School for Indian classical music turns 90

School for Indian classical music, helmed by Shyamala Bhave, turns 90

Metrolife visits one of Bengaluru’s oldest music schools and the 79-year-old singer who runs it

The 90-year-old Saraswati Sangeet Vidyalaya is located in Seshadripuram

Located in Seshadripuram is one of Bengaluru’s oldest music schools, the Saraswati Sangeet Vidyalaya. Set up in 1930 by Acharya Govind Vithal Bhave, it was originally located in Malleswaram. It is now run by his daughter, renowned singer and composer Dr Shyamala Bhave.

“Our father moved to Bangalore on the request of his guru, Acharya Vishnu Digambar Paluskar. Acharya Paluskar wanted to raise awareness about Hindustani music in the south,” says Shyamala’s sister, Nirmala Ramamurthy.

The vidyalaya has a number of dedicated students, some as young as four. While age has slowed Shyamala down- she suffered a paralytic attack some years ago- she still pays attention to each student’s progress.

“We treasure tradition and the guru-shishya parampara (a tradition of teachers and disciples) here,” says Nirmala. Times have changed, however.

“There is a need to promote and raise awareness about the art and its traditions.”

Hailing from a family of thespians, artists, and musicians, Shyamala was a child prodigy; she was awarded the title of Ubhaya Gaana Vidushi by Sir M Visvesvaraya at age six.

“I never think about what I will be performing on stage,” Shyamala says. “I listen to the tanpura and the music just flows.”

Shyamala wears many hats: she composes and performs in six languages and is trained in Hindustani and Carnatic forms of music- a rare feat for any classical musician. “It is hard to define her by a genre,” Nirmala says.

She performed for Indian president Dr Rajendra Prasad at age 12 and travelled extensively for her performances. “I have travelled everywhere, except for China and Russia,” Shyamala tells Metrolife.

Those close to Shyamala describe her style as ahead of her time.

“She was a fast teacher, unlike other gurus of her generation who insisted on being slow,” says Vageesh Bhat, secretary at the Saraswati Sangeet Vidyalaya. A former student, he looks up to her as a mother figure.

“She could sit down and begin composing immediately. Despite all her achievements, she is unassuming,” Vageesh says.

Although she stopped performing in public two years ago, the 79-year-old is still as passionate about music; she goes for physiotherapy in order to play the bellows of the harmonium.

The vidyalaya is part of Shyamala’s essence, Nirmala says. “We hope to celebrate the centenary year of the vidyalaya in her presence,” she adds.