The Treasure Keeper of Songs and the Strings
By Meera Bhardwaj | Published: 10th August 2014 06:00 AM |
Mysore-based veena maestro Vidwan R K Padmanabha once performed for the great vocalist Vidushi Gangubai Hangal. It made Hangal immensely nostalgic and happy. She had roots in Carnatic music before she pursued Hindustani. It’s not often that Padmanabha, the exponent of a dying tradition and the ancient veenas, finds stalwarts like Gangubai Hangal in the audience. To keep the listeners glued to the music, the maestro has come up with a new element in performance. He blends singing with veena-playing. The response to the veenas in general and the Gayathri and Akhand veenas in particular, is thin in the Indian concert scene. “I start with a vocal rendition. Then, I play the same composition on the veena and demonstrate the nuances of the raga through instrumental music. Otherwise, the audience interest may fade away.” Today, listeners expect him to perform devotional songs and familiar ragas. “It is only at the Sangeet Sabhas that we can show our mettle and demonstrate our manodharma (music performed true to the grammar).”
At six, Padmanabha started accompanying his father at concerts, till 1982. He was trained in singing and veena playing by his father for almost two decades. The Mysore style of veena-playing which Padmanabha follows was patronised by the Wodeyar Kings. The musical instrument and the rendition is a bit different from the Thanjavur, Andhra or Kerala styles. He adds, “The metal frets are placed differently. The Mysore style emphasises on swaras. It is shrill in the higher octaves. I prefer clear and sharp tones and straight notes. With elaborate right hand technique, there is liberal usage of meettus (plucking of strings) for added effects.” His father, R S Keshavamurthy, a renowned veena exponent, who was endowed with the title of Asthana Vidwan at Kingdom of Mysore, developed this instrument in 1924. He adds, “My father developed this instrument after a lot of research and added extra strings to the seven stringed instrument. He further added 20 guitar keys with 17 strings below, three for rhythm and four main ones. The tones are natural and heavenly.” The master’s musical research was thorough. “He used to produce different sounds by changing the keys frequently and discovering new tones, thereby taking the capability of veena to the highest level.”
The 250-year-old precious Kanaka Rajatha Saraswathi Akanda Veena was passed on to him by his brothers in 1983 after his father’s death. The historical veena belonged to Veena Subbanna, the legendary musician and composer (1861-1939). It is said that Puttadasappa, the well known veena maker of Mysore had done the entire carving work in 18th century. It was handed over by Veena Subbanna to his beloved disciple Keshavamurthy, Padmanabha’s father and guru.
According to Padmanabha, the 10-day-Veena festival held at Shimoga in Karnataka during the Karthik Deepotsava in November is a great opportunity for the many veena artistes. “I perform there every year. The audience is great and the music lovers stay on till midnight. With the tradition of veena relegated to Mysore, Bangalore, Hassan and Shimoga, in Karnataka, the opportunities for exclusive concerts are less. Royal patronage helped sustain the art. But today, it is a different ball game.” He suggests that string instruments should be performed together, but not the veena. “Its resonance and effect will be lost in the melee.”