Nisha Ponni won the first prize in veena at the National Youth Festival.

Nisha Ponni has done Kerala proud by winning the first prize in veena at the National Youth Festival held at Bhuvaneswar, which was organised by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, Government of India. She beat contestants from 12 other States with her mesmerising rendition of the Swati Tirunal keertana ‘Sarasija Nabha' in raga Thodi.

The 18-year-old Nisha has been in the limelight in Kerala for her skills on the veena. She won the first prize in veena for five consecutive years (2005-2009) at the State School Arts Festival. This former student of Carmel School in the city is now a first-year student at the Swati Tirunal College of Music.

Music in her blood

When one meets Nisha's family, it comes as no surprise that Nisha is what she is. Both her parents are former students of the music college. Her father, Sunil, owns and runs ‘Pranavam Musical Foundation,' where he manufactures and repairs veenas.

Nisha grew up among the veenas that her father made and showed a keen interest in the instrument from an early age. Her mother, Sheela, a dance tutor, sensed her daughter's aptitude and taught her how to play the first notes on the veena at the age of eight. Nisha's younger brother, Ananthu S. Ponnu, is an ardent violinist.

When asked why she chose the veena Nisha says: “I started by learning the mridangam. But then my hands hurt and there were no other girls who played the mridangam. It was then that I started learning the veena and discovered it to be my true passion.”

Tutelage

Nisha's first guru was Valiyasala Lalitha teacher under whose guidance she learnt the veena for five years. After she won the CCRT Junior National scholarship, Nisha came under the tutelage of Thurayil Santhamma, the former principal of the Music College. She still learns under this 81-year-old singer and veena player, who was one of the first disciples of K.S. Narayanaswamy.

When asked why she chose to teach Nisha (who is her only disciple), the veteran smiles and says: “So that my veena doesn't rust.” Nisha does her sadhakam regularly under the guidance of Muttara N. Raveendran.

The young artiste is also part of Sangeeth Sangam, a musical foundation, and participates in musical programmess across the country. She is a B-grade artist in light classical of All India Radio. Her ambition, she says, is “to grow to greater heights in my chosen field of expertise – the veena” and perhaps be a freelance journalist too.