Hindustani Vocalist & Saraswat Brahmin ~ Great Granny Meera Savoor

by on February 5, 2014

A Hindustani vocalist who starts training at a young age carries her riyaaz with her for life. “One was struck by the pristine purity of the swaras and the phenomenal range of her clear ringing voice with which she traversed three octaves with ease.” These words from The Hindu are in praise of the classical singer Smt. Meera Savoor, our next great-grandmother from Chennai. She is a senior grade artist at the All India Radio and has performed at many forums in India and abroad. She speaks sparingly, allowing her serene gaze to communicate her thoughts and feelings. A mother of 3 children, grandmother of 6 and great-grandmother of 4, she looks beautiful even now at the age of 81 with a HEALTHY lifestyle and exudes a grace that cannot be ignored.


Hindustani vocalist Meera Savoor

Namaste Meeraji. At what age did you start your training in Hindustani music?
I started in 1939 at the age of 7 under my Guru, Pandit Ramarao Naik, a Hindustani vocalist, who was known as the most faithful exponent of the Agra gharana. He was the direct disciple of the legendary maestro, Ustad Faiyaaz Khan.


Isn’t this also known as the Rangila gharana?
Yes. Rangila gharana means ‘the colorful school’; it gets that name because it has lots of beauty and many elements of vocal music such as alaap, badath and so on. All the eight elements of khayal are woven in this style of singing giving rise to a rainbow of music. I trained in this gharana for almost 30 years, but not at a stretch.


And when did you start imparting your knowledge?
In 1990, I started teaching at home. I have also taught at the KM Music Conservatory for almost five years.


The most treasured moment in your journey as a classical vocalist?
Looking back, that would be in the year 1993 when I performed at the Tansen Samaroh at Gwalior when my Guru was presented with the Tansen Award. In that forum, when senior musicians and gurus are honoured, one of their disciples is called to perform. It is a prestigious and rare honour.


That sounds magical. Have you always lived in Chennai?
No, I was born in Bangalore and grew up there. After I completed my high school education, I was married to R.S. Savoor, the son of Dr. S.R.U. Savoor. I have lived in Chennai for over seven decades now.


Are you a Konkani by birth as well as by marriage?
Yes, we are Konkanis, though it would be more apt to know us as Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmins.


Can you explain the connection?
Our forefathers derived their name from Sarsawat Rishi, our spiritual Guru. He lived on the banks of river Saraswati which flowed near Kashmir and is now extinct. From Kashmir, the Saraswats migrated to Goa, and thereon to the west coast of Mangalore. Here, they made Chitrapur as their headquarters. Chitrapur was initially a small village which flourished into a town under the guidance of the Saraswat Swamis. Hence they came to be known as the Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmins.


This also explains why your cuisine is very close to Udupi cuisine.
Yes, rice is our staple food which we mix with plain dal, sambar and rasam. We use lots of coconut because we live in the western coast which is abundant with coconut trees.


What are your family’s favourite preparations?
Simple home-cooked Saraswat dishes (smiles). A potato side-dish known as batata song is one of our amchee dishes, which means favourite.
Most of our homes have a pressure cooker stacked with three containers. When we want to cook with minimum fuss, we use each of the three containers for rice, dal and potatoes. We stack them and cook them together. We then make a simple dal, make the batata song and eat both these dishes with the steamed rice. Our family never tires of this simple meal.


That sounds like comfort food. Meeraji, I would love to know more about your cuisine.
I recommend the famous Saraswat cookbook titled ‘Rasachandrika’. It features almost all our recipes in a very simple manner. A sweet dish known as ‘madagne’ is a popular preparation during most festivals. It is a kheer with chana dal, coconut milk and jaggery. And yes, a pinch of salt, don’t ask me why (smiles)! That’s how I have seen my elders doing it too.
But if you ask me for a dish that I really want to share, it would be ‘sasam’ which is side-dish with mustard paste.


Thank you. That sounds delicious. One last question – apart from singing or teaching, how else do you spend your time?
I enjoy reading spiritual books, particularly those from Ramakrishna Mission apart from our Guru Parampara and other Chitrapur Math publications. Right now, I am reading Deepa Kodikal, she is a spiritual writer and one of my favourites.


First published in Feb 2014 in Harmony – the Indian Magazine for silvers for the column – SoulFood & SoulMates. Part-2 of this post is Batata Sasam, a potato sabzi from the kitchen of Meera Savoor. She is the 18th grandma featured in this column.


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