VIJAYAWADA: Decades-long contribution to Carnatic music finally brought Padma Shri to classical violin maestro Dr Annavarapu Ramaswamy in his 96th year. His friends and well-wishers say that he deserves Padma Bhushan, and that he should have received the Padma Shri honour, India’s fourth-highest civilian award, at least three decades ago. However, Ramaswamy says he has no regrets for the delay and that he has many titles to his credit.
Born on March 23, 1926, Ramaswamy hails from Somavarappadu near Eluru in West Godavari district, Ramaswamy started learning music from a very young age. His father was a Nadaswaram Vidwan, while brother Gopalam was a Ghatam artiste in the All India Radio.
Noted for inventing new Ragas and Talas such as Vandana Raga, Sri Durga Raga and Tinetradi Tala and Vedadi Tala, Ramaswamy has given lectures on music in several countries. He is also a recipient of Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, Andhra Pradesh Sangeet Akademi Award, Hamsa Award of AP and Potti Sreeramulu Telugu University Pratibha Award. Excerpts from an interview with TNIE:
What was your initial reaction when you were told that you’ve won Padma Shri?
Awards are not new to me. It came as a pleasant surprise as it wasn’t something that I was expecting. I am deeply humbled by the fact that the government finally recognised my eight-decade-long efforts in the field of music.
At what age did you start learning Carnatic music and who was your inspiration?
I belong to a family of musicians. My father Pentayya Nadaswara was a nadaswaram scholar. My elder brother Annavarapu Gopalam used to play eight types of musical instruments such as mridangam, kanjira, conch and dhol. He also worked as an ghatam artiste in Akashavani for a long time, before his retirement. When I was eight, my brother suggested that I learn violin from Maganti Jagannadham Chowdary in my village. In 1951, noted Nadaswaram scholar Galiparthi Pichan visited Eluru and my brother introduced me to him. After listening to me play, the scholar said I had a good future in Carnatic music, and introduced me to his guru Gayaka Sarvabhoma Parupalli Ramakrishna Panthulu.
What is your association with Vijayawada? What was the turning point in your career?
I arrived in Vijayawada in 1941 and performed before eminent violinist Susarla Dakshinamurthy at an event. He was impressed with my performance and suggested that I learn a few more tunes. Suggestions by eminent musicians of the era helped me achieve great heights in my career. From 1944, I started performing in small musical events. I joined the All India Radio station here in 1948 and worked there for almost 38 years. I have also performed at various national and international events, and under eminent musicians in the country. Over the past eight decades, I have given concerts in US, Canada, UK, France, Muscat, Bahrain, Dubai, Singapore, Malaysia, Doha and Sri Lanka.
What steps should be taken by the government to promote Carnatic music?
A majority of youngsters are afraid of following a career in Carnatic music due to lack of proper opportunities. Previously, those who learnt it had the scope of performing at events. But now only a few of the performers have the fortune to excel in the art form. Several music schools and colleges have shut down and AIR has also stopped giving employment to those who pursue the art. I have discussed these issues with eminent personalities in New Delhi and told them that AIR is a platform to promote music, arts and culture through Akashvani. The State government should protect and encourage the ancient cultural arts. In my view, music should be introduced in all elementary schools and a music college should be set up in each district.