INTERVIEW Saralaya Sisters talk about their journey, and the legendary figures who pushed them closer to music. RANJANI GOVIND
I n the early 1990s, M.S. Subbulakshmi had invited Saralaya Sisters, Kavitha and Triveni from Bangalore to perform at a chamber concert in Chennai. It was to be an evening of bhakti music. “Can I play the tambura for you?” the incredible offer from M.S. only humbled the sisters. The duo thought it was a rare blessing to see the gracious lady get absorbed in dasara padas for the next two hours along with Sadasivam in the audience.
“M.S. herself taught us ‘Sriman Narayana' at her residence,” say the Sisters who grew up listening to her bhakthi-laden music. Kavitha and Triveni, who gave quite a few concerts this Season, have nearly 50 concerts a year for which they travel widely.
The sisters take pride in the fact that their mother Sulochana Saralaya's (dance critic) persistence helped them discover their innate sensibilities. “After we heard Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna's ‘Omkara Pranava' in Shanmukhapriya, we approached him to learn varnams and ashtapadis. He was a reigning star then and we would receive inland letters from him informing us about his free time. We would immediately reach Chennai, completely awestruck by his creations, mind-boggling in their kalapramana and lyrical flow,” says Kavitha.
The teaching style
Vocalist S. Vijayalakshmi also gave them valuable inputs. However, it was the touch of the teacher Seethalakshmi Venkatesan that proved to be a turning point. “It's 22 years now and we still value the methodology our guru adopted to groom us into becoming performing musicians,” says Triveni. “It was not just her melodic exercises, she also tactfully helped us board a flight of thinking. We took part in contests that made extraordinary demands from us, ” she explains.
Saralaya Sisters talk of Seethalakshmi's grooming that exposed them to every aspect of manodharma.
“Although we had no idea about how to get on to the concert stage, our guru trained us to enjoy music in its whole -- raga-alapana, tanam, pallavi, niraval, swara-prastara and – got us to enjoy the kutcheri format,” Kavitha explains.
“She is a fund of kritis. We have learnt nothing less than 1000 kritis from her,” says Triveni, recollecting the umpteen music competitions and lighter presentations they took part in. The exercises helped them pave the way for a one-of-its-kind music arangetram in Yavanika in Bangalore, and even a stalwart such as Balamuralikrishna appreciated their well-earned promotion to the stage.
Though music is integral to the sisters, they found time for academics as well; Kavitha is an MS in Mass Communications and Triveni holds a Masters in Music — thanks to their mother's support. Triveni is married to the accomplished violinist H.K. Venkataram and it was his keen sense of presentation that gave them a good edge, feel the sisters. “He has that perfect sense of packaging,” they say.
“He was the man behind all the multi-media presentations on music and our ‘Tyagaraja's Vachanamrita'. Venkatram also steered the host of concerts from our ‘Yuva Sangeetha Sowrabha' that propagates classical music amongst the youth,” adds Kavitha.
Saralaya Sisters, empanelled ICCR artists, have received Best Vocalist Award from the Music Academy in Chennai and the Gana Ratna from the Arts Council of Sri Lanka apart from the Karnataka Sangeetha Nritya Academy Award amongst several other recognitions.
We value every thing that our gurus taught us.