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Home > Discover Coimbatore > Art and Culture > Interview
     
INTERVIEW WITH KUNNAKUDI VAIDYANATHAN  

Violin exponent Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan has won more than 200 awards and titles for his virtuosity, his creative interpretation of thematic and devotional subjects and for the music composed by him for films. Kunnakudi (as he is popularly known) has also composed over 700 light music songs in various languages and a number of dance compositions.

Kunnakudi VaidyanathanThere is an interesting story behind the Vibhooti (Sacred ash) and the Kumkum Pottu (Saffron dot) on his forehead, that has become his trademark: One day when Kunnakudi was thirteen years young, a holy man with knotted hair, came up to him and asked him what his name was and whether he played the violin. On seeing the vibhooti on his forehead, the holy man slapped him and gave him Upadesa (advice) on how to put the Vibhooti stripes and the Kumkum Pottu. Vaidyanathan told his father about the sage and both of them set out to look for him, but could not find him. He believes that the holy man was none other than Lord Muruga and till this day he applies the Kumkum Pottu. In doing so, feels he has the blessings of Lord Muruga.

Could you tell us briefly about your early years?

My father R. Ramaswamy Sastri, was my Guru. He was an extremely versatile man. He was a Harikatha exponent and he knew to play the Flute, Jalataranga, Veena and was also a vocalist. He also wrote many songs. My brother was a Mridangam player and my two sisters were classical singers. I played the Violin.

How did you begin your career as a Violin Vidwan?

Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, who was a close friend of my father, was performing in a village near ours, at a Krishna temple, for a festival. I accompanied my father to the festival. It so happened that the violinist who was to play for the concert did not turn up. So Ariyakudi spoke to my father and asked "Why don't you tell your son to play the violin for me?" My father was taken aback, because I used to play the violin only for small kutcheris. Ariyakudi asked me, "How many kirtanas have you learnt?" I very meekly said, "I know about ten to fifteen kirtanas." He blessed me and said "Come on, play confidently for my kutcheri". The performance was a big success. That was my first step. Since then I have played for all the top vidwans in the music field like Srirangam Ayyappan, Semmangudi mama, AKC Natarajan, Shankara Shivam, Chittoor Subramania Pillai, Kalyana Krishna Bhagavathar, Madurai Mani, Maharajapuram Vishwanatha Iyer and many others.

The Violin has for long, been an instrument for accompaniment. How did you bring it to the forefront as a solo instrument?

Kunakkudi VaidyanathanIt is thirty-one years since violin became a solo instrument. Initially I was discouraged a lot by my close friends and vidwans. But their discouragement aroused a feeling of taking up the challenge within me. In time, I evolved a distinct style of my own which won me the support of the general public. It is very important to reach the masses and cater to them. I don't believe that you have to be strictly classical in a concert. If the public wants a film song, why not play it for them? After all we are there because of them. As a violinist, I have been instrumental in bringing about certain innovations like playing violin with the accompaniment of a thavil (a kind of drum). My performances with the thavil were a huge success. I chose the thavil because it is a combination of nadham and layam (Melody and Rhythm). From 1974 to 1985 I have given 3,462 concerts with a number of leading thavil vidwans. This has been possible only because of the blessings of my father and my mother, Meenakshi Ammal. A tremendous amount of commitment and devotion is necessary to succeed.

Do you think the upcoming artistes of today have that kind of commitment and devotion?

I don't know if they have, but they should have it. I do feel that the young artistes of today are extremely talented and given the right guidance and opportunity, they will surely succeed. The audience should accept them, recognition will automatically follow.

How did you develop an interest in film music?

Right from my childhood, I was always interested in film songs, because most of the songs in those days had a classical base. I have seen a lot of dramas, I have done playwriting also. I entered the film world through the film Va Raja Va in 1968, with the blessings of Director A.P. Nagarajan. I have composed music for films like Thirumalai Thenkumari, Mel Nattu Marumagal, Namma Veetu Deivam and many others. I also set music for the first cinemascope film Raja Raja Cholan. M.G.R wanted me to bring out the beauty of Carnatic music in his movie Navaratinam. I presented Thyagaraja kritis in the film, similar to western tunes and also set Hindustani lyrics to raga and tala. I started working for films in 1968, and within two years I received the 'Best Music Director Award' from the government. I have written the script and dialogue for many Films. Directed and produced them too. My close friend Ramanathan and I, under the banner of V.R.Films, made a number of films. I must add that a lot of hard work and sincere effort were the main reasons for so many opportunities given to me. It was not overnight success.

