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Search Deep Within Yourself To Be Creative In Music – Vid. Kumaresh Rajagopalan


Vidwan Kumaresh Rajagopalan is a world-famous violinist whose musical career spanning 43 years has created a paradigm shift in the way the world looks at Indian Violin. A Child Prodigy who played his first concert when he was just 5 years, he was a sensation in the field of Carnatic music by completing his 100th stage performance even before he was 10.

There are many firsts in his career, like being one of the youngest to perform a full-fledged concert on stage, one of the youngest artistes to be honoured as "The state artist", by the Tamilnadu Government, to getting an "ATop" Grade by the All India Radio, and he has an endless list of accolades.

He has a trailblazing 43 successful years of concert partnership with his brother Sri. Ganesh. Ganesh Kumaresh team has wowed audiences across the world and have greatly impacted an entire generation of young performers and listeners. They have introduced the concept of "Raga Pravaham". which represents melodies exclusively for violin exploring the different dynamics of the instrument. This they consider as their humble contribution to the art form. Their concerts are most sought after among the music listening audiences.

If you want to have a musical life, you have to understand music and life. Life is a journey through many experiences. Through the experiences, you learn so many things. Similarly, music is also a journey of many experiences.

SUSHMA P MAYYA: Namaste sir. We are very happy to have an interaction with you. Welcome. Sir!
KUMARESH R: Namaste and Thank you.

SUSHMA P MAYYA: Keeping in view the heights you have reached now we are very eager to know about your childhood. Also, we would like to know when did you give your first concert?
KUMARESH R: I am supposed to have started playing violin when I was 3 years old. I don't remember. My father has said that when he was teaching his students, there was a particular phrase which everyone found it difficult to play and I am supposed to have played it. I don't remember that incident at all. But, I remember my first concert, it was with my brother, held in 1972 at Asia Pavilion. It was a 90 minutes programme. I remember we played ‘Abhogi varnam’, 'Brova Bharama’, 'Shobillu Saptha Swara'. After that, we started playing in Rotary Clubs, Ladies Clubs..... we were two small chubby looking boys. I think people loved to see us.

More than our music, they liked the fact that two 'Kutty’ boys are playing. Then we shifted to Bombay and 2 years later shifted to Chennai. Our Dad who is also our Guru was working for a public sector insurance company. Hence he had a transferable job and we moved along with him. We moved to Chennai in 1975 and that I would say was a turning point in our career. Our first concert in Chennai was in 1975. I was 8 years old and Anna was 10 years old. D K Pattamal Amma had come to inaugurate that concert. That was supposed to be a two-hour concert and we played for four hours. (Laughs) It was a beautiful journey. We were very young and we got opportunities to play in many places after that.  I remember we played in Madurai where Alattur Srinivasji had come. My Appa used to play for Alatturji. So when he came to know that we both were playing, he said: “I want to listen to you before I sing”. So he made us play one hour before he sang.  That was a very great blessing. Another landmark concert during those times was when we played at the Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi in the year 1977 for the Andhra Flood relief - our concert was followed by Pandit Chaurasiaji’s concert.

By the age of 15, we  were performing in many established organisations and when I look back it has been a beautiful journey, I should say...... (Laughs)

You should not say I'll practice for one hour, two hours. You should set targets that you are going to get a particular phrase or get a Varnam, the second speed or third speed, I must play it correctly. That should be the target. So practice should not be fixed to so many hours. You should set targets in terms of skill development and practice. You should keep on increasing your expectations. That is how you overreach yourself. You should always overperform and overachieve not underperform or underachieve. That should be the goal.

SUSHMA P MAYYA: That is wonderful indeed! Does being born in a household rooted in music help students?
KUMARESH R: That statement would have made sense 30 years ago when information was not so easily available and hence one had to find the right source of instruction in the art form. But these days things have changed drastically. Information is available in plenty through many sources. So, if you have interest it is quite possible to pursue the art form. Students living in any part of the world can learn from master musicians from wherever they are. The world has become a very small place and we all are so easily connected digitally. We must also realise that all of us have music inbuilt in us. It is refinement which is essential in understanding music to begin that journey.

