Interview Violinist Kanya Kumari has etched a unique place for herself among Carnatic musicians by evolving a baani of her own. Ranee Kumar
She is not just a performer par excellence; she is a missionary of music, an innovator on the violin, a committed guru and above all a simple person who takes life as it comes. No wonder Kanya Kumari has been chosen for the ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’, by more than one cultural organisation in her home turf Chennai. Say that, and she promptly points out, “I’m actually a Telugu person whose work and art has been acknowledged, appreciated and awarded in Tamil Nadu. It is painful that in your own home state, you are not even invited as an artiste leave alone given recognition! I received the lifetime achievement award a few weeks ago by sister organisations — Shanmukhapriya and Sharvani- on their 25th anniversary. Firstly, the award was meant for a woman artiste who’s an all-rounder in her field and had established a style (baani) of her own. My bowing technique is Dwaram style with a merger of my gurus’ (Vijjeswara Rao and Chandrasekharan) baani, but not entirely any one of them individually. Now, it has been named Kanyakumari baani by all other artistes who have worked with me or my pupils. I owe this to MLV who insisted that I develop a style of my own,” she smiles in all humility.
Once it starts it seems to pour. She is now bestowed with another life time achievement award by Kartik Fine Arts (April 15) on the occasion of Tamil New Year. Not just that, the earlier sabha had made a movie titled Wedded to Violin on her, a sort of documentary tracing her growth as a violinist, to be released shortly. A decade ago Kanya Kumari bagged the Sangeet Natak Akademy award and she had been a Kalaimamani (by Tamil Nadu government) way back in the 90s. “Even in the very early years of my career, as an accompanist, mostly with M.L. Vasanthakumari, I had this in me to excel no matter where I sat in a kacheri (violinist is not the main artiste). From this arose the drive to create not just my own style but something new within the parameters of classical music. I invented a new ragam and named it Bharat in keeping with 50 years of our Independence in 1997. My deep research testified that it does not exist in 273 janyas of Sankarabharanam in the Carnatic music lexicon till date. Bharat is a janya (offshoot) of Sankarabharanam and its ascent-descent goes as: ‘Sa-ga-ma-dha-ni-SA and SA-dha-ma-ga-ri-sa’ . I composed three tillanas in Sindhubhairavi, Yamuna Kalyani and Sahana,” she explains.
In the good old days of stalwarts like Lalgudi Jayaraman and Chandrasekharan, she was the only woman violinist who made a mark on the stage. And to date, she is a busy performing artiste — both in solo and accompaniment. If her thematic ‘Panchabhoota’ was on the five elements paralleled by five ace musicians, her pieces in western mode with chords was a Gen Next crowd-puller; while she literally played an entire cricket game on her violin which was mind-boggling, a traditional Thyagaraja Pancharatna with 100 instruments is scheduled for Thyagaraja Jayanthi in the coming month-are enough to testify her multi-dimensional creativity.
On the importance given to instrumental music in southern India, she says, “We need to be valued too. Here it is vocal that takes the front seat. In the West, it’s quite the opposite. If instrumental music is not given its due, it is bound to lose ground in future. Already, the veena learning has become a sort of rarity.”
The first among women accompanists to have performed at Albert Hall (London) way back in 1976 and a solo violinist who won accolades in the 90s in the Kennedy Centre (US), a veteran who doesn’t look a veteran, this still strong artiste is not a ‘solo violin’ advocate as one may think. “One has to begin with being an accompanist, only then will the violinist pick up different styles and evolve a style of his/her own. This is my piece of advice to aspiring violinists,” she signs off.