There should be ‘Samskara’ in anyone to learn music – Ravikumar Kunjoor


Vidwan Kunjoor H Ravi Kumar is a Graded Mridangam, Khanjira, Ghatam and Konnakkol Artist of All India Radio.He has received many prestigious Awards including prestigious CCERT scholarship from both central & state government. Also he secured 1st Rank in the Senior & Vidwat grade Talavadya examinations conducted by KSEEB, Bangalore.

He is the chairman & examiner of Talavadya exams conducted by KSEEB, Government Of Karnataka. He has judged various State level, University level and South zone Inter-University competitions including Yuvajanostava which is conducted by Govt. of Karnataka. He is also a renowned Mridangam guru in Dakshina Kannada & Udupi Districts. K.H Ravikumar also holds a Master’s Degree in Political Science from Mysore University. At present he is working as a Mridangam staff artist at All India Radio, Mangaluru.

Interview with Ravikumar Kunjoor | Beauty Wall Spot

At 4th Swara-Laya - full day special violin practice camp, Vid. Ravikumar spoke to Beauty Wall Spot's Sushma P Mayya in Mangalore. In front of 80+ students and parents, Ravikumar spoke about his experiences of learning Mridangam from his father, the necessity of practice, and other aspects of musical life.

"Parents need to get involved in the music practice sessions. It is not enough if kids are made to join classes. They must take responsibility in making kids practice everyday. Only then, will kids get interested in learning music."

- Kunjoor H Ravi Kumar

SUSHMA P MAYYA: Namaste Sir 🙂
Kunjoor H Ravi Kumar: Namaskara.

SUSHMA P MAYYA: Thank you for joining with us here at Swara-Laya Special Full Day Violin Practice Camp. We are all excited to hear from you. So, tell us about how you got introduced to music, sir.
Kunjoor H Ravi Kumar: Thank you all for inviting me here. Talking about myself, I was born in the year 1963. When I was barely two years old, I was pacified by Mridangam. My father told me that I used to strike both the sides of the Mridangam and stop crying. Later, when I was 5 or 6 years old, my father started giving lessons to me. When I was studying in class 4, one boy named Krishna joined me for Mridangam lessons. I still remember the boy along with whom I got continuous classes in Mridangam for three years. Apart from this, when my father used to teach Mridangam for senior students, I used to listen intently and learn a lot of things. When I was 10 years old, I performed in a concert at Ganapati Sachidananda Swamy Ashram, Mysore as a Mridangist. This was the beginning of my performance in concerts. In between sometimes I lost interest in practicing Mridangam. But my father never left me alone [ha ha]. My father had punished me many times for not practicing. But slowly, my interest in Mridangam grew.

Vidwan Kunjoor H Ravikumar at Swara-Laya | Beauty Wall Spot

SUSHMA P MAYYA: That was quite a strict upbringing. How many hours did you use to practice everyday?
Kunjoor H Ravi Kumar: When I had time, I used to practice for 3 to 4 hours a day. Even otherwise I used to practice for one or one-and-a half hours a day. Even before I started learning Mridangam, my father used to make me sit in front of him while he played the Mridangam and asked me to put ‘Talam’. This was a daily routine after my school. If I went wrong in the ‘Talam’, I got hit with the belt or a rope that he used to keep near him. It used to be very cold in Mysore and for fear of getting hit, I used to put the 'Talam’ so hard on my legs, that my legs would turn black. Thus, my Mridangam lessons began with ‘Talam’.

My father’s Guru N S Narayan had also begun teaching mridangam to my father with first putting 'Talam’ itself. This was the first lesson to my father for about a year. He used to do other household chores and help his Guru in his work. Hence my father too started teaching mè with 'Talam’ and then started the lessons. This was my 'Bala Patha’ or initial lessons.

