Mudikondan is a beautiful little hamlet in the Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu. This village has long lent its name to two exceptional musicians – Sangeetha Kalanidhi Mudikondan Venkatarama Iyer and Kalaimamani Mudikondan S.N. Ramesh who is the son of S.Narayanaswami Iyer, the senior disciple of Mudikondan Venkatarama Iyer. Each of them, during their time, brought focus to this tiny village through the mesmerizing music they created and since more than three decades now, the village has been receiving international attention via the magic that Mudikondan S.N. Ramesh has been weaving on the Saraswathi Veena. Given the musical lineage he belongs to, perhaps a life soaked in music was not an act of serendipity at all; however, he took to pursuing CA after his graduation and worked for a private firm in Chennai for more than two decades before taking up Veena playing as a profession. Today, with his incomparable style of teaching, he is regarded as one of the most sought after Veena Gurus in the Country who has students across India and abroad with a great number of his concerts being staged in Kerala in temples as well as prestigious music colleges in the State.
As the Chembai Music Festival annually held in Guruvayur, in honour of the legendary musician Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar, enters the second week at the modest Melpathur Auditorium facing the Temple, many brilliant musicians have already performed here and many more musical luminaries as well as upcoming talents will go up on stage in the coming days. On the evening of 24th November at the hallowed venue, Veena Vidwan Mudikondan S.N. Ramesh enthralled listeners with his chaste rendition of a handful of carnatic krithis as an offering to the Lord. His one hour concert was a delightful experience as he opened with Vinayaka in the popular Hamsadhwani raga, wading over to an intense Paavana Guru in Hamsanandi before moving on to Thaaye Yashoda in Thodi that was highly imaginative. What followed next were Bharo Krishnayya – a Raga Malika, the soothing strains of Madhava Maamava Deva in Neelambari and finally Melu Ledhu Theelu Ledhu in Narayanadri raagam. Throughout the evening, the Maestro treated his audience to his ingenuity and brilliant techniques, in the Thanjavur Bani which is known to be the oldest and most authoritative system of Veena playing. The style generally considered to be very difficult to master and render was performed by Mudikondan Ramesh with utter dignity and simplicity. His senior disciple in Kerala, Sreevidya Varma who runs the Varaveena School of Music in Irinjalakuda says, “Sir’s smile and simplicity never wanes even if he is performing the toughest piece”. Talking about his teaching, she says, “At times it seems Sir is more committed than his students and the most important thing is that Sir being an excellent vocalist, teaches the sahitya of the composition by singing while playing the Veena and this is not only a rarity but it also brings the composition closer to the student”!
When asked about challenges he faced, the Vidwan says, “Before talking about my own challenges in this journey as a musician, I would like to talk about my father’s challenges as he lived at a time when the many platforms that we have today to showcase our art could not even be perceived. He studied under the Gurukula system and classes would happen according to the moods of the teacher and much of the learning happened by absorbing whatever could be heard. My father, S. Narayanaswami Iyer was keen on mastering an instrument and he went on to learn the Veena from Kumbakonam Raja Mani Sasthrigal under whom he had a few sessions”. Mudikondan Ramesh’s first guru was his father and growing up in a musically charged household with sisters who were all musically blessed ignited the musical spark within him. With child-like delight he says, “My father used to say that at the age of 7, I used to sing Bhavayami Raghuraman and then I started studying the Veena from him at the age of 9”. In 1990 he associated with Violin Vidushi, Sangeetha Kalanidhi Kanyakumari who created the Narayanadri Ragam; and what followed were 30 years of practice and performance along with her as part of an instrumental ensemble which influenced his style deeply. “Through the Vadya Lahari with Kanyakumari Amma who I consider to be my second Guru, I was able to experiment in all the different styles of Veena playing and enjoy the experience of playing with another instrument which gave me the opportunity to master the Veena better”.
Talking about unforgettable experiences he says that there are too many to list but that his concert at the Orirukkai village near Kanchipuram at the Mani Mandapam of Kanchi Maha Swamigal remains etched in his heart.
As a teacher of Veena he says that there are different venues for students of Veena and that there is no need for any frustration because opportunities do come for all, however, having said that he also laments that these days vocal music is given more importance than instrumental and adds that instrumental solo and concert opportunities must be promoted for the talented instrumentalist in our midst.
He remarks, “I don’t think music is for entertainment alone, rather our past masters have developed fine arts in such a way that this has become a code of conduct itself. Music is a way of life and discipline that creates an order in our life. It is spiritual and the purpose of an instrumentalist should be to gift his or her listeners anubhava and anubhooti that will elevate both the musician and the listeners to a higher realm of spirituality”
In his trademark smile, he finishes off by saying, “the only ambition I have is to play the Veena all my life”!