CHENNAI: Born and raised in Chennai, the famous brothers, V Lakshman and V Raman have accomplished wonders in the city’s music scene. They have performed worldwide as part of Lakshman Sruthi Orchestra and established a leading music store, Lakshman Sruthi Musicals, in 2003, which sells every instrument you need to play in a band. Lakshman gets candid talks about his long and adventurous journey from being a part of a light music band in college (1987) to being the organisers of the famous Chennaiyil Thiruvaiyaru that has now become synonymous with the Margazhi music festival. Excerpts follow.
Tell us about your roots in Kanchipuram Our parents are from Avalur Village, Valajabath, Kanchipuram.
Every summer holidays, we would go to the village and spend our days on the farms next to the Palar River. We’d spend our days farming, playing near the river and listening to our grandfather playing the mridangam in the Perumal temple there. That’s our connection with music; our parents were not music connoisseurs as such. It is all our grandfather’s genes!
How did you get into the music field?
I did both UG and PG (1982-1988) in Presidency College. I was quite proficient in mimicry, participating and winning in several inter-college competitions. When I was doing my post-grad, the college was establishing a music group and I was roped in as the mimicry artist and announcer. At the time, I knew nothing about music except I would just listen to it. But being an announcer, I learned a lot about the nuances of music kutcheri and got into it more proficiently. From 1987, we would sit under a tree on the college grounds and practice and perform. And then we started getting more professional opportunities from temples even while we were in college.
Was it hard to establish a professional band after college?
When we started a college troupe, we were 10-12 members strong, but only five or so people sustained till the end. After college, we did a 36-hour continuous music performance at the Kamarajar Arangam that was a world record, and that created a much-needed buzz with the public. We have so far done over 10,000 shows across the world in 23 countries. This is our 31st year and the people are still not bored with us. Likewise, we too find new innovative ways to make music. It’s the people who keep us going in our creativity.
How did Lakshman Sruthi Musicals, the store, come about?
We had a permanent music troupe office amid the Timber Shops on Mint Street. At that time, no other music troupe had an extensive office space with waiting hall, rehearsal room and parking. Most of our kutcheris were in the evening, and we thought instead of doing nothing in the mornings, why not open a music store? So we started Lakshman Sruthi Music Store (2003) in Vadapalani. And now, that signal itself is called ‘Lakshman Sruthi’ signal! (Laughs)
Chennaiyil Thiruvaiyaru has been successful over the past 13 years. What inspired you to begin something like this?
We wanted to cater to all sectors within the music field, and being a light music band, we wanted to branch into Carnatic music. In 2005, we sat down for discussion with our financial advisor. We began at 9 pm and around 3 am, we decided to replicate the Thyagarajar Aaradhanai in Thiruvaiyaru, where over 20,000 people sing the Pancharatna Keerthanaighal together in honour of Saint Thyagaraja. And starting in 2005, we have evolved this annual fest with several additions, an ‘Isai Aazhvar award’, unveiling a wax statue honouring maestros and more. We’ve already started planning for next year’s event! (smiles)
You must have many stories from your travels abroad...
Yes, many! We used to think that we were the only organisation in the world that started as a band but branched into a full-fledged music store. But when we went to the US for a performance in 2003 and came across a music store there called Sam Ash. The shop was about 35 times bigger than ours, and they had over 40 branches across the US. They started in 1916 as an orchestra and had progressed this far!
What are your other interests and hobbies?
I am a sportsman too — I learnt freestyle wrestling, gymnastics, and silambam. I actually used to work as a stunt artist in films between 1983 and 1989. Not many people know that (laughs). Now I practice yoga proficiently even when I travel.
What are your future plans?
We are planning to open more branches of our store. We hadn’t done it so far because we didn’t want to compromise on quality for quantity.