A virtuoso violinist

A virtuoso violinist

“I could not identify the raga by name, but I could clearly say which songs sounded like that raga. That’s all.” He amiably laughs it off. It may be ‘that’s all’ for him. But for others, a three-year-old being musically gifted was nothing short of prodigious talent, who quickly blossomed into one of Carnatic music’s all-time great violinists. M Chandrasekaran may have been targeted by the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ that saw him losing his vision while still an infant, but as the Rigveda puts it succinctly, “The muse yields only to those possessed of the inner eye. Others see, but don’t really see; hear, but don’t really hear.” 

And the muse has been generous while bestowing her grace upon Chandrasekaran. On the verge of completing 65 years of performing and still going strong, an achievement that eloquently speaks of his artistic attainments, Chandrasekaran’s odyssey is of sheer grit and determination in the face of overwhelming odds. 

As his mother, Charubala Mohan was devastated when her son was visually impaired. But she did not allow herself to be drowned in sorrow. Being an accomplished musician and a disciple of violinist T K Jayarama Iyer, she saw to it that Chandrasekaran started learning the violin. The precocious child quickly soaked up all that was taught. The only hitch was that he could not see where he was placing the bow. Patience and abundant love from the mother saw Chandrasekaran overcoming this hurdle too. 

Who can stop a torrent in its flow? As his musical stream flowed, it gained momentum by his efforts and relentless practice. Polishing his music, establishing control over the instrument, gaining insight into the nuances — this became his only pre-occupation. It was not long before he caught the attention of the music world with his first concert at the famous Kapaleeswara Temple in Chennai’s Mylapore, as an accompanist to Maharajapuram Vishwanatha Iyer. And there was no looking back. 

Another star had appeared on the Carnatic music scene, which lent its glow to the concerts of all the leading musicians, at the same time, absorbing everything with alacrity and assimilating all the relevant and useful points. But Chandrasekaran was not content with just the instrumental mode of playing.

Indian music, especially Carnatic music, derives its melody and complexity from subtle notes — the oscillations of the notes give weight and bearing to the music. And it is here that vocal music plays an important role in bringing out the richness of ragas. Being all too obvious of this fact, Chandrasekaran learnt vocal from veterans like Mannargudi Sambashiva Bhagavatar, Kumbakonam Vishwanatha Iyer and padams under T Jayammal. Another notable personality under whom he learnt vocals was Vidyala Narasimhalu Naidu, son-in-law of renowned composer Tirupati Narayanaswamy. Naidu also taught him some rare pallavis. 

The power of vocals

This exposure to vocal music has lent graces and aesthetics to Chandrasekaran’s violin playing, enabling him to reproduce the inflexions of the human voice with remarkable fidelity. The striking feature of Chandrasekaran’s violin rendering is the fluidity of tone, a quivering sweetness reminiscent of western tremolo.
 Squeezing out the essence of the ragas, he can also be breathtakingly quick in his repartees to a vocalist’s challenges. One is reminded of the occasion when T K Rangachari said in a concert that he sang Raga Athana just for his ‘Chandru’, a sincere compliment from an established musician.

Asked how he so unerringly and precisely follows the pallavis, he says that it just comes to him! His sincerity and mental purity come through in his remark when he says he approaches each concert with an open mind. Maybe this is the secret of the joy, vivacity and exuberance he displays on stage, a child-like innocence! He is also a good vocalist. Chandrasekaran has special affection for Karnataka, especially Mysore and Bangalore, which he says have encouraged him enormously. The Charubala Mohan Trust, established by him in his mother’s memory, encourages and honours talented, upcoming artistes. 

The first recipient of the M S Subbulakshmi Award, a Sangeet Natak Academi Fellowship awardee, this septuagenarian Sangeetha Kalanidhi knows only one thing in life — his beloved companion of 60-plus years — his violin! 

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