Draft:Karaikudi S. Subramanian

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Karaikudi Sambasiva Iyer Subramanian
Karaikudi Subramanian
Background information
Born (1944-10-23) October 23, 1944 (age 74)
Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India
GenresSouth Indian Classical Music
Occupation(s)Veena player

Karaikudi Sambasiva Iyer Subramanian - grandson of Karaikudi Subbarama Iyer and adoptive son of Karaikudi Sambasiva Iyer - is a 9th generation veena player in the Karaikudi Veena Tradition. [1] [2]

Karaikudi Subramanian accompanying K.V. Narayanaswamy

As a Top-grade artiste for All India Radio, Karaikudi Subramanian has performed radio concerts as well as live concerts at various venues around the world. He has performed with fellow veena player Ranganayaki Rajagopalan and his sister Rajeswari Padmanabhan, both disciples of Karaikudi Sambasiva Iyer. He has also accompanied artists such as flautist T. Viswanathan and vocalist K. V. Narayanaswamy. [3] Subramanian later turned his focus on education, exploring ways to make music accessible to everyone regardless of their background. In 1989, he founded the institute Brhaddhvani – Research and Training Centre for Musics of the World in Chennai. Few years later, as a result of his vigorous training with his Guru Karaikudi Sambasiva Iyer and his own research at Wesleyan University and later at Brhaddhvani, his brainchild Correlated Objective Music Education and Training (COMET), a pedagogic system of music learning, was born.

The Karaikudi lineage[edit]

The Karaikudi Veena Brothers - from right to left: Karaikudi Sambasiva Iyer (veena), Karaikudi Subbarama Iyer (veena upright position) and Pudukkotai Dakshinamurthy Pillai (mridangam). 1917.

Through the ritualistic devasam (also called Śrāddha), it is known that before the first recorded members of the Karaikudi family, the lineage goes back two generations further. However, there is only an oral record of the first two generations without any knowledge of names or details. Malayappa belonged to the third generation and Venkateswara to the fourth. Other than their names, not much is known about these two generations either. Subbaraya - the grandfather of the Karaikudi Brothers - belonged to the fifth generation. He was the court musician in Sivaganga and later in Thirugokarnam, Pudukkottai. Subbaraya's son Subbaya was born in Thirugokarnam. Like his father, Subbayya was also patronised by the court of Pudukkottai under rule of Ramachandra Tondaiman. The Kanakabhisekam (gold shower) was bestowedd on Subbaraya and Subbayya by the royalities of Pudukottat court to honor their musicianship.[4] [5]

Subbayya married Subbammal and had two children Subbarama Iyer (1883-1938) and Sambasiva Iyer (1888-1957). Subbarama Iyer began learning veena from his father at the age of seven and began playing concerts at the age of 12. He was later joined by his younger brother Sambasiva Iyer. Subbarama Iyer was known for his unique way of holding the vina vertically (urdhva posture) while playing.[1] [4]

With the expansion and increasing control of the British empire within India, the royal courts in the small states could no longer afford to patronise arts. The political changes affected artists all over India due to the absence of royal patronage. Leaving Thirugokarnam was inevitable for Subbarama Iyer and Sambasiva Iyer who were now left to fend for themselves. After moving to Madurai, where they were still struggling to fend for themselves, they moved to Karaikudi. The Nattukkottai Chettiyars (merchant community) in Karaikudi were interested in bringing them to their village and offered the brothers accommodation. Subbarama Iyer and Sambasiva Iyer gradually established themselves with the support and patronage of other interested merchants and soon became known as the famous "Karaikudi Veena Brothers". They were mostly accompanied by Dakshinamurthy Pillai, the legendary mridangam player, who became their closest friend and was often referred to as "the third veena". [1][6] [7]

Early life and education[edit]

