Tuesday, 11 November 2014

K Rama Rao


By Anjana Anand

Sri K Rama Rao, a product of Kalakshetra and elder brother of the late Adyar Lakshman, is a vocalist, nattuvanar and gottuvadyam artiste. He fondly recalls his early years in the institution and his many decades of singing and nattuvangam with his brother.

Can you recall your entry into Kalakshetra?

The manager at Kalakshetra was known to my family and Rukmini Devi had asked him to find some boys who could sing and whom she could train for her work. Spotting my brother Lakshman and me at a Sai bhajan session in Andhra, he requested my father, a Katha Kalakshepam artiste to send us to Chennai. My father readily agreed and mentioned another talented singer, Pasupati (who had been his student in high school) and suggested his name too to meet Rukmini Devi at Kalakshetra.

That was how the three of us, Lakshman, Pasupati and I came to Kalakshetra. Rukmini Devi heard the three of us sing and was very happy. I came to Kalakshetra in 1944 and was there till 1964 or so. I was on a central government scholarship of Rs. 250. I sang before Tiger Varadachariar for final approval and trained under Budalur Krishnamurthy Sastrigal for many years.

What did you learn besides vocal music?

I also learnt to play the gottuvadyam. Unfortunately a nervous debility made me give up playing the instrument. I also learnt violin for sometime, and Bharatanatyam up to the tillana, though I never performed. Nattuvangam was also part of my training. I had the good fortune of learning nattuvangam from KN Dandayudhapani Pillai.

You must have special memories of your years in Kalakshetra.

In the initial phase of my training, Rukmini Devi called my father for a meeting and told him that I was not showing much promise in my learning. Lakshman, my younger brother was an all - time favourite as he was a vocalist, mridangist and also dancing by then in her productions! My father was disappointed on hearing that I was not making much progress, but Rukmini Devi agreed to give me one more try when the Sanskrit scholar at Kalakshetra , Adi Narayana Sarma, asked her to give me some more time. That was how I joined Budulur Sir to learn the gottuvadyam; he did not have any disciples then. Under his tutelage, I even performed a kutcheri in gottuvadyam.

It must have been a wrench to give up the gottuvadyam because of your health problem.

Yes, it was, but meeting Budalur Sir and training under him was a turning point in my music for me. When Rukmini Devi said I might have to leave Kalakshetra if I did not improve in my music, I was upset and disappointed. Coming under his wing at this time was a blessing. He was sceptical about my learning the gottuvadyam, a difficult instrument to master. Unlike the veena, it has no frets and learning the swarasthanas was a difficult task. However, he agreed to teach me and I trained intensively with him. I practically lived in his house and played only swaravali varisai for hours on end for three months. I had good sruti gnanam and that helped me. Sir was happy with my progress. His ‘besh’ was like nectar to my ears!

Were you singing for Bharatanatyam at that time?

During my stint in Kalakshetra, I taught music in Besant school along with Padmasani teacher. I sang along with Pasupati for Rukmini Devi’s Kumarasambhavam and Kuttrala Kuruvanji.

After Kalakshetra, where did your music take you?

Lakshman started Bharata Choodamani, a Bharatanatyam academy in Adyar in 1974. From the beginning, I was part of his school and he was such a big support for me. He even helped me look after my family for sometime. I sang for all his arangetrams. We travelled a lot.

Have you worked for any other institution?

I performed in Sri Lanka once when Mrinalini Sarabhai was visiting there. She heard me sing and asked me to join Darpana in Ahmedabad. I worked there for a few years singing for their productions and teaching. I worked in Delhi for Komala Varadan and did many kutcheris with her. Lakshman was singing extensively for Vyjayantimala at one time and when they travelled, she needed someone to look after her school in Chennai. That was how I came back to Chennai to teach in her school. I am contented with the years I have spent with my brother Lakshman. I miss him very much now.

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