Song of Surrender

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Not enough light on the bani

Random Notes

By V Ramnarayan

Writing in The Hindu, musician Lakshmi Sriram described the presentation on the Dhanammal bani during the recent 150th year celebration of the Carnatic music legend as 'hagiographical.' While there were at least two angry responses to the review from those involved in the celebration, it is difficult not to agree with the reviewer, as the voice-over and slides on the occasion were filled with adjectives and not enough insights into what was unique about the bani. (In fact, at least one disinterested member  of the audience found the whole programme including the panel discussion on the final day hagiographic, though in defence of the panel, it could be said that all of them belonged to the sishya parampara and therefore perhaps partisan). It was a weak defence (on Facebook, where the review was shared by the author) to claim that it was a tribute and not an 'expert analysis'. This claim was refuted by the critic as well as another commenter on Facebook, thus proving the efficacy of social media in providing instant feedback  to critic and reader alike.

The presentation could certainly have gained from a greater explanation of the Dhanammal school in terms of its artistic beliefs, preferences, and stylistics, and also from the presence of a live presenter on stage. I believe that Powerpoint presentations are better served by that rather than a recorded voiceover.

Be that as it may, the presentation, though a sincere effort, lacked in comprehensive coverage through audio and video samples, as for example those missing from T Viswanathan's flute playing, or more representative samples of Balasaraswati's dancing than clips from the well known Satyajit Ray documentary.

I missed the Hariharan-Tiruvarur Girish duet on the opening day. Going on till well  beyond the scheduled closing time, the concert is said to have cast a spell on the audience with its spontaneity and creativity. I have already mentioned the high quality of the other recitals I attended. Chitravina N Ravikiran was in his element and gave a perfect performance conforming to the great standards he has set himself. His disciple  Dr Sivakumar played the veena with commendable skill and dignity, while TM Krishna was in superb form. I must add another outstanding performance to this list: S Sowmya's concert on the final day, which was preceded by a thoughtful and witty valedictory address by Yadav Sankaran, son of the eminent T Sankaran. Sowmya presented the best of her learnings fom T Muktha in a beautifully modulated voice in the authentic style of her guru.

A more detailed post on the programme including the lec-dem by Sriram Parasuram and panel discussion involving him, Ravikiran, Anuradha Sriram, Girish and Aniruddha Knight will follow in the near future.

Rajee Narayan


Birthdays & Anniversaries

"It was a matter of pride for all South Indians that the government of Maharashtra had chosen to honour guru Rajee Narayan with the Maharashtra Rajya Samskrutik Puraskar for the field of dance for 1996-97.
"Rajee Narayan established her institution Nritya Geethanjali in 1965, when she migrated to Mumbai. Branches of the institution have since been established in Australia, Canada and the US, headed by her disciples. In recognition of her knowledge and experience, she was appointed a member of the dance faculty of the Mumbai University, a position she has held for over 20 years. She has also been a paper-setter and examiner for the BFA and MFA courses of the university through the years."

To learn more, go to and buy issue 170. Also issues 22 and 73.



Birthdays & Anniversaries

The veteran vocalist, Ustad Abdul Rashid Khan passed away on 18 February 2016, at the age of 107. He left behind a rich legacy of music, musings and memories.

When I first met him a few years ago at his residence in Kolkata, I was simply overwhelmed by the fact that he was more than a hundred years old. I wondered what it would be like to see eras pass by like changing seasons, which part of the last century was his heart anchored in, and what would the fading memory still hold dear. The tall expanse of a hundred years was cut short by the tiny stature of Ustad Abdul Rashid Khan as he was carried into the room by his disciples. It was my first brush with living history, infinite wisdom and incomparable experience.