Karaikudi S. Subramanian was born on October 23rd 1944, in Madurai, Tamil Nadu to Narayanan and Lakshmi Ammal - the daughter of Subbarama Iyer. His exposure to music began from his early childhood from his mother. Lakshmi Ammal was an 8th generation veena player [1] [4] and taught veena throughout her life. In 1957, Subramanian was adopted by Lakshmi Ammal's paternal uncle Karaikudi Sambasiva Iyer – the younger of the Karaikudi brothers. Sambasiva Iyer had no children of his own, and, to pass on the family legacy through a male member of the family, Subramanian became the adopted son of Sambasiva Iyer. [1][4][5] [8]

Karaikudi Sambasiva Iyer adopting Subramanian in 1957 to pass on the family legacy

After the adoption, Subramanian moved to Chennai and lived at the original Kalakshetra, Theosophical Society with Sambasiva Iyer, who worked as a principal there. He was undergoing vigorous training in the foundations of Carnatic music for one year until the death of his adoptive father in 1958.[5]

"... He was a kind of mauna (silent) guru in a way and he sat there and I played the veena. He would correct me wherever it was necessary. And then he made me practise. He taught me how to practise as a meditation. When I made a mistake, he wouldn’t scold me but I had to go back." [5] – Sahapedia.org

At Kalakshetra, Subramanian had the opportunity to closely observe notable musicians and dancers, such as composer Mysore Vasudevachar, composer and vocalist M. D. Ramanathan and dancer Rukmini Devi Arundale.[1] [5] [4]

Karaikudi Subramanian (first row sitting to the left most) at Kalakshetra

Subramanian then returned to Madurai to pursue his academic studies. He completed his B.Sc in Chemistry at Madura College, Madras University and afterwards pursued a M.A in English Litterature at Madura College, Madras University. In 1975, he moved to the U.S. for doctoral studies in Ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University.[9] [10] [3]


From 1965–67 Subramanian worked as a demonstrator in Chemistry at Madura College. He then returned to Chennai to work as an English lecturer at Vivekananda College from 1970–75. After completing his M.A. in Ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University, he moved back to Chennai for a short period and worked as an assistant professor of Music at SSSS College of Music, Madurai. Before commencing his doctoral studies at Wesleyan University, he worked at the ​Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society. After completing his doctoral studies in 1986, he worked at University of Madras from 1986-2002, first as reader and later as professor of music.[5] [10] [11][12]

In 1989, Subramanian and Seetha S. – the former head of the department of Indian music, founded Brhaddhvani - Research and Training Centre for Musics of the World. [13] [8] [11]

Subramanian has made academic visits to numerous universities around the world. He has had visiting positions at Amherst College (Valentine Professor of Music), Leeds College of Music, York University, University of Michigan, University of Limerick, University of Cork. [14]

In 1975, Subramanian, along with his sister Rajeswari Padmanabhan, were invited by Museum für Völkerkunde Berlin-Dahlem (now Ethnologisches Museum) to document their family tradition going back 9 generations. They recorded the album Musik Für Vīṇā – Südindien. [15] They were accompanied by Tanjore Upendran on the mridangam. The album won the German Record Critics' Award (Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik) in 1980. [15] [13] [16] [12]

The beauty of COMET is the sheer empowerment it gives the student. A student can learn from any master without being a direct disciple. COMET offers a platform to learn from the maestros without dilution.

Bombay Jayashri (Bussiness Standard, January 21, 2013)[17]


Subramanian's brainchild COMET (Correlated Objective Music Education and Training) is a holistic pedagogic system of learning music. It is an interdisciplinary approach with the purpose of providing a fuller understanding of music. COMET seeks to preserve the traditional content of Carnatic music, while being contemporary and global in its reach. As an open and inclusive system, COMET is aimed towards enabling anyone to progress regardless of their musical skills and background. Furthermore, COMET explores cross-cultural musical interations with the purpose of a better understanding of one’s own tradition through comparison and contrast.

Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer at the inauguration of Brhaddhvani
With the establishment of Brhaddhvani and the development of the COMET system of education in music, Prof. Karaikudi S. Subramanian has contributed significantly to the difficult task of guiding Carnatic music into the cultural formations of the 21st century, and allow for its continued thriving therein ... And, COMET works. I was amazed to see on several occasions how even foreigners, who had had little exposure to the Carnatic idiom, were able to grasp complicated melodic structures in short time, and to perform them correctly ... Brhaddhvani, however, is more than the gravitation centre of COMET. It is an intellectual centre and a meeting point of artists, scholars, and intellectuals from all over the world. And it is, above all, the personality of its founder and head, which attracts them. Prof. Subramanian is one of the few top ranking Indian artists who has finished higher scientific training at a Western university as well, taking his PhD from Weslyan University, Connecticut.

