Transcending The Boundaries Of Carnatic Music:  Vidwan Vikku Vinayakram

Transcending The Boundaries Of Carnatic Music: Vidwan Vikku Vinayakram

Shrestha Mohapatra | Aug 12, 2019

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The Society for the promotion of Indian Classical music and Culture Amongst Youth (SPICMACAY) has always endeavoured to seek the traditional heritage enthusiast in the current generation and helped in bridging gaps between the youth and our rooted Indian culture by spreading awareness about the hidden treasures of Indian culture. With the guidance of Prof. Seemita Mohanty (PIC and SAC President), SPICMACAY NITR Chapter and SAC organised an event displaying the astoundingly melodious talent of Vidwan Vikku Vinayakram in an instrument called ‘Ghatam’.

Vidwan Vikku Vinayakram was awarded the Padma Shri, given by Government of India in 2002, and later the 2012 Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship, the highest honour in the performing arts conferred by the Sangeet Natak Akademi, India's National Academy for Music, Dance and Drama. Finally, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2014.; He is credited with popularising Carnatic music with the ‘Ghatam’. On hearing his weighty name, one might assume him to be a very reserved and grave man. However; a congenial, pious and a demure man, one might never feel the gravitas of his fame and accolades on meeting him. 

The program was inaugurated by the lighting of lamps by Vidwan Vikku Vinayakram, Prof. Animesh Biswas (Director), Prof. Pradip Kumar Das (Registrar), Prof. S K Patel (Dean Student Welfare), Prof. Seemita Mohanty, Prof. Nalini Nihar Nayak (SAS officer) and Alumnus, Comodor Yadumani Jena. 

Vidwan Vikku Vinayakram was accompanied on stage by his sons, Mr Selvaganesh and Mr Umashankar and grandson, Mr Swaminathan making them the 1st family to be on stage as a three-generations-performers, and they played Carnatic music with a series of instruments. 

The first performance with the Ghatam was called ‘Shiv Tandav’. It is called so because it is believed it sounds like the rhythm which comes from Shiva’s Dumroo. This was followed by ‘Guru Vandhana’ and the chanting and playing of more instruments like the ‘Mridangam'. The performances were very engaging and upbeat. They made sure the audience was well engrossed and made them take part by chanting and clapping to the beats. 

It was a very engaging and mesmerising performance, not just because of the powerhouse of the talent on stage but because they made it a very interactive and comfortable environment for the audience. Something as difficult as Carnatic music can sound very intimidating but they played all the instruments with finesse and ease. From imitating sounds of a moving train to a conversation between couples on instruments, the show made a very entertaining watch. 

The show ended with the felicitation of gifts to the performers by Prof. Animesh Biswas, Prof. Pradip Kumar Das, Prof. S K Patel, Prof. Seemita Mohanty, Prof. Nalini Nihar Nayak and Comodor Yadumani Jena.

Team MM caught up with Vidwan Vikku Vinayakram and below is a conversation between TEAM MM and Vidwan Vikku Vinayakram. The entire conversation took place with Mr Swaminathan, his grandson as the mediator to translate from Tamil to English.

Team MM: We are very honoured to have you around us. What do you feel about our institute?

VVV: Not everyone promotes Indian music but SPICMACAY is doing a remarkable job. It’s bringing the students together to appreciate and understand art related to Carnatic music. We’ve been travelling all around and performing for SPICMACAY and it makes me very proud as all the great Indian artists have played and performed for SPICMACAY. So it’s very nostalgic as I go down the memory lane as I’ve been accompanying many other artists and playing for it for a very long time but it’s only recently that I’m being called as a main-stage artist and performing as a family with three generations of music.

Team MM: You were 13 when you performed for the first time. How different is the experience of performing now and then?

VVV: Though I prepared for concerts and performed that time, I didn’t have much experience. That time, I just practised what I learnt and never applied it but when I collaborated with more artists, later on, I could use my art, i.e Carnatic music and adapt it according to various other genres ranging from Jazz to Hindustani Classical. With experience, I evolved along with my music.

Team MM: What was the driving force that made you pursue this career?

VVV: My father made me pursue this career and all my ancestors come from a musical background. Initially, I had no interest in music. My family was a small one from Trichy and we moved to Chennai because it was the hub of music. My father used to play music until he met with an unfortunate accident and lost his finger. So I had to take over the family legacy and my father started teaching me. The practice sessions were very gruelling and tiresome. My father’s word was the final decision for me in all matters. Every day, early in the morning, I would play till the lamp goes out then eat and play again. My daily schedule was Eat. Play. Sleep. Repeat. Whenever I used to slack off or feel uninterested, he used to take me to watch movies as I loved them but he would make me practice in the intermission

Team MM: You left your education at the age of 12 to pursue music. Do you ever regret not completing your formal education?

