By KS Kalidas
(Reproduced from Sruti 338, November 2012)
For long, vocal music and the veena have been regarded as having a symphonious relationship. It was even considered necessary for a vocalist to have a basic skill in playing the veena to understand the potential and extent of the gamaka-s, moorchana-s and jaru-s, and the preciseness of maintaining the tala. On the other hand, every vainika tried to play in a style that came close to vocal music; many claimed to have achieved this goal through techniques invented by them. At the same time, there was also a claim that instruments like the veena, violin, and flute had, in many areas, greater freedom of expression than vocal music – called ‘vadya dharma’, a view that cannot be summarily dismissed. However, the ritual murder of beautiful kriti-s like Ninnuvina namadendu, Raghuvamsa sudha, Sarasara samarai. Niravadi sukhada by instrumentalists of all categories can be painful.
The yazh, precursor of the veena in Tamil country in the centuries gone by, was played as an accompaniment to vocal music but the advent of the violin has changed all that. Today, we do listen to the veena as a solo instrument but even that only rarely.
Be that as it may, young vainika, Ashwin Anand of Bangalore learns vocal music from the redoubtable vidushi R. Vedavalli; Ashwin duly interprets what he learns from her on to the veena. He has resisted suggestions to take to vocal music instead of the veena – such is his love for and commitment to the instrument. In the process, he has evolved a style that captures the best of vocal music.
Ashwin initially learnt to play the veena at the age of eight from Prof. H.V. Krishnamurthy (father of violinist H.K. Venkataram), a violinist who also played the veena very well and ran the popular music institution Vijaya College of Music in Bangalore. He was, in fact, a professor of zoology and after retirement, chose to teach music full time in the institution he had founded. Ashwin’s training under Prof. HVK lasted seventeen years. He received the CCRT, Govt. of India Scholarship from 1991 to 2000 and a further scholarship for advanced training from 2002 to 2004. He gave his first public concert at the age of thirteen and concerts soon followed his debut. From 2006, Ashwin teamed up with H.K. Venkataram (violin) and G. Ravikiran (flute) and the team has performed more than thirty concerts, as an instrumental ensemble appeals more to the public; it also enables participation of senior pakkavadyam artists.
Chancing to hear a vocal concert by Vedavalli four years ago, Ashwin was captivated by the charm and subtleties of her music. He wasted no time in requesting her to take him as her student and his wish was duly granted. Surrendering himself totally to his guru’s music, Ashwin has never ceased to wonder at the musical values he had not encountered till then. He has also started receiving excellent reviews from seasoned critics.
Ashwin has won a bagful of prizes and awards from various sabha-s, the most important being the Ananya Yuva Puraskar of Ananya Cultural Academy, Bangalore, the Gottuvadyam Narayana Iyengar Award of Sri Krishna Gana Sabha and the Spirit of Youth prize from the Music Academy, Madras.
Professionally, Ashwin holds a Master’s degree in Microelectronics and is employed as a senior engineer in a Bangalore firm, but this has not dampened his involvement with and commitment to the veena.
(The author is a mridanga vidwan, connoisseur of classical music, and a keen follower of young talent)