Ananthapadmanabhan- The Veena Virtuoso
Arts Speak

Ananthapadmanabhan- The Veena Virtuoso

Divya Menon

Divya Menon

The feeling of veneration in Thyagaraja's "Endaro Mahanubhavulu", the intoxicating devotion in Swathi Thirunal's "Kaanthanodu", the pangs of longing in P.Bhaskaran's "Tamasamenthe Varuvaan", all come alive effortlessly at the tips of the fingers of an incomparable Vainika. Like an artist who paints emotions, using the Veena as his brush, Ananthapadmanabhan paints emotions in the hearts of the listeners. In a world buried under the din of insensitivity, this is an experience that is simply rejuvenating.

Ananthapadmanabhan the Veena virtuoso is India’s pride! In those few words rest a world of love and admiration for the towering personality whose humility and virtuosity stand at par with each other! Very many years ago, in the early 1950s, a young boy from Trivandrum one day began to strum at his father’s Veena that he found irresistible. As his tiny fingers ran across the Veena producing sounds that intrigued him, he found himself gripped by the desire to conquer the instrument.

That was the beginning of a romance that would still time in the years to come and give a serendipitous twist to the life of a civil engineer's son, who would in due course pick up Mathematics as his subject of study, yet go on to place the country on the world music map.

At 20, this largely self-taught musician gave his first public performance at a temple in Thiruvananthapuram and in four years went on to join the All India Radio as the Nilaya Vidwan. This was the turning point in his career as this threw open many opportunities to interact with stalwarts, listen to their music, accompany them to concerts, compose music for shows on air and so on. “Those were very fulfilling 36 years of my life”, he reminisces!

The Navarathri Mandapam of Thiruvananthapuram is one of the most hallowed venues of music in India. To be able to perform at the Mandapam as part of the Navarathri celebrations is a dream for many and in 1995, when he performed for the first time at this Festival, it was indeed a dream come true for him.

He remembers with immense fondness the 50th year celebrations of the UNESCO to which he was invited to perform solo and also with the Philharmonic Orchestra in Paris. During this trip through lecture demonstrations that he conducted, he had the opportunity to interact with the French world of music lovers and was moved deeply by their sheer receptiveness of Indian music and admiration for the values that our music upholds and represents.

His momentous career is dotted with several awards and accolades. While he says each is special and important in a certain way, there is one that he holds very close to his heart and that is the 2011 Chembai Award instituted by the Guruvayur Dewaswom Board. The list is long and he strongly believes that appreciation is an elixir to novices and accomplished musicians alike, because encouragement is paramount to the growth of an artist. If 'on-stage' exuberance is alluring, Ananthapadmanabhan with his under-stated grandeur and grace becomes a spokesperson of his soulful music. One wonders if it is the music that flows from him or if it is he who flows with the music. The truth is that he simply flows with the pace of life. He does not force anything to materialize, neither is there a purported effort to change the rhythm of life.

He does not tamper with the future by planning rather he takes things as they come. Nevertheless, he nurtures a dream and that is to establish a school of music where the two streams of Indian classical music, that is Carnatic and Hindustani can come together under one umbrella, providing genuine aspirants of music the opportunity to mutually interact and explore the nuances of both.

In a chaotic world that finds itself split into innumerable little pieces, such a school would play a very important role in uniting mankind. Along with Ananthapadmanabhan, one dares to dream of such possibilities in the near future. A primordial version of this deep desire is what led him to introduce the concept of fusion music in the year 1976, however, the pioneer of fusion music laments that there is more confusion today than any fusion at all!

Ananthapadmanabhan has been a teacher to nearly 350 students, some of whom have gone on to achieve individual fame as Vainikas. His doors are open to earnest aspirants of music and at the age of 68, he is still teaching a number of students who look up to him and eagerly look forward to their music sessions with him. He has simply one message to give his students and that is to practice and listen more, as that alone leads to perfection.

Music is everything to this musician who has been travelling for the past many decades performing at various venues and on numerous stages to the initiated and uninitiated, casual and purist crowds. Like a stream that never dries or like a river that never stops flowing, his music keeps wafting from an inexhaustible source of creativity; perhaps this is why they say music is divine and men of music are messengers of the divine power. This truth is what is reinforced each time one meets him in person and at his concert.

Apart from his mesmerizing music, Ananthapadmanabhan has given this world a piece of himself and that is his son Anand Kaushik, a prodigious musician who performs along with his father on stage at most concerts. An engineer by profession Anand like his father is musicality personified. His father has been his guru and although he has never had any formal lessons, each day spent with his father and his music is akin to music lessons for he has imbibed a lot more than what is possible through formal lessons. This he feels is a huge plus being born as the son of such a Master. At the same time, he adds that as a musician, it is not easy being the son of Ananthapadmanabhan for listeners set very high benchmarks and to live up to the image they conjure is not always easy. Their jugalbandis are particularly exciting for Anand as these are learning sessions themselves. The father and son duo with their unique brand of music, continue to underpin the truth that music is the gift of nurture and nature alike!