SUSHMA P MAYYA: Do you think it is right for a Guru to give lessons so strictly?
Kunjoor H Ravi Kumar: I feel it is right. Or else none of the students will practice at all. In today's scenario it is even more difficult to make students practice. They need to be a little scared of someone, or else they won't practice. Even with such a strict father, I used to skip practice when I was in class 3 or 4. I used to love cricket. Cricket matches used to be held every week at the grounds near Mysore University. On every Sunday morning, after breakfast I used to leave home to play cricket and return only in the evening. I used to skip lunch. There was no TV or computer for entertainment. But guests used to drop in now and then or we used to go visiting people. If there were guests in our house in the evening, by God’s grace I would escape punishment that day. Or else I would be punished for sure. My mother who would try to stop my father from hitting me, would herself get hit.

We must teach our children to obey parents from the very beginning. In such situations it is better to be strict. I do not say that all kids must be punished, but to make them understand the importance of what they are supposed to learn, it is better to be strict.

During my childhood days, when we were in Mysore, many students used to come to our house to learn Mridangam from my father. Most of the students used to be very sincere in learning, because many distractions we see now did not exist then. I am talking about the situation in 1974. TV still did not enter our homes and children used to learn whatever their parents would initiate them into.

Now, many people live in flats and there will be kids in every flat. Commotion would begin as soon as sun sets in. Kids who are inside the flat doing some practice or homework hear the loud voices and feel like joining them to play instead of practicing. Added to this is the diversion which TV, computers and mobile phones offer. Hence the necessity to be strict with kids from the very beginning. Parents as well need to get involved in the practice sessions. It is not enough if kids are made to join classes. They must take responsibility in making kids practice everyday. Only then, will kids get interested in learning music.

SUSHMA P MAYYA: Your father Vidwan K Harishchandran was your Guru as well. So there was an atmosphere conducive to learning music at home. For others who do not have such an environment at home, what is your advice regarding practicing music?
Kunjoor H Ravi Kumar: It is true that my father used to guide me at home while practicing Mridangam. In many homes such an environment does not exist. So what parents need to do is make the child practice the very day at home after the Guru has taught any new lesson. Nowadays children have lot of opportunities to learn. Kids can record what is being taught by the Guru. MP4 Recorder is available, mobile phones as well can be used to record lessons. After returning home, the kids can play the recorder and learn.

When we used to learn, such facilities did not exist. In radio, only classical concerts of All India Radio used to be broadcast. If we listen to concerts and wanted to listen again to it, in no way we could record it. Many a times I used to listen to radio and jot down the ‘Muktayas’ and learn it. Now everything is available online and hence anyone can listen to it and learn.

However, we must take children to places where concerts are held and make them listen to it. If we just enrol our kids to learn music and do not find out how much the kid has learnt, it will not be of much use. Parents must be curious about what their ward is doing. Just like parents go to school once in two or three months to find out how the child is doing in school, parents must take interest in what the child is learning in music classes as well.

SUSHMA P MAYYA: You have won first rank in Mridangam Senior and Vidwath exams. How much hard work went into preparing for the exams?
Kunjoor H Ravi Kumar: I appeared for senior exams quite late as my father was usually the examiner for the senior exams every year. My father had asked me not to write the exam if he was the examiner as it is not correct to become an examiner for the music exam when the son is appearing for the exam. If I performed well in the exam and if I got good marks, people may remark that my father might have given such marks to his son. Twice or thrice when I wanted to appear for exams, my father was asked to be the examiner. So I dropped from the exams.

I appeared for senior exams after I became a graded artiste of All India Radio. There is an interesting story behind this as well. I got to know that a post for Mridangam teacher was vacant in the Fine Arts College, Mysore University. When I applied for the post, the then principal of the college B S Raghavan said it is fine that I was a graded AIR artiste. But he asked why I had not attempted any state government exams related to music which would have helped in my appointment. Finally I appeared for the exam in 1983 and got first rank. Then I appeared for the vidwath exam in 1984.

SUSHMA P MAYYA: You have received a Master’s Degree in Political Science. How did you manage to study and practice Mridangam?
Kunjoor H Ravi Kumar: There is nothing much to talk about it. Along with my studies I used to practice Mridangam as well. I was not a bright student. There is a reason behind completing my masters in Political Science. By then I had a B-high grade in Mridangam. There was a post of Programme Executive in AIR. A masters degree was the required qualification. So I did my master’s degree in Political Science.

