Interview with Vidushi Vasanthamadhavi

When and how did this passion towards music start? We would like to know more about your student days too.

I was barely five years of age, when my mother put me to music class. So, I can’t say, my interest made my mother to start me on music. But, once I started, I was really dedicated and eager to learn more and more. I must say, the real credit goes to my mother. She recognized the musical talent in me and started me on Music. Fortunately, my first Guru Vidwan Srinivasa Raghavaachar was very impressed with my aptitude and the eagerness with which I wanted to learn. He taught me for about 3-4 years.

Next I was under Vidwan Gopalakrishna. He was a violinist and laid stress on the notes. He used to teach the notation part first and then the lyrical part. This helped me to perfect the notes and I was capable of notating any musical composition. Also, I was very comfortable, learning new Varnas and simple Kritis by myself. I was teaching my sister Vasundhara, whatever I learnt in the class. I had that capacity to teach right from the tender age of six-seven.

We both appeared for Junior exam together and both of us got 98 %. For senior and Vidwat grades, we both went to Ganakalasindhu Vidwan D. Subbaramaiah. He never wrote notation, to any composition, for any student. He used to dictate and we had to write the composition with notation. Vidwan Gopalakrishna’s method really helped me here very much.

In school and college, I was a student of science. Physics and Mathematics were my major subjects. At no point, I stopped or relaxed my music practice. Music had become a part of myself, a passion. Even during exam times, when I was very tired and saturated with studies, I used to just forget everything else and practice Music for some time. This always gave renewed energy to study. I was a Vidushi before I was a graduate.

Please share a few milestones of your journey in music?

I was perhaps 10 years, when I got the rare and unique opportunity of singing invocation in the august presence of H.H. Jayachamaraja Wodeyar, Maharaja of Mysore state.But, I did not realise, how lucky I was, to have had that opportunity. By then I was singing invocation at major functions and giving short programs. So, for me, it was just another occasion to sing. Now, looking back, I realize, how lucky I was and what a great opportunity it was to sing before the greatest composer of the last century, a Rajarshi.

I and my sister Vasundhara used to sing together. Our first concert was when I was 13. We have given several duet concerts. I started singing on the AIR in 1968 April. My first program from Bangalore D D was in 1986. I am an approved composer of AIR, in which capacity, I have composed music for several poems, sonnets and lyrics of great poets like Kuvempu, Pu.Thi.Na, Maasti Venkatesha Iyengar, Shivarudrappa, Dr. D.V.G, K.S.N, Dr. Adiga, Dr. Lakshminarayana Bhatta and other such immortal poets. I have music for Jhenkara, Navasuma and Geetharadhana programs of AIR. Written and directed many musical operas for AIR and Doordarshan.

We have heard about your Vidwat in Sanskrit too. Please throw some light on importance of Sanskrit, and various Sanskrit classics of poets like Kalidasa and Jayadeva, in art.

Sanskrit is the mother of all Indian languages. In very few words we can express a whole lot of ideas in Sanskrit, where it takes several lines/passages to express the same in other languages. It is a naturally musical language. Adi kavi Valmiki, Kalidasa, Sri Harsha, Banabhatta, Bhaasa and other Sanskrit poets have glorified the effect of Music on human beings as well as animals. Many anecdotes revolving around, Udayana, Sri Krishna, Hanuman, authenticate this fact. So, I am also very fond of Sanskrit (Devanagari) and most of my compositions are in that language.

Another reason for my love of this is, I am a real dedicated follower of Dikshitar. Even before Jayadeva, King Someshwara has composed in Sanskrit, some lyrics to drive home his point of view, in his great work, Abhilashitaartha Chintamani or Raja Manasollaasa. I have written a book ‘ Theory Of Music’, in which, there is a chapter – Evolution and development of Classical Music. This details, how music has evolved and developed through centuries since the time of Vedas and Ramayana.

Could you please share a few thoughts about your association with Bharatanatyam and Guru B Bhanumati?

As I have studied the theory part of Music, I realise the importance of Dance in our cultural scenario since ages. Before the 18th century, music was a part of Dance. The then musicians and scholars composed musical pieces to suit dance formats. Only with the musical Trinity’s time, music has become an independent performing art form. Of course, Dance has continued to depend on Music.

Even the Tanjore quartets, who were the direct disciples of Muthuswamy Dikshitar, have composed many Padavarnas, Tillanas, Swarajathis, Jathiswaras as Dance numbers. Some of these compositions are disappearing from the music concert platforms, but, nourished by Bharatanatyam dancers. These compositions get life, because of the efforts of dancers. So, I love Dance in general and Bharatanatyam in particular.

Bhanu (Bhanumathi) is my favourite, as she is one of the best choreographers I have seen. She is great and her Bharatanjali group is unique. She has trained so many worthy dancers who are glorifying this art. Her contribution is commendable. She can be a role model for other contemporary teachers and of course her students. She is my great friend.

In the coming few months for this website, we intend to explore the experience of being a Guru, a teacher and a guide, and understand subtle and vital aspects of a teacher-student relationship in learning. In this light, please describe your experience and thoughts of being a Guru and your opinion about the existing teaching- learning process.

We have to change with the changing times. When Music was the only subject perused, Gurukula system certainly suited best to learn Music. Music, like Vedas, was learnt by mouth to mouth method. There were no printed books. Gurus never wrote musical notations. Naturally there was no recording system either. Students had to learn just by listening and repeating what they were taught. Now, we can’t expect the present generation to depend on music for their livelihood.

