.
Emani joined All India Radio in 1959 as producer of music at Madras. Soon he rose to the position of director and composer of national orchestra and chief producer of music. As Chief Producer of Music as well as Conductor and Director of Vadya Vrinda, National Orchestra, All India Radio (AIR), New Delhi, Emani composed amazing orchestrations that captured the pan India audience.
Emani belonged to the first generation of Carnatic instrumentalists who played jugalbandis with Hindustani musicians. He played along with famous Hindustani sitar players Ustad Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan, Pandit Ravi Shankar, and Pandit Gopal Krishan Sharma (on vichitra veena) evoking good response from the music lovers across the country.
Some of his pioneering works in orchestration:
- Adarsa Sikhararohanam – An orchestral composition based on the theme of the conquest of Everest in 1953 by Tensing Norgay in which he used six Veenas. This was a unique experience to lovers of creative music and a trend setter in that genre.
- Swara Tarangini – An orchestral composition in which he used numerous sounds that gradually crystallize into musical swaras indicating the origin of sound and its significance in music.
- Ragam Thanam Pallavi– an orchestral composition based on the classical raga Todi. It was an experiment first of its kind in classical music which won the appreciation from both the music scholars and music lovers alike.
- Indu – a composition based on the first six ragas of the the melakartaragas. Melakarta ragas (72) were explicated by great Venkatamakhin (Venkateswara Dikshita) in his Sanskrit treatise Chaturdandi Prakashika in the mid-17th Century which is a collection of fundamental musical scales in Carnatic music. .
- Brmara Vinyas – a thematic composition depicting a day in the life of a bee, which won him laurels at the prix Italia (an international Italian television, radio- broadcasting and website award).
On the special invitation from the world renowned violinist Yehudi Menuhin, Emani participated in the festival of international music council at Paris on 8 January 1974 and won accolades.
Emani was the asthaan vidwan (court musician) of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams. He was a member of the university grants committee – to advise on music and was also a member of the expert committee at Madras Music Academy. He was the first south Bharatiya musician to have been conferred with the title of Maha Mahopadhyaya, by Banaras Hindu University. He was given the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1973, Sahitya Kala Parishad award, Padma Shri (1974) and Doctorate by Andhra University.
Apart from the above many other titles were also conferred upon him. The raga Sankarabharanam played by him on the Veena won him the Asian Rostrum Award for the most outstanding number for the year 1973. The rostrum was held under the patronage of UNESCO, at Alam Atta, Soviet Union wherein eminent artists from thirty nations took part. From then onwards he was hailed as Sankarabharanam Sankara Sastri.
As a teacher, he groomed several brilliant vainikas including the legendary C. Chittibabu and Palagummi Viswanadham besides his own daughter, the accomplished vainika Emani Kalyani Lakshminarayana.
Pt. Nehru called Sankara Sastry a ‘harbinger of Indian art abroad’. When Emani gave a Veena concert at the house of the then PM Lal Bahadur Sastry, Sastry sat down on the floor in reverence to the great Veena Vidwan Emani. Sastry, the then PM of the country, richly felicitated Emani with a Shawl and also with another simple cotton shawl in his personal capacity saying he was an ordinary man! On yet another occasion Sringeri Peetadhipathi presented Emani with a golden shawl. Emani began using these two shawls to protect his Veena.
Emani Sankara Sastri was one of the first Carnatic instrumentalist who used a contact microphone to exploit the full potential of the Veena. This gave more emphasis on the pronunciation in Veena rendition though he used to deftly play the instrument with rapid speed, apart from clarity in the sound. He was famous for playing Veena with beautiful Gamakas (oscillations) in any Raga with ease.
In Carnatic music, Veena has four melody strings and three drone strings. Emani used to have two more special drone strings in his Veena and this created the impression of an orchestra when he was playing the Veena. On the gourd of Veena he used to play the mrudangam beats simultaneously in his Veena recital, giving the Jazz music effect to his audience. He also used to produce guitar sounds from his Veena. This attracted more admirers to his concerts.
Emani had the distinction of getting instrumental support in his concerts from eminent violinists like Lalgudi Jayaraman and M.S. Gopalakrishnan who were considered to be legends. Emani used to play on Veena his own compositions of keerthanas, javalis and bhajans in his solo concerts. While playing bhajans on Veena sometimes he even used to sing simultaneously.
In early 1980s this author had the fortune of attending a concert of Emani in Chennai during Sri Rama Navami celebrations and was a witness to Emani playing Veena, producing the sounds of other orchestra and singing as well, all simultaneously. The audience was just spellbound and the other artists accompanying Emani on Mrudangam and Ghatam too were acting as spectators.
While All India radio provided him a vast platform to showcase his creativity, at public music concerts he adhered to the tradition of Carnatic music. This won him admirers from both the segments- music lovers and music critics. After retirement from All India Radio he continued as Emeritus composer and on 23 rd December, 1987 while traveling by train to Chennai after a concert at Guntur he breathed his last.
In Draksharamam temple, Bhagavan Shiva is worshipped as Bhimeswara swamy and his consort Devi Parvati as Devi Manikyamba, one of the 18 Shakti peethas. In mythologies Shiva is described as a master of dance and music. Shiva’s Veena is known as pinaki and Pinakapani is one of the names of Bhagwan Shiva. Emani Sankara Sastri born in Draksharamam, true to his name made Veena instrument very popular not only as an accompanying instrument in Carnatic concerts but also as a solo musical instrument.
In the history of Bharatiya classical music Emani Sankara Sastri had carved a niche for himself permanently.
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