SUSHMA P MAYYA: Should a concert be a competition or coordination between the Artists on stage?
Kunjoor H Ravi Kumar: There is no use with competition in a concert. Only coordination will make a concert successful There was a time when artists had this competitive mentality on the stage. Without giving any clue to the accompanying artist about the tala the vocalist will sing to show his superiority and thus embarrass the accompanying artists.

Now a days nobody does that. Every artist prior to concert discuss about the items to be presented in the concert and then proceed. On stage also they will exchange notes and make each one comfortable. That makes a concert wonderful.

SUSHMA P MAYYA: Is there any concert that is etched in your memory?
Kunjoor H Ravi Kumar: I have accompanied Vidwan Tarepalli Loknath Sharma. He was a famous vocalist then. I have also accompanied Vidushi Sudha Raghunathan on the Khanjira in one or two concerts. Similarly I accompanied Vidwan Kunnakudi R Vaidyanathan on the Khanjira for an AIR programme. Thus all the concerts I accompanied are good experiences.

SUSHMA P MAYYA: Who is your favourite Mridangist?
Kunjoor H Ravi Kumar: My father is my all time favourite. Apart from him, Vidwan Palghat Mani was a favourite of my father as well. Vidwan Umayalapuram K Shivaraman, Vidwan T K Murthy, Vidwan Palghat Raghu and Karaikudi R Mani are also my favourites.

SUSHMA P MAYYA: As a Mridangam artiste which is your favourite Kriti?
Kunjoor H Ravi Kumar: I like all the Kritis. Amongst them …….. 'Samaja Varagamana’ and 'Nagumomu’ are two. Vilamba Kala kritis provide much scope for Mridangam.

SUSHMA P MAYYA: Are Mridangam, Khanjira and Konnakol played in the same manner?
Kunjoor H Ravi Kumar: If one learns to play Mridangam, playing Khanjira and Konnakol is easy. I learnt mainly Mridangam. If one is interested, he or she can practice Khanjira and Ghatam. Morching is also played the same way. But here the technique differs a little.

SUSHMA P MAYYA: What do you feel is the difference in the encouragement given to music learners in your childhood days and now?
Kunjoor H Ravi Kumar: When I was young, concerts were less. But in Mysore and Bangalore during Ramotsava, Ganeshotsava, Krishnashtami concerts would extend over 10 to 15 days at a stretch. However, beginners did not get much encouragement. Now lots of concerts as well as competitions are organised by various sabhas for budding artists. Earlier, except school-level competitions no such opportunities existed.

SUSHMA P MAYYA: So in your opinion, organising competitions are beneficial for students?
Kunjoor H Ravi Kumar: Definitely. But there is one thing that needs to be assured. The judges must be fair and impartial. I have judged many competitions. Sometimes judges are biased and do not give marks according to the performance of participants. Same thing happens in some TV programmes. Such competitions have no meaning.

SUSHMA P MAYYA: What is your opinion regarding including classical music in the curriculum in schools?
Kunjoor H Ravi Kumar: In my opinion, it will not be a good idea. In some schools there are music teachers post. For that music teachers need to have acquired vidwath degree in music apart from a BEd degree. But after acquiring these degrees most of the teachers teach patriotic songs folk songs and light music instead of classical music. Even in classical music classes where students are given individual attention, not many are serious about learning. How can one expect children in classrooms having more than 60 students to be serious about learning music?

SUSHMA P MAYYA: Is it enough to learn music from one’s Guru alone or can one learn from other stalwarts as well?
Kunjoor H Ravi Kumar: First of all, one must find out the right Guru for a student. Some people send their wards to teachers living next door, as it is easy to send and fetch them. Sometimes such Guru's would not have even completed their junior exam in music. Actually learning from one experienced Guru is enough. First they must become very thorough with the basics. If one’s basics are strong, later a child can go on to learn from others. If a flat is built with bricks as base and pillars are erected on them, it might crumble any moment. It is the same for music also.

