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Archive for February 12th, 2013

We like to remember the 46th birthday of Chitravina N. Ravikiran (born Febr 12, 1967)

Posted by ElJay Arem (IMC OnAir) on February 12, 2013

Chitravina N. Ravikiran (born February 12, 1967) MysoreKarnatakaIndia, is one of India’s most celebrated slide-instrumentalist, Carnatic music performer, composer, Guru, and creator of the novel concept of Melharmony. He is the grandson of famous musician gottuvadyam Narayana Iyengar. Hailed as the Mozart of Indian Music, Ravikiran made his first appearance at the age of two in 1969. (Source:

South Indian (Carnatic) musical performance. F...

South Indian (Carnatic) musical performance. From left to right: Guruvayur Dorai, mridangam Ravi Balasubramanian, ