Seeing new in old

THINKING NOTES: Musician R. Visweshwaran. Photo:V Sreenivasa Murthy   | Photo Credit: V Sreenivasa Murthy

As a five-year-old little Visweswaran had showed all signs of his musical lineage, at nine he made his debut as a vocalist, and at 15, when he first held the veena, he could effortlessly play the Shankarabharanam varnam ‘Saami Ninne'!

“My family members, totally dumbstruck, said, it's divine intervention, you should continue playing the veena,” recalls the octogenarian vainika, Prof. R. Visweswaran, steeped in traditional classicism for more than seven decades. Vocal music is intrinsic to his veena and gayaki style of rendition is the chief characteristic of his renditions.

As a teenager, during the mid 1940s, Visweswaran living in Mysore, would constantly discuss, differ and even nag his brothers Ra. Chandrashekaraiah and Ra. Sitaram (vocalists, Mysore Brothers) to introduce the gayaki element into the Mysore style of veena playing. “Sitaram too learnt veena under the asthana vidwan Veena Shivaramaiah. Our heated exchanges finally led my brother to retort, ‘Demonstrate, only then we will understand,' and my fingers sailed across with the varnam!” recalls Visweswaran. “The gayaki style not only stresses on the correct pronunciation of the sahitya, but also makes gamakas indispensable,” he adds.

Self-taught in veena

Although Visweswaran was trained in a homely atmosphere mainly under his brothers who were trained in the Mysore Vasudevacharya school, he was self-taught when it came to the veena. The renowned critic and musicologist who has done some pathbreaking research in Carnatic music, Ra. Satyanarayana, is his older brother. “I grew up breathing in music more than air,” he jokes.

“I was quite amazed by the entire gamut of possibilities that the veena offered for manodharma. I would practise for eight to ten hours a day. It was a melodic meditation. At every stage I felt a divine hand goading me on ... be it my passion to delve into the musical syntax, my affinity for vilambakala renderings, my enthusiasm to delve deeper and understand our musical saints, my obsession for rare ragas or my devotion in composing kritis.”

Even as Visweswaran started gaining public attention as ‘one more of the Mysore brothers', his courage to defy set patterns kindled a sense of curiosity in people. Veena S. Balachander, a highly imaginative musician, completely approved of Visweswaran and said: “He is one of our finest players projecting a different classical flavour in Mysore.”

One of the earliest in Mysore to be graded A-Top by AIR, he soon became a regular on overseas channels of the AIR, BBC, Cambridge Radio, Dublin radio and the ITV of Burmingham with his talks, lecdems and veena concerts in their “Eminent Artiste's Interview” slots.

“I never played to the gallery, I would never think of popular numbers or fast kritis that fascinated commoners. I followed my heart and also stuck to the shastra of vilamba-oriented playing. Not that racy numbers are taboo, but as Carnatic music is largely sahitya-driven, an unhurried tempo brings in the bhava more meaningfully,” he clarifies. These keen observations helped him play a significant role in the Central Auditioning Board in the selection and grading of musicians.

Visweswaran has diligently taken across his beliefs to international music festivals and workshops abroad. Little wonder then that Swami Shantananda Saraswati at the Temple of Fine Arts in Kuala Lumpur commented: “Visweswaran has proved that vilamba music can be elevating.”

Slow-paced kritis “have a soothing effect on our ruffled nerves,” believes Visweswaran, “but the belief that ragas are used for curing ailments, or for bringing rain, sounds irrational and unscientific. Dikshitar could do it because he was a Siddhipurusha!”

The aesthetics

Visweswaran's book “Vaaggeya Visweswari” contains 112 of his composed kritis, the aesthetics of which can be discussed under Dhaatu (music) Maatu (lyrics) and Vyaakhyaana (commentary).

Nearly 50 per cent are vilambakala kritis that could be central pieces in concerts. His kritis in dhrupad format and some of his tillanas are set to Hindustani ragas.

Amongst his several in-depth studies, the varied gamaka usages, its patterns and its relevance to each raga is what he analyses in several of his lec-dems. Admiring the skilful structure of Dikshitar's compositions, Visweswaran says, “The saint's line 'Veena Gaana Dasha Gamakakriya' in ‘Meenakshi Me Mudam Dehi' is not only rich in creative imagination, but also provides a stately reading of raga Gamakakriya.”

Armed with a Masters in Indology, Visweswaran served as a Professor of Music in the University of Mysore. Pointing at his numerous awards aesthetically displayed in his drawing room, he says, “All this is gratifying, but people remember me only as a veena player and not as a vocalist. It really pains me, and I am 'vocal' about it.”

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Printable version | Jun 13, 2021 2:22:23 PM |

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