T. V. Sankaranarayanan (Tiruvalangadu Vembu Iyer Sankaranarayanan), was born on March 7 1945 in Mayiladuturai of Thanjavur district in the state of Tamil Nadu in south India. At the age of nine, he started learning music from his uncle, Madurai Mani Iyer is an eminent and popular Carnatic vocalist (South Indian classical singer), known for his vibrant music that essentially stems from the style of his late uncle-guru, Madurai Mani Iyer.

He made his debut on the concert platform in 1968 and then gradually established himself as a Carnatic vocalist. His emotion-laden style of singing has won him a large following among music lovers. He has performed widely at home and abroad and has several albums to his credit. In a profile published in the Financial Express, Subbudu, a music critic, once wrote: “Sankaranarayanan is indeed an asset to the Carnatic music world, where the tribe of good vocalists is dwindling.”

In his music, life or physical appearance, T. V. Sankaranarayanan or TVS (as he is popularly known), strongly resembles his uncle — the legendary Madurai Mani Iyer who is his guru, mentor and for all practical purposes his God in human form. A biography of TVS cannot be sketched without touching upon the life of Madurai Mani Iyer, for the lives of both were inextricably linked right from the birth of Sankaranarayanan or Raman as he is known among close circles.

One day, Madurai Mani Iyer started the lessons for his young nephew with “Giriraja Suta … Tanaya … “. By the time he was ten, Sankaranarayanan had learnt 50 kritis from his uncle, some of them melody mammoths like “O Jagadamba” (Ananda Bhairavi), “Kamalambam Bhajare” (Kalyani) and so on. By 1955-56, the family shifted back to Madras. This period also saw a perceptible shift in young Sankaranarayanan’s attitude towards music. Cricket had become an obsession with young Sankaranarayanan to the extent that one day his uncle Madurai Mani Iyer beckoned him and said, “Rama, make your choice. If you want to sing, give up cricket. But if you want to play cricket, give up music.” Sankaranarayanan took a decision to opt for music and the third generation of musicians in the family, commencing from Madurai Pushpavanam Iyer, had now begun. From 1961, Sankaranarayanan put his heart and soul into music and by his 16th year even started providing vocal support for his uncle. In 1959, Sankaranarayanan, on behalf of Madurai Mani Iyer, whose eyesight was dimming by this time, also read out the Sangita Kalanidhi address on the stage; the memory of which, he cherishes to this day.

The decision again went in favour of music. Mani Iyer also suggested that his nephew regularly listen to concerts of other musicians. In fact, recalls Sankaranarayanan, “Even after his own concert, Mani Iyer would ask, `Rama what did you like in my concert today?’ Such was his greatness.”

One day, senior violinist T. N. Krishnan, also a regular visitor to Mani Iyer’s house, remarked, “Iyerval, Raman is singing so well. Why can’t he sing solo?” Mani Iyer thought for a while and on February 1, 1968, asked his nephew to sing at home to the accompaniment of T. N. Krishnan and mridangist Vellore Ramabhadran. Sankaranarayanan had passed the acid test. On the very day, his arangetram took place with the above mentioned stalwarts and also Alangudi Ramachandran readily accompanying him in this young artiste’s maiden concert.

In fact, even in the successive years and, in the initial stages of his career, Sankaranarayanan has had the rare privilege of stalwarts like Lalgudi Jayaraman, M. S. Gopalakrishnan, T. K. Murthy, Murugabhoopathy, Palghat Raghu, Umayalapuram Sivaraman and a host of other seniors willingly providing him accompaniment. At this juncture, Mani Iyer offered him a few pearls of advice. He said, “Raman, take to music; sing well; if you sing well concerts will come in search of you instead of vice-versa. Don’t worry if other people have more concerts than you. You concentrate on your work. The rest will automatically follow. Again, do not worry if only ten people attend your concerts. If you sing well these ten in course of time will increase to hundred and will proceed to grow. Never cause inconvenience to the organisers.” To Sankaranarayanan, to this day, these words are gospel not to be violated at any cost.

On June 8, 1968, Madurai Mani Iyer died. Vembu Iyer decided to give up his own career and focus all his energy and talent in grooming his son. Sankaranarayanan remembers with gratitude the long practice sessions he had at home with his father strumming the tambura. It was his father who taught him the nuances of music and also groomed him as a concert artiste. His career graph gradually started registering an upward curve. It was a jam-packed hall. “Oru Kal Urai… ” _ the sruti and bhava music of Sankaranarayanan touched the heart and soul of the audience. The time was 10 p.m. But the audience was thirsting for more music. “Eppo Varuvaro,” shouted a voice, “notes, notes”, another voice was heard. Sankaranarayanan, unmindful of the time, happily obliged his fans. A thundering ovation followed.

Audience appreciation apart, several honours, awards and titles have also sought him in abundant measure. In 1975, he was the first male vocalist to be invited to the United States on a full-fledged concert tour. Till date, the demand for his concerts abroad continues unabated and he has visited several countries like Canada, Singapore, Australia and Hong Kong. In September 1999, he was chosen to perform at the `Millennium 2000′ concert at the Lincoln Centre, New York.

Musical Training

Over the years, Sankaranarayanan completed his graduation in Commerce and also took up a degree in law only to later realise that a full-fledged lawyer’s profession hardly afforded him any time for music.

Awards & Titles

  • Gayaka Sikhamani by Bhairavi, USA in 1981.
  • Swara Laya Ratnakara by Ramakrishnananda Saraswati of Sri Vidyasram, Rishikesh in 1986.
  • Ganakalaratnam by Dr. Semmangudi Srinivasa Ayyar in 1987.
  • Nadakanal By Nadakanal, Madras in 1987.
  • Innisai Perarasu By Bharati Kalamandram, Toronto in 1981.
  • Sangeetha Ratnakara By Vassar College in 1975.
  • Swara Yoga Shironmani By Yoga Jivana Satsangha (International)in 1997.
  • Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1990.
  • Padma Bhushan by the Government of India in 2003.
  • Sangeetha Kalanidhi by the Madras Music Academy in 2003.
  • Sangeetha Kalasikhamani by The Indian Fine Arts Society in 2005.
  • Sangita Choodamani.
  • Sangita Kala Sarathy.
  • Padma Bhushan (2003).
  • Sangita Kalanidhi (2004).
  • Sivan Isai Chelvar.
  • Tamil Isai Vendar.