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Friday, 18 August 2017

V D Paluskar

                                                                     Birthdays & Anniversaries

Vishnu Digambar Paluskar belonged to the fraternity of Haridasa-s, but he would likely have not turned to music seriously except for an accident which affected his eyesight adversely. But once he did, he worked at becoming an accomplished singer. In the event, what earned him undying fame was his missionary work to spread the glory of music and his contribution to the renaissance of Hindustani music. Despite heavy opposition to teaching music under institutional auspices, he established schools the graduates of which would, in his reckoning,  at best become Tansens or at least kaansen-s, that is sensitive rasika-s. He spearheaded the movement to propagate Hindustani music. He established the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, first  in Lahore in 1901, and later in Bombay in 1908. In course of time, the pick of students he himself had trained  established more centres under the same rubric and with the same missionary goals. His interest extended beyond classical music to devotional and patriotic songs;his aim was not merely a musical renaissance but a recovery of the spiritual and cultural heritage of the nation. Through personal example, he brought respect to the profession of music, even as he popularised the art.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

A Tani By T.K. Murthy

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Mridangam maestro T.K. Murthy is a short man but he stands tall as a percussionist in  the arena ofCarnatic classicalmusic.Thecontrast washighlighted last yearby musicologistB.V.K. Sastry of Bangalore when hewrote,in the DeccanHerald:

"[Murthy] makes an interesting picture on thestage.Being  short,  he  has sometimes to overstretch his hands to play on themridangam,which gives an impression ofembracingthan playing the instrument. But his nimble fingers execute fascinatingrhythmicideas.His sense ofanticipationis highly impressive. The figures aresprightly,cleancut, setting off a  wide variety of sounds, and converting the whole into a tantalising structure of sound and rhythm. Naturally he has been a popular figure onthe concertstage,desired, welcomedandappreciatedby all musicians of consequence for  nearly halfa century."

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Number 13 is lucky for this lady. She was born on 13th August  1934.  She  performed  her  Bharata­-natyam arangetram on 13th April 1945 on Tamil New Year’s Day. It was also the date on which she signed
her  first  film  contract.  Thirteen  has  been  favourably associated with landmarks in Vyjayantimala’s life.

“Although  I  was  born  in  1934,  my  elders  entered  it  as 1933  in  my  school  records,  and  so  it  has  come  to  stay,” she tells you as she recalls the past. “I am proud of being  a Tiruvallikeni girl. I was born on Adi Kritikai day in a house opposite the Parthasarathy Swamikoil in Triplicane. I came into this world moving my toes not on my head”, she   chuckles. “You see, I was born with “dancing toes”.

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poochi srinivasa iyengar


Kalpagam Swaminathan

Kalpagam Swaminathan has been upholding traditional values in Carnatic music for the past five decades.Born in Setalapathi village in Tanjavur  in 1922, she belongs to a family of musicians. Her mother Abhayambal and  grandmother Dharmambal were considered good singers of their times.  Her  mother, who was also well-versed  in playing the veena and the harmonium, was  her  first veena teacher. Other guru-s were A. Anantakrishna  Iyer and T.L.  Venkatarama  Iyer from whom she acquired her enviable repertoire of Dikshitar kriti-s; and Budalur Krishnamurti Sastri, from whom she  learnt several Tyagaraja  kriti-s. In 1947, Kalpagam Swaminathan joined the music faculty of the Kalakshetra's College of Music and Fine Arts where she served for six years.She joined Central College of  Carnatic  Music in Madras  in 1964 as a veena teacher when Musiri Subrahmania Iyer was its Principal. After her retirement, she taught  veena  to students at Kala Peetham in Madras for a few years. Kalpagam Swaminathan has been  a regular  performer on AIR and Doordarshan. The Music Academy in Madras has honoured her  with a special certificate and the Tamil Nadu Eyal Isai Nataka Manram with  the title of Kalaimamani in recognition of her services  in the field of Carnatic music.


Ustad Amir Khan

Ustad Amir Khan (1912-1974)

The late Ustad Amir Khan was one of the greatest Hindustani classical vocalists of all time, certainly among the most influential figures of the 20th century. His original contributions to vocal music and his mastery of the science and art of Hindustani music made him a musician’s musician, someone both vocalists and instrumentalists hold as a role model to this day. Raised in the Bhendibazaar gharana, he submitted himself to other influences, setting the highest standards of musicianship while integrating them.

Click here to read more

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T Viswanathan

T Viswanathan (1927-2002)


The New York Times called him “one of the most influential south Indian musicians in the United States.” He was the third Sangita Kalanidhi in his family of extraordinary musicians and dancers, with his sister Balasaraswati the only dancer so far to have received what has come to be accepted as the highest accolade in Carnatic music.
Click here to read more

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Saturday, 12 August 2017

Rajabhaiya Poochwale


Shanta Dhananjayan

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Shanta was born on 12 August 1943 into a well to do Indian family in Malaysia, her ancestors having migrated there from Kerala. A child prodigy, she showed enough promise even as a three-year-old for her parents to decide to send her to India for her education. She joined Kalakshetra in June 1952, when she was eight.

