Meet B. Suchithra, Carnatic vocalist and Harikatha exponent

Not many people get the opportunity to live surrounded by music from birth. For this 22-year-old Carnatic vocalist and Harikatha exponent, though, music has not only been a way of life but also a means to livelihood.

B. Suchithra, granddaughter of Harikatha exponent Thanjavur T.R. Kamalamurthy, started learning Carnatic music when she was just four, first from Sudha Seshagopalan and later from Madurai T.N. Seshagopalan. She is now under the tutelage of Padma Sandilyan and Srimushnam V. Raja Rao (the mridangam vidwan, who also teaches vocal music). In addition, Suchithra has also learnt the traditional Harikatha from her grandmother.

“Initially, I learnt Carnatic music only,” explains Suchithra, who was in the Capital recently for Harikatha performances. “Slowly I started to give vocal concerts in temples, sabhas, marriages, etc. I would also listen to the Harikatha performances of my grandmother even when I was a child. Senior vidwans like M.S. Anantharaman Sir, Umayalpuram Sivaraman Sir and late Thiruvengadu Jayaraman Sir advised me to learn Harikatha as this particular tradition was slowly dying. At that time, I was an active member of ‘Abhaswaram' Ramji Sir's ‘Issaimazhalai' troupe. He and his wife also insisted I learn Harikatha. It was then I started learning Harikatha too from my grandmother, in the same ‘padhati' (format) which she has been performing over seven decades.”

Suchithra who has now been performing Harikatha since 2008. She enjoys performing both conventional Carnatic vocal concerts and Harikatha. On which is the tougher medium, she avers, “Undoubtedly, Harikatha is tougher. You need to refer to a lot of material to perform a Harikatha and be updated with current affairs.”

As for audience reach, she feels, “Of late, Harikatha has more reach, as people are becoming more inclined towards spirituality these days.”

It is said that without family support, not to mention the role of the gurus, it is difficult for an artiste to shine in the public space. Suchithra agrees wholeheartedly. “I am nothing without my family. Their support towards my career is definitely great. My grandmother, uncles, aunts have all been highly supportive. My younger brother is a sharp critic of my performances.”

She adds, “I am really blessed as all my gurus treat me like their daughter rather than as a student. It is more like gurukulam, where I stay and learn music and Harikatha. Needless to say, my Patti (grandmother Kamalamurthy) is surely taking immense efforts to bring me up in this field. Even at the age of 80, she works hard for me every day. It is all because of her that I am in the Harikatha field today. She even advised me to learn some subjects from U.Ve. Ananthapadmanabhachariar (who gives spiritual discourses) and Visaka Hari (another exponent of Harikatha), which I have done.”

Suchithra says fondly, “I performed my Harikatha arangetram (first public performance) at the Bharath Kalachar Auditorium, Chennai. Exactly two years later, I was awarded the coveted “Yuva Kala Bharathi” title, at same venue.”