Gayathri Venkataraghavan

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Vidwan Sri K.V. Narayanaswamy

Vidwan Sri K.V. Narayanaswamy by Manoj Siva

K.V. NarayanaswamyThis sensitive article about Sri. K.V.Narayanaswamy was written by Manoj Siva. This and other articles about several of the stalwarts who Manoj Siva has accompanied over the years may be found at his blog

Gayathri Venkataraghavan

Having had the privilege of accompanying him a lot (around 75 concerts), moving with him closely, and as one who has benefited a lot in my career from his encouragement, it is my great pleasure to write about this musician par excellence.

The Musician

If one has to describe his music in a few words it is “style, poise, and finesse”. His silken voice, his sruthi sudham and sowkhyam captivated the hearts of many rasikas. He greatly upheld the core sampradaya sangeetham values.

Thyagaraja describes the responsibility of a sincere musician in his krithi “Kadanu variki”

“niddura nirākariñci mudduga tambura baṭṭi
śuddhamaina manasucē suswaramutō
paddu tappaka bhajiyiñcu bhakta pālanamu sēyu
tad-daya-śālivi nīvu tyāgaraja sannuta”

Meaning – “One should sing with devotion, foregoing sleep, holding a tambura, with pure mind, in tune with the swara.”

Sri KVN’s music is one such example.

His style of singing raga alapana, niraval and kalapana swarams were unique and delightful. Krithis were rendered with bhava and great respect to the composers in his own inimitable style. The krithis he presented on stage were predominantly compositions of great saints, and other compositions which he presented were also of great dignity.

As most of us know the art of niraval singing was Sri KVN’s forte.

Few important aspects he used to stress regarding improvisation of a niraval is that it should be executed strictly maintaining the number of avarthanam cycles perfect, and great caution should be taken not to deviate from the structure of the niraval line and placement of words.

Be it singing niraval in krithis or in a naalu kalai ragam thanam pallavi like “Dasaratha bala ramachandraya” in Thodi, “Mahima theliya tharama” in Shankarabharanam or a tricky pallavi like “Kanaikidaikumo sabesan” in Poorvi kalyani, were sung with great expertise and sophistication. He used to sing kizhkalam niraval for chowka kalam krithis or chowka kalam pallavis without fail. He did full justice when he sang a ragam thanam pallavi. All these aspects were handled with amazing control over layam.

His kalpana swara singing was embedded with very beautiful subtle aesthetic laya patterns. His singing of swarams for certain rare ragas like gundakriya (inthanuchu varnimpa), garudadhwani (thatvameruga), saraswathi manohari(endhaveduko) to name a few were a feast to our ears.

Most of the time, his thoughts were only about music and his guru doyen Sri Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar. His guru bakthi was exemplary. He had high respect for his other gurus, stalwarts Sri Papa Venkataramiah and Sri Palghat Mani Iyer, as well. Sri Mani Iyer has accompanied Sri KVN in many of his concerts including the Edinburgh Festival concert in 1963 and encouraged him a lot. This fact was acknowledged by Sri KVN himself.

Though he learnt from Ariyakudi he developed a style of his own assimilating from other past masters. He was greatly inspired by the singing of Sri Musiri Subramania Iyer and Smt. Balasaraswathi, which he has mentioned many times. He respected the music of his contemporaries Sri MDR, Sri TMT and Sri DKJ. In fact I have seen him while listening to Sri MDR’s recordings he used to get deeply immersed in MDR’s music and enjoy it.

He was a great fan of many Hindusthani musicians especially that of Ustad Abdul Kharim Khan. I remember during my first overseas tour with him to the United States in 1997, he was listening to the recordings of this maestro at a residence where we stayed. He was simply fascinated by the maestro’s crisp and touching renditions of khyals. Shriramkumar narrates once when he was watching a movie called Baiju Bawara, with Sri KVN in which Ustad Amir Khan has sung. Sri KVN was moved by the way Amir Khan touched the madhyamam of darabari kanada in the lower octave. Saying, “எவ்வளவு சுத்தமா பிடிக்கிறார் அந்த மத்யமத்தை,” he asked Shriramkumar to rewind it again and again as he enjoyed it. (The Amir Khan Darbari Kanada can be found below)

A vital aspect in his singing was his in-depth knowledge of voice culture. He took great measures to maintain his voice with disciplined habits. This was the first thing he used to advice to a student who came to learn from him.