After a brief period in Kerala, her parents wanted to send her to Shantiniketan, which was then a great center for the arts. With the encouragement of her uncle Achuta Menon, they sent her to Kalakshetra. Shanta earned her Post Graduate Diploma with distinction in Bharatanatyam and also learned Kathakali and Carnatic music. She was a prominent dancer in Kalakshetra’s productions from 1955 to1968, the year she left the institution.

She was the first girl Dhananjayan was introduced to when he, a village boy, who knew nothing except Malayalam, arrived at Kalakshetra. Shanta was a serious girl totally devoted to her dance and she secretly made up her mind even at the age of 12 to partner Dhananjayan in life.

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Friday, 11 August 2017

Lalmani Misra

 Birthdays & Anniversaries
One of the great players of the vichitra veena was the late Pandit Lalmani Misra, was born in a middle class Kanyakubja Brahmin family. Even during his childhood, his parents could discern Lalmani’s fascination with music and his aspirations in that direction. He had a natural talent for music and was very hard working, and these qualities enabled him, over time, to attain recognition as a luminous personality in music.
Even at a young age, Lalmani learnt nearly 1500 dhrupad compositions from his guru, Swami Pramodananda Brahmachari.

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His pot of gold

 Birthdays & Anniversaries
Thetakudi Harihara Vinayakram
B. 11.8.1942
Among the senior ghatam vidwans of southern India, Vinayakram has enjoyed a long and successful career as a professional musician. In playing the ghatam, he has evolved a style, which though rooted in the conventional technique, is highly individual in spirit. His is also a style that is responsive to other systems of music, accounting for his success with Western ensembles. He has exhibited his improvisatory genius playing complex rhythms for various fusion groups such as Shakti, and for J.G. Laya—an experimental group of musicians including pianists and percussionists.
Vinayakram received his training in playing the ghatam initially from his father T.R. Harihara Sarma, and later systematic instruction in the art at the Sri Jaya Ganesh Tala Vadya Vidyalaya, Chennai. He made his concert debut at the age of 13. As a ghatam accompanist, Vinayakram has performed with a host of eminent Carnatic musicians.
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Heard Mentality

Random Notes

by V Ramnarayan

I used to be a semi-professional cricketer for some 25 years. When I returned to my home town Chennai in 1981, I started net practice at the TNCA's BS Nets open to all league players. Every afternoon, players from some dozen first division teams assembled there and shared six or so nets. Anyone could bat in any of the nets, based on the diktat of Muthu the groundsman who was also in charge of the nets. He would call out the names of the batsmen, but the bowlers generally picked up the ball and chose where to bowl. A compulsive 'net practitioner' from boyhood,  I always grabbed a ball and bowled non-stop in one of the nets until bad light stopped play. In this, my grey hair helped me no end, because no youngster would dare to ask me to hand over the ball to him. In this rank-pulling exercise, I followed a couple of solid role models in my seniors VV Kumar and S Venkataraghavan.

But wait, this was 1981,and it is true that young bowlers did not walk up to us and demand the ball, but for entirely different reasons. Most of them opted to bowl only when they chose to, and stopped whenever they liked. This was a new trend, at least in my experience. As I said before, the practice wickets at BS Nets were not divided on a team basis. Any batsman could be assigned any net. For example, a batsman from Alwarpet CC (in Net A) could be followed by one from IOB, and a State Bank batsman in Net B by one from India Pistons, so on and so forth. If I chose to bowl in Net A, I could end up bowling to as many batsmen as there were teams, if I stuck around for three hours (my usual quota). 

The intriguing new development was that IOB bowlers were interested in bowling only to IOB batsmen and SPIC bowlers only to SPIC batsmen (these are random team names I have picked). As a result, if the batsman came to the net just vacated by an IOB player, he could encounter an exodus of bowlers, and be left facing imaginary bowlers. Muthu would then have to shout desperately for bowlers for that particular net.

As a consequence of this trend, bowlers constantly denied themselves the opportunity to not only improve their accuracy and variations, but also the chance to bowl to different types of batsmen, and they were less match ready when the time came.

