CHENNAI: Her violet silk sari, diamond mookuthi, earrings and big red pottu might give veena vidushi Padmavathy Ananthagopalan the look of a typical old Madras artiste, but the 80-year-old cognoscenti says she’s still young at heart. She can play veena, mridangam and nadhaswaram. Her penchant for perfection is infectious, given her lineage.
Acknowledged as the most accomplished veena artiste for more than seven decades now, she stands tall in the fast-changing world of classical music. Recently, she was conferred with the Vainika Mudhra Award at the sixth edition of Mudhra Veenotsav.
Padmavathy was initiated into music when she was just five, by her father Lalgudi Gopala Iyer, who also taught her to play veena. “I am a strict disciplinarian. Music means everything to me. Later, I developed my own style,” she says.
She talks about her journey in the last seven decades. “An entry into performance in kutcheris was never easy in those days. Women weren’t allowed to participate in public concerts. It took a lot of courage to break into the male bastion,” she says. “I have been a serious classicist all my life. Each concert has been different because of my spontaneous originality. Even now, I keep in mind the different audiences and perform according to them,” she adds.
It has been over 25 years since Padmavathy started the Sri Satguru Sangeetha Vidyalaya in Anna Nagar, where many musicians, including Usha Rajagopalan and Jayanthi Kumaresh have studied. “A bit of theory is also taught here,” says Padmavathy.
Padmavathy explains that with veena, a lot of sounds can be experimented. “All you need is single-mindedness and a sense of thirst to keep exploring new things,” she says. “S Balachandar was my huge inspiration. It was tough to adopt his unique style. It was on his suggestion that I formally started conducting classes,” she says.
“Music is being taught everywhere these days, but no one follows the sishya-guru approach, which had immensely benefitted artistes of my time,” she says, referring to the gurukula vasam.
“There’s no end to creativity. I feel I have so much more inside me. What I have achieved so far is only a little bit of what I can do,” she says.
Padmavathy says she admires younger artistes who, according to her, do things much faster. “It is much easier now for young people to take to music professionally. I feel that music has to be relevant to people and celebrate their culture,” she says.
Padmavathy does the maintenance work for her instrument all by herself. “People who do not know about the instrument think this is strange. But fixing strings is something common and natural,” she says.
She says that she has always believed in patience, sacrifice, determination and guru bhakti. “I am just a simple person. Awards and recognitions make me happy but nothing is huge than the grace of goddess Kamakshi,” she says. She has always done what she believed in and advices the same to youngsters. “Do what you want, but with passion,” she says.
Padmavathy’s only wish is to be able to play the veena till her last breath. “I am aging. So, I spend most of my time teaching students, which is the most satisfying experience. Also, I am doing my bit to take the veena on a par with the vocal kutcheris in sabhas,” she says.