Vidushi Surathna K a Septuagenarian musician from Karinja began her musical journey at a tender age. Hailing from a traditional music and Vedic family she was a disciple of the great Guru Vidwan Kanchana Subrahmaniam Iyer. She is highly excited to talk about her Gurukula Kanchana and she still remains a humble disciple of Kanchana. She picked up each and every instruction given by the Guru and still recall all the instruction and consider them as her holy commands.
Even at this age she performs on stage with never-ending enthusiasm and her fans still want to hear her bhajans and she is ever ready for singing.
At 8th Swara-Laya - full day special violin practice camp, Vidushi Surathna K spoke to Beauty Wall Spot's Sushma P Mayya in Mangalore. In front of 100+ students and parents, she spoke about her experiences of learning Carnatic Music, the importance of daily practicing and other aspects of her musical life.
SUSHMA P MAYYA: Namaste. We are happy to have you with us today. Welcome to our interview. Your concert we had at SwaraLaya camp was really mesmerizing. 🙂
SURATHNA: Namaskara. I must say thank you for inviting me here.
SUSHMA P MAYYA: Let us begin with your early life with music. Can you enlighten us regarding your first steps into music?
SURATHNA: I started my education in Ramakunja school. I used to stay in my grandfather Keshava Upadhyaya’s house, 'Idki Mutt’, in Ramakunja. Gradually I started learning music at Kanchana. Kanchana can be considered as the ‘Sangeetada Tavaruru’ that is the maternal home of Carnatic music in this region. It is said that the Kanchana School of Music was held in higher esteem than the Tiruvayuru Music School of those days. The story goes that the Kanchana household was childless for quite many years. Hence the religious function relating to 'Sahasra Bhojanam’ or providing free meals to over 1000 people was organized twice at Kanchana. As a result of the Yaga, our guru Vidwan Kanchana Venkatarama Subrahmanyam was born. He first learned music in Mangalore for 10 years and then continued his music lessons in Chennai for five years. Later, he returned to Kanchana. At that time they had land that produced abundance of rice (3,000 mudis).
"My guru used to tell me that music must get into your bloodstream. Then, even if you let go of music, music will not let you go. This is very true. There were stages in my life when I had given up on music. But music has remained a part of my life."
- Vidushi Surathna K
SUSHMA P MAYYA: Wow! Who was the inspiration behind you learning music?
SURATHNA: It was my father. Right from the beginning, I was interested in music and I was supported by my family as well.
SUSHMA P MAYYA: That's great ! Where did you first take your music lessons?
SURATHNA: I started learning music at Kanchana School itself. Kanchana Subrahmaniam Iyer was my first guru. He was a kind-hearted person. His uncle Krishna Iyer used to help him at Kanchana. My guru’s son Kanchana Subbaratnam was a violinist.
SUSHMA P MAYYA: Really!! Great. You must have lots of memories about your Guru and in Kanchana.
SURATHNA: When I was 12 years old, my Guru came to Kanchana. I consider this as my fortune because if my guru had settled in Chennai, I wouldn't have learnt music. I left school to concentrate on learning music and continued learning in Kanchana for a year. My guru was a large-hearted person. He sold the property that he had inherited to build the school at Kanchana. At that time there were only a few schools in the area. Apart from Ramakunja school, there was one school each in Golikatte and Kuchilani. Collector Rajaram and other ministers were invited to inaugurate the music school. Our guru’s mother Ananda Lakshmi Ammal could not attend the function for some reason. Hence I was given the responsibility to welcome the guests with flowers. My guru’s wife was Thangammal. They had three children- Subba Ratnam, Vasantha Prabha, and Vijayalakshmi. All of them had learned music. Whoever visited Kanchana used to exclaim that even the pillars here can sing music.
Here, Tyagaraja Utsava used to stretch for over 15 days and Saint Purandaradasa ’s birth anniversary used to be celebrated for 7 days. My guru was so dedicated to music that he died at the end of Tyagaraja Utsava. He used to readily teach music to students, no matter what time of the day they approached him. There were over 10-15 students who used to stay at Kanchana to learn music. They were provided food and stay facility there. Since my home was near Kanchana, I used to daily commute to school and return home. Small practice concerts used to be organised 3 days a week for the benefit of students.
SUSHMA P MAYYA: So you had a pleasant time learning music at Kanchana. Was any member of your family already into music, which helped you in learning music?
SURATHNA: Music in one or the other form was familiar to all members of our family. My father and his parents had learned Veda and Sanskrit. Maybe because of this, we had a natural affinity towards music. My sister Kshama Govinda Ram too used to sing and Pejavar Shree of Udupi Krishna Mutt used to appreciate her music. All my siblings - Narmada, Lalitha, Prabhavati, and Shreekanth had a liking towards music.
SUSHMA P MAYYA: How did you use to practice music and how many hours did you use to practice every day?
SURATHNA: We used to get up early in the morning and practice from 5 am to 6 am. Sometimes practice sessions were held in the evening and my mother used to sit and listen to me. After practicing in the morning, I usually had 'ganji' and coffee for breakfast and get ready to go to Kanchana. We were given a book in the school to write theory lessons in which we wrote down all the lessons unlike what students do nowadays. After the lessons, we used to return home in the afternoon. We had lunch at the school itself if it was ready. This was our guru's wish. If any pooja's like Sathyanarayana pooja was held, we were asked to stay back for the occasion. During Tyagaraja Utsava, we always had lunch at Kanchana school itself.