Why am I once again bringing cricket into a music blog? The parallels in the Carnatic music concert scene are obvious to me. Though, contrary to market gossip, I find young musicians attending concerts, the problem is that they seem to be afflicted with the BS Nets syndrome. They pick and choose their concerts–those of their friends or their gurus/ mentors. Like the bowlers at BS Nets, they are  expressing their solidarity with their handpicked peers and their gurus. This does not necessarily mean that they pay focused attention to listening to the music on offer, busy as they may be with their cellphones or with their casual conversations with their mates in the audience, for they usually travel in groups.

To go back to the 1980s, this practice among the bowlers of the day led to a steep fall in bowling standards in Chennai. It was only after first division teams started investing in their own individual net practice facilities and match grounds that a bowling revival began to emerge.

I will not proceed to extend the cricket analogy any further to apply it to Carnatic music. I think my meaning is obvious.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

V.N. Bhatkhande and Alladiya Khan

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande was a true crusader. He pursued the study of music passionately as well as scientifically, collected cheej-s from all over the country, wrote books, established the 10-thaat system and developed a method of notating music—and, through these and other activities, succeeded in evoking in the people a sense of history and pride in this aspect of Indian culture. He had learnt music from eminent teachers and studied ancient treatises but, because his main vocation was law, musicians were initially hostile to him. They mocked the very idea that a lawyer could know much about music, let alone talk to them about its scientific principles and rules and regulations. In sum, their attitude was: “Who cares what he says!” But those who scoffed came to respect and admire him and his contribution to the development of Hindustani music.

At birth, he was named Ghulam Ahmed, but people began calling him Alladiya [Given by Allah] because he was born in answer to the prayers of his parents who had lost all their earlier children as infants. A superlative musician whose singing was marked by grace, power and aristocratic mien, Alladiya Khan created a new style of music which came to be identified as the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana (out of the many styles which were represented in Jaipur in his time). Led by him, the gharana has given voice to hundreds of raga-s. His style of music “made even common raga-s appear more beautiful and full of unexpected twists and turns.... It was full of intricate but beautiful tana-s....” (B.R. Deodhar). The spirit and liveliness of Khan Saheb lives in the music-making of his legatees, though the style itself has undergone mutations in recent times.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Varsity affiliation for Haridhos Giri School of Music

By Charukesi

Affiliation has been granted to the Swami Haridhos Giri School of Music by the Madras University. This welcome news was conveyed by the Head of the Department of Indian Music, Madras University, Rajashri Sripathy, while presiding over the seventh anniversary of the music school run by the Narada Gana Sabha Trust.

Participating in the function as the chief guest, she complimented the honorary director of the school, vidwan P.S. Narayanaswamy and the other faculty members vidushi R.S. Jayalakshmi and vidwan C.R. Vaidyanathan, and advised the students to avail of the opportunity of utilising the services of such stalwart gurus.  The Certificate from the University will help the students to take up teaching music in schools and colleges, she said. She asked the students to practice every day, what they were taught in the class, for their own benefit.
 The students of the advanced school of music presented a musical programme for a couple of hours starting with the Gaula varnam of  Mayuram Viswanatha Sastri and concluding with the Khamas tillana of Patnam Subramania Iyer.   Vidwan Govindarajan accompanied the students on the mridangam, while Meera provided violin accompaniment.

Students who have taken the degree in academic courses and have completed the three-year course of advanced music imparted by the school are straightaway granted admission to the one year course so that they can receive the Certificate of the University of Madras (a student has already enrolled this year). Rajashri gave away the completion certificate to two outgoing students K. Keerthana and V. Rukmini (2014-2017 batch). 

