Master of South Indian Music:
Lalgudi G. J. R. Krishnan, violin

Hear how the Western violin is transformed into a virtuoso vehicle for South Indian classical music in the hands of one of its most accomplished exponents, Lalgudi Krishnan. Since being introduced into Indian music in the 1830s, the violin has been adapted in a variety of ways and is heard here in a wide range of ragas devoted to Shiva, Rama, Krishna, and Radha. Lalgudi Krishnan is joined by Kamalakar Rao on the double-headed drum, mridangam, and A. S. Shankar on the ghatam, a large clay pot unique to South Indian music. This performance was recorded live in concert at the Freer Gallery in May 2000.


Lalgudi G. J. R. Krishnan, violin
Kamalakar Rao, mridangam
A.S. Shankar, ghatam

Recorded live in concert at the Freer and Sackler Galleries on May 4, 2000.

Varnam: Arunodayam
Bowli raga/Adi tala
Composer: Lalgudi Jayaraman
Nata raga/Adi tala
Composer: Muthuswami Dikshitar
Shankari Sankuru
Saveri raga/Adi tala
Composer: Syama Shastry
Mati Matiki
Mohanam raga/Misra Chapu tala
Composer: Tyagaraja
Jaganmohini raga/Rupaka tala
Composer: Tyagaraja
Dharmavathi raga/Kanda Triputa tala
Bhajans and songs
  • Rama Rama
  • Tilang raga/Rupakam tala
  • Purandara Dasa
  • Bhajan
  • Bagesri raga/Adi tala
  • Chinnanchiru Killiye
  • Ragamalika/Tisram tala
  • Subramania Bharathi
  • Bhajan: Vaishnavajanato
  • Misra Kamach raga/Adi tala
Sindubhiravi raga/Adi tala
Composer: Lalgudi Jayaraman


A typical concert of South Indian classical music is planned as a whole. An opening item is followed by pieces which gradually build in mood (mela), leading to a climactic main piece and one or more concluding items in a light classical style. The buildup of mela is considered so crucial to the success of a concert that, without it, a performance can be found lacking by South Indian audiences, even if the musicians play exceptionally well. Each item in a concert of South Indian classical music is performed in a particular melodic mode (raga) and rhythmic cycle (tala), the names of which are given for each item in the program.


Bowli raga/Adi tala (8 beats)
Composer: Lalgudi Jayaraman (1930–2013)

The varnam is a musical form that is generally performed at the beginning of a concert. The composer of this varnam is Lalgudi Krishna’s father, Lalgudi Jayaraman, one of the most highly regarded South Indian musicians of his generation. Raga Bowli was traditionally considered a morning raga, but contemporary South Indian musicians do not typically adhere to this restriction.


Nata raga/Adi tala (8 beats)
Composer: Muthuswami Dikshitar (1775–1835)

Nata raga is popular for its brilliance and is a favorite choice for the opening sections of a concert. The composition by Dikshitar will be followed by a kind of improvisation called swara prasthara or simply swaram.

Shankari Sankuru

Saveri raga/Adi tala (8 beats)
Composer: Syama Shastry (1762–1827)

Melodic embellishments, or gamakas, are an important part of raga Saveri. A knowledgeable listener can identify this raga after hearing only a few notes and gamakas. Krishnan will begin with an elaboration upon the raga, followed by the composition by Syama Shastry.

Mati Matiki

Mohanam raga/Misra Chapu tala (7 beats)
Composer: Tyagaraja (1767–1847)

The raga Mohanam is based on a pentatonic (five-note) scale. The rhythmic cycle for this piece, Misra Chapu tala, consists of seven beats. The composition begins on the third beat. A raga elaboration will precede the Tyagaraja composition, and an improvisation will follow it.


Jaganmohini raga/Rupaka tala (3 beats)
Composer: Tyagaraja

This short composition by Tyagaraja is set to Rupaka tala, a rhythmic cycle of three beats.


This three-part form begins with an elaboration upon the raga without rhythm (ragam), followed by a raga elaboration with rhythm (tanam), and a kind of brief composition known as pallavi, which is usually limited in length to one tala (rhythmic) cycle. Krishnan will improvise on his own composition, followed by improvisations in a succession of ragas (swara prasthara or ragamalika). Kamalakar Rao and Shankar will improvise on the pallavi portion and conclude with a percussion duet.


Sindubhiravi raga/Adi tala (8 beats)
Composer: Lalgudi Jayaraman

The tillana is a musical form composed with syllables used for percussion. Lalgudi Jayaraman has composed many tillanas and is credited through his performing and composing career with enriching the tillana form both melodically and rhythmically.


