The queen of the ghatam shows she has the right beat
Ghatam exponent Sukkanya Ramgopal was amongst the first few girls in 1967 to storm the zealously guarded male bastion of percussion in Carnatic music when she was initiated into music as a 10-year-old.
Even today, her love for the percussion pot is evident not only in her performances but also in her home décor: she has nearly 60 earthen pots displayed at her residence in Yeshwantpur.
Sukkanya participated in four programmes in the city last month and is featured in several forthcoming music fests — as accompaniment for Vishaka Hari in a musical discourse in the Spring Music Fest at Rama Lalitha Kala Mandira (February 9); MES Kala Vedi in Malleswaram (February 10); Indiranagar Annual Fest (February 11); Unnati (February 16); Chembai Music Fest at Palakkad and at the AIR New Delhi Awards function later.
“My hands are literally full!” she laughs.
She, along with her all-woman team, Sthree Taal Tarang, was also part of the Globo Beats at Copenhagen, Denmark, from January 31 to February 2, a percussion event in which eight countries participated.
But how did the beat begin for this amazing artiste? Did she ever imagine she would make it big in Carnatic music where women and percussion were once never in synchrony? “I never wanted to follow the norms; I hated anybody advising me that ‘this isn’t girl-like’.
“Percussion was [a no-no] for women those days, but come Sankranti, I would play on the small earthen pots sold in the shandy at Mayiladudurai in Tamil Nadu where I was born. Although I loved the beats, I started with the customary vocal lessons, then switched to the violin with T.H. Gurumurthy, brother of Vikku Vinayakram. All my attention would be on the mridanga classes conducted in the next room by Harihara Sharma, father of Vikkuji. When I gathered the nerve to ask him to teach me, he told his son Vikku about my love for the ghatam. But Vikku was apprehensive. ‘Your delicate fingers aren’t meant for the pots,’ he cautioned.”
But seeing Sukkanya’s passion for percussion, both father and son were convinced she had it in her. “Convincing my orthodox parents and then taking to the stage, both happened in just three years!”
It’s been four decades on the stage for Sukkanya now and she has accompanied almost every stalwart in music though she had to initially break down the resistance of senior male musicians.
Settled in Bangalore for the last 35 years, she was amongst the youngest A-grade artistes of AIR.
Ironically, this maths graduate says: “Calculations aren’t my forte, the intricate variations I provide in a tala cycle come naturally: one has to feel the rhythm to experience the pulse.”
Gumukhi laya is her speciality — the deep sound that emanates from the mouth of the Mana Madurai ghatam she uses. In the Ghatam Tarang, Sukkanya’s innovation, she handles six ghatams, beating on each selected for its specific tone suited to the pentatonic raga scale, making it a thrilling experience for her audience.