"I see everything through my heart..."








M. Chandrasekaran, a senior violinist, will receive the prestigious title 'Sangita Kalanidhi' from The Music Academy this year, at its sadas on Jan.1, 2006.

The visually-challenged violinist has been playing the instrument for 56 years, as accompanist as well as a solo performer..

He spent his early days in Kanpur then moved to Madras, trained under his mother and guru, Charubala Mohan, and has played alongside Carnatic music greats like vocalist M.D.Ramanathan. Music has been everything in his life – passion, career and even hobby. Chandrasekaran spoke to Revathi R of Kutcheribuzz, a day after he flew back from Germany after a long concert in Dusseldorf..

What does the 'Sangita Kalanidhi' mean to you?
It is a great honour. There are so many good vidwans and this year I have been chosen, because the academy has to confer the title on only one vidwan! There are many more vidwans who deserve this title.

Tell us about your early days . . .
My father was employed at Kanpur. I started learning vocal music at the age of five. My mother considered music as something that could keep me amused as a child and so she sent me to Hindustani music classes. My mother used to play the violin and I used to touch and feel the violin as a young boy very often.

So my mother started teaching me violin. I was seven. My mother is the only guru I have had.

Did you experience any difficulty in learning violin without being able to see what the guru was playing?
My mother used to guide me by keeping the fingers on the swara sthanas. I learnt the art with ease except that the bow kept slipping below the position because I was not able to look at the teacher.

How did you overcome this handicap?
I did not overcome anything on my own. It was my mother who helped manage my shortcomings. I owe all good things in me to my mother. She was happy about my playing everything right but felt bad that I did not get the position of the bow right which spoilt the music. She was patient with me for a long time. But one day she tapped me on my thigh with the bow . .very mildly . . . That is when I got the position right and now I am here!

Was your mother lenient?
No, not at all. I learnt the same way as any one who learns from a guru: with proper lessons in sarali, jantai in vocal and then in violin.

When did you move to Madras?
I lost my father when I was seven. After that, my mother moved to Madras, specially for me and my music because she thought music would be my career. Since then, we have been living in the same house here in Alwarpet (Chennai) though the bungalow has been demolished and an apartment complex has come up.

So you spent your boyhood in Madras . . .
Yes. As a young learner of music, my mother insisted that I heard all the veteran vidwans at their concerts. When my mother was busy learning something for me, the neighbourhood mamis used to take me to concerts. They used to introduce me as their own son whenever their friends enquired who I was! Even now some elderly women recognise me when I go for a walk and remind me of those days.

You said your mother was busy learning something for you. What was that?
She learnt Braille first and then taught me. Now I can read and write any Indian language in Braille. I know typewriting too. Here I have to mention about the bold decision taken by my parents and maternal grandparents at my young age. My eye-sight was affected when I was four months old. After that, when as a child I was dull-looking and the doctors suggested removal of the right eye as it could affect the brain, my parents thought it was better for me to live without the eye than with an affected brain and agreed for removal of the eye. I lost vision in the left eye also. And my mother, without forcing anything on me, made me stand on my own legs.

Tell us about your first concert?
In 1949, when I was eleven years old, I played at Thyagaraja Vidwat Samajam, Mylapore, as an accompanist. In the same year, I accompanied Savithri Ganesan, a noteworthy sishya of Madurai Mani Iyer. She was a fine musician; she died in an accident in 1956.

So you started your career at the age of 11?
Yes. But 1951 had been a fortunate year for me. I accompanied G. N. Balasubramanian for a concert at a relative's wedding. The same year, I won first prize in the violin competition held at The Music Academy. I was particular to participate in the vocal competition, but one Ramachandrayya of Lakshmipuram (Gopalapuram, Chennai) insisted that I participate in the violin competition and I cannot forget that incident in my life.