SUSHMA P MAYYA:  However, those born in music families might have an advantage I guess?
KUMARESH R: I don't think so... I don't think like that. For example, if you take some of the great musicians, like GNB, T. N. Rajarathnam Pillai, Palghat Mani Iyer, and Mandolin U. Srinivas are not from music families, neither was T N Sheshagopalan. There are many people like that Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman sir,  Palghat Raghuji. Many contemporary genuine musicians like Vittal Ramamurthy ji, are not born in music families. They say it is in the genes. Maybe it helps that we come with all the hardware. My wife Jayanthi says, ‘the good thing is that we come with all the hardware, we have to only enter the software’… But unless you work hard, you are not going to go anywhere.

SUSHMA P MAYYA: Ok. So hard work... Roughly, how many hours of practice needs to be put in? Or how many hours you used to practice?
KUMARESH R: Umm... (thinking) See for practice, the interest should come from within. For example, a student who is doing basic 'Sarali varase’ or ' Janti varase’, he should look at conquering that note and the swaravali in two days. It is like learning alphabets a, b, c, d, e, f, g... Should not take more than one day to learn all the alphabets. Like that, you have to set targets. You should not say I'll practice for one hour, two hours. You should set targets that you are going to get a particular phrase or get a Varnam, the second speed or third speed, I must play it correctly. That should be the target. So practice should not be fixed to so many hours. You should set targets in terms of skill development and practice. You should keep on increasing your expectations. That is how you overreach yourself. You should always overperform and overachieve not underperform or underachieve. That should be the goal. So there is nothing that you cannot do. There is no limitation in the instrument. Limitation is in the mind. You can become whatever you want. So practice should be part of your life. You should not fix hours like I should play for 5 hours, 10 hours. You have to keep on playing. I remember I used to go to my terrace at 7 in the evening and come back at 6 in the morning. I even remember... (Laughs)... my brother, Vidwan Ganesh had practiced for 24 hours. He went into the room and didn’t come out at all. He kept playing throughout the whole day and night. You can practice like that. There will be a sangathi which you feel you have to conquer it. So hard work is important. It is not that you are struggling, it is hard work and you have to learn to enjoy it. It is true for all kinds of work. Nothing is difficult. Everything is easy, but the process should be correct and so is the attitude while being involved in the process.

Listen to Vid. Kumaresh Rajagopalan

SUSHMA P MAYYA: How do you interpret Carnatic music?
KUMARESH R: As myself... 

There are different ways musician interpret Carnatic music. Some like practicing speed, some to just get a flair of it, some practice the aesthetic content. Some people learn music to get knowledge of all the Krithis. Some practice one particular aspect of all the Krithis like only Thyagaraja compositions. Some may want to learn only Vidwan Oottukkadu Venkata Kavi's kritis. So they confine Carnatic music to different categories. But for me, Carnatic music is ‘Sapthaswara’ and the way it is. It is a reflection of the way we live our lives. It is a direct reflection of our society. It is a direct reflection of our Dharma. It has direct reflection to our thought process. So all that is part of me. So, when I interpret music, it is, I like to express myself through music. And Carnatic music is the only medium which I know to express myself. So when you ask me how do you interpret Carnatic music, that's myself. That's all I can say. Even if I play a Thyagaraja song or a Muthu Swamy Deekshithar song, I would like to interpret it the way I want, as myself. Not as what they thought. I can't do that. Then I will not be truthful to myself and my art form.

That is why I said I interpret it as myself. My experience of life, my Dharma, my practice, my connection with so many people, friends, all the food that I eat, everything matters in that. So the entire culture comes into it. So, what happens is, my likes and dislikes, all gets into the sound that comes out.

