“In spite of the ban that the harmonium has been subjected to for decades, I have had the fortune to perform at the maximum number of Carnatic concerts on harmonium held from 1980. It is a divine instrument adapted to the classical genres since generations,” says C. Ramadass, the A-Grade artiste of AIR with 615 solo-Carnatic harmonium concerts to his credit.
Ramadass’ rendezvous with the harmonium started in the 1950s. His father K.C. Cheluviah, a musician who ran a bhajane mandira in Bangalore, would perpetually be on the lookout for performing musicians. On day, he decided to train both his sons in music. “That’s how I was introduced to harmonium, and my brother C. Cheluvaraj to the mridanga, thanks to my father’s initial training,” says Ramadass, who was later guided by Muneshwarappa on the harmonium and V. Ramaiah on the violin.
All India Radio had excluded this instrument in 1940 for more than 30 years. “Thousands of families associated with the instrument were grief stricken when the harmonium was banned, although nobody seemed to know why. When music connoisseur and nuclear scientist Raja Ramanna intervened to ‘revive this melodic reed’ after listening to me playing the harmonium, and cleared the way for restoring the instrument, AIR called for auditions and I qualified with A-Grade,” he says.
Harmonium, played solo, opens up to its true potential, he says. “It can get overshadowed as an accompanying instrument as it gets to be heard only in the inherent gaps provided by the main artiste in a concert. It is a challenge to play and mimic the human voice but this gayaki-ang is what I use for my alapane and kritis were anuswaras in precision bring about the gamakas,” says Ramadass, who trains several students in classical Carnatic on harmonium.