Nurturing Carnatic music in the calm environs of Nidle village near Dharmasthala

The 24th annual edition of Karunbithil Shibira, a residential workshop on Carnatic music and concerts, was held at the ancestral house of senior violinist Vidwan Vittal Ramamurthy recently

Updated - May 31, 2024 12:03 pm IST

Published - May 31, 2024 09:00 am IST - MANGALURU

A scene from the ‘Karunbithil Shibira’ (Karunbithil residential camp) at Nidle, near Dharmasthala.

A scene from the ‘Karunbithil Shibira’ (Karunbithil residential camp) at Nidle, near Dharmasthala. | Photo Credit: H S MANJUNATH

In his late 70s and standing under the chappara (pandal), surrounded by lush greenery, Udupi Gopalakrishna, a music teacher, is teaching students the nuances of singing.

The class was part of the 24th annual edition of Karunbithil Shibira (Karunbithil camp), a residential workshops on Carnatic music and concerts, at the ancestral house of internationally acclaimed senior violinist Vidwan Vittal Ramamurthy in the calm Nidle village, near Dharmasthala, held for five-days recently (from May 15 to May 19, 2024).

The ancestral house of senior violinist ‘Vidwan’ Vittal Ramamurthy at Nidle village, near Dharmasthala, has been the venue of ‘Karunbithil Shibira’ (Karunbithil camp) for the past 24 years.

The ancestral house of senior violinist ‘Vidwan’ Vittal Ramamurthy at Nidle village, near Dharmasthala, has been the venue of ‘Karunbithil Shibira’ (Karunbithil camp) for the past 24 years. | Photo Credit: H S MANJUNATH

Heading to silver jubilee

This residential, free music camp, which has been attracting people from far and wide for over two decades, is all set to enter its sliver jubilee next year (2025).

Some of the well-known resource persons who have guided the students in the camp over the years include Lalgudi G. Jayaraman, M. Balamuralikrishna, Umayalapuram K. Shivaraman, T.V. Gopalakrishnan, M. Chandrashekhar, V.V. Subramaniam, Bombay Jayashree, T.M. Krishna, Nevyveli Santhanagopalan, Unnikrishnan and Abhishek Raghuram.

Senior violinist ‘Vidwan’ Vittal Ramamurthy teaching how to hold the violin to a three-year kid who is the daughter of Srinidhi Kaushik, a native of Bengaluru and who worked as a chip design engineer at Zurich, Switzerland at ‘Karunbithil Shibira’.

Senior violinist ‘Vidwan’ Vittal Ramamurthy teaching how to hold the violin to a three-year kid who is the daughter of Srinidhi Kaushik, a native of Bengaluru and who worked as a chip design engineer at Zurich, Switzerland at ‘Karunbithil Shibira’. | Photo Credit: H S MANJUNATH

The picturesque house is surrounded by arecanut with cocoa plantations on both sides, rubber plantation on one side and a green hillock on another side. Music is pervasive in this house that the family inherited long ago.

Karunbithil is the name of the place where the house is located in the village. The word ‘Karumbu’ in Tulu language, which Mr. Ramamurthy’s family members speak, means sugarcane and ‘Bithil’ means backyard. It was the house in whose backyard a lot of sugarcane was grown in the past.

The 78-year-old Krishnaveni Amma, mother of senior violinist Vittal Ramamurthy, who is instrumental in promoting Carnatic music at Nidle.

The 78-year-old Krishnaveni Amma, mother of senior violinist Vittal Ramamurthy, who is instrumental in promoting Carnatic music at Nidle. | Photo Credit: H S MANJUNATH

History of camp

The senior most member of the family is Krishnaveni Amma, mother of Ramamurthy, who is 78 now. “Initially my father, violinist B.V. Subba Rao taught me music. I came from Coimbatore to Nidle at the age of 16 after my marriage in 1961. I continued to learn music from Udupi Gopalakrishna in Nidle. He used to come from Kanchana (near Uppinangady) and stay for a week or so teaching music,” she told The Hindu.

“I taught whatever I learnt to my five children. They learnt music under difficult circumstances by going to different places including to Chennai.” The children emerged as a team of musicians with two vocalists, two violinists and one learning mridanga.

