Hailing from a family of musicians, Cherthala K.N.Ranganatha Sharma has risen to the top by sheer hard work and dedication. Blessed with a sonorous voice, he has evolved a unique style of his own – a style that retains the core values of Carnatic music – which has instant appeal. Having mastered the art over a career spanning three decades, he has emerged as a versatile vocalist and teacher. His forte is ‘Sruthi Sudha’ and ‘Sahithya Sudha’. He is one of those rare musicians who are adept both in teaching and performing. He has performed extensively in India and abroad and is an ‘A Top’ artiste of All India Radio. Ranganatha Sharma is working as associate professor and research guide in music at Sri Sadguru Sangeetha Vidyalayam,Madurai. Excerpts from an interview:
Initiation into music
I was born to Lakshmi Ammal and K. Narayana Iyer in 1966. My father had studied music at Sri Swathi Thirunal Music College, Thiruvananthapuram, under doyens like Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, C.S. Krishna Iyer, Kumaraswamy Iyer and so on. I began learning from him at the age of five and this training continued for about 15 years, giving me a strong base in vocal music.
Maiden concert and motivation
My debut was at the age of 13 when I sang at the Dhanvanthari temple, Cherthala. The next year, when I was fourteen, I gave a concert at the Chandirur temple festival. Pleased with my performance, the organisers invited me to sing at the festival in the subsequent two years too. At the end of the third concert, a famous astrologer predicted that I would have a bright future in music. At that point of time, I was in a dilemma whether to take up music as a career or choose some other field. The astrologer’s words of encouragement proved to be a motivating factor for my decision to pursue music as a career.
Our entire family is wedded to music. My eldest sister Lalitha Lakshmi is a good vocalist and eldest brother Krishna Iyer is a mridangam player. Another brother Sathyamurthy is proficient in violin and the younger one Ananthakrishnan is a ghatam player. All of us brothers have performed together on many occasions. Having decided to take up music as a profession, I moved to Palakkad in 1984 and did B.A. and M.A. degrees in music, at Government College, Chittur. During this period, I got the opportunity to listen to the concerts of stalwarts, which whetted my appetite to learn more. I started giving concerts by that time.
In 1990, I shifted to Chennai and started my M.Phil course in music at the University of Madras, under the expert guidance of the renowned musician and musicologist N. Ramanathan. I also had the good fortune to come into contact with the famous veena vidwan Karaikudi Subramanya Iyer, who is running an organisation connected with music named ‘Brihadwani’. During this time, I participated in the music competition conducted by the Music Academy, Chennai, as part of their Margazhi Youth Music Festival and got the first prize in ‘Vocal Gents’ and ‘RTP (Ragam Thanam and Pallavi)’. This boosted my confidence.
As a teacher
After completing M.Phil, I moved to Kannur and worked as a music teacher in Kendriya Vidyalaya. Subsequently, I joined Sri Sadguru Sangeetha Vidyalayam, Madurai (affiliated to Madurai Kamaraj University) as a lecturer in music. Simultaneously I pursued my studies in the same institution, by doing a PhD on the subject ‘A Study on Various Laya Aspects in Carnatic Music’. I am also a research guide. Some of my students have also started performing.
As a performer
I have been performing for the last three decades without any break. I have given concerts all over India. I have sung at the Cleveland Tyagaraja Festival, United States, and at the same festival at Paris. I deem it a privilege to have performed at the Navarathri Mandapam, Thiruvananthapuram for nine years. I have a busy schedule during the December music season in Chennai.
Continuation of family tradition
My wife, Mohana, herself an accomplished vocalist and music teacher, and I have trained our son Shravan Narayan and daughter Swathi Ranganath in vocal music. Both have started giving concerts.