Instead of giving importance to the number of 'Kritis’ or ‘Talams’ that a student has learnt, it is more important to see how well a kid can sing a ‘Kriti’ with proper ‘Shruti and Talam'. There may be a few kids who have more interest and learn fast. They can learn from listening to others singing. Same is the case with Mridangam. One must see what they can do with one Talam', what is the Muktaya that can be given, what is the ‘Nade’ that can be played, how 'Edappu’ can be played and so on. However, if a Mridangam student has to follow a vocalist, what is taught by the Guru alone will not be enough. For that they will have to attend concerts. When a vocalist sings 'Swara Prastara’ or 'Neraval’, the Mridangist must follow the vocalist using his 'Manodharma’. All this cannot be taught by the Guru, it has to come from listening.

SUSHMA P MAYYA: What is the role of parents in making kids learn music?
Kunjoor H Ravi Kumar: The role of parents is of paramount importance. Children do not know what they should learn. Parents must identify the interests and talents of kids and help them learn, be it music, Mridangam, drawing or anything else. My father had studied only till third standard while my mother had studied only till seventh standard. Hence they did not know how to teach us. They just sent us to school like other parents did. Nowadays parents are well educated and take interest in the studies of their kids as well.

SUSHMA P MAYYA: Which Mridangam parampara did your father belong to? Tell us more about your father.
Kunjoor H Ravi Kumar: We belong to the Thanjavur Parampara of Mridangam. At the age of 12, my father left home for Bangalore to learn Mridangam. With no money in hand, he went sleeping below the seats in train and once he reached Bangalore, he slept on the pavements. He used to stick posters of films to earn money there. Later, he met Mridangist H P Puttachar, who was also a goldsmith by profession. But since my father was a Brahmin, he gave a separate room in the house and provided groceries to cook his own food. After learning to play Mridangam for 2 to three years, he decided to leave for Madras to learn further. Though he landed in Madras, he did not know whom to approach. So he stayed in parks. One day he met Vidwan M V Moorthy, student of Vidwan Palghat Mani in the park, who spoke to him in Tulu. He took my father to S V S Narayan to learn Mridangam.

Learning was not an easy experience in those days. He stayed in his Guru’s house for eight years doing household chores. He used to fetch water from the borewells, wash cloths and clean his Guru’s house. Apart from this, on his master's orders, he used to walk barefoot in the hot sun carrying two Mridangam on his shoulders to repair faults and return. Eventually, he became the Asthana Vidwan in Mysore Palace. In the year 1977, he joined as an artiste in AIR.

Talking about parampara, in the 70s and 80s, one could listen to Mridangist or Vocalists only at concerts apart from listening to radio. It was only in concerts one come to know how a particular artiste performs and how it varies from another artiste. This was identified as ‘Bani’. This is what I have found out.

SUSHMA P MAYYA: Lastly, what is your message to youngsters?
Kunjoor H Ravi Kumar: Children will not know which art or activity they can choose to learn. Parents must make them learn many activities. Once they reach sixth standard or seventh standard, they will reach a certain level in their learning process. Then they can choose whichever activity that best suits them. I'm reminded of an incident that happened in 1988 or 1990. It was the time I had just finished my studies and was yet searching for a job. I used to take Mridangam lessons and take fees of Rs 200 per person. We were staying in Bejai and then a boy studying in class 9 in Canara school came to me along with his father to join classes. I taught him for a year, but he could not play basics lessons in all three 'Kalam’. His father had also given an advance of Rs 2000 to get a new Mridangam. I waited for a year and as I could not see any improvement in his performance, I returned the advance paid and told his father to enroll him in any other activity that he is interested in. I could have just continued teaching, but I didn't do so. There should be ‘Samskara’ for anyone to learn anything. But the boy was good at studies and is now working in the US.

There is another such incident. Once a person brought his son to my father for learning Mridangam. He told my father that the boy is weak in science and maths and so he wanted his son to at least learn Mridangam. My father straightaway told him that he cannot teach the boy because the boy is weak in maths and hence he cannot learn Mridangam. Musical instruments is all about mathematics. The ‘layam’ must stop with mathematical precision. The gap between each beat must be accurate to place four aksharas.

SUSHMA P MAYYA: Thank you Ravikumar Sir. It was a wonderful experience interviewing you.
Kunjoor H Ravi Kumar: Thank you. Thank you for inviting me to this wonderful Swara-laya - full day violin practice camp.

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