A fabulous concert

Random Notes
by V Ramnarayan
"It was the best concert by a male Carnatic vocalist I've heard in my life," said my friend, who has been a rasika and a connoissseur for well over five decades. Not known to shower praises on any musician young or old unless he or she scales unusual heights, Jayaram was obviously moved by his recent listening experience. This was a rare occasion when we two old codgers spent the greater part of an hour waxing eloquent over a Carnatic music performance the night before.
We were discussing TM Krishna's concert—on the evening of 7 August as part of the Dhanammal tribute organised by the Brinda Repertory at Chennai. It was a meditation, for want of a better description. A self confessed worshipper at the altar of Veenai Dhanammal and her legatees, Krishna soaked himself and an over 200 strong audience in the still, deep waters of that stream of raga music.
Yesterday, I was to learn at a lecture demonstration that T Brinda used to say she preferred to listen to Hindustani rather than Carnatic music. Whether or not the grande dame meant that seriously, I too have been guilty of such blasphemy, whenever tired of the soulless pyrotechnics on offer on the Carnatic music platform. The concerts during the Veenai Dhanam programme certainly brought such naysayers back to the Carnatic music fold.
[The day before the Krishna concert, Chitravina Ravikiran (with violinist Akkarai Subhalakshmi and khanjira vidwan BS Purushotham accompanying him) had transported us to a primordial universe of pure music, while his disciple Dr Sivakumaran—with Kallidaikurichi Sivakumar on the mridangam—who preceded TMK on the 7th gave us glimpses of the rich nadam of the veena].
TM Krishna was in great voice. How much hard toil must have gone into the transformation of what has always been a rich voice into a smooth instrument capable of producing infinite modulations from the lowest to the highest reaches, with no harshness or nasality anywhere! He was in such vocal command that it seemed to me that he produced a number of violin (and nagaswaram)-like phrases which Shriramkumar was reprising.
Concentrating on varnam, padam and javali in honour of the Dhanammal tradition, not to mention viruttam singing of a high order, Krishna evoked oohs and ahs from the members of the family in the hall whose joy of recognition must be the ultimate acknowledgement of the authenticity both Krishna and his soulful violin accompanist accomplished that evening.
The percussionists Delhi Sairam (mridangam) and Anirudh Athreya (khanjira) were not far behind. While Anirudh's familiarity with the bani is not surprising given his Papa Venkataramiah lineage so closely linked to the Dhanammal school, Sairam's unsentimental delicacy of touch was a revelation. Never loud, the left hander lent the music a rare lilt at the most appropriate moments when he intuitively broke into delightful trots. The facial expressions of both Anirudh and Sairam mirrored an unmistakable sense of joy pervading their music.
It was hardly surprising that Krishna was often apparently listening to an inner music—sometimes with wet eyes. We have all come to expect such on-stage demonstrations of bliss by him. This did not fail to rub off on the supreme accompanist that Shriramkumar is. The palpable pleasure of both lead musicians—for that is what they are in the neomodern TMK concert universe—led to some spontaneous raga music of high quality. Krishna is definitely among the most generous main artists around, and I wonder if Shriramkumar enjoys such freedom while accompanying any other musician. Totally uninhibited, Shriram moved the audience with some rare manodharma flourishes, not to mention the beautiful detailing of the sangatis in kritis. Krishna's visible appreciation of his sallies was matched by his encouragement of the percussionists.
Krishna's tanam singing was exemplary, pleasantly surprising in its placement, though all too brief. The tanam syllables were beautifully enunciated.
An interesting takeaway for me from the concert has been the insight that ragas need not be rasa-specific. I have always wondered about this aspect of raga music, wondered if it were not possible to bring about any rasa in any raga. The tenderness of Krishna's Athana seemed to add credence to my belief.
To give a quick summary of the ragas of the evening, we heard Kalyani, Begada (a varnam and a padam), Bhairavi, Purvikalyani, Sahana, Varali, Kambhoji, Khamas, Athana, and Yamunakalyani, though this list may be incomplete, perhaps incorrect, as I did not take any notes at the concert. And yes, all the famous songs of the Dhanammal family repertoire were there—from Yarukkagilum bhayama to Janaro.
Krishna and his team proved that it is possible to create an atmosphere on stage and immerse the audience in it. They in fact seemed to go beyond that and pave the way for the creation of a new aesthetic for Carnatic music, building on an old tradition.
The thoughtful programming of the Veenai Dhanammal 150 celebration has made it an admirable initiative. We must compliment the Brinda Repertory wholeheartedly.

Knight in freedom’s livery

E. Krishna Iyer
9.8.1897 - 1968
Birthdays & Anniversaries

Rare indeed have been the pioneers who, like E. Krishna Iyer, realised early enough the great value and importance of India’s art and culture,  as much as political freedom and economic  improvement, for national regeneration and welfare.