They have to have good education, which consumes a greater part of their time and energy. So, writing notation and allowing them to record the lessons has become inevitable. Number of classes also have reduced. The students can’t put in their whole time for Music. But, with the modern amenities and gadgets, they can learn fast and perfect the lessons also in a short time. In any case, tutelage has to be at least for 12-15 years.

Manodharma components take a longer time to perfect than the set compositions. Right usage of Gamakas, aesthetics in Music are hard to teach. The students must have that flair and natural inclination to adopt the methods taught by the Guru. This is the reason, there are not as many real artists in Music field, as there are Engineers, Doctors, Lawyers and other such professionals. In Music field also, there are hundreds of musicians, but very few artists.

Over the years, you have composed several compositions like saptha rishi krithis, ashta dikpalaka krithis, navagraha krithis, varnams, thillanas, javalis, pallavis, shlokas etc…What has been your inspiration behind all these compositions?

I never even contemplated on composing and become a composer. It was a sudden urge, an internal command which I could not ignore. It started with the Navagraha Kritis. On a fine day,the kriti on Surya took form. Next day the kriti on Chandra, Tuesday the kritis on Angaraka and Raahu, Wednesday saw Budha and Kethu. On Thursday the kriti on Guru Bruhaspathi and Friday on Shukra. Saturday the set was completed with the kriti on Shanaishchara.

I always thought why no one had composed on the Ashta Dikpalakas. So, the next set was the unique kritis on the eight Dikpalakas. Rishi Vandana – set of eight kritis on the Sapta Rishis and Agastya followed. In between single compositions on Ganga, Ashwini devas, Navasandhi Ragamalika Tala malika kriti, kritis in praise of Lakshmi, Guru, Gyanambika, Rama, Krishna, Shankara Acharya, Hanuman took birth.

The first book Vaggeya Rathnavali containing 64 compositions was published in 2013. It was a big memorable event. Four leading musicians sang my compositions, for half an hour each. Next year second volume of Vaggeya Rathnavali with 64 more new compositions saw light. Since then, these compositions are being recorded, sung by my students and other good artists.

So far, six volumes are presented to the public. In this second volume, many new themes are taken up – Ushas(Goddes of dawn), Himalayas, Brahma, Vishvarupa as seen by Arjuna, Krishna as Geethaacharya, Shodasha Ganapathis (16 Kritis), Ahalya, Droupadi, Sita, Taara, Mandodari, (set of five kritis), Vainateya, Skanda, Rama, Vrikodara, Anjaneya, (set of five kritis), Ragamalikas on very rare themes, Jatiswaras, Tillanas, Varnas– total to about 130 compositions. I attribute all this to my spiritual Guru Sri Muthuswamy Dikshitar and his blessings. His unseen energy has urged me to come out with such novelty.

Who is your favorite musician and composer? What made them your favorite?

My favourite musician was Padmavibhushana Dr. M L Vasanthakumari. She was daring enough to try new things on stage, impromptu. She was a creative artist who encouraged young upcoming students and other musicians. My favourite composer of course is Dikshitar. Next come Saint Thyagaraja and Sri. Jayachamaraja Wodeyar. Along with lyrical beauty, prosody is very important and necessary. We get examples for all prosody in compositions, in their compositions.

You have been organising many festivals throughout the year, especially the “Ragashree Sammelanotsava” from past 30 years. How and when did this thought of being an organiser occur and develop?

My Guru Ganakalasindhu D. Subbaramaiah passed away on 16th August 1986. He always advised me to establish a music college, which I could not fulfil during his life time. I formally established Ragasree College of Music, that year in October. Along with teaching, I started arranging demonstrative and educative programs for the benefit of students, every month. Well known scholars, musicians and musicologists from Karnataka and other States were invited to give these programs.

This enriched the students’ standards and elevated Ragasree College of Music’s stature. Gradually these events instigated in me the seed of establishing a Trust in memory of my Guru. This was fulfilled on 10th March 1993. My Guru was so considerate; he had students who could not pay even the fee fixed then. So, our first project was to start the scholarship scheme to help students who wanted to pursue Music as their career.

Monthly programs were now conducted under the banner of the Trust, instead of Ragasree College. Ragasree Sammelanotsav is now a great event conducted during the last week end of November every year. Now I am acclaimed as one of the very best organizers.

Your message to students of music and dance (special reference their role as a dedicated student).

Music, Dance, Painting, Drawing and Sculpture – any form of Art is a must for everybody. Our daily routines, work pressures and the problems we have to face on a daily basis make us get tired very easily. One or the other form of Fine Arts only can remove the fatigue we feel physically and mentally. These Fine Arts have the power to rejuvenate our energy both internally and physically.

These Art forms help the students to concentrate, develop creativity, be alert, improvise impromptu and most importantly respect our rich cultural heritage. These Art forms can never be learnt without the guidance of an experienced Guru. The role of Guru is really great. Guru should be able to recognise the talent and potential in the students and guide them properly to nourish it to the maximum. Successful students are the laurels the Guru earns.

Likewise, the students also should have respect for their Guru and his/her capabilities. They must have implicit confidence in their Guru’s teachings, practice regularly and try to imbibe all techniques taught to them practically. In turn, they should be good teachers also and carry on the traditions with all seriousness and dedication. Artists may die, but Art should never die. It should be handed down from generation to generation. May Fine Arts live forever.


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