Bellary Raghavendra comes from a family of committed musicians. He is the proud inheritor of a huge music collection
Bellary M. Raghavendra, vocalist and Programme Executive, Akashavani, Mysore, comes across as a simple, down-to-earth person. He is shy and refuses to talk about his musical achievements. It’s part of the family folklore that as a toddler, Raghavendra would be snugly settle into his father’s lap during his practice, and would wake up only when the singing stopped! Prod Raghavendra to rewind and he starts with a gratified note, “I owe my musical wealth to my gurus Bellary Seshagiri Achar (uncle) and Bellary Venkateshachar (father) who were performing as Bellary Brothers. Our lineage is traced to the Vijayadasa parampare and the Bellary schooling in music shuns a pompous style. We nurture a pathantara of time-honoured clarity, a technique that gathered fine distinctions and gradations with the influence of approaches from the Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and interior Andhra music schools.” Born in Hospet, Bellary, in 1959 Raghavendra came down to Bangalore as a little child. His gurus began to go on concert tours all over India on the insistence of Arunachala Bhagavatar (mridangam player T.A.S. Mani’s father). “As their concerts and students gradually increased, I remained a keen observer. When I was about six-years-old, I sang a Hindola kriti composed by Seshagiri Achar, “When did you learn this?!” my uncle was dumbstruck.” With this his training in music took off formally. His father was his 24-hour informal guru, and formal lessons were from Seshagiri Achar, the man who went on to compose 400 kritis. “For six years, he taught me varnas in 40 ragas, and the kritis that ran into several hundreds!” says Raghavendra.
Raghavendra recounts instances when veterans as Lalgudi, Balamurali Krishna and Volety Venkateshwarulu had whole-heartedly praised the lyrical flow in Achar’s sahitya and taken them up in concerts. Wielding the tambura for several years for my gurus, the stage was a learning experience for me,” he says.
Raghavendra considers himself lucky that he had two gurus who constantly took him on the right path. In contrast, the opportunities for Bellary Brothers were limited when they were trying to establish themselves. “My gurus would run to a hotel everyday to listen to the radio airing classical music. It mirrors their extraordinary focus and commitment. Today we have everything so easy, but still we pale in front of these doyens!” he says.
Raghavendra’s grandfather Mundrigi Raghavendrachar is supposed to have given vocal lessons to Puttaraj Gavai! He was a contemporary of Prof. Sambamurthy at the Faculty of Music at Queen Mary’s College in Chennai. Traditions in rendering and concert packaging were passed on since then. For instance, the raga taken up for the warm-up varna would be there for an RTP. Taking off a piece from anupallavi is yet another style of the Bellary school. Raghavendra has produced some spectacular musical features too at Akashavani. He has toured several countries as an ambassador for classical arts, just as his propagation of Carnatic music to every nook and corner of the State has come in for a lot of praise.