They are violinists par excellence and have established a name for themselves in the field of Carnatic music. The duo of Mysore Nagaraj and Mysore Manjunath, the Mysore Brothers, have been enthralling audiences around the world with their mellifluous music and astounding mastery of the violin.
They have been performing together for well over 30 years — their perfect synchronisation, technical superiority, and easy spontaneity are quite evident in their concerts. It’s no wonder that the world-renowned sitarist Ravi Shankar, after watching their performance in San Diego, USA, fondly called them ‘the princes of Mysuru’.
Nagaraj is the older of the 2 brothers, and he started learning violin from his father, Mahadevappa, an accomplished violinist himself, in Mysuru. Music was always a part of their growing-up years. As a child, Nagaraj would play in the same room where his father taught violin to his students.
Father knows best
Music thus seeped into him unconsciously. Similarly, his younger brother, Manjunath, imbibed it by being around in the same room. Their father/teacher helped them to build a strong musical foundation and ensured that they were technically sound. Manjunath says, “My father was a perfectionist and an absolute taskmaster. Quite often, he would use the violin’s bow to hit us on the head if we made a mistake.”
Nagaraj recalls the times when their father would tell their mother not to feed them if they had not practised for a full 8 hours everyday. He also encouraged them to attend violin concerts of stalwarts. Thus started their association with the musical instrument, and they had both given their first solo performances when they were barely 8 years old.
Over time, they accompanied many of the famous Carnatic vocalists like D K Jayaraman, Maharajapuram Santhanam and Dr Balamuralikrishna in concerts to provide pakka vadhyam. Their father would insist that they be prepared to play any raga that the vocalist chose. He would not allow them to confer with the vocalist to check on the ragas planned for the concert. This, the brothers say, helped them master all the ragas.
Quite often, after dinner, their father would ask them to play a particular raga for an hour. Initially, the brothers would rebel with, “What! One raga for an hour?!” But their father wouldn’t relent. This way, they attained thorough knowledge about ragas, about moving up and down the scale and following notes, but at the same time finding newer musical horizons to explore.
Around the world
From being child prodigies, the brothers started performing together under the title of Mysore Brothers. They have performed in many prestigious concert halls across the world including the Sydney Opera House, the Royal Albert Hall in London and the Milano Musica in Italy.
Manjunath holds the distinction of being the first Indian violinist to be invited to perform at the International Violin Conference in San Diego. They have also collaborated with western classical violinists like Ned McGowan, Mark Wood, and also with renowned European orchestras like Aka Moon, Spenifex and Ictus to name a few.
Their jugalbandis with Hindustani musicians like Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt and V G Jog are a connoisseur’s delight. In recognition of their superior talent, the brothers were also conferred the prestigious Karnataka Rajyotsava Award by the state government. In fact, they are one of the youngest musicians to receive this award.
The brothers, extremely humble, consider themselves as ‘learners’ in this ocean of music. Their efforts today are to capture and communicate to the audience the essence of beauty, bhakti and the emotional sentiment of the kriti that they play without sahitya.
As Nagaraj says, “For a vocalist, sahitya captures and conveys the bhakti bhava to the audience, but as instrumentalists, the challenge lies in connecting with the audience while we emote this rasa on the violin.”
Although they travel extensively, they prefer to reside in Mysuru, their hometown. They can surely be called the princes of Mysuru.