Few have slaved so selflessly with singleminded devotion as he, for the revival, revitalisation and [popularisation] of many of the forgotten arts even before the dawn of political freedom.

Many indeed have been the fields of Krishna Iyer’s activity; and yet he was able to achieve substantial results in whatever he undertook for the good of the country and its people.... He and his services  and  achievements  are valuable  assets to the country. They are a source of inspiration for others.

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Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Siddheswari Devi

Siddheswari Devi 
Birthdays & Anniversaries

Siddheswari Devi enriched the Poorab ang of light classical music tradition she inherited by making the thumri as expansive as the khayal. She clothed the thumri with “a rare classical dignity even while retaining its tender lyricism Initially known as Akhtari Bai, her art earned for her the respect due to a begum sahiba. Her music carried the old world charm of the Lucknow court and, in the early years, “maddened her listeners with a certain intoxicating quality.” (Susheela Misra). Later, there was in it even more of an emotional intensity and a tinge of sadness as well. While she sang khayal-s, thumri-s and dadra-s as well, her singing of ghazals earned for her the title of Mallika-eGhazal, or Queen of Ghazal.

Monday, 7 August 2017

SKGS confers Choodamani awards

E.S.L. Narasimhan, Governor of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, conferred the Sangeetha Choodamani award  on Carnatic musician Nithyasree Mahadevan, and the Aacharya Choodamani award on veteran vainika and teacher Padmavathy Ananthagopalan, at the inaugural function of the 62nd Gokulashtami Sangeetha Utsavam organised by Sri Krishna Gana Sabha recently in Chennai. J. Balasubramaniam (President J.B. Cultural Foundation), N. Kamakodi, (MD and  CEO, City Union Bank), Nalli Kuppuswami Chetti, writer Sivashankari, Y. Prabhu and R. Venkateswaran of Sri Krishna Gana Sabha look on. 