In 1952, I accompanied the senior vidwan, Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer at Sri Kapali Temple, Mylapore. In those days, concerts at Sri Kapali temple used to draw huge crowds. During the concert, when the crowd applauded for my a swara phrasings, Viswanatha Iyer, encouraged the crowd to do so by saying, Kottungo! Kottungo!!(Please clap!) Those were the times when great vidwans encouraged all their accompanists and used to be happy when the accompanists received honours.

I grew up gradually in my career. In 1953, GNB took me to Calcutta and then I performed at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, where Lady Raman (wife of the renowned scientist Sir C. V. Raman) felicitated me. I was traveling all over India even before I was 20.

(His students Ramesh Kumar and Rahul remind him of a review by a Tamil magazine) Yes…In the same year, when I performed with T. Viswanathan (the flutist), brother of T. Balasaraswathi, the renowned dancer, a popular Tamil magazine wrote the review, and ended with a question – Is the violin big or is the boy? Kutcheris used to receive encouraging reviews. I lived in that golden period when art received the respect it deserves!

Has that scenario changed?
Carnatic music has gone to places. The younger generation is intelligent enough to learn the nuances. Many travel abroad as if to Bombay and Delhi, which was rare in the past. Youngsters should learn to respect the seniors in the field. This is good for them.

Have you given vocal performances?
I learnt vocal music from eminent gurus like Mannargudi Sambasiva Bhagavathar, Kumbakonam Viswanatha Iyer (one of the Kumbakonam Brothers), T. Jeyammal, Vidyala Narasimhan Naidu (who also taught D. K. Pattammal) and many more people. I learnt vocal music as singing forms the basis for playing an instrument.

I had given light music performances in the All India Radio before 1970. I have a fond remembrance about a light music programme at the AIR studio in Pondicherry, for the centenary of Mahakavi Subramania Bharathi in 1982. S. V. Venkatraman, who composed music for the film 'Meera', in which MS amma acted, had composed music for Bharathi's songs for the occasion.

You include a lot of Bharathi's songs in your concerts. Any special reason?
I like his songs. That's the reason. I like Papanasam Sivan's songs too. (M. Chandrasekaran was born on Dec.11, 1937. Dec.11 happens to be Bharathi's birthday)

How do you plan your concerts?
I plan for 50 % and leave the balance 50% to the audience. One can sense the preferences of the audience minutes after a concert begins. I see everything through my heart.

Any memorable concerts!
Each concert is an experience. I can't forget a few concerts in my life – the one in the presence of our President, Dr. S Radhakrishnan. I accompanied M. D. Ramanathan. Accompanying MDR is a challenge because of his low pitch, but when I played a phrase the same as MDR sang, MDR himself felt very happy. Once I played with Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu (another visually impaired violinist).. A friend of mine was performing Thyagaraja Akhandam in his house and asked me to arrange for Dwaram's concert. When I approached Dwaram, he readily accepted but with a condition - that I should accompany him. I need to mention here that I am yet to hear a Nilambari ragam like the one played by Dwaram Mangathayaru, Venkataswamy's daughter, on that day. Remember, the concert was held in 1962 and I still remember the Nilambari….

How is your style different form others?
In the words of Dr. Pinakapani, the well-known musician and guru, my playing combines vocal, veena and nadaswaram techniques. While playing on the instrument, one should hear the sahityam, not only the swaram. I had played at nadaswarm concerts with artistes like Namagipettai Krishnan. A.K.C. Natarajan used to invite me to play in his clarinet concets.

I suggest that even mridangam artistes learn vocal music. Otherwise, the playing will be 'adi' not 'vasippu'.

Is music everything for you?
I know only music. I can play on a kanjira if you ask me to! (laughs..) Veteran musicican S. Kalyanaraman's father taught me the techniques of handling the kanjira. This gave the gnanam of Talam.

What do you tell the youngsters who learn from you?
I advise them to have a basic career alongside music. There is severe competition in this field and music alone is not enough to meet both ends these days, at least till one crosses the basic hurdles.

Music students should practice for at least 90minutes a day, with concentration. I don't believe in playing for hours together. I have never practiced for 8 hours!

Do you have comments to make or experiences to share after reading this feature? Email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.