From the archives: The Hindu's masters series - Sikkil Sisters

Sikkil sisters

Sikkil sisters  

"A tiny girl who plays the flute." That was how I was recognised when I was a young girl giving flute recitals in our place Sikkil and its neighbourhood. The curiosity was because a girl was handling the flute, a novelty in those years when male artistes dominated the field." "How is it you chose the flute, when in those days girls used to be trained in vocal music which was termed Kalyana paattu"?

"My uncle (Periappa) Azhiyur Narayanaswamy lyer was a flute vidwan. He and his brothers lived as a joint family. I was brought up in that environment. Everyone in the family had deep knowledge of music. My father was both a vocalist and mridangam vidwan. My other uncle Ramamritham lyer was based in Madras and was a permanent mridangam ac- companist to the Harikatha expert Saraswati Bai. Though they were primarily percussion artistes they could also sing. So I was brought up in a family where from morning to evening music pervaded the house," said Kunjumani.

"Who was your first guru?" Azhiyur Narayanasamy lyer. I learnt from him for two years." "That was your basic training in flute. But how about playing kirtanas, ragams, etc?" "I told you father was a vocalist and mri- dangist. He would sing kirtanas. I practised them on the flute, Similarly he would sing ragams, swarams, etc. I gradually learnt to play kirtanas and ragams and shaped them with the guidance of my father. I leamt some songs from my uncle." "It was almost self-effort by you to build on the two-year training from Azhiyur Narayana- samy lyer." "Yes. But he was always at hand to instruct me on the nuances of Carnatic music. He had heard Madurai Pushpavanam, konerirajapuram Vaidyanatha lyer, Poochi Srinivasa lyen- gar perform and was also closely associated with them through music.

 In that way he had imbibed the great qualities of those eminent vidwans. He would sing in the manner they rendered songs and ragams. He was all praise for the great exposition of the Devagandhari kirtana "Ksheerasagara Sayana" by Madurai Pushpavanam, particularly the sangati in the charanam "Tarakanama" descending from the tarasthayi panchamam. Similar examples by him and also by my father helped me acquire the traditional lines of music. My father used to speak highly of Mannargudi Chinna Pakkiri's music. Such instances created in me a desire to attain such proficiency" said Kunjumani "It is in this way you built up the repertoire." "Many musicians would visit our house. Bu- dalur Krishnamurthy Sastrigal taught me one or two kirtanas. My father used to come to Madras to participate in the Navarathri utsavam conducted with religious fervour by Ka- lakkad Ramanarayana lyer. The Kamas kirtana "Brochevarevarura" of Mysore Vasudevachar was very popular then. I learnt the song from Kalakkad Ramanarayana lyer."


"So, starting while you were nine you had two years, training in flute and gradually gained competence through learning kirtanas from the vidwans who used to visit your house?" Also I had immense opportunity to hear great musicians sing. My father would take me to the Radha Kalyanam and Sri Rama Navami utsavam conducted in Nagore. In the evenings there would be cutcheries by all top vidwans and in the night Katha-kalakshepam. In the festival I once heard Mangudi Chidambara Bhagayathar." "From what I gather from your narration. in the early years you alone learnt flute and not Neela." "She was born ten years after me. So in the formative years I was playing solo. She joined me later sometime in 19 55." "Who was her guru?" "Myself. I had been married then. I had to stay in many places in the North because of the nature of my husband's work. Once I left, my father felt keenly that there was no music at home. So, whenever I visited my father's place I taught Neela the flute. She gradually picked up the techniques. By 1955 she was quite competent to play with me. Since then we started giving flute duets."

"Do you remember when you gave your first flute recital?" "Kunjumani took sometime to recollect it and said apologetically "I do not remember the exact year. I would have been about 11 then. As I told you. my father used to take me to Nagore Navarathri utsavam. I played there. The curiosity that a young girl of 11 was play- ing the flute prompted the organisers to offer me the dais. My father First accompanied Sub- ramania Dikshitar. a great harmonium player. on the mridangam. My programme was sched- uled next. Tiruvarur Subbier accompanied me on the violin and my father on the mridan- gam. The famous musician Plate Venkatarama lyer. Mudicondan Venkatarama lyer and others had taken kindly to me. Thus gradually I was gaining popularity in the Thanjavur ar- ea by the sheer novelty of being a girl flutist. "Mahalingam. was by then a rising roar."

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Printable version | Mar 29, 2020 9:32:47 AM |

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