Of the many aspects I learnt from him while accompanying his concerts, one important aspect I learnt was stage decorum. Be it any sadas, sabha concerts, or temple concerts, or even a kalyana kutcheris, he sang with equal respect and sincerity. He used to say on stage one should not speak or comment in the microphone unnecessarily. He used to be extremely accommodative with his pakkavadyam artists on stage be it senior or junior. He used to say, “மேடையில்ஒருத்தருக்குஒருவர் பரஸ்பரமா அனுசரிச்சு போகணும், meaning there should be camaraderie on stage. Even if he had certain suggestions to be made on stage to a youngster who was accompanying him he used to show it in a very subtle gesture so that only he understood and the audience couldn’t understand.

How can one miss to mention his soulful singing of Varugalamo, Krishna Nee Begane, Matlada Bharadeno, Kallaarkum Katravarkkum. Slow and relaxed in pace exploring the raga dimesnsions with bhava. When he sang the line “Karai kadanden sharanam adaiden” in “Varugalamo” or while singing the line “Vallaarkum Matraarkkum “and “Enn arase yaanpugalum” in “Kallaarkkum Kattravarkum” , one’s eyes would become moist.


He was a simple, unassuming and soft spoken person with measured words. He was a true patriot and had a high sense of belonging to the country. One of his hobbies was to watch movies. One of his favourite movies was Michael Madana Kamaraj, and he loved the character Kameswaran in that movie. I have had the pleasure of going with him to the theatre and watching movies Titanic and Hey Ram. His other hobby was to read newspapers and to watch the news, and he liked to be well informed about the current political situations and worldly affairs. Padma Mami, a talented musician in her own right, took care of Sri KVN extremely well. Like taking care of a child; being with him all the time and taking care of his needs.

Personal Incidents Which I Cherish

There are many incidents which I cherish, but I will share a few.

My first introduction to this maestro was at Thiruvayaru Aradhana in 1995 January. I accompanied for the song Chethulara lead by Sri N. Ramani during the aradhana day. KVN Mama and Mami were seated in the opposite enclosure. That is when they heard me play. They immediately enquired with Shriramkumar about me asking, “Who is that boy who played well for Chethulara?” After a few days I received a call from Padma Mami to accompany her in Tirumalai Tirupathi Devasthanam, T.Nagar. Sri KVN came for the concert and gave me good words of encouragement. In the next few days, he called me to accompany for two of his concerts in the month of May. One was in Thanjavur at the house were the idol of Lord Rama worshipped by Thyagaraja was kept. The next day was at Thiruvayaru in front of Thyagarajaswami Samadhi. Both of them were private concerts. Sri KVN every year went to Thiruvayaru apart from aradhana time to offer abhishekam and pooja for Thyagaraswami and sing before him. Such was his devotion for Thyagarajaswami. That is why he called me here for the concerts first. From then on; I have played plenty of concerts for him in Premiere sabhas all over india including the Music Academy (2001), and also at A.I.R. Sangeeth Samelan in 1997, and at the Rashtrapathi Bhavan 2002. In fact my first overseas tour to the United States and Canada was with him in 1997. Later I also toured with him to London and Germany in November 2001. It was truly a very fortunate period in my life.

Not only I, but also J.Vaidyanathan, Shriramkumar and Chandramouli were regular accompanists to him and received his encouragement.

I have had the pleasure of having plenty of discussions with him on music and other subjects. The last two years of his life, almost once in two days I used to have telephone conversations with Mama or Mami either relating to concerts or other matters. I remember he would initiate the conversation in a soft tone, “ஏய் இந்த ஒசாமா பின் லாடனபிடித்துவிடுவாளா,” and go on with the subject.

Let us listen to his rendition of Inthanuchu Varnimpa Tharama accompanied my vadyar Sri Raghu on mrudangam.