Wizard from Vijayanagaram

Kanyakumari’s success has been chiselled by hard work and devotion. V. BALASUBRAMANIAN

Delicate, bright-eyed, and ever-smiling, Avasarala Kanyakumari more popularly known as A. Kanyakumari, is synonymous with the violin. Clad in saffron and wearing numerous strands of rudraksha beads enhanced with pendants of various Hindu gods, around her neck, an uninitiated onlooker can easily mistake her for a sanyasin.

In a way she is, for her agenda in life is to worship god and music. “The Lord of the Seven Hills is our family deity and I keep visiting the shrine regularly. As a child I would spend most of my free time at the temple near our home in Vijayanagaram, Andhra Pradesh, where my father was employed in the police department,” says Kanya tracing her roots.

School in memory of guru

Amazed at her talent of singing kritis taught to her sisters, Ivaturi Vijayeswara Rao, who was their Guru, started a music school in memory of his guru Dwaram Narasinga Rao Naidu and exposed Kanya to serious learning.

“This is the centenary year of Dwaram Narasinga Rao Naidu,” she informs.

Visually challenged Ivaturi Vijayeswara Rao trained Kanya in the rudiments of the violin and the theory of music. She also gained experience by accompanying him in the local concerts.

“As my father’s job took him all over the place, I was sent to Madras for college education. With great difficulty I secured admission into the B.A. music course at Queen Mary’s College,” recalls Kanyakumari, who was a recipient of the music scholarship awarded by the Government of India.

“My grand father, with whom I stayed, was very orthodox and would escort me wherever I went. He approached M. Chandrasekaran to teach me. Initially reluctant, — the two styles may clash, he thought — he finally took me into his fold and the first kriti he taught me was ‘Girirajasudha.’”

Kanyakumari pauses visualising the scene with reverence. She has played several concerts accompanying him.

Amidst his tight concert schedules, Chandrasekaran found the time to teach her regularly. She adds that none of her gurus was after money. Charumathi Ramachandran was her senior in college and her mother Ambu mami, impressed by Kanya’s violin, made them team up together for concerts.

“Ambu mami wanted me to play for MLV and went out of the way, persuading her to give me a break. Having listened to me just once at mami’s house, MLV called me for her concert at a marriage reception when Tiruvellore Subramaniam, her regular accompanist, couldn’t make it. Later when Ambu mami told me that MLV was very impressed with my playing, believe me, my dream as a child had come true!” Yes, as an eight-year old, Kanya had stood mesmerised by MLV’s Andolika at a concert in Vijayanagaram. She sensed a divine link with her.

How did the long association happen? “After the first concert there was a hiatus. One afternoon I sneaked into her house when she had just finished lunch. Speaking to me in chaste Telugu she soon gave me concert dates for the next few months, after which there was no looking back. MLV was like a mother to me, a sister and a friend. She was spontaneous.

“While on tours, at night after a concert, she would analyse every aspect of it. It was on-the-job training, virtually. I could read her eyes and understand the meanings they conveyed during concerts. She would never grimace or show her irritation when something went wrong. Such was the respect she gave accompanists. She took me on my maiden foreign tour, the first by a woman violinist. Her passing away caused a never-to-be-filled vacuum in my life.”

“After MLV, the late Sulochana Pattabhiraman was a great source of strength. It was to her that I always turned for guidance and help. She was like a mother to me.” Kanyakumari grapples with her emotions. Ramachandra Iyer introduced her to Bombay Sisters and the result is a longstanding relationship. The first concert with them was at Gandhi Mandapam, Chennai. Kanya is all praise for the way they would adjust their concert dates to help her play for MLV. Opportunities to play for seniors started pouring in. Accompanying child prodigies Ravikiran and Mandolin Shrinivas in their formative years was a challenge and Kanya is happy that she could accomplish the tasks with aplomb. Kanya is mostly preferred for her capacity to adapt quickly to the style of the main artistes hitting the same wavelength.

Since 1990 she has been an integral part of Kadri Gopalnath’s team. “He gives me equal importance on stage,” explains Kanya. “Kadri’s encouragement has been tremendous. He always takes my dates into account before accepting a concert.”

Kanyakumari makes special mention of her jugalbandi concerts with Pt. Janardhan Mitta (sitar). She has several firsts to her credit — Vadya Lahari comprising violin, nagaswaram and veena, concerts with 25, 50 and 75 violins, concerts with 100 instruments, playing compositions in 100 ragas during the millennium celebrations, concerts on thri-sthayi sangamam and a 29-hour non-stop violin recital at the 1987 Vaikunta Ekadasi celebrations at Sri Ananthapadmanabhaswamy Temple, Adyar.

Accolades include Kalaimamani and Sangeet Natak Academy award (Presidents award). The Music Academy, The Mylapore Fine Arts Club, Thyaga Brahma Gana Sabha and Narada Gana Sabha have also bestowed titles and awards on her.

Not a day passes without Kanyakumari playing the Bhairavi Swarajati of Syama Sastri. She makes it a point to have her first meal of the day only after playing at least one kriti on the violin.

During the hour-long exchange, Kanyakumari is constantly answering queries from her disciples on her mobile, in connection with the concert at Bangalore, where she will be leading a band of 70 violins. And after every call she picks up the conversation exactly from where she left off.

Seventy-violin ensemble

Sri Rama Seva Mandali, Chamarajpet, Bangalore, has been celebrating Sri Rama Navami for the past several years in a grand manner with the music festival conducted in this connection running almost for a month. Kanyakumari will be leading a band of 70 violinists, comprising her disciples and friends, to present a recital to commemorate the 70th year of Sri Rama Navami Festival by the Mandali tomorrow (May 10) at Fort High School, Chamarajapet.

Recommended for you