Saturday, 5 August 2017

B Muthukumar

Musicians for Classical Dance

By Anjana Anand

Vocalist B. Muthukumar hails from a family of musicians. The first flautist of the family, Muthukumar has made a mark as a soloist as well as an accompanist for Bharatanatyam. An ‘A’ grade artist of All India Radio, Muthukumar is known for his musical depth and adaptability. Today, he is one of the few musicians who continue to straddle both worlds with ease. He speaks to Sruti about the joys of being a sishya of Dr. N. Ramani and his experience in the Bharatanatyam field.
You come from a family of mridangists. How did the flute become your instrument of choice?
Everyone in my family was a mridangist—my grandfather V. Vittal Iyer, father N.V.  Balakrishnan who was known as Adyar Balu, and brother, dancer Rajesh. Strangely, I was the only one who did not try  playing the instrument. Our house always resonated with the sound of the mridangam. My grandfather used to teach mridangam and my family including my cousins would gather around him, playing and learning from him. I watched from a distance but did not have any desire to join them. It was solely because of my grandfather’s interest in the flute that I started learning the instrument. My grandfather and T.R.  Mahalingam were neighbours in our hometown. Somehow grandfather had a special liking for the flute and used to cajole Mali to play for him. My interest in the flute was inspired by my grandfather.
When did you start formal training?
It was only after my grandfather’s demise that I started my formal training in flute. I learnt from Mayavaram Saraswathi Ammal for six years. My mother used to take me to class at that age. She gave me a packet of fried peanuts at the end of the class, and that was a big incentive! In 1991, I started training with Ramani Sir. My grandmother always wanted me to learn from him as he knew my grandfather well.
How was your experience as his student?
The two decades I was with my guru were the most fulfilling  years of my learning. I was studying B.Com at Vivekananda  College and his house was just behind the college. One of the clerical staff who was related to him would often inform me in class that I should accompany him on the tambura in a concert. I think I spent more time with my guru than at college! I was like a member of his family. I learnt so much from just being around him.
Did you decide to become a full time musician at that point?
I graduated in 1996 and was planning on joining a computer course in NIIT. It was expensive and I was wondering how I would finance the course. It just happened that that year, my father was to join Menaka Thakkar in Canada to play for her programme. There was some visa issue with the Odissi accompanists for the same show. As they could not make it, Kalanidhi Narayanan recommended that I join my father on the tour. That was probably a turning point in my career choice.
I completed my NIIT course in 1997 but by then had started travelling abroad. I went to Japan with Seetarama Sarma.  In 1998, I went to the US to play for Viji Prakash. In 1999, I  was part of the production ‘Abhyasa’ curated by Uma Ganesan and worked with Rathna Kumar of Houston. That year, I stayed in the US for five months. Since then, I have been travelling regularly abroad and associated closely with Rathna Kumar’s work till today.
Were you playing for Bharatanatyam in Chennai?
Yes. It was a natural choice for me as my grandfather and father were in the field. My grandfather taught mridangam at Kalakshetra in the early years and my father was an established mridangam artist for Bharatanatyam.  I started playing for dance in 1994. Amongst the seniors then, I used to play regularly for Krishnaveni Lakshmanan, Chitra Visweswaran, Lakshmi Vishwanathan, Sudharani Raghupathy, Alarmel Valli, the Dhananjayans, C.V. Chandrasekhar, the Narasimhacharis and Leela Samson. Other artists I accompanied included Srinidhi Chidambaram, Bragha Bessel, Urmila Satyanarayanan and Uma Maheswari. In the last few years, I have worked closely with Kishore Mosalikanti, Divyasena,  Sheela Unnikrishnan and Sheejith Krishna, to name a few. All these artists have been of great support to me and I share a wonderful rapport with them.
You have also pursued a path as a Carnatic music concert artist.
Yes. One of my memorable concerts was playing with my guru Dr. Ramani as part of a five-flute ensemble at Coimbatore and Neyveli. In Chennai, we senior students of Ramani’s Academy of  Flute performed at Mylapore Fine Arts  and were lauded by the Hindu’s critic for our perfect coordination.
I was very interested in also establishing myself as a concert artist. In 1994, I won the endowment prize for
flute in the solo category from Mylapore Fine Arts. In 2000, I was chosen as the best solo flute performer in the Spirit of Youth festival and in 2001 the best junior flautist at the Music Academy. I enjoyed the opportunity given by Iyal Isai Nataka Manram to perform in various parts of Tamil Nadu. I received the ‘Yuva Kala Bharathi’ award from Bharat Kalachar in 2004. I also performed regularly at Indian Fine Arts Society, where I received the best sub senior flautist award in 2006. I feel it is possible to balance a career as a concert artist and Bharatanatyam musician if we dedicate our time to this art.
Is it difficult to find opportunities to perform as a solo artist once you become a Bharatanatyam musician?
I think it is important that we do not label musicians as belonging to only one field. My grandfather was one of the early mridangists at Kalakshetra and both he and father were exposed to both worlds. We know great musicians who worked in Kalakshetra who contributed musical masterpieces in Rukmini Devi’s dance dramas. Ramani Sir and T.S. Sankaran Sir also worked in Kalakshetra for some time. I remember my grandfather recalling an incident when he and my guru travelled together. The whole troupe of musicians was on a ship on the way to a performance in another country. My grandfather loved to mingle with people and when the captain of the ship got to know that there were musicians on board, he requested them to perform. My grandfather and  my guru performed for their co-passengers and were upgraded to first tier accommodation as a reward for their beautiful music. Grandfather  insisted that all the musicians travelling with them also be upgraded.
Today, there is a lot of collaboration. Concert musicians like G.J.R. Krishnan, Neyveli Santhanagopalan, and R.K. Shriramkumar are composing music for dance. I feel we should keep our minds open; the only criterion should be good music!
How being a Bharatanatyam vocalist shaped your music?
Being in this field, I have been exposed to so many ragas. I have had a chance to learn many traditional varnams and that has enriched my raga bhava.
What are some of the changes you have noticed in the Bharatanatyam field over the years?
The traditional margam format has undergone a change. I see fewer dancers using traditional compositions. Newer varnams are structurally different with longer pallavi and anupallavi. I have also noticed that these compositions are heavy in sahitya, although most of the sancharis chosen are from the common pool. Some padams and javalis are still being performed. There is a trend for newer compositions sand lighter ragams.
Earlier, there were always string and wind instruments in every Bharatanatyam performance. Many times today, there is only one accompanist besides the percussionist. This is especially true during the December season. Perhaps rehearsal schedules and cost are some factors responsible for this change over the years.