SUSHMA P MAYYA:  How do you think of a raga? And when you think of playing a raga, how do you picturise it?
KUMARESH R: Ok. I don't want to sound arrogant. Don't think it is arrogance. I'm just being true to myself... (laughs)... Just being honest. I think of a raga only when I want to do play something. Whatever comes I play. Any raga is comfortable for me. I used to like certain ragas very much. Like a Shanmukhapriya or a Poorvikalyani, I used to like Thodi. All ragas are part of the seven notes and I like all of them. So any raga is fine. I will never think of a raga as something different from me... Or I can say, it is a tool of expression for me. A mode of expression.

When I start to play a raga, I don't picturise. Because for me sound is not a visual medium. Sound is an aural medium. It's not a visual medium. I just have to hear the sound and I close my eyes. Sometimes, I think of  Maha Periyava, Kanchi Acharya, his vision will come at times. Or sometimes when I play my brother's sangathi, his figure will come. Saying, thanks to the great sangathi you have played. Or something my father has taught, his figure will come in front of my eyes. Otherwise, I don't visualize ragas. I just hear them as a sound and I try to reproduce it as closely as possible to what I hear... It's very difficult to produce the same sound. Difficult. Your mind works very fast.. You have to control it. At a time we hear about 10-15 sangathis. You have to filter one of it and play... Sometimes you have to force your mind to think the way you want to think. Sometimes it will go off. Off tangent. Somebody will talk, it will go there. Somebody will move, it will go there. That is why, normally, musicians close their eyes and play. We have to get over the distraction. Sometimes the mic will make strange sounds. You have to try not to get disturbed by all those things. So I don't visualize a raga. I just listen to a raga.

See, Goddess Saraswathi plays the veena, doesn't sing, Lord Krishna plays the flute, doesn't sing, Shiva plays the ‘Damaruga’, doesn't sing. But all singers sing in praise of them. So instrumentalists are what?

SUSHMA P MAYYA: What is Ragapravaham?
KUMARESH R: Ragapravaham is music beyond lyrics. That is, if I want to play Mayamalavagowla on the Violin, I have to depend on Krithis. It is in Telugu, Sanskrit, or I have to tune a new Krithi with some words. Ultimately do these krithis highlight the raga bhava. But they hide the raga bhava under lyrical and philosophical contents of great composers. So, if I say my music is my expression, my philosophy may not be in sync with the philosophy of the Kritis that I am performing. Like Thyagaraja says "Nidhi Chala Sukhama... Ramude Sannidhi Sukhame".

But I will say "Nidhi Chaala Sukhame, Ramude Sannidhi Chaala Sukhame". I want to attain both. So, there is a clash in philosophy. That is one point. Secondly, those compositions don't explore the depth and nuance of my instrument. Mostly it is a lyrical content only. So, when I want to show Mayamalavagowla, Hamsadhwani, or a Nasikabhooshani, or a Rasikapriya or a Thody or whatever,... I have to depend on songs to showcase my Violin sound and that somehow did not connect with me very well. I thought there were some differences with my musical thought process and sync with the art form. So we thought about composing for Violin. I compose music, my brother also composes compositions exclusively for Violin. That is how Ragapravaham came. For eg: in Todi, I have done one composition, the tala - Thishra Triputa, which we do not normally use in our compositions. We have very few compositions in Thishra Triputa Tala.

It struck me that this is a beautiful Talam with beautiful possibilities. So what I did, in the Laghu side the entire composition has only three Akshara phrases because it has 3 beats and the other side you will have only four Aksharas phrases because it has 4 beats. That's an idea which has not been done before. I have presented it. So ideas come to you. It comes to every musician. Everybody will get ideas, one just has to be in the receptive state of mind. So many thoughts go on in your head at a given point of time.  You grasp something and you talk. You don't talk about everything that goes on in your head. Likewise, ideas keep on coming to you in different ways. You have to connect and then grab it. So the connection should be on. That is why we practice. That is how Ragapravaham started. Ragapravaham is music beyond lyrics. You don't need lyrics to play music. Bhakti bhava is different. Spiritualism is different. Instrumental music is Aathmika bhava. Vocal music is bhakti bhava. It is the first step towards understanding divinity. Lyrical music brings in bhakti. Through bhakti, you need to become spiritual. That we call Athmika bhava in Tamil. In Kannada what you call Adhyatma is the next step. The sound is the source. We cannot see God, similarly, we cannot see music. God can only be experienced, similarly, music can only be experienced. Both are the same. We have been given the tool. With the help of the tool, we have to enhance, redefine, retune and then refine ourselves. When you become refined, you understand everything. That is why lyrics are limiting. Lyrics limit your understanding of music.

