Friday Review

Her life with the Veena

Padmavathy Ananthagopalan, Veena Vidhushi at her residence in Anna Nagar. Photo: K. Pichumani  

On a cloudy Sunday morning, I head to Anna Nagar, Chennai, to meet the veena vidushi Padmavathy Ananthagopalan. She is sitting on a chair, a huge portrait of Goddess Kamakshi adorning the wall behind her. She has just completed teaching the Abhogi varnam to a group of young girls. The atmosphere is divine.

The veteran vainika-guru is turning 80 on July 12. And it is a significant moment to take a trip down memory lane with her. This simple, unassuming artist’s lineage tells it all. Leading me to her pooja room, she begins by saying, “I can play the mridangam, the nagaswaram and the veena. I was initiated into music when I was five by my father, Lalgudi Gopala Iyer, a descendant of the Tyagaraja sishya parampara. He could play many instruments. I learnt to play the veena from him and later evolved my own style. My elder brother Lalgudi G. Jayaraman, younger sisters Lalgudi Rajalakshmi and Srimathi Brahmanandam all took to the violin. It was in the 1950s when Kanchi Periyava politely turned down my request to be initiated into Sri Vidya Upasana. Instead, he instructed me to study the veena in depth and continue playing for the benefit of society.” She adds, “My veena and Goddess Kamakshi are the only ones that matter to me.”

The seer’s instruction has come true. Her perfect and scientific approach to veena playing is a well-known fact. What many do not know is that she is a technocrat who does the maintenance work for her 30-odd instruments, all by herself. She shows you her veenas and explains how she has made changes in the method of fixing strings and preparing the wax mixture to place the frets. She has even designed a veena that can be dismantled and carried in a knapsack! It’s indeed a boon for veena artists travelling abroad.

Padmavathy mami recalls the help of Natesa Achary in this quest. How did she attain mastery over music and veena crafting? “If you have a keen ear, a good grasp and a heart to put them into practice, you will be a master. Patience, grit, sacrifice and discipline are needed. I would attend several concerts of stalwarts of the yore and then try to play the ragas I had heard in my own style. And I have done so for seven decades with single-minded focus. Dr. S. Balachandar was an inspiration, be it in the technicalities of the instrument or playing. His style is unique and tough to adopt. Chittibabu’s stress was on melody.” No wonder she has came up with her unique style where every swara is given its due in a raga.

It was at Balachandar’s suggestion Padmavathy mami structured her teaching into formal classes. She has trained a few thousand students over 25 years since she started the Sri Satguru Sangita Vidyalaya in Anna Nagar. Students are guided through a course spanning seven years that includes theory too.

Today, the veteran’s disciples are spread all over the world, some even teaching the veena at music universities. Usha Rajagopalan, her protégé, is a staff of AIR, Chennai, and a sought after violinist. Her unflinching effort for almost 22 years has yielded a gem in Jayanthi Kumaresh, her niece. Mami says, “But is one Jayanthi enough? I want to share all that I know to those willing to spend time with me. I am still on the lookout for a youngster who will grasp all that I know. I am willing to offer financial support too. Remember, age is not on my side now.”

Padmavathy mami’s husband Ananthagopalan too is a vainika and teaches the veena and the violin at their home. Her life ambition is to take the veena to greater heights and secure a prime place for it on a par with vocal music in sabhas.


Jayanthi Kumaresh: “Despite her strict outlook, she is broad minded. I was allowed to listen to others and take the best from it all. I owe it to her for what I am today. In short, she is a visionary with zeal.”

Maalavika Sundar: “I joined her when I was two and half years old and the journey was for about 20 years. Looking back, I must say the gurukula vasam that I did has benefitted me immensely in my life, musically and otherwise. She is everything to me.”

Ramya Raghavan: “I am learning the veena and vocal music from mami. Discipline is the watchword here. It is a unique experience being with her and I am blessed.”

Divya Raghavan: :Learning violin and vocal music in a disciplined set-up helps me to sustain well in my studies too. Mami’s penchant for perfection is infectious.”

The event

‘Acharya Devo Bhava’ is what Padmavathy Ananthagopalan’s students have titled the event they have organised to celebrate her 80 birthday and offers their salutations to their venerated guru. The event will be held on July 12, 5.30 p.m., at German hall, Prakasam Road, T. Nagar, Chennai. Special guests are Spencer R. Venugopal and Cleveland V.V. Sundaram. The felicitations will be followed by a concert by Sowmya.

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Printable version | Sep 23, 2021 2:16:46 PM |

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