Written by Harsh Shukla
Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Mahotsav, one of the largest gatherings of musicians and audiences of Indian classical music, begins in the city on Wednesday. One of the musicians who will take the stage on the opening day is Jayanthi Kumaresh, an exponent of Saraswati veena, India’s national instrument. She has performed for over three decades to critical acclaim and is the youngest to be honoured with the Sangeet Shikar Samman by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Delhi, for her service to Indian classical music in 2019. In a conversation with The Indian Express, she talks about her journey, the future of classical music and her web series on classical music. Excerpts from the interview:
How did your journey with the Saraswati veena begin?
I come from a family where music has been a constant for six generations. Most of them were violinists. The only other person who plays the veena is my aunt, my mother’s elder sister Padmavathi Ananthagopalan. My mother, Lalgudi Rajalakshmi, was the first to initiate me into playing the veena when I was three.
As you were surrounded by violinists in your family, what inspired you to choose the veena over the violin?
It was not a conscious choice. Rather than saying I chose the veena, it will be better to say that the veena chose me. I was inspired by my aunt, who would play the instrument beautifully. Her style left me wonderstruck.
Who was your first guru?
My mother was the first to initiate me into playing the veena, so my mother was my first guru, then came my aunt. She started teaching me at a young age. I got to spend around 20 to 22 years with her and learn veena in the traditional gurukula vaasam system. They are all sisters of the violin legend Lalgudi Jayaraman.
You also teach the instrument. How do you deal with the impatience and restlessness often displayed by this generation?
I don’t have the bandwidth to teach students who are just learning it as a hobby. I want to start a school at some point in time, where everyone who wants to learn veena can, but right now, it is personalised attention for those who wish to give it their all. Students who get a chance to learn are quite aware of the opportunity. So, the option of them being restless and distracted is not there. Students are equally dedicated and sincere.
What was the idea behind the web series Cup-o’-Carnatic?
As an artiste, we do have a responsibility to present the most classical form of music and uphold the tradition to carry it forward for future generations. Social media is such a boon, and it can be used in a way where we give knowledge in tiny capsules, easily digestible modules for people to understand and feel a part of the culture, the music, and tradition we are trying to preserve. Season of Carnatic has been designed to showcase the Margazhi Chennai session during which the city is witness to hundreds of music concerts in a span of a month. So, many people have seen the series and come to Chennai, and they are enjoying the music festival.
With new genres such as rap in the music industry, which have gained popularity among the masses, what do you think of the future of Indian classical music?
It is like comparing apples and oranges. Rap will continue to exist; Bollywood continues to exist. It should exist. Classical music has lived for more than 2,000 years; it will survive, so we need not worry about what will happen to classical music. The number of youngsters who have taken up classical music is fantastic. Look at Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Mahotsav, more than 30,000 people come and listen to it. Isn’t that a boom time for classical music? I don’t think there is any cause for worry with respect to sustaining classical music.