Tracing the Carnatic tradition


Kiranavali.   | Photo Credit: mail

In Philadelphia, musician Kiranavali launches an unusual concert with eight musicians

In her Philadelphia home where her teaching school is also based, Kiranavali Vidyasankar, Carnatic musician, teacher and writer, is putting the final touches to her forthcoming music programme. ‘Tradition - An Evolving Continuum,’ will feature a vocal-instrumental ensemble headed by Kiranavali in a two-part project to be presented on November 7, 6.30 p.m. at The Painted Bride Art Center in Philadelphia, USA. The project is funded by the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, Philadelphia. It will be presented by Sruti, a cultural organisation based in the Greater Delaware Valley.

Kiranavali is excited and anxious, as this is the first time the Pew Center (established in 2005), has awarded a project grant to an individual musician and also because her newly envisioned event has raised expectations among music lovers.

Kiranavali, a child prodigy, is from a famous lineage. She is the granddaughter of Gottuvadyam Narayana Iyengar, and daughter of teacher Narasimhan Iyengar. She trained under T. Brinda and later, briefly, under T. Mukta.

The project is challenging for Kiranavali as she takes on multiple roles of composer, director, vocalist and chitravina artist. The programme brings together eight US-based Carnatic musicians on one platform in a vocal-instrumental ensemble.

The team consists of first and second generation emigrants - all established artists. Mridangam artist Vinod Seetharaman is her musical collaborator and will represent the Thanjavur style. Violinist VVS Murari is from the VV Subrahmanyam parampara. Nirmala Rajasekar (veena) will showcase the Kalpagam Swaminathan heritage. N. Muralikrishnan (electronic keyboard), has had RS Jayalakshmi as his veena guru and is a self-taught keyboard player. Saxophonist Prasant Radhakrishnan is a disciple of Kadri Gopalnath, Ravi Balasubramanian (ghatam) is from the TK Murthy lineage. Akshay Anantapadmanabhan, disciple of Subhash Chandran, will play the ganjira and display his konnakkol skills too.

“The performance will be divided into two parts, an hour each. In the first part, I will present a Carnatic concert accompanied by the violin, mridangam, ghatam and ganjira,” she says and adds that it will feature pieces from different centuries and varied Indian musical traditions -- classical, devotional and folk -- that have contributed to the Carnatic tradition along with improvisational aspects.

The second half will showcase a vocal-instrumental ensemble. It will feature the voice, chitravina, veena, violin, mridangam, ghatam, konnakkol, ganjira, , saxophone, electronic keyboard and tambura. To highlight the project’s Title, it will show the continuing evolution of Carnatic music and musicians like her, who hail from traditional backgrounds, but have come to live and practise their art in a new country.

Kiranavali has also composed four pieces for the vocal-instrumental ensemble, using ragas such as Saveri and Behag, which “represent a mix of organically evolved ragas and those that have come to us from North India or the folk traditions”.

Evidently, in the choice of musicians, ragas, and instruments, the aim has been to make the programme as representative as possible of the influences on the Carnatic music tradition that have contributed to its evolution over time; as well as of the different elements that make up a traditional concert.

The project reflects her effort to trace and understand the traditional and evolutionary aspects of this classical art form and its practitioners. Kiranavali is a keen observer of the evolution of different instruments in terms of their design and playing-technique, especially of the chitravina through three generations of her family, grandfather, father and brother Chitravina Ravikiran. Her other brother is vocalist KN Shashikiran.

The programme has entailed much brainstorming and the physical hard work involved in practice sessions, whether individual or as a team. Kiranavali concludes: “Being a big votary of classical values and aesthetics, my aim is to retain it even in an ensemble setting. I am hoping my aim and efforts will reach fruition and give listeners a meaningful experience.”

(There will be a live streaming on so viewers in India can watch it, at 4 a.m. IST on Nov 8. The videos will be available on and YouTube after the event.)

Why you should pay for quality journalism - Click to know more

Related Topics
Recommended for you
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Apr 3, 2020 8:16:21 AM |

Next Story