How did you develop an interest in film music?

Right from my childhood, I was always interested in film songs, because most of the songs in those days had a classical base. I have seen a lot of dramas, I have done playwriting also. I entered the film world through the film Va Raja Va in 1968, with the blessings of Director A.P. Nagarajan. I have composed music for films like Thirumalai Thenkumari, Mel Nattu Marumagal, Namma Veetu Deivam and many others. I also set music for the first cinemascope film Raja Raja Cholan. M.G.R wanted me to bring out the beauty of Carnatic music in his movie Navaratinam. I presented Thyagaraja kritis in the film, similar to western tunes and also set Hindustani lyrics to raga and tala. I started working for films in 1968, and within two years I received the 'Best Music Director Award' from the government. I have written the script and dialogue for many Films. Directed and produced them too. My close friend Ramanathan and I, under the banner of V.R.Films, made a number of films. I must add that a lot of hard work and sincere effort were the main reasons for so many opportunities given to me. It was not overnight success.

How did you get your first break as a music director?

Kunnakudi VaidyanathanI was made a music director while playing the violin as part of the orchestra for the HMV Recording Company. I put all my efforts and composed Muruga Ganamrutham, comprising songs sung by the Sulamangalam sisters, for whom I have played the violin for nine years. I have directed and set music for 700 devotional songs and 42 feature films. I was the first person to set music for a pop number sung by Usha Uthup, for the film Mel Nattu Marumagal. I am interested in a lot of things and through God's blessings I have the ability to deliver the goods in any aspect of music; be it composing, scriptwriting, directing or producing. I am like a super market store. You get everything in one place.

What do you think of fusion music?

I don't attach too much importance to fusion music. It is just fashionable to say "I play fusion music". When two artistes play together, it gives the feeling of a competition. Real fusion is when you play with accompaniment, say a tabla, a mridangam or a thavil because the beauty of the two instruments comes to the fore. In my opinion playing with a sitar, veena or a flute is not exciting. If you talk about fusion, I can say I started fusion music many years ago as a music director. In an orchestra you direct and make music with so many different types of instruments. It is all done behind the scenes. So nobody knows about it. But these days people talk about fusion because the artistes come on stage and perform. I think it is just a novelty, nothing more.

Could you tell us briefly about the Raga Research centre?

The Raga Research centre was started eight years ago. The centre does research on the various aspects of a raga. It is a very vast field. Our ragas have tremendous therapeutic abilities. We have given a number of lecture demonstrations to explain to people the unusual powers of various ragas. In the olden days, even the Trinity (Syama Sastri, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Thyagaraja) chose ragas based on the meaning of the lyrics of a song. Raga Shankarabharanam for example, has the power to cure mental illnesses, such as depression, stress etc. Raga Anandabhairavi cures hypertension. Raga Amritavarshini can invoke the rain gods. It is unbelievable, but it is true. In 1982, when Chennai had no rains, Dr. Karunanidhi, who was the Chief Minister, told me to help him. I decided to go to the Red hills reservoir and play Ragam Amrithavarshini. Can you believe it? Chennai saw rains after that!

What inspired you to study the Ragas?

When I was 14 years young, my father fell ill and slipped into a coma. The family doctor asked me "Why don't you play some ragas for him and see if it has any effect?" I knew that certain ragas have therapeutic properties, as my father had studied and researched twelve such ragas. I chose to play the Bhairavi because my father had written that it can bring back a man, even from his deathbed. I sat near him and played the raga for hours together. After a few days, the doctor noticed that my father's cheek was wet with tears. It was amazing. He started recovering slowly and lived for several years after the illness. This inspired me and motivated me to do further studies on the ragas.

Kunnakudi concluded the interview saying that the study of ragas is such a deep subject that to talk about its curative powers alone, he would require at least three hours.

- Janaki Subramaniam
Photographs : Leslee Lazar

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