Aesthetics reigned supreme in the late Trivandrum Venkatraman’s veena playing.
It was only on the evening of January 1, at the ‘Sadas’ of the Madras Music academy that musicians and other rasikas happily witnessed the conferment of the title “Sangitha Kala Acharya” on Veena Vidwan Trivandrum R. Venkataraman. Five days later they were shocked to hear that he was killed in a road accident on the national highway near Ulundurpet.
Venkataraman’s expertise in veena playing and his erudition in music were of no mean order, but, unfortunately his stature was not as widely known as it should have been. Born on August 31, 1938, at Cheranmahadevi in Tirunelveli district to Ramasubba Sastri, Sanskrit scholar, who also possessed knowledge of Carnatic Music.
Venkataraman’s initial training in music was under the guidance of his father when he had just passed infancy, at the age of four. The family had moved over to Trivandrum as Sastri had taken up an assignment with the manuscripts library there. Venkataraman when he was eight commenced learning Veena under Smt Lakshmi G. Krishnan. Joining the Swati Tirunal College of Music, then known as The Swati Tirunal Music Academy, he came under the umbrella of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, and Prof. C.S Krishna Iyer for vocal music and for veena directly attached himself to K.S. Narayanaswami the great veena maestro whose playing style was reputed to be closest to vocal music.
Though he passed out with flying colours both in vocal and veena, Venkataraman settled with the instrument for his further musical pursuits. He served as Asst. Professor of veena in the same college for some time and moved on to All India Radio Trivandrum, where he served until his retirement in 1996. The teenage young lad who was smartly running about with studs in his ears, yearning to participate in every event of the institution had grown up to be a full-fledged veena vidwan.
His veena was exposed to the rasikas widely in India and abroad, when he was in the instrumental trio veena, venu and violin in the company of N. Ramani, flute and Lalgudi Jayaraman, violin.
Venkataraman developed his own style of playing building on the foundation which was strongly laid by his Guru K.S. Narayanaswami. Venkataraman determined to take his style closest to vocal music and this task was only an elevation of his Guru’s style. Venkataraman was blessed with refined musical acumen combining this with relentless “sadhakam” and use of innovative fingering techniques he achieved his goal with utmost perfection. The plucking of the strings were minimal and only when needed. It was soft, but robust adding to the continuity unlike in certain other schools where the plucking is more frequent naturally lessening the aesthetics.
Veena is a fretted instrument and achieving speeds in playing to match vocal music as violin or flute is unthinkable. “Suddha Gamakas,” continuity of melody and nuances and contours of ragas in full bloom were the highlights of Venkataraman’s veena. His alapanas, especially, Sankarabharanam, Khambhodi, Bhairavi, Sahana, Sindubhairavi and such rakthi ragas were brilliant expositions. Grand musical compositions such as ‘O Rangasayee’ flowed out of his veena following every sangati of the song as a vocal musician would adorn it with, bringing such excellence that the listener would not feel the absence of sahityam. His Veena could hold the audience for longer durations than any other instrumental concert.
Venkataraman was a great teacher too. His students were young and old, high court judges Governor’s family members, members of the Travancore Royal Family, etc. His fame spread across the oceans to Australia and France and through his students and annual visits to these countries were regular
features during the last decade. He was Director of Veena at the Teacher’s college of Music, Music Academy, Madras. A recipient of numerous awards and titles, it seemed as though he was just waiting for the crowning glory- Sangitha Kala Acharya from the Music Academy. He was a shattered person after the demise of his better half on December 10, 2009. His last concert was on December 26 at Nada Inbam and just a fortnight after this tragedy struck him.
Innovations without sacrificing the traditional values of veena playing were Venkataraman’s hallmark and his end has brought an irreplaceable void in the veena world which is already shrinking fast.