Gayathri Venkataraghavan, one of the leading vocalists in the Carnatic music circuit today, is a versatile artiste. She has evolved a unique style of her own, which is an amalgam of melody, rhythm and aesthetics. She has travelled far and wide inside and outside the country, giving concerts. An ‘A’ grade artiste of All India Radio, she believes that obeisance to the guru is of utmost importance for a singer and whatever one sings should be construed as an offering to the Almighty. Excerpts from an interview with the Chennai-based artiste…
Initiation into music
I do not have any musical lineage as such. My father had a taste for Carnatic music. He was keen that I should learn music. So, I started my first lessons in music from Lakshmanan Vadhyar and it continued for four years. My second guru was Rajalakshmi and my interest in music grew, as I learnt small kritis from her.
My serious pursuits in music began when I came under the tutelage of Padma Veeraraghavan, a disciple of Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar and K.V. Narayanaswamy. She inculcated in me the KVN style, which is deeply rooted in classicism. I used to accompany her to her classes with KVN and I was a keen observer. I was almost like gurukula vasam under her. KVN’s music had a tremendous influence on me and even now, I listen to his music whenever I get some free time.
I then started training with A. Sundaresan. His classes had no time frame and they used to last for five or six hours at a stretch. He initiated me into the nuances of Carnatic music and it was rigorous training all the way. This was a turning point in my life. There was healthy competition amongst us disciples. He was a great teacher and learning from him was a rewarding experience. He had worked extensively on Shyama Sastri kritis. He gave me opportunities to sing with him on such occasions. This helped me a lot in shaping my music career. He was a big motivator too. Sunderasan sir had profound reverence for the Trinity and had notated many rare kritis, particularly those of Shyama Sastri, which have not found a place in the concert circuit. He had taught us many such kritis. Myself and a few other students have together published these notated kritis. After I won a scholarship instituted for Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer’s 90th birthday, I trained with V. Subrahmanyam, a leading disciple of Semmangudi, for two years.
Break in music career
At this juncture (in 1993), I got married to Venkataraghavan, an ophthalmologist. So, I had to shift from Chennai to Madurai and later Tirunelveli, where my husband was working. It turned out to be a seven year break from music.
Second innings in music
At Tirunelveli, I got an opportunity to sing at the local Nellai Sangeetha Sabha. This paved the way for a number of concerts in and around Tirunelveli. I then got an opportunity to sing at Krishna Gana Sabha, Chennai’s ‘Skanda Shashti’ festival. The concert went off well and gave my career a boost. This was followed by numerous concerts in other sabhas such as Nada Inbam, Hamsadhwani, and so on. Thus, the second innings in my musical career started on a positive note.
Into the concert circuit
After we moved back to Chennai in 2000, I resumed my classes under Sundaresan sir – now advanced and intensive training in music. Simultaneously, I started performing regularly and my concert career began earnestly. By the end of 2000, I had performed at all the leading sabhas in Chennai and other places such as Mumbai, Delhi, and Thiruvananthapuram.
My husband’s support in all my musical pursuits is a major motivating factor that has helped me immensely in my career.
Continuing learning process
After Sundaresan’s demise in 2007, I started learning from P.S. Narayanaswamy, which continues even now, as there is no end to the learning process.
On guru bhakti
I feel guru bhakti is very important, as it is the guru who has imparted the knowledge and made me an artiste. Whatever one sings, it should be considered as an offering to the Almighty.
Advice to young aspirants
I feel that hard work and sincere practise are the only tools to achieve perfection.
Keywords: Gayathri Venkatraghavan