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KVN - An Effortless Great of Karnatak Music!

It seems quite recent to my feelings, which I continue to carry forward. A feeling of gratitude to the legacies of the Karnatak music greats - the torch bearers of the greater classical traditions behind them - Sri Semmangudi, Sri Lalgudi, Sri T.M. Thyagarajan, Sri K.V. Narayanaswami and Sri S. Kalyanaraman for instantly agreeing to be with me in my endeavour to start Brhaddhvani. Without their spontaneous support, my global vision to disseminate the creative spirit behind Karnatak music through musical dialogues, presentations and interactions in the global arena would not have seen light.

Sri KVN could see my vision without which he would not have brought the great connection with the philanthropic art critic of The Hindu, Sri N.R. Bhuvarahan. Sri NRB instantly gave me his house on 4th Main Road, R.A Puram to let me transform my vision into reality. He generously allowed me to do whatever I wanted. I built a backyard auditorium with the help of the community of the loving students of Brhaddhvani and their parents. Many unique programs were conducted in this backyard bringing in musical stalwarts, yogis, musicologists and disseminators of the doctrines of bhakti, Vedanta, classical, indigenous folk and global music. The 90s and early 2000 were a dream-like epoch - an unimaginable and unusual array of musically enriching events at Brhaddhvani but without much fanfare. The borderlines between styles, communities, gurus and sishyas, dogmas, religions, hierarchies, artforms and languages - all disappeared through the power of the varied sounds of music and their beauty.

Of the several culturally transforming and musically meaningful programs, “Vina and Voice” in 1998 needs special mention. I have been wondering why vina, though held high by everyone as the pinnacle of instruments - Kanchi Paramacharya and other acharyas extolling the spirituality of this instrument, and a national symbol - does not invite the attention of most of the art-loving audiences, especially after the 70s. Unfortunately, it is listed as a declining instrument! I was invited to talk about it at the Central Government-sponsored national festivals but without immediate follow-up on it. I have many reasons for the lack of recognition of the vina, but one of the important reasons persisting is that the vina is not challenged by voice on the stage as much as the violin is. The virtuosity on the violin - apart from its physical structure and manoeuvrability - is due to the inevitability of a concert without it. The violinists get ample chances to perform on the stage even during their learning stage as well as mridangists. To master the vina with its many different complexities takes years of patient learning and practice. The spontaneity in the art of accompanying is getting lost more and more due to the dramatic and theatrical effects needed to excite the audience. The artistes no longer perform together on the stage without many rehearsals, equaling almost studio recordings on the concert stage!

When I watched this video of me accompanying the vocal legend Sri K.V. Narayanaswamy in 1998, I wonder now how did I even dare to venture doing this? When I asked a prominent vina player to accompany Sri KVN, he replied that vina should not be brought down to the level of accompaniment as if accompanying is one grade less than solo! In fact, the accompanists have more experience than the main performers. He was not alone in this trend of thought. The same was the reply by Smt. Ranganayaki Rajagopalan, my granduncle Sri Karaikudi Sambasiva Iyer’s prime disciple, when I asked her to preside over another performance where vina was an accompaniment. Nevertheless, I asked her to come and preside over the performance and express her honest opinion. She did without hesitation! She told the audience honestly that she was puzzled why I was doing such irreverential things. Since no one, among those I ventured to ask, came forward to accompany KVN then, I had to do it myself. I had no idea what he would be singing! By watching now, I see how KVN beautifully let me accompany him with my own limitations and that of the instrument. That was the kind of brilliance and mastery of music in his judgement of what would be most appropriate in any situation. I passed, I think, because he let me pass!


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