Seeking god through music
“I love to sing because I can instantly connect with my audience through my songs, which reach out to their souls,” says Banumathi Koundinya, an accomplished singer in the music fraternity. Carnatic, Hindustani, Devarnamas, Bhajans, Abhangas, the list is endless; and a pleasant feather in her cap being that she is adept in singing in many Indian languages as your mind can fathom. Kannada Devarnamas in Carnatic style are as soulful as when she renders a Hindustani version of the same. “This experiment was possible only with the help of Shri M S Giridhar of Mangalore, who introduced me to Hindustani ragas. The outcome was surprising when I found that there are no boundaries in the world of music. As long as you allow music to seep into your soul, it will manifest itself with better results irrespective of the language,” she quips.
From the tender age of four, her musically-inclined family initiated Banumathi into music on the insistence of her mother Sharada, who is a singer herself. Little Banu would doze at concerts, only to be woken up by her mother, who would chide her into identifying the ragas. “This insistence challenged and helped me in my musical endeavours. I would attend concerts of Balamuralikrishna and Chitti Babu to tune my musical ear and hone my singing skills,” she says with a twinkle in her eye. Training under stalwarts like Lakshmi Raja of Kolkata and Madhusudhana Menon of Kerala, who taught her the Thyagaraja Kritis apart from giving her the opportunity to perform on stage, paved the way for a successful career in music.
“This was the beginning of a pleasant journey in music. Even after I shifted to Mumbai post marriage, I was able to travel to Chennai to train under my mother from whom I learnt short Tamil songs by less known singers,” she says. A move to Mangalore helped Banumathi train under Bangalore-based artiste Zachariah, who introduced her to Dikshitar Kritis and encouraged her to take part in competitions where she won many accolades. This led her in a right direction, when she went on to perform in M S Giridhar’s troupe. “He acted as the wind beneath my wings. Apart from voice training, his troupe also sang in temples, which took me through a spiritual journey of discovering my soul and lending it a voice in the presence of God,” she explains.
Another shift to Mumbai and the world of music was open for her to conquer. “I started performing at satsangs and in groups. This is where my exposure to music from other languages began. Learning songs from other women in their mother tongue helped me understand each soulful composition the way it was intended to be sung,” says Banumathi emphatically.
Performing on stage with eminent radio artiste Suniti Bhalerao was one of her trysts with fame; nevertheless learning Marathi music from the local neighbourhood loudspeakers kept her firmly grounded. “This was when it struck me that imparting my knowledge in music to others was the appropriate thing to do. I wanted to spread the magical aura of music wherever I could,” she says. This led her into coaching children at Balavihar classes conducted by Chinmaya Mission. “My aim is to enable the magic of music permeate through as many people as I can reach. This is true victory for me,” says Banumathi.