Hans Neuhoff (Brhaddhvani, December 16, 2011)[18]

Lalgudi Jayaraman teaching at Brhaddhvani

Brhaddhvani - Research and Training Centre for Musics of the World[edit]

Subramanian and Dr. S. Seetha founded the research institute, Brhaddhvani - Research and Training Centre for Musics of the World in 1989 with the main purpose of making music and music education accessible to everyone regardless of background. Brhaddhvani has been considered an alternative to the traditional gurukula way of learning. He has developed novel techniques intended to make the music learning process effective and holistic.[10] [19]

Brhaddhvani offers music training for different levels of knowledge and purposes, including dance and teatre.[20][21] Through his COMET-pedagogy, Subramanian has worked towards making Carnatic music education accessible to schools,seeking to impart music from early childhood. [21] [22] [23] [24], and as an initiative to bring Carnatic music to the less privileged societies, Brhaddhvani has introduced village children to Carnatic music [25] [26]. Furthermore, COMET is embracing the area of music therapy, and Brhaddhvani has worked to better the lives of challenged individuals. [3] [13] [27]

Prominent Carnatic musicians have been associated with Brhaddhvani to share their knowledge and experience, among these are Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Dr. Sripada Pinakapani, T.M. Thyagarajan, K.V. Narayanaswamy, Lalgudi G. Jayaraman, T. Viswanathan, S. Kalyanaraman, Trichy Sankaran.[27] In 2003, Brhaddhvani celebrated Lalgudi Year in honour of the legendary violinist Lalgudi Jayaraman. [28].

Subramanian has explored the area of cross-cultural musical studies[11][29], and world class musicians such as Eero Hämeenniemi (composer)[30], Steve Coleman (Jazz musician), Woody Louis Amstrong Shaw III (Jazz musician) has been associated with Brhaddhvani. [31]. [12] [32]

At Brhaddhvani,

Subramanian's pioneering work at Brhaddhvani has attracted various performing musicians such as Indian classical musicians, Jazz musicians, Western classical musicians. Brhaddhvani's acclaimed work has benefitted beginners as well as performing musicians of various genres. [29][13] [33][34][35][36]

I have been struck by the great emphasis that the system places, not only on the development of various aspects of the students’ musicianship, but also on the re-integration of all these skills into a unified, comprehensive musicianship ... My involvement with Brhaddhvani, Dr. Subramanian and COMET have been very important models for my work.

Eero Hämeenniemi (Brhaddhvani, November 20, 2011)[30]

COMET is the ideal framework for the meeting of like minds across artistic, cultural, and intellectual boundaries ... Jazz, and other worlds of improvised music based in cultural tradition ... will undoubtedly benefit from the tools of analysis, research, experimentation and self-actualization offered through the innovative COMET system. Jazz musicians of the west are likely to favor greatly from a deeper, more personal, and perhaps spiritual, understanding of the nature of sound and its various incarnations of pitch, rhythm, scale, tone, melody, as mastered and developed within the Karaikudi pedagogical ethos of music.

Woody Shaw III (Brhaddhvani, January 4, 2012)[31]

At Brhaddhvani, I tune my shadaj and delve into the basics of music after a busy season. There's something very special about the way guru Subramanian explains fundamentals ... Guru Subramanian has designed his lessons in such a way that people at any level of singing can benefit from them ... The method has something for everyone.

Bombay Jayashri (The New Sunday Express, May 6, 2007)[29]

Brhaddhvani has received grants from the Ford Foundation, Impact Partners, India Foundation for Arts & the Government of India.


