G. N. Balasubramaniam

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G. N. Balasubramaniam
Born (1910-01-06)6 January 1910
Origin [Gudalur, near Mayavaram in Tanjore District], Madras Presidency, India
Died 1 May 1965(1965-05-01) (aged 55)
Madras, Madras State, India
Genres Carnatic music - Indian Classical Music
Occupation(s) Singer
Years active 1920–1965

Gudalur Narayanaswamy Balasubramaniam (Tamil: ஜி.என்.பாலசுப்பிரமணியம்) (6 Jan 1910 – 1 May 1965), popularly known as GNB, was a vocalist in the Carnatic tradition. He innovated the art through emphasis on laya control & reducing the gamakas which eventually made Carnatic music appeal to the lay and the learned alike.[1] He was also a Tamil film actor.

Early life and background[edit]

Balasubramaniam was born in Gudalur, a small village near Mayavaram in Tanjore, India. He was the son of G. V. Narayanaswamy Iyer and Visalam Ammal. His father was a keen student of music. Throughout his younger years, he observed with utmost attention the techniques of the musicians of his day. Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar became his manasika guru and inspiration. While his father dreamed of living in a villa at Luz Church road through GNB becoming a successful lawyer, the young musician in G.N.B made way for greater goals in life. He completed his B.A.(Hons) in English Literature at the prestigious Christian College, Chennai, and took up a short music course at Annamalai University. under the guidance of Sri T.S. Sabesa Iyer, but discontinued due to ill health. However, he joined the diploma course in music under Madras University in the first batch and Sri Tiger Varadachariar, direct disciple of Patnam Subramanya Ayyar, was the Principal . Within 2 years, he was ready for concert performances.In 1938, he performed at Music Academy with T.K.Jayarama Aiyar on Violin and Nagercoil S.Ganesa Iyer on Mirudangam.


He acted in films, including Bhama Vijayam ( Sathi Anusuya),Sakunthala (Udayanan Vasavadatta (with Vasundhara Devi, mother of Vijayanthimala),and Rukmangada. In "Sakunthalai", he appeared as Dushyantha, alongside the vocalist M.S. Subbulakshmi. M.S. Subbulakshmi was fascinated by his music and embraced his style completely in her early years as mentioned in the book M S - A Life in Music by TJS George. After a short stint in the film industry, GNB returned to the Carnatic music fraternity, until his passing in 1965.


He was also the first major Carnatic musician to moot the idea of Indian music as a single entity rather than separating it into Hindustani & Carnatic systems. He emphasized the richness of the composition with expansive improvisation passages.


Though GNB's music is often fast pace & rich with swara prastharas, he has also rendered numerous compositions in strictly in the 2nd kala and not letting speed destroy the lyrical beauty of Carnatic compositions. Most of these compositions are the ones that he popularized and revived from the Trinity's repertoire with devoted support from the percussion musician Palghat Mani Iyer. The duo would work out exactly how a composition needs to be arranged and configured to unravel its richness before being performed.

A well-known example of many such arranged pieces is the swara passages (chittaswaram) that GNB composed for the Vara Raga Laya composition set to the Chenchukhamboji raga by St. Thyagaraja. Many musicians today sing the swara passages in the same way that is arranged by GNB, because of its rhythmic dynamism and unusually beautiful swara combinations of the raga.

His introduction of shruthi bedam, a technically challenging approach of shifting raga from one to another by taking the last note of a raga as the tonic note and starting another raga with it. Today this method is almost used in the renditions of most popular Carnatic musicians. The Music Academy, after detailed discussion agreed with his approach to sruthi bedha, as St Thyagraja himself is said to have used it in one of his songs.


He gave performing opportunities for young upcoming musicians like Palghat R. Raghu, Lalgudi Jayaraman, M. S. Gopalakrishnan, his disciples T.R. Balasubramaniam, M.L. Vasantha Kumari, T. S. Balasubramaniam and the late Tanjore S. Kalyanaraman, Tanjore.S.Kodandaraman, an All India Radio violin artiste.