“I thought that children in the region should not face the difficulties faced by my children in learning music. Hence we decided to create a platform in the village to learn music and get it fine tuned by expert musicians. The camp began in 2000 with about 10 to 15 students. My daughter Rajeshwari began it,” the mother explained.

Rajeshwari, sister of senior violinist ‘Vidwan’ Vittal Ramamurthy, who initially began the ‘Karunbithil Shibira’ (Karunbithil residential camp) at Nidle village, near Dharmasthala 24 years ago, by teaching students carnatic music.

Rajeshwari, sister of senior violinist ‘Vidwan’ Vittal Ramamurthy, who initially began the ‘Karunbithil Shibira’ (Karunbithil residential camp) at Nidle village, near Dharmasthala 24 years ago, by teaching students carnatic music. | Photo Credit: H S MANJUNATH

A family event

Started initially as a week-long camp it turned out as a five-day camp about a decade ago now attracting participants of up to 300 including from Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala in addition to Karnataka and from abroad including from the United States.

It has evolved into a highly anticipated annual event and has flourished as a family-like gathering.

Nuances of music are discussed, fans and students immerse themselves in concerts by stalwarts, students are guided in an atmosphere of music in the camp usually held during May. It has played a pivotal role in nurturing and inspiring music students, instilling a deep passion for learning, and artistic growth.

The host of activities which begin at 8 a.m. on all the five days go on till late in the evening sometimes beyond midnight. Classical music fans Prabhachandra Mayya and Venkatesh Mayya of Mangaluru have been sponsoring the food at the camp voluntarily since over a decade.

The camp did not take place furing the pandemic year. Othewise, it would have already completed the silver jubilee.

Carnatic vocalist Abhishek Raghuraman taking a class at Karunbithil Shibira at Nidle village near Dharmasthala.

Carnatic vocalist Abhishek Raghuraman taking a class at Karunbithil Shibira at Nidle village near Dharmasthala. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL AARANGEMENT

Said Vishwaskrishna, a Mangaluru-based violinist, a disciple of Ramamurthy and a co-ordinator of the camp, “Abhishek Raghuraman taught the intricacies of music from 11.30 p.m. to 4 a.m. at this year’s camp on May 17, 2024. Students without realising that it was past mid-night listened till early morning of May 18, 2024.”

Senior violinist Vidwan Vittal Ramamurthy teaching at the ‘Karunbithil Shibira’ (Karunbithil residential camp) at Nidle village near Dharmasthala.

Senior violinist Vidwan Vittal Ramamurthy teaching at the ‘Karunbithil Shibira’ (Karunbithil residential camp) at Nidle village near Dharmasthala. | Photo Credit: H S MANJUNATH

Musicians speak

Anantha R. Krishnan, a young mridangam player from Chennai who is the grandson of Vidwan Palghat Raghu, who performed at the camp this year, said that the camp is unique as it is free from commercial motive. The family-like atmosphere is a plus point in learning at the camp, he said.

Aravinda Hebbar, a Carnatic musician and a music critic from Udupi, said that the Karunbithil family spread the seeds of music in the surroundings of Dharmasthala. “The camp has educated many a students of music like me,” he said.

The family members of senior violinist Vidwan Vittal Ramamurthy having food at the ‘Karunbithil Shibira’ (Karunbithil residential camp).

The family members of senior violinist Vidwan Vittal Ramamurthy having food at the ‘Karunbithil Shibira’ (Karunbithil residential camp). | Photo Credit: H S MANJUNATH

Spoorthi Rao, a vocalist from Bengaluru, said that she attended the camp for the first time this year though she was yearning to attend for many years. “It was an amazing experience and the workshops were very informative. The food and hospitality were great,” she said. Violinist Charumathi Raghuraman and her husband Anantha R Krishnan performed amid pouring rains in the middle of Nature on this May 16 evening. “I never had such an evening experience in my life,” said Spoorthi.

Deputy Commissioner of Dakshina Kannada M.P. Mullai Muhilan and the Assistant Commissioner of Puttur Sub-Division Jubin Mohapatra dropped in at the camp and sat through the concert.

