The instrument is everything to octogenarian Raghurama Ayyar. Read on …

At 80 the man is raring to go! Sincerely supported by Veena B. Kannan, he conducted the nine-day Viswa Veena Yagna recently in Chennai, coming all the way from Delhi. Such is his passion for classical music in general and the veena in particular. His command of the English language is incredible! “Veena should be a way of life. At least one in every family should be trained in playing it. The nadham creates positive energy and is an acoustic vehicle for spiritual voyaging,” V. Raghurama Ayyar gives a brisk start to the conversation.

Born in Nagercoil, Tamil Nadu, even as a ten-year old he had evinced keen interest in music. He would miss classes to attend concerts of doyens of Carnatic music. This thirst continued through his college days in Tiruvananthapuram. His mother, a Sanskrit scholar, was his mentor, who helped him acquire a fairly sound knowledge of Carnatic music. After graduation he joined the PTI Bombay, simultaneously completing his M.A. in English and acquiring a degree in Law with distinction. He cherishes the moments he spent with the then Governor of Madhya Pradesh, Pattabhi Sitaramiah. Later heading to Delhi he joined the Indian Information Service from where he retired.

“Fiddle Srinivasa Iyer once visited my house in Delhi in the mid-1950s and impressed with my interest in music, volunteered to teach me. He presented me with a 60-year old veena, now more than 100 years old … I still treasure it. Classes with him were very informal. Teaching the nuances of ragas he would resort to mathematical examples to explain the beauty of rhythm. (He demonstrates) Till date I follow his advice, constantly listening to the music of stalwarts. Srinivasa Iyer passed away after a few months but not before igniting the the fire in me. Returning from work, as a routine I would keep researching some raga or the other for hours and gradually increased my repertoire,” Ayyar reminisces.

Letters of appreciation

Ayyar has travelled all over the world and has received encomiums for his playing and in-depth knowledge of the instrument. With child-like enthusiasm he shows letters of appreciation he received from International organisations and one such is from noted playwright Elia Kazan. A photograph of tennis star Bjorn Borg holding Ayyar’s veena along with his wife Mariam, and Ayyar, is a surprise in the collection. “I was staying in the same hotel as Borg in London. He came to my room the night before the epic final, which he went on to win for a record fifth time, and requested me to play the veena. Sitting cross-legged, he listened with rapt attention for more than two hours and left, thanking me profusely for helping him relax before a tough match.”

Ayyar joined the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, major resource centre founded by Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan and other celebrities. He thankfully remembers the kind gesture of the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who granted funds and land for the centre. In 20 years time it has become one of the world’s leading treasure houses of information on various facets of the country. The Veena Foundation co-founded by Ayyar in 2005 along with Dr. L.M. Singhvi dedicates itself totally to the promotion of veena.

Raghurama Ayyar plays the Dikshitar Navavaranam kritis every morning. “They are a musical interpretation of the Sri Chakra. They are the nine steps to ultimate bliss and by singing them regularly one is assured of good health. I have never fallen sick till date!” he informs.

Ayyar is now on a mission to get the veena declared as a world heritage by UNESCO and also as India’s national instrument. He signs off saying, “Veena is the science of musical sounds and the Indian philosophy of tranquillity and peace and Veena Arpana reflects the resonance of India.”