SUSHMA P MAYYA: Did girls get enough encouragement to learn music during those days?
SURATHNA: Definitely! At Kanchana, girls were always welcome to learn music. There were many girl students learning music. Even now, many girls learn music at Kanchana. My sister Hemavathi learned music there for a long time. She has acquired much knowledge and presents Tanaka Pallavi very well.
SUSHMA P MAYYA: Oh nice! That is worthy of appreciation! Did you face hurdles in pursuing your interest in music after marriage?
SURATHNA: No. In fact, my husband’s family was very co-operative. So I did not face any objections.
SUSHMA P MAYYA: Are you still in contact with Kanchana School of Music?
SURATHNA: Wife of Late Kanchana Subbaratnam, Rohini Amma still lives in Kanchana. Their three daughters have got married and are staying in Bangalore. Now the ambiance of Kanchana is not the same. Tyagaraja Utsava is organized for just one day. Many stalwarts used to visit Kanchana. Students used to sit in different places in the verandah for practicing. Those days are different….. I have not visited Kanchana for the past 20 years.
SUSHMA P MAYYA: Oh. Ok. Once you came to Karinja after your marriage and started taking music classes, how many students used to come to you to learn?
SURATHNA: I have taught music for about 50 years. Many students have come to me for learning music. However, for the past 10 years, I have been unable to conduct classes due to failing health. We have shifted our house as well. Hence only a few of my old students continued to learn from me. But even now people come to me requesting me to sing bhajans during programmes and poojas.
"Music gives us a feeling of bliss. It energizes our mind. Almost all the Kritis of Tyagaraja Swami, Purandara Dasa, and Shyama Shastri are on the topic of devotion. Purandara Dasa said, “Eha para gati neene …..” (God is the best refuge in this world as well as the next). Thus music dwells on the profound truths of life and children learning music can gain knowledge and wisdom."
SUSHMA P MAYYA: We would like to know the difference in the way students used to learn music during your younger days and the scenario now.
SURATHNA: What is happening now is that students are now burdened with the academic workload. This comes in their way of daily practice. However, if a student is determined, he or she can learn music juggling it with studies. Earlier, not many children used to go to school. So they could concentrate on any one thing they wanted to achieve. Now, children find it difficult to concentrate on many things they need to learn at a time. Still, the bottom line is that those who are really interested in music will learn it.
SUSHMA P MAYYA: Moving to the next question, how could you keep the flame of music burning in you for so long?
SURATHNA: As my guru used to tell me that music must get into your bloodstream. Then, even if you let go of music, music will follow you. (music will not let you go). This is very true. There were stages in my life when I had given up on music. But it has remained a part of my life.
SUSHMA P MAYYA: Very true words indeed. Can you tell us what are the benefits of learning music?
SURATHNA: Music gives us a feeling of bliss. It energizes our mind. Almost all the Kritis of Tyagaraja Swami, Purandara Dasa, and Shyama Shastri are on the topic of devotion. Purandara Dasa said, “Eha para gati neene …..” (God is the best refuge in this world as well as the next). Thus music dwells on the profound truths of life and children learning music can gain knowledge and wisdom. As kids, they just listen playfully. But later on, they will understand the profound meaning of the lyrics.
SUSHMA P MAYYA: Which is your favorite Raga and Kriti?
SURATHNA: I like all Ragas - Todi, Shankarabharana….. [hmm] Kharaharapriya, Bhairavi….. almost all of them. Regarding Kritis, I usually practice 'Bhinnahake Bayillavaiah….’. It is a Raga Malika. Similarly, I like 'Yaare Bandavaru’ and 'Maneyolagado Govinda’ in Behag. My another favorite is 'Venkatachala Nilayam’ in Sindhu Bhairavi.
SUSHMA P MAYYA: Finally, What is the right way to practice music?
SURATHNA: Students usually dislike practicing 'Sarala Varase’, 'Janti Varase’, 'Uchcha Sthayi Varase’ and other basics of music. If they are taught new Kritis in each class, they are happy. But if the foundation is weak, not much can be learnt. Therefore, all these basics of music must be practiced in 'Akara’. Students must give a lot of importance to singing according to 'Shruti’ too. It takes about 5 to 6 years to gain some knowledge about music. Students must know about the Trinities of music, the life history of 20 to 25 composers and they must be well versed with Varnams. Unlike our times, acquiring Vidwan has become quite difficult now. Senior students must know different Ragas and Talas and if they practice well, they get to know Ragas.
Apart from this, the past life samskaras will be beneficial in learning music. If one has 'Haase guna’, that is blessings from great-grandparents, one can learn anything easily. We hand down these blessings to our kids. Similarly, the case with 'Samskaras’. If a person had learned some art or skills in previous lives and abandoned it halfway, that person can easily continue learning in the next life. But for all this, we must make time for everything.
SUSHMA P MAYYA: Thank you so much for being with us and sharing your views with us.
SURATHNA: Thank you for inviting me to this wonderful Swara-laya - full day violin practice camp and God Bless You All!!