Lalgudi G. J. R. Krishnan

Lalgudi G. J. R. Krishnan is one of the foremost Indian Carnatic classical violinists today, with a performing career that spans almost fifty years. He is the son and disciple of the late Padmabhushan Lalgudi Jayaraman and is the leading practitioner (along with his sister, Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi) of the Lalgudi Bani (or musical tradition). He represents the fifth generation of violinists in a family that traces its musical roots back to the great nineteenth-century composer, Saint Tyagaraja.

World renowned, he has performed all over India, the US, and Europe, including such venues as Lincoln Center, the Smithsonian, and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. He has represented India on numerous occasions for several major Festivals of India held in the UK, the US, Greece, Syria, and the former USSR.

As a musician, he is well known for violin solos, duets, and trios (with Smt. Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi and the late Sri Lalgudi Jayaraman) that have captivated audiences globally since the early 1970s. He has also collaborated with renowned North Indian musicians including Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan, Ustad Shujaath Khan, Pandit Vishwamohan Bhatt, Pandit Rakesh Chaurasia, and Ustad Zakir Hussain. His collaborations have won him acclaim for innovation, including the creation of Strings Tradition, a project between Krishnan, Shujaath Khan, and African kora artist Mamadou Diabete. He has also accompanied many Carnatic music stalwarts, including Padma Vibhushan Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Sri Maharajapuram Santhanam, Sri D. K. Jayaraman, Sri Nedunuri Krishnamurthy, and Sri R. K. Srikantan.

In addition to his career as a concert violinist, Krishnan is also a prolific composer. He has composed music for several classical dance productions, including Veda Bharati, Jagath Paavani Ganga, and Sai Nathane Varuga Varuga, and has collaborated with Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi to compose the music for Sambhavami Yuge Yuge. He has also composed music for instrumental ensembles in several classical ragas, including rarely heard ragas such as Kosalam, which is featured in the album Raga Rasa. He also composed music for the documentary film Natyanubhava.

Krishnan has received numerous awards, including the Sangeet Natak Akademi award from the President of India, the coveted Indra Sivasailam Medal (from the Indra Sivasailam Foundation as the first ever instrumentalist to receive the award), the Sangeetha Choodamani, the Kalki Krishnamurthy Award, Kalaimamani (Tamil Nadu Iyal Isai Nataka Mandram), and many more. He is a top-ranked artist with All India Radio.

Beyond his own music, Krishnan has provided considerable service to the strings instrumental community in India through the ViolinWise initiative. Recognizing the need for bringing state-of-the-art violin repair and restoration skills from the West to India, Krishnan has sponsored annual workshops where top craftsmen from the US train their local Indian counterparts, under the auspices of the Lalgudi Trust.

V. Kamalakar Rao, mridangam (double-headed drum), is among today’s great percussionists of Carnatic music and has continued to make valuable contributions to the field for over seven decades. He has evolved his own distinctive style of percussion accompaniment, characterized by highly intricate rhythmic patterns that are subtle and scholarly. His knowledge of music, his keen sense of proportion, and his ability to anticipate the lead solo artists make him a sought-after accompanist. He has traveled widely and performed in the US, Canada, UK, France, Denmark, Greece, Russia, Australia, and South Africa. He has performed with a veritable “who’s who” of vocalists and instrumentalists spanning three generations. He has also partnered with North Indian musicians in jugalbandis (duets), including stalwarts like Ustad Zakir Hussain and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. He studied with Palghat Mani Iyer and is the recipient of numerous awards in India, including the Palghat Mani Iyer Memorial Award, Central Sangeet Natak Academy Award, and the Sangeeta Kala Acharya from the Madras Music Academy, and has released commercial recordings in India, the United States, France, and Australia.

A.S. Shankar is one of the leading exponents of the Indian percussion instrument known as the ghatam (clay pot), a mainstay in classical Carnatic music concerts. He is also an accomplished artist on the mridangam (double-headed drum). As a veteran performer with over thirty-five years of experience as a percussionist, he has accompanied a wide range of vocalists and instrumentalists that spans almost the entire slate of past and contemporary Carnatic musicians. He has been feted on numerous occasions, receiving awards from prestigious Carnatic music organizations in India and abroad, and is an Asthana Vidwan of the Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam. He has performed in the US, UK, Switzerland, Germany, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, and France, among other countries. He played for the Indo-German Fusion Music troupe Ahimsa between 1998 and 2005. In addition to being a concert performer, he also serves as a lecturer in ghatam at the S.V. College of Music and Dance in Tirupathi, India.


This podcast was coordinated by Michael Wilpers, manager of performing arts. Audio recording and editing by Andy Finch and Suraya Mohamed. Web production by Gio Camozzi. Copyediting by Ian Fry. Special thanks to the artists for granting permission to share this performance at the Freer and Sackler Galleries and especially to Lalgudi G. J. R. Krishnan for his invaluable assistance in preparing the notes. This performance was recorded live in concert at the Meyer Auditorium, Freer Gallery of Art. The concert was made possible, in part, by Kaveri Records.