The divine instrument is his forte. Basking in the glory of 50 years of melodic music, veteran veena maestro Ananda Padmanabhan says he was destined to be a veena artiste.
“I believe it’s God’s will. Because, other than some of the basic lessons I inherited from my father, who himself was a veena artiste, I never received any formal training. Fifty years have passed and I can still recollect those days when I used to create my own varisas, geethams and ragas’’
There was a period in the classical history of Indian music when innovations were restricted and not encouraged. The adherents simply stuck to the old school of thought and it was at this time that Ananda Padmanabhan introduced a fresh innovation of fusions, blending classical, Hindustani and western music.
“It was in 1976 that fusions became prominent in Kerala. Orthodox and conventional musicians were strongly against this ideology and some even warned me against conjuring such themes. But I felt there had to be variety in everything. Even if classical music can be termed the mother of all music forms, if you hear it continuously you will get bored,” says the veteran, who adds that fusions will open doors to genuine friendships.
“Just as we South Indians claim to be masters of the Swathi Thirunal and Chembai ragas, in North India, there are even more ‘claimants’ for the rich variations of Hindustani ragas. But, without these fusions there would not have been a venue where both the zones can share the same platform,” says Padmanabhan, who recollects his first fusion or rather the first fusion that the state witnessed, of a classical-Carnatic blend.
“With veena in the lead, we had five more instruments - drums, tabala, mridangam, keyboard and guitar. The first performance was in Thrissur and the response was simply overwhelming. This boosted my confidence. Later, I worked on several fusion pieces.”
The maestro, who is the recipient of the Sangeetha Nataka Akademi Award and the prestigious Guruvayur Chembai Award, adds that it’s important each musician sketches out his own personal style in any instrument. “The veena is perhaps the toughest of all string instruments. But I believe if you develop a personal style, you can see the instrument coming under your command.”
Fifty years have been a pretty long time. In the words of Ananda Padmanabhan, all these years there has been a wave of revolution in the scenario. “These days people have become more liberal. Gone are the days when you thought this was the instrument synonymous with classical stuff.” Ask the veteran his best innovation in the instrument and there comes the justification to his previous quote. “The third and fourth strings of veena do have a unique sound blend, making it slightly associated with western bits. The idea just struck me how it would sound playing a western piece in this Indian instrument. Till date this innovation has fetched me many noteworthy praises and I am glad that I have been able to prove that music limits. Whether it’s Carnatic or western, it’s ultimately music itself.”
Ask him his role model and there comes the humble reply, “I enjoy hearing Balachander’s collections. At times I wonder if he’s actually playing the instrument or conversing with it. I envy him for that,” says the humble artiste who has heaps of concerts and film recordings to boast of. Ananda Padmanabhan follows the ‘practice makes a person perfect’ school of thought. “Even today, I practise for a minimum of eight hours, apart from my tutoring. My advise to a veena student is to practise more ragas instead of all the while sticking to varisas. Varisas may improve your fluency at the initial level, but only elaborate raga playing can improve your performance. Plus it’s important that you listen to concerts and observe the playing”
This rich legacy of music has been passed down. Ananda Padmanabhan’s son, who is also a software professional, is ardently following in his father’s footsteps. “He shows genuine interest in mastering veena and I have mentored him well. These days, both of us perform together for concerts and this is a bliss,” he winds up.