  • Editor of Rishabham, the second in the series Carnatic Music Theory and Notated Songs, published by Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society, Singapore(1982)
  • Gandharam, the third in the series Carnatic Music Theory and Notated Songs, published by Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society, Singapore (1984)
  • An Introduction to the Vina, Asian Music, Vol. 16, No. 2, published by: University of Texas Press (1985)
  • South Indian Vina-tradition and Individual Style, doctoral dissertation, in three volumes (712 pages) submitted to Wesleyan University, published by Micro-films University, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA (1986)
  • Text, Tone, and Tune: Interrelationships Among Text, Tune and Tone in Karnatak Music, published in Text, Tune and Tone – Parameters of Music in Multicultural Perspective, a collection of papers presented at the seminar organised by the American Institute of Indian Studies, New Delhi (1986–1987)
  • Birth Centenary of Sangita Kalanidhi Karaikudi Sambasiva Iyer, published by India International Rural Cultural Centre (1988)
  • Sino – Indian Musical Symbolism, Report of Seminars, The Bulletin of The Institute of Traditional Cultures of South and South East Asia, Madras, University of Madras, a comparison between Chi’n and Vina as representative instruments of two cultures, (1989-1990)
  • Manodharma Sangeetham of Dr. Sripada Pinakapani translated to Tamil, published by Brhaddhvani (1992)
  • Semmangudiyin Kural, published by Brhaddhvani (2008)
  • Reminiscences: K Sambasiva Iyer and Mysore Vasudevachar, published by Nirmalam, the Genius of S. Sarada (2008)
  • Continuity and Change in Music Tradition in Contemporary South India – A Case Study of Brhaddhvani, VWB, Verlag für Wissenschaft und Bildung, 2002, Indiana University, Music Archiving in the World: Papers Presented at the Conference on the Occasion of the 100th Anniversary of the Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv (2009)
  • COMET, the creative pedagogy, within and beyond Karnatak music, papers presented at the international seminar on “Creating and Teaching Music Patterns” conducted by the Department of Instrumental Music, Rabindra Bharati University, Calcutta (2013)

Brhaddhvani's publications[edit]

  • Compositions of Anai-Ayya Brothers, compiled by T. Viswanathan and Trichy Sankaran (1990)
  • Raga Lakshanamu of Saha Maharaja edited by Dr. S. Seetha
  • Pearls of South Indian Ragas, volume 1 – 5, CDs by Prof. S. R. Janakiraman


  • OM – a music program for the Singapore Government Art Festival (1983)
  • Nadangi – A 13-episode serial
  • Doordarshan telecast (1988)
  • From Folk to Classical (1990)


Other audio releases[edit]

Chasing the Squirrel – Karaikudi Subramanian, Martin Hayes, Dennis Cahill, Matthew Noone

