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‘Bhakti is sound of the inexpressible’

Carnatic vocalists Ranjini and Gayathri   | Photo Credit: R_Ragu

They began their careers as violinists but turned vocalists and have never looked back since. Meet sisters, Ranjani and Gayathri, whose kutcheris draw a full house. Vibrant and emotion-soaked notes lend an edge to their rendition.

The two, who believe in upholding the traditional essence of Carnatic music, rarely digress from its structure and technique. Through a presentation method that has kept pace with the times, they have established a rapport with both contemporary and old world rasikas.

They learnt the violin at an early age under Prof. T.S. Krishnaswami in Mumbai. Ranjani and Gayathri began to perform vocal concerts after they became students of veteran vocalist and well-known guru P.S. Narayanaswami. Besides alapanas, swarprastharas and ragam-tanam-pallavis, a highlight of their performances is the tailend that feature abhangs and bhajans.

The sisters, who have been exploring the repertoire for a deeper insight, hold strong views about various aspects of Indian classical music and never miss a chance to express them.

Here they answer a few questions from readers as part of this interactive column.

Which of the criticisms have affected or motivated you and made you feel ‘Yes, I will try to improve on it? Can you cite a few examples as regards the advice given by your parents /gurus that is of relevance to the modern kutcheri format?



During one of our earlier performances as vocalists (way back in 1999 or 2000), there was this concert where Gayatri sang an elaborate Nattakurinji for over 20 minutes, which was received with thunderous applause and critical acclaim.

The next day, when we spoke to our guru P.S. Narayanaswamy, he appreciated the Nattakurinji rendition. But he also told us something that we will never forget.

He said, ‘If you share all that you know in such detail , what will you sing the next time? The audience will expect you to better this, no matter how brilliant and creative you have been the previous time. Sing from the heart, but in moderation. Remember you have to perform for many more years — exercise alavu ( proportion) in the length of the alapana.’

We have been following his advice. We present a different take of the same raga in every concert and limit the alapana to 15 minutes, which is enough to showcase your ability and the raga’s beauty.

Our father has been our severest critic, so there is no concert that goes by without him giving us feedback.

Sruthi and laya suddham, balance, good concert planning, singing ghana or rakti ragas and time-tested compositions — are values close to his heart and we always keep them in mind.

Though our father is not fond of ragas such as Kalyanavasantham or Karnaranjani, it hasn’t stopped us from presenting them at our concerts.

If you could have asked a world-renowned musician (not necessary living) a question, what would it be?

T.S. Karthik


Honestly speaking, when you engage deeply with the music of a legend, his/her music provides all the answers you need; of their values, beliefs, ideas and aesthetics.

We have always been intrigued by the way musicians such as the late Ravi Shankar effortlessly collaborated with musicians of different genres, and in the process have created new audiences for Indian classical music. We would loved to have engaged with him on this interesting topic.

I am able to identify ragas easily when alapana is played on the violin than when sung. Is there any reason for this? Also does your mastery over music, come in the way of your enjoying a song?

Jayshree Pattabiraman


The only reason we can think of is that the focus is exclusively on the notes and not clouded by syllables such as tha-da-ri-na or voice modulation.

Learning an instrument certainly gives you an edge in swara gnanam, and it may work similarly for the rasikas. Perhaps, the violinist you heard, connected a popular song in the raga with his alapana.

As for your question whether mastery over music comes in the way of enjoying a song, our answer is, certainly.

One is conditioned by one’s experience, knowledge and pre-set ideas of what and how music should be. The more the experience and knowledge, the more the barriers to free and easy enjoyment. So an untrained person, who doesn’t have a strong opinion, can enjoy the music without constraints.

It’s heartening to see youngsters coming for kutcheris. What factors do you think have contributed to this wonderful transformation?



Exposure and constant engagement with the art form is the only way to get more rasikas involved, especially the youngsters. We must laud the parents for making their children learn Carnatic music. The sabha culture has also contributed in making music accessible.

Youngsters expect energy, excitement and a pleasing soundscape. And they can relate to younger musicians, who can bring that momentum to the concert experience. Perhaps it is a combination of all these, is why we see more youngsters at our concerts. But still there is a long way to go.

Do we have a collection of ragas suitable for specific occasions? Do you follow a pattern? Is there any published work on raga classification that we can purchase for reference?

RN Sundaresan


As far as we know, there is no published work classifying ragas for specific occasions. In practice, however, a few ragas have acquired a certain colour and are used to convey a particular mood.

For instance, Atana signifies valour, Khamas or Behag is used to depict sringaram, Kadanakuthuhalam has sprightliness and joy, Madhyamavati or Sri is used for auspicious moments (a reason why they are sung as a tail piece to the Mangalam).

By no means are the above ragas limited to the prescribed emotions, nor are the emotions or rasas restricted to these ragas. But different composers have used a raga to express emotions different from those traditionally attributed to it e.g: Subhapanthuvarali is supposed to have a sombre or sad emotion, but there are also lively songs in the same raga — ‘Nee Samaana’ of G.N. Balasubramanian or the majestic ‘Sri Satyanarayanam’ of Dikshitar.

Our experience of ragas and rasas come solely from listening and through practise. We believe that no text book can define the limits or moods of a raga — it is up to the musician to interpret it and add his or her own emotional colour and context.

Can there be good Carnatic music without bhakti?

R.N. Mythili


What is bhakti? How does it get reflected in one’s music? It is necessary to understand this before we answer the question. According to us, total involvement, be it any activity is bhakti.

The qualities that make music more communicative are emotional involvement and expression, and sincerity in exposition. Perhaps bhakti encompasses all of this, but it is also much more than this, as it gives sound to that which is inexpressible.

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Printable version | Oct 23, 2021 12:47:16 PM |

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