‘Music must be like a flowing river’

Khayal focus: Pandit M. Venkateshkumar’s training blends the Gwalior and Kirana styles.

Khayal focus: Pandit M. Venkateshkumar’s training blends the Gwalior and Kirana styles.  


Hindustani voclaist Pandit M. Venkateshkumar believes the quest to keep learning should be continuous and constant

Over the past decade, Pandit M. Venkateshkumar has established himself as one of the country’s most-admired Hindustani classical vocalists. Earlier, the 66-year-old musician concentrated on performing in his home state of Karnataka, and besides khayal, was known for his renditions of spiritual Kannada vachanas and dasara padas. “I had a regular teaching job at the University College of Music in Dharwad for 33 years,” says the vocalist to The Hindu. “So it was difficult to do too many concerts at the same time. It was only later that I began accepting shows, and after retiring in 2015, decided to concentrate full-time on shows.” This week, Venkateshkumar comes to Mumbai for two two recitals. This evening, he will perform at the prestigious Gunidas Sangeet Sammelan at the Nehru Centre, Worli. The following day, he will deliver a recital at the Music Summit festival at Sangit Mahabharti Amphitheatre in Juhu.

A three-day annual event, Gunidas Sangeet Sammelan will also feature vocalists Pandit Rajan and Sajan Mishra, singer Gauri Pathare, santoor exponent Satish Vyas, sitar player Shujaat Khan and Tejendra Narayan Majumdar on sarod. “I have performed at Gunidas before and am impressed by the way it focuses on the purity of music and gharana-based gayaki,” says Venkateshkumar adding that the audiences who attend the festival are fortunately informed about Hindustani classical music. Venkateshkumar’s singing blends the Gwalior and Kirana schools. When he was 12, he began staying at the ashram run by Puttaraj Gawai in Gadag, north Karnataka. “I was there for 12 years, and got extensive training in vocal music,” he recalls.

On and off stage

Venkateshkumar points out that in north Karnataka, many singers are trained in devotional forms before they actually get into khayal. The writers of these songs included legendary names like Sripadaraya, Vyasatirtha, Vadirajatirtha, Purandaradasa and Kanakadasa. While the singer did specialise in them, recording many albums, he also wanted to focus on khayal. Dharwad district is known for singers like Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Gangubai Hangal, Mallikarjun Mansur and Basavaraj Rajguru. “They reached such great heights and I am very small in front of them,” he says.

Though his training blended the Gwalior and Kirana styles, the vocalist has been open to other gharanas too, and has hugely admired Bade Ghulam Ali Khan of the Patiala gharana. He says, “When I sing thumris, I tend to get influenced by him. But I believe that music must be like a flowing river, not stagnant water. One keeps learning, and every concert is a different experience.”

When he isn’t travelling, Venkateshkumar continues with his passion for teaching. “I have some really talented students, and they are being groomed to be concert-ready,” he points out. With such a busy schedule, how does he manage his riyaz? “If I get a few days’ break between tours, I spend my time practising. But most often, my concerts have become my riyaz sessions,” he jokes.

The second day of Gunidas Sangeet Sammelan will take place at Nehru Centre, Worli this evening at 6 p.m. onwards; Music Summit 2019 is on from Saturday, December 14 at Sangit Mahabharati, Juhu at 6.30 p.m. onwards; see

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2020 5:10:31 PM |

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