A Guru should be a friend first, a teacher next. He should be disciplined. But that discipline should be so beautiful that he only shows love to his students and not the discipline to his students.

SUSHMA P MAYYA:  How do you compare vocal and instrumental music?
KUMARESH R: You cannot compare. Incomparable, because the voice is also an instrument. But, the voice is dependent on lyrics to convey music. An instrument is not dependent on lyrics. Inherently, the instrument has a wonderful sound. It can create music. See, Goddess Saraswathi plays the veena, doesn't sing, Lord Krishna plays the flute, doesn't sing, Shiva plays the ‘Damaruga’, doesn't sing. But all singers sing in praise of them. So instrumentalists are what?... (Laughs). So we are beyond religion, beyond words, beyond lyrics. (Laughs)...

SUSHMA P MAYYA: Ha Ha… (laughs)  How important are gamakas in instrumental music?
KUMARESH R: Very important. See gamaka is the taste of music. It makes it so unique. No other music has this sound, it is the identity of our music. It is very important. But since they are so important, we have to be very careful about understanding it. We should know what is gamaka before even attempting it. So, it is imperative that you have to know the concept of 'Shuddha swara’, plain notes. Only then you must touch the gamakas. Learning gamakas is like doing Ph.D. You can't do Ph.D. when you are in the eighth or ninth standard. You have to finish your masters and then go to Ph.D. Gamakas are the identity of our music. It is our music.

SUSHMA P MAYYA:  How does an instrumentalist think and process music and how different it is from a vocalist?
KUMARESH R: I don't know a vocalist’s perspective, because I am not a vocalist. And I don't want to talk on behalf of vocalists. I don't know how they process, to be honest. For me, any sound can be musical. It's the way you express it. So I don't process, I don't have to process music. Unless I want to create something and I am looking for a unique kind of a phrase. Then maybe I am processing music until I get the phrase. Otherwise, I don't want to. For example, I did one composition in a very new Tala which I named Chitram. So for that, the phrases had to fall within the framework of the talam. So I had to process the sound and accordingly bring it to that talam. Then processing happens. Otherwise, instrumentalist should process music as sound and nothing else. Not as a caricature or anything else.

SUSHMA P MAYYA:  What are the qualities of a teacher?
KUMARESH R: A Guru should be a friend first, a teacher next. He should make students very comfortable and not make them uncomfortable. He should be disciplined. But that discipline should be so beautiful that he only shows love to his students and not the discipline to his students. He should be expanded. He should let the students grow. He should know how to guide each student in their way.

He should not let them or make them play his way, or sing his way. He must be able to guide them find their way... of expression. That is the idea of a true teacher. If he is teaching everybody the same thing, he cannot be called a good teacher. Everybody is a musician. Those who connect very well to themselves are able to express their ideas through music, through the sounds of music. So they become musicians. Other people don't get the connection. That's why they are not able to express or connect to the musical sounds. That's always a work in progress…

So it is up to the teacher to understand, to make the child or the student understand his musical sound and connect. He should be a guide more than a guru.

SUSHMA P MAYYA: What are your views on the current scenario that is happening in the musical field? For example, singing Christian songs in Carnatic style? Plagiarism?
KUMARESH R: Plagiarism is very bad. It is total nonsense. It should not be done at all. Nobody has a right to plagiarise. Because you are using somebody else's content to do something else and it is blasphemy, according to me. Regarding singing Christian songs in Carnatic music, I am actually pained to hear that. Because for me, my Dharma has taught me the greatness of this art form. My Dharma is very important for me. What I am today is because of the Dharma. My Dharma taught me this way of life, this way of musical life, this way of experiencing life,.. which is not available anywhere else. My Dharma tells me the multiplicity of paths available. My Dharma tells me the great many ways how people have achieved so many things spiritually, intellectually and how I can connect to them and be myself. My Dharma tells me all this.. and I have learned this art form playing Thyagaraja and Deekshithar kritis, Shama Shastry's songs, Purandara Dasa's songs, Annammacharya’s songs, all songs of great beings like Rama, Krishna, and Shiva. Though I do agree that music is beyond the region, I am the first one to say that music is de-religious, it is beyond boundaries, it is beyond race, everything...