He composed over 250 compositions krithis in Sanskrit, Tamil and Telugu.

GNB also composed kritis and invented new ragas. He taught a number of students during his active years. Most famous among them are M. L. Vasanthakumari, Radha Jayalakshmi, Tanjore S. Kalyanaraman, Trichur V. Ramachandran, T. R. Balu, T.S.Balasubramanian, and Ragini.[1]

GNB worked as the Deputy Chief Producer of Carnatic Music, in A.I.R Chennai for a number of years alongside Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer who was the Chief Producer for Carnatic Music and Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna who the Producer for Light Music and joined the Swathi Thirunal College of Music, Thiruvananthapuram as Principal in March, 1964 state Kerala.

His health deteriorated and worsened by an episode of a major stroke in the late 1950s. He died on 1 May 1965.

Composition Type Raga Tala Language Other Info
Amboruha Padame Varnam Ranjani Adi Telugu In praise of Shakthi
Bharama Baluni Krithi Hamsanadam Adi Telugu In praise of Parashakthi
Bhuvanatreya Krithi Mohanam Adi Sanskrit In praise of Sasta
Enn Manathamarai Krithi Rithigowlai Adi Tamil In praise of Shakthi
Entho Muralida Krithi Kanada Rupakam Telugu In praise of Shakthi
Gathi Veravarama Krithi Bhairavi Misrachapu Telugu In praise of Kamakshi
Intha Paraaku Neeve Krithi Bhairavi Adi Telugu In praise of Bhairavi
Kamala CharaNe Krithi Amruthabehag Adi Sanskrit In praise of Shakthi
Karimugha Varadha Krithi Naatai Adi Sanskrit In praise of Ganesha
Karuna Jooda Radha Krithi Shahana Adi Telugu In praise of Parashakthi
Kavalai Ellam Krithi Saraswati Adi Tamil In praise of Shakthi
Madhurapuri Kalyani Krithi Purvi Kalyani Misrachapu Sanskrit In praise of Shakthi
Manasaraga Krithi Abhogi Adi Telugu In praise of Shakthi
Marivere Gathi Krithi Malavi Adi Telugu In praise of Prashakthi
Maruvane Ninnu Krithi Arabhi Adi Telugu In praise of Shakthi
Nakabhaya Vara Krithi Naataikurinji Rupakam Telugu In praise of Parashakthi
Nee Charanambhujamunu Krithi Keeravani Adi Telugu In praise of Shakthi
Nee Daya Raadaa Varnam Andolika Adi Telugu In praise of Shakthi
Nee Padame Gati Krithi Nalinakanthi Rupakam Telugu In praise of Shakthi
Nee Samanamevaru Krithi Shubhapanthuvarali Adi Telugu In praise of Shakthi
Nirvadhi Sukhadayaki Krithi Malayamarutham Rupakam Telugu In praise of Shakthi
Paritaapamu Ieka Krithi Shanmukhapriya Adi Telugu In praise of Shakthi
Paraanmukhamela Krithi Kaanada Adi Telugu In praise of Shakthi
Paramakrupasaagari Krithi Yadukulakambhoji Rupakam Telugu In praise of Shakthi
Ranjani Niranjani Krithi Ranjani Adi Telugu In praise of Shakthi
Sada Palaya Sarasakshi Krithi Mohanam Adi Sanskrit In praise of Shakthi
Santhathamu Ninne Korithini Krithi Valaj Adi Telugu In praise of Shakthi
Saraswati Namostute Krithi Saraswati Rupakam Sanskrit In praise of Saraswati
Shankara Mahadeva Krithi Devamanohari Adi Telugu In praise of Shakthi
Sri Chakra Raja Nilaye Krithi Siva Sakthi Adi Sanskrit In praise of Shakthi
Shivananda kamavardhani Krithi Kamavardani Adi Sanskrit In praise of Shakthi
Vara Vallabha Ramana Krithi Hamsadhwani Adi Sanskrit In praise of Ganesha

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "GNB, the good friend". The Hindu. May 23, 2003.