Violinist Charumathi Raghuraman with her husband Anantha R. Krishnan on the mridangam and others presenting a concert at the ‘Karunbithil Shibira’ (Karunbithil residential camp) at Nidle, near Dharmasthala.

Violinist Charumathi Raghuraman with her husband Anantha R. Krishnan on the mridangam and others presenting a concert at the ‘Karunbithil Shibira’ (Karunbithil residential camp) at Nidle, near Dharmasthala. | Photo Credit: H S MANJUNATH

From Colombo, Zurich

Brothers Arvind Sharma and Ananthanaryana Sharma came from Colombo, Sri Lanka, to attend the camp for the first time this year with their other family members. “Senior artistes casually mingled with the students. We enjoyed music with nature and will visit again next year,” they said adding that their sisters are students of Mr. Ramamurthy.

Srinidhi Kaushik, a native of Bengaluru who worked as chip design engineer at Zurich, Switzerland, participated in the camp for the first time this year with his wife, parents and three-year-old daughter. “Learning was made interesting for students through classical music based games. The camp exceeded our expectations,” he, also a vocalist, said.

Ramamurthy told The Hindu, “The camp is a platform where children learn from several gurus and gurus teach several students of diferent backgrounds. Over the years lot of musicians want to attend the camp voluntarily and perform or want to share their experiences. It is like a small family event.”

Participants at the ‘Karunbithil Shibira’ (Karunbithil residential camp) at Nidle, near Dharmasthala.

Participants at the ‘Karunbithil Shibira’ (Karunbithil residential camp) at Nidle, near Dharmasthala. | Photo Credit: H S MANJUNATH

“It is like a room where students from Class 1 to Class 5 sit together and learn. At the end of the camp every student picks up something while going back,” the senior violinist said recalling the cooperation of several of his friends in organising the camp for long.

The camp has inspired several youngsters to pursue music as a profession and earn their livelihood, he added.

Plans for next year

Ramamurthy said that the family will invite all senior gurus of Carnatic music to the next year’s silver jubilee camp and felicitate them. Students will also get an opportunity to learn from them.

Learning about Yakshagana
The annual Karunbithil Shibira at Nidle also introduces Yakshagana music to the participants. It is to make the students of music from outside Karnataka familiar with Yakshagana. In this year’s camp, senior Yakshagana bhagavatha (singer-cum-director) Dinesh Ammannaya, accompanied by artistes Chaitanya Krishna Padyana and Shreyas Palande on the chende and on maddale, participated.
Ganji is liked by all
Among the varieties of local food served at the Shibira, the rice porridge called ganji is liked by all. It is served with ghee and chutni. Music fans Prabhachandra Mayya and Venkatesh Mayya of Mangaluru, who sponsor the food, said that there are repeated demand by participants for it as the porridge is prepared with a select variety of rice. They also serve pundi, tambuli, ottu shavige, payasa and jackfruit which are part of local cuisine.
Other music camps
Inspired by the Karunbithil Shibira, Swaralaya Sadhana Foundation and Kala Shale of Mangaluru have been organising a one-day Swara Sankranti Utsava which is a festival of Carnatic music concerts in Mangaluru since past seven years. In addition, the Foundation organises Swaralaya Sadhana Camp, which is an event of workshop-cum-concerts on Carnatic music, in Mangaluru since seven years. About 12 to 14 such one-day workshops are held annually.
Carnatic music festivals
Sangeetha Parishat and Mani Krishnaswami Academy of Mangaluru have been organising annual Carnatic music concert festivals in Mangaluru for long. If Sangeetha Parishat is more than three decade old organisation, the Academy is about two decades old. They have been nurturing Carnatic music in the coastal city of Mangaluru by providing platform for budding artistes to perform and at the same time by organising concerts by known faces of Carnatic music.
DC wants to revisit
Deputy Commissioner of Dakshina Kannada M.P. Mullai Muhilan, who sat through the violin concert by Charumathi Raghuraman accompanied by her husband Anantha R. Krishnan on the mridanga, at this year’s Karunbithil Shibira on May 16, said, “I sincerely wish I should be here next year too.” Mangaluru Mayor Sudheer Shetty Kannur also made it to the camp and sat through the concert on May 17.
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