But, with Christianity, my only problem is that they do it as a business. They convert people, they destroy any existing civilization. They have done that for so many years now. So what they do is, they adapt to what exists. That is what they are doing now. It is the core of our Dharma. Carnatic music is like the core of our Dharma. They will say, start singing Christian songs and over a period of time they will change everything into Yesu. Thyagarajaji won't be there after 50 years, Dikshitarji will not be there. Everything will be them. After 100 years they will say, Carnatic music is Christianity music. We never say Carnatic music is Hindu music. Do we say that? No. We don't say it at all. So why should they have that tag of Christian music? That shows their agenda. So, why should we give room for that? I don't trust them. They came to India when we had a wonderful tradition of trusting each other. We didn’t have signatures. Somebody says I will do this, we trusted him. There have been instances when a musician has pledged a raga for money and did not perform that raga till he returned that money. That was the kind of trust we had on people’s word. Ours was and is an Aural tradition. A beautiful way of life and living trusting each and everyone for what they said.

After looting lots of our wealth, what they did to our culture… They left our India divided.. into pieces. They fed us lies. They fed us all sorts of unwanted things. Put a lot of poison into everybody's mind. That's what they have done. And converted our own people into their religion. Our own poor and ignorant people are now doing this as a business. People know many more things are happening. Why should we unnecessarily give them chance to propagate their conversion business any further? It hurts me a lot. I am very disappointed that our musicians have done it. Very disappointed. They shouldn’t have done it. No other religion has place in Carnatic music, because it is the Dharma of India.

If somebody says, that Christian Yesudasji is singing Carnatic music song, he grew up in that Carnatic culture. He is part of the Carnatic culture. I am not part of the other culture. So, I can't accept it. We can talk about freedom of expression, but not at the expense of diluting my Dharma and backstabbing my Dharma. Can't accept it. I will turn into a Shivaji one hundred times if that happens.

Every musician wants to do something different. He wants to have his creative expression. For that, the musician needs to sit in a place, be patient, disciplined, understand the sound, understand his voice, understand what he can do, know the rhythmic patterns, stick with shruthi, spend time. Understand yourself, your art form and then it will automatically come. People who don't know the way, they do all these things. For them, oh! another form of expression... great I will get a better and a different audience. I don't think they do it for money. All of them are pretty well off. It is not for money. It is to enter into a creative zone. That's why they have done all these things. Content is missing there. When you have to create something, content becomes important. It is not easy to get content. You have to search, go deep within yourself. Without going in, without searching, you won't get it. It's not available for free in shops or anywhere. It has to come from within. They say 'Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama, Vaikhari’ are the four stages of speech. ‘Naabhi hrith khantha ‘rasana’....that is sound has to originate deep inside our belly button area. Then it becomes rasana. Music must also originate from the belly. Ideas must come and connect to the Supreme. Then the ‘ I ‘ will go. When you have entered into musical space, the ‘ I ‘ should go. Only music must remain. Then you are fine and creativity will happen.

SUSHMA P MAYYA:  Is music always on your mind?
KUMARESH R: Not when I am playing cricket....(laughs) or when I am watching cricket. Generally, it's there on my mind. For me life is musical. That doesn't mean it has to be music all the time. But I look at life as a beautiful music.

SUSHMA P MAYYA:  How do we take music to the general public?
KUMARESH R: You need not, they will come. You have to have faith in what you are doing and you should believe in yourself. You don't have to go to the people, they will come. Today they had come for the concert, isn't it? We didn't change anything for them.  Played music and presented it well and people enjoyed.

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