VVV: I never regretted leaving school, I was very happy to leave it. I’m actually very proud as music is also a very pure form of learning and I’m glad I could put my entire focus on this art whole-heartedly. Although I didn’t complete my formal education I’ve travelled and performed with people from various countries and I’ve gained a lot of experience, something which school can’t teach you.

Team MM: How does being a Padma Bhusan and Padma Shri awardee make you feel?

VVV: I’m very proud and overwhelmed that the Indian Government appreciates and recognises my art. At the same time, I feel like whatever award I get, it’s not for me but is dedicated to my Ghatam. I never feel that I receive an award for playing the instrument, I feel like it’s for the instrument alone.

Team MM: How was the experience of winning the Grammy’s?

VVV: I didn’t go for Grammy but all the regional artists were led by Mickey Hart, one of the drummers of the band Grateful Dead. I, along with Zakir Hussain, represented India in that group. It was a completely different experience, recording an album. There were no melodies, just percussions in it. We didn’t know how it’s going to turn out but it became one of the fastest-selling albums and we won the Grammy for the Best-selling Album. Mickey Hart, in his award acceptance-speech, said that all the members had an equal contribution and he can’t take it for himself so all of us got a Grammy. I didn’t realise at that time that Grammy was a big deal and it wasn’t even published in the newspapers as the connectivity was very poor between India and other countries and nobody knew about the Grammy’s at that time. So they just couriered the certificate and I had kept it in safe-keeping. But when much later on A.R. Rahman got a Grammy, everybody checked the records and saw that there was already a South Indian who won it way before him.

Team MM: You’ve given a very unconventional instrument a very important status in the international world. How do you feel about it?

VVV: I feel like it’s all God’s grace. I feel like I haven’t done anything. It’s all my father’s decisions. I’ve followed all his orders and whatever I am today, it’s because of him. My father was everything to me, my inspiration and my guru, and his wish was my command. Only God knows what I would have done had it not been for him. It was his dream to make the Ghatam popular all over the world. He could foresee that ‘Ghatam’ was going to be extinct. Just like Ravi Shankar made Sitar famous, he wanted to me to make ‘Ghatam’ popular. Those days, Mridangam was the most popular instrument but there was a lot of competition for it. So my father told me that if I wanted to be successful I had to play the Ghatam, as it’s a very flexible instrument and can be played with all genres of music. I don’t know much about the world and my father was like my eye-sight to the world. He could predict things and foresee them in hind-sight. 

 

Team MM: How do you feel about Carnatic fusion music?

VVV: John McLaughlin, L. Shankar, Zakir Hussain and I started classical Carnatic fusion and formed a band Shakti. We never expected it to become a hit but it did and it gives me great pleasure and satisfaction when people of the younger generation come up to me and tell me that they cherish and love the music. I feel blessed that many new artists come up to me and tell me that I opened the gates for them to start something new and fresh, out of the box.

Team MM: How did you bring about the inception of making Carnatic Fusion music? What inspired you to do so?

VVV: It’s not easy to be a permanent artist at All Indian Radio, a government job, at that time but I landed up getting a job there. However, at that time, L. Shankar approached me to tour around the world for the fusion genre for a band called ‘Shakti’. Everyone advised me against going for the tour as they wanted me to have a stable job. Moreover, they saw this fusion genre as messing with the purity of Carnatic music as they were very orthodox. Also, it was very difficult being a full-time artist at that time and stability was all that mattered then. But my father, being the visionary that he is, encouraged me to go for it so that I could make Ghatam popular outside the confines of the country and expose it to everyone. Many musicians ostracised me for the decision and refused to work for me except for two musicians, M.S Subhalakshmi and Veena Bala Chandra. My father was the designer of my life and I owe him everything. He used to tell me to work whole-heartedly for your cause and mentally prepared me to sacrifice everything including the comfort of my home for 6 long months.

Team MM: Comment on the awareness of Classical music amongst the youth.

VVV: People who played Carnatic music at that time didn’t want to travel to promote it. The first person to do so was M. S. Subhalakshmi who went for a United Nations Concert. So people started gradually travelling after that and propagated their art and when people learn some form of art, they also become enlightened about the culture associated with it. Now, this music form is known all over the globe along and the credit goes to the artists for making and worshipping their music and exposing it to the world. I’m content with the fact that there are many Carnatic enthusiasts amongst the youth.

Team MM: What does music mean to you and what message would you like to give to our readers?

VVV:

For me, music is life. When you listen to music, it heals your heart. I listen to it and all my worries go away. It’s more than a source of comfort for me, it means the entire world to me. Don’t get worried if you’ll get a chance to showcase your talent, do it for the love of music and you’ll surely become successful.

Team MM feels thankful and blessed to have met the down-to-earth legend and wishes him all the best for all the years to come.

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