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Two bodies, one soul

MEENA BANERJEE

Jeyaraaj Krishnan and Jaysri Jeyaraaj Krishnan – the veena couple on their synergy.



two-timing! Jeyaraaj Krishnan and Jaysri Jeyaraaj Krishnan

The veena couple Jeyaraaj Krishnan and Jaysri Jeyaraaj Krishnan presented a grand veena duet organised by Sri Guruguha Gana Vidyalaya, a pioneer institution of Carnatic music established in Kolkata since 1943. Accompanied by mridangam vidwan R. Srinivasan, their instruments seemed to sing the traditional compositions in one voice — so well coordinated was their rendition at Birla Academy recently. Excerpts from a chat with the Chennai-based duo:

How do you achieve such perfect coordination?

Jaysri: We grew up in Kolkata. Since childhood both of us learnt music with similar playing techniques and grasped identical finer nuances under the same revered gurus at Guruguha. It was music that united us as life partners, and together we continue to train with Pallavi genius Chengelput Ranganathan in Chennai.

As you know the Carnatic style is divided into two major segments: the composed and the improvised. We practise the compositions together till perfect, but our individual swar-kalpana spreads its wings during improvisations.

Why did you shift base from Kolkata?

Jeyaraaj: I am a bank executive as well. I was sent to Chennai to open a new branch. This was like a gift hamper to both of us because, though Kolkata is the cultural capital of India, there is no doubt that Chennai is the seat of Carnatic music. Except for our gurus' blessings we had no godfather there to introduce us. Once there we got more opportunities to interact and perform — at least three or four recitals a month. It became easier to reach out to cities like Bengaluru and Hyderabad. Moreover, it is also a fact that India looks at South-based Carnatic musicians with respect; Kolkata as well!

Jaysri: My enterprise (Medical Transcription) is looking good along with our school Veenavadini. We teach both veena and vocals in keeping with the tradition of Guruguha; but with an aim to make it interesting and easier to follow.

What inspired you to dedicate yourself to preserve gayaki anga?

Jaysri: We were under the able wing of revered Vainika Vidwan Sri Anantharama Iyer and Srimati A Champakavalli. Their father Brahmashri Ananthakrishna Iyer, who was the founder of our alma mater, belonged to the direct shishya parampara of Nadajyoti Sri Muttuswami Dikshitar, one of the renowned Musical Trinity of Carnatic music. As a result our school, predominantly rooted in the traditional Tanjavur baani, focuses on rare compositions of Muttuswami Dikshitar who preferred veena among the instruments. In fact veena is supposed to represent the human body, or vice-versa. Our gurus, therefore, taught us the finer nuances of gamaka and meend playing.

Jeyaraaj: For this, they adapted techniques from other schools. While the fret-based technique of the Mysore style helps in sliding and gliding notes, the speed of the Andhra school adds finesse to finely ornate notes and phrases. Their sole aim was a truthful reproduction of every kriti. Veena is a difficult instrument, and reproducing these anuswaras makes it more difficult. But once mastered the vallinam and mellinam (Tamil for bold and softly tapered notes) enhance their aural pleasure manifold because they become more pronouncedly effective when played accurately on an instrument. Our gurus refused to compromise with the quality. For them discipline and hard work had no substitute. This was their life's philosophy and reflected in everything they did. They taught us to enjoy such music and it remains our passion.

Carnatic's popularity abroad is due to its lively rhythm, do you agree?

Jeyaraaj: It is true that Carnatic style is more mathematical with rhythm-based permutations and combinations. Rhythm has a universal appeal. But melodic instruments are popular too; because they are free from language-based divides. We don't think that Carnatic is more popular abroad; Hindustani classical music too has its share of fanfare.

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