Purandara showed the way
Gandhiji's assassination left Kurudi Venkannachar stranded in Bombay. The classical vocalist, who turns 75 this week, recalls how he sang Purandaradasa compositions to buy a ticket back to Bellary.
TWO YEARS ago, Times Music released Navaratnamalika, a tape of nine Purandaradasa compositions. The musician who leads the singing in that avidly received album is Kurudi Vekannachar.
Venkannachar's association with Haridasa compositions dates back to 1948. The Andhra Sabha had invited him and a fellow musician to Bombay. The day they were to sing, Gandhiji was assassinated, and an angry crowd vandalised the venue. Vekannachar and his friend had no money and did not know how to get back. They approached T.M. Krishnaswamy of the Kannada Sangha and requested his help to buy tickets back to Bellary. He made them an offer. If they could present a full-fledged concert with Kannada compositions, he would pay one musician's return passage. "That's how I began singing Purandaradasa compositions. In those days, I would write down the words and sing them. I am now immersed in Haridasa compositions, and can sing them with ease," says Venkannachar.
That concert in Matunga prompted Venkannachar to explore the world of Haridasa music, and he turned out to be among the first Carnatic classical vocalists to give Purandaradasa his due. (More recently, R.K. Srikantan presented concerts exclusively featuring Haridasa compositions.).
Venkannachar has been an active member of Purandara Aradhana Samiti, which holds an annual festival to pay tribute to that great poet and composer. The musical programme used to be held in Hampi; it has now moved to Mulbagal.
Venkannachar has been nominated President of the Samiti's 2003 music conference in Mulbagal (January 31 to February 2).
Kurudi is a village in Raichur District. Venkannachar was born on December 15, 1928, at Kampli, near Bellary. His father Kurudi Adivachar was a Sanskrit pandit, and gave him his first music lessons. He formally learnt music for just two years, under Chintalapalli Venkatarao. Those were war years (1941-42). "I lived in his house in Chintalapalli, doing everything from cleaning the place to doing the daily puja," he recalls. "And because I was doing all his priestly duties, my guru used to call me achari." Chintalapalli is in Andhra Pradesh, near Hindupur. Venkannachar gave his first concert in Guntur when he was just 13.
"I did much of my rigorous practice in the forests near Harapanahalli," Venkannachar says. He married Sulochana, who he met when she came to learn music from him. He was then in Harapanahalli, and decided to move to a bigger place, and the nearest city happened to be Bellary. He lived there for eight years. Mysore Brothers, who were well-known Harikatha exponents, persuaded him to move to Arsikere, where he taught for eight years. His fame had spread, and there were occasions when 4,000 people gathered to hear him.
Venkannachar came to Bangalore in 1970 and has lived here since. He has been teaching and performing regularly. Some of his disciples, such as Purvachar and Geetha Vasudeva Rao are concert artistes in their own right. His son K.V. Nandakumar, who works in State Bank of India, is also a prominent disciple. On stage, though, Nandakumar prefers to sing Hindustani music, which he learnt from Pandit Rama Rao Naik.
On his 75th birthday, Venkannachar's students are setting up a trust in his name. "The trust will help musicians in rural areas and provide scholarships to physically-disabled students who are keen on learning music," says Nandakumar. Nadabrahma Kurudi Venkannachar Trust (phone 654 9178) will also bring out books, cassettes, and CDs of Venkannachar's works.
Besides composing padas in the Haridasa style, Venkannachar has composed varnas, kritis, and tillanas. "One of my innovations," he says, "is the multi-raga pallavi." While singing the raga-tana-pallavi, he takes up two dissimilar ragas, like Kalyani and Kirvani, and sings them alternately, ensuring that he gives them equal prominence.
Venkannachar's music is available on IBH, Sangeetha, and Times Music. Kanaka Tarangini, his recent recording for Kosmic Music, features Kanakadasa compositions. ]"It is unusual in the compositions it has chosen, like one in which he praises Ramanujacharya," says Nandakumar. Kanakadasa belonged in the Madhwa tradition, and many will be surprised to hear that he wrote a song in praise of a saint who founded a dissident faith.
(Inauguration of Nadabrahma Kurudi Venkannachar Trust and Venkannachar's 75th birthday celebrations, will be held at 5.30 p.m. on December 15 at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bangalore.)
Send this article to Friends by