Tiruppugar: Iyal Isaiyum


  1. ^ a b c d e f Wolf, Richard K (1991). "Style and Tradition in Karaikkudi Vina Playing". Asian Theatre Journal 8. 2: 118–141.
  2. ^ K, Richard K. "South India: Ranganayaki Rajagopalan – Continuity in the Karaikudi Vina Style". Smithsonian Folkaways Recordings. Smithsonian. Retrieved 2013. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  3. ^ a b c Berlin, Gabriele; Simon, Artur; Karaikudi, S. Subramanian (2009). "Continuity and Change in Music Tradition in Contemporary South India – A Case Study of Brhaddhvani". Verlag für Wissenschaft und Bildung (Music Archiving in the World).
  4. ^ a b c d e Subramanian, Karaikudi (1986). South Indian Vina Tradition and Individual Style. Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA: University Microfilms International. p. 712.
  5. ^ a b c d e f M.D., Muthukumaraswamy. "Veena: In Conversation with Karaikudi S. Subramanian". Sahapedia. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  6. ^ Venkatakrishnan, Sriram. "Award was an Anathema to him". The Hindu.
  7. ^ Venkatakrishnan, Sriram (April 28, 2006). "He saw God in music". The Hindu.
  8. ^ a b Nettl, Bruno; et al. (1998). The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music: South Asia: the Indian subcontinent. Taylor & Francis. p. 1077.
  9. ^ "Ph.D. Dissertations in Ethnomusicology". Wesleyan University.
  10. ^ a b c V.R., Devika. "Looking at the notes right". The Hindu. Retrieved May 16, 1987. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  11. ^ a b c Ramnarayan, Gowri (Decemver 29, 2006). "Preserving Music with All its Diversities". The Hindu. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  12. ^ a b c Kalmanovitch, Tanya (2005). "Jazz and Karnatic Music: Intercultural Collaboration in Pedagogical Perspective". The Music of "Others" in the Western World. 47 (3): 135–160. JSTOR 41700010.
  13. ^ a b c d Karaikudi, Subramanian s. "Setting the Stage for World Music Academy – Story of Brhaddhvani" (PDF). Brhaddhvani. Brhaddhvani.
  14. ^ "Karaikudi S. Subramanian: veena performer, scholar and educator". Center for Research on Learning and Teaching. University of Michigan.
  15. ^ a b Buonomo, Pia Srinivasan; S.A., Srinivasan (1975). Śambhō Mahādēva - Vīṇa/South India (Booklet). Berlin, Germany: Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin, Wergo.
  16. ^ "Karaikudi S. Subramanian". Brhaddhvani. Brhaddhvani.
  17. ^ Babu, Gireesh (January 21, 2013). "Not a note out of place". Business Standard.
  18. ^ Neuhoff, Hans. "German Musicologist". Brhaddhvani. Brhaddhvani.
  19. ^ V.R., Devika. "Alternative to Gurukula". The Hindu. Retrieved March 9, 1997. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  20. ^ CP, Satyajit. "Music & Natya". Natya & Beyond. Bharata Kalanjali. Retrieved April 1 2019. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  21. ^ a b Krishnan, Lalithaa (May 19, 2006). "Going beyond barriers". The Hindu.
  22. ^ "Catching them young". The Hindu. September 3, 2013.
  23. ^ K., Manikandan (January 17, 2006). "Imparting education through music". The Hindu.
  24. ^ "Music & Dance". Chettinad Hari Shree Vidyalayam.
  25. ^ Murali, Nandini. "Sa re ga ma way". The Week. Retrieved June 18, 2006.
  26. ^ Krishnan, Lalithaa (March 2006). "With a song on their lips". The Hindu.
  27. ^ a b S, Subhakeerthana (October 10 2014). "Where Music and Visual Art Blend". The New Indian Express. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  28. ^ "Lalgudi Year". The Hindu. February 14, 2003.
  29. ^ a b c Sumati, Sumati Mehrishi (May 6 2007). "Song of the South". The New Sunday Express. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  30. ^ a b Hämeenniemi, Eero. "COMET and Integrated Musicianship". Brhaddhvani. Brhaddhvani. Retrieved November 20, 2011.
  31. ^ a b Shaw III, Woody. "Woody Shaw III". Brhaddhvani. Brhaddhvani. Retrieved January 4, 2012.
  32. ^ Krishnan, Lalithaa (December 22, 2006). "As the mridangam played Jazz". The Hindu.
  33. ^ Schachter, Michael. "Michael Schachter". Brhaddhvani. Brhaddhvani.
  34. ^ Roche, David. "American Ethnomusicologist". Brhaddhvani. Brhaddhvani.
  35. ^ Singh, Dharambir. "COMET and Hindustani Music".
  36. ^ Jayashri, Bombay. "Bombay Jayashree on COMET". Brhaddhvani. Brhaddhvani.

Further reading[edit]

Brhaddhvani – Oru Muzhumaiyana Arangu, Dinamani, December 2, 1994

The Week, August 18, 1996


Veena Vidwan Karaikudi S. Subramanian Performs At Smith College, October 10, 2004

Thryst with Melody, The Hindu, December 22, 2006

Committed to teaching, The Hindu, February 10, 2012

A Veena Concert in the Karaikudi Tradition, 2015

Karaikudi Subramanian, Rommen Scene, August 19, 2016

Perfecting the pitch online, The Times of India, March 16, 2019

The basis of Indian music brought via four new textbooks

India Foundation for the Arts: Brhaddhvani