|Photo by Subramanya Shastri|
By Sushma Somasekharan
Many musicians are really passionate about the art form, keen to share their love for music with their listeners and others. Meet a musician who is so overcome by one particular composer that he even started a trust, Guruguhaamrta, to express his love and respect for the composer.
Sruti recently spoke to Carnatic vocalist G Ravi Kiran, disciple of T.M Krishna, about his music and his fascination with Muthuswami Dikshitar.
How did your tryst with Carnatic music begin?
My first guru was Gayatri Kesavan who noticed that I could sing. She taught me the introductory lessons of Carnatic music. I later learnt from Vasanta Ramanujam and RS Ramakanth who then suggested I learn from his father, the legendary Sangita Kalanidhi RK Srikantan Mama. It was in late 2002 that I started learning from TM Krishna Anna. I am grateful to all my gurus who have been instrumental in my musical journey in various ways.
How has learning from various gurus influenced your music?. What would you say you have imbibed from them?
It took me a few days to gather the courage to talk to Srikantan Mama, but once I did, I was pleasantly surprised to discover his childlike enthusiasm and curiosity for music. He is a musical titan with several decades of musical experience. Yet, the keen interest he displayed in music made him seem like a new student, like any of us. It made me realise that his humility, his respect for the art form made him the legend that he is.
After each class with him, we had several informal interactions when he would recollect his experiences with the legends of the past—especially his two idols Musiri Subramaniya Iyer and Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. I would often wonder at the sincerity and dedication of Srikantan Mama—especially his sense of time and his emphasis on diction. Even till his last days, he took great care of his body and his voice. I hope to have imbibed some of his discipline.
In late 2002, I was fortunate to be accepted as a disciple by TM Krishna Anna. Even before that, I was one of his innumerable fans ever since he performed at my college, BITS Pilani, in 1998. His Bhuvini dasudane and Nidhi chala sukhama left me spell bound and I felt a deep connection with his music.
Learning from Krishna Anna has been a memorable journey. He is a strict task master and does not spare you till you get a sangati right in its entirety. Nothing is left for ‘tomorrow’ or the ‘next class’. His ability to switch on and off is also something I greatly admire—he can be talking jovially with you before class, but once it comes to music he is in a different space altogether. His commitment to what he believes in and his sincerity in everything he does—these are some of the qualities in him that inspire me day in and day out.
When did you consider pursuing Carnatic music professionally?
My true calling came when I spent four years at BITS Pilani. It was then that I realised the beauty of Carnatic music. My roommate during my college years was another stellar musician DB Ashvin, and those years inspired me to become even more passionate about this pristine art form. After graduating from college, my concert career also started blooming slowly and steadily. My first full length concert was for a sabha in Bangalore called Ananya with Srikantan Mama in the audience. I have been fortunate to be recognised and encouraged by so many sabhas in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and elsewhere. Over the past few years, I have performed in several leading sabhas all over India and have also performed in France, Singapore and Australia.
I enjoy performing at different venues—be it the prestigious sabhas of Chennai, the temple audiences in Kerala with their sheer passion for Carnatic music or the Rama Navami concerts with their old world charm in Bangalore.- each of these has a special charm and each concert is a learning experience. Ultimately, I want to be true to my music and surrender to it with humility and respect.
You are also a full-time engineer. How do you ensure you strike the right balance between both your careers?
It is all about discipline. So long as I am able to practise at least a couple of hours every day, there is always time to pursue both careers. I listen to recordings of the great masters whenever I find time during the day. My day begins with music and I have been fortunate to maintain that discipline from the day I joined the corporate work space. Striking this balance is also made much easier by the support of my parents and my wife Archana, a professional Bharatanatyam dancer.
Tell us more about your Muthuswami Dikshitar movement.
I really do not remember when I started getting fascinated with Muthuswami Dikshitar. It just grew on me over time and before I knew it, it enveloped me completely. I found an
outlet to this obsession, if I may call it that, through Guruguhaamrta—a trust I formed in 2009. RK Shriramkumar Anna, an artist very close to my heart, named it.
My fascination for Dikshitar was stoked by Krishna Anna, when he start researching Dikshitar as well as the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini. It was also during this time that I learnt several rare gems from him. Frankly, the grandeur of Dikshitar is something I am just barely beginning to fathom. I can only look at it with awe, wonder and reverence.
Through Guruguhaamrta I have been conducting concerts and lec-dems focused entirely on Dikshitar, conducting two flagship events every year (for the past six years). The first is a day-long akhandam at Ettayapuram where several musicians from South India participate and the second a national level Dikshitar Kritis competition through which I hope to encourage more and more students to learn and sing Dikshitar kritis. I would like to share my love for Dikshitar with everyone, and I can only hope that these events will spark the interest and curiosity for the great composer.
I am thankful to all the seniors as well as my colleagues who have been gracing Guruguhaamrta with their presence and participation. I am also grateful to all the patrons of Guruguhaamrta, without whom I would not be able to move forward with my movement.
Many would say that Dikshitar is an acquired taste, as his compositions are very scholarly and technical, rich in lyrical and musical values. How do you ensure that even the common rasika appreciates your goal and is on board with it?
I honestly believe that we could get everyone to appreciate Dikshitar kritis if more and more artists sang them on the concert stage. At a fundamental level, that alone would ensure that rasikas are exposed to as wide a Dikshitar repertoire as possible.
At a secondary level, the aim is to present the multiple facets of Dikshitar kritis—musical, lyrical and spiritual. Under my guru’s guidance, I have embarked on a personal mission to sing and document all the Dikshitar kritis in raganga ragas. These ragas are all unique and have an independent identity which is different from the more popular 72 sampoorna melakarta ragas. Dr R Hemalatha, ace violinist and scholar, is collaborating with me on this project to share the theoretical insights of these raganga ragas.
Indulge us. What are your favourite renditions of Dikshitar kritis? I’m sure our readers would like to share your love for Dikshitar too.
This is really tough. All his compositions are remarkable in their own right. Hmm, if I had to choose, I would say Semmangudi's Chetha sree, Santana Ramaswaminam and Balakrishnam bhavayami. And Krishna Anna’s “Sri Bhargavi bhadram in Mangala Kaisiki and Rama Rama kali kalusha” in Ramakali. These are my all-time favourites.
(As part of Sruti's policy, honorifics and titles are avoided as far as possible, even when the writer or artist employs them as a mark of respect to their seniors. This blog post is no exception).