Prashanth Iyengar takes the cause of the veena firmly forward. He is not only a musician but also a composer

At his recent Ramanavami kutcheri, vainika M.N. Prashanth Iyengar preceded each piece with an explanation “for audiences to understand the core implications behind the composer’s thoughts and musicality.” Before taking up the Saveri varna “Sarasuda” he said varnas are replete with raga bhava and composers here don’t relate to their expertise on sahitya. The Tyagaraja’s Pancharatna “Jagadaananda Kaaraka” contains the ashtothara shathanaamaavali of Lord Rama brought out in a scholarly kriti-format, he explained.

Prashanth is curious to learn, just as he believes in the importance of sharing knowledge through lec-dems, workshops, music appreciation courses at his Sree Rama Centre of Performing Arts. “It seems intrinsic as my mother, Padmasini Narasimhachar, my first veena guru, too had her academic and music influence from her father Sampath Iyengar, a Sanskrit scholar.”

Says Prashanth, “My mother tells me that she was shocked to see me play Endaro Mahanubhavulu on the veena when I was seven, even before formal lessons were initiated. She would finish all her domestic chores at night and peacefully practice on her veena, often stretching into the wee hours. Her gentle twangs not just brought the raga and kritis alive, but the divinity of the mellow instrument reverberated and struck a chord in me. I imbibed her technique and approach that traced the Mysore Bhakshi Subbanna Parampara. The veena always seemed a blessing to me. To all of us at home, Veena has remained more interesting than food!”

As an 11-year-old, when Prashanth played, musicians wondered if he was Veena Doreswamy Iyengar’s student. “I considered myself lucky, for, my mother’s style rested equally on the same traditionally established school that followed vocalised gaayaki approaches. Curiously it was an impressionable time when my mother thought I needed a different teacher for bringing newer perspectives into my music. My sister, M.N. Geetha, with a Master’s in Music, took me straightaway to maestro R.K. Suryanarayana. This gave me a new impetus, as my guruji often called me home at night to share his own creative masterpieces,” he says.

Far-sighted and large-hearted, Suryanarayana even advised Prashanth to “never blindly follow a guru but bring forth expressions that is individualistic. Feel the sahitya, understand the bhava even if you have to play the kriti 100 times over,” was his counsel. Prashanth is happy his guru had made him “think and feel”. Once when Prashanth had played the Bhairavi Attatala varna at Mysore, it had elicited a reaction from M.S. Gopalakrishnan. “Bring more jeeva (life) through gamakas, the divine veena can be made to sing!” Taking this advice seriously, Prashanth mastered gamakas through rigorous practise of sarale and janti varase, and the alankaras.

“Veena is a spiritual instrument, what and how you play on it matters as our music scriptures have included chapters on this Saraswathi’s instrument,” says Prashanth. “I am very sensitive to the pace of a kriti, as it has to be along its lyrical-bhava. The Tyagaraja kriti ‘Manavyala Kinchara’ in Nalinakanti says, ‘Oh my mind, why don’t you listen to my appeals.’ Can we ever play it fast?” is his query.

With a Bachelor’s in Pharmacy and Diploma in Computer Engineering, Prashanth has had his stint with Yoga too for accruing meditative benefits. He played a marathon veena concert stretching to 25-hours to create a Limca National Record in 2011at the Srirangapatna Temple premises. The workshop on veena that he spearheaded at Mantralaya early this year had a detailed discussion on the instrument by experts in the field.

Prashanth Iyengar is a composer too -- has composed 90 varnas that include the 72-varnas tuned in the 72-melakarta ragas, making him the only one to compose in every single melakarta. Apart from sapta-tala varnas, he also has 20 kritis, 10 devaranamas and five tillanas to his credit. What is very special about his book ‘Varna Lakshana Ranjani’ which has 72-mela varnas and 72-Lakshana Geethes printed in Kannada, English and Hindi is the fact that it is meticulously hand-written by Padmasini Narasimhachar.

Prashanth Iyengar will perform at the Indian Institute of World Culture, Bangalore on April 20. Call 97436 44530 for details.