Meeting the ‘fiddling monk’

String play: Once you get to know him better, you begin to understand that the moniker is neither accidental nor is it merely a clever turn of phrase.

Always experimenting Violin maestro Kumaresh

He calls himself the ‘fiddling monk’. Once you get to know him better, you begin to understand that the moniker is neither accidental nor a clever turn of phrase.

We are talking about violin maestro Kumaresh, the one-half of the legendary Ganesh-Kumaresh duo who has dazzled audiences for more than four decades now.  

Kumaresh was in Bengaluru recently for Dhaara, a collaborative concert to raise funds for the flood victims of Kodagu and Kerala. The ever-smiling trendsetter, Kumaresh is as comfortable taking explorative philosophical journeys into the heart of India’s musical history as he is creatively sparring on stage with other artistes, including his veena virtuoso wife Jayanthi Kumaresh.

It begins early

After all, he has done it nearly all his life. “I was all of five when I gave my first concert,” he recalls. A child prodigy, Kumaresh began playing the violin, which he says he took naturally to, from the age of three. Does he remember how he felt the first time he was on stage? “Curiously enough, I remember many details of my first concert. It was 1972 and we were playing at Delhi’s Pragati Maidan. It was evening and I had played the Abhogi varnam,” he says. Does he recollect being more excited or nervous? “I was just having fun, in the first concert as well as in all the others.”

Kumaresh recalls an incident a few years later when he and his brother played a particularly winsome piece and the audience began clapping spontaneously. The brothers, rather bewildered at the unexpected applause, apparently kept their instruments down and started clapping along!

Kumaresh was, in fact, one of the youngest artistes ever to perform a full-fledged concert and was also honoured for this feat by the Tamil Nadu government. He attributes his passion to his father and Guru T S Rajagopalan, who was a renowned violinist himself, and the atmosphere of “musical sounds”, as he puts it, in his home. “Science documents the power of music nowadays, but it was a natural force in our lives right from the time we were in our mother’s womb,” he says.

This ‘free flow’ of music is perhaps the reason the brothers have always believed in experimentation and have never confined their music within any artificial constructs. “For me, Carnatic music is a reflection of life — it is not just some jathi or varnam. The sapta swaras are as much the cornerstones of life as they are of music,” he says. Kumaresh goes on to explain how Indian music has always been steeped in aural traditions that encourage freedom of thought and form. “It would be a travesty to cage this free being within notations and strict instruction manuals. If life itself is an exploration of all that the world has to offer, how can music be any different?” he asks passionately.

Musician-teacher

These musical explorations have led Kumaresh to stretch the boundaries of teaching methods as well for his students. “I encourage them to play by studying their mind rather than a manual.” As a composer, he along with his brother, have often been inventive not only with the rhythmic scales of the violin but also with ragas they have specifically designed for the instrument. Their albums like the ‘Colors of India’, ‘Bowing with Passion’ and ‘Carnatic Chills’ reflect these creative tweaks.

The violin ace is equally passionate about putting his thoughts down and runs a journal on his website. In a blog, he writes about how knowledge impacts our listening experience. Kumaresh argues that knowledge hampers the experience by pulling in what could be limitless joy within a constricted, pre-set framework.   

And this is just one among the many intriguing questions he raises.

Now you know why we said he does not call himself the ‘fiddling monk’ without reason.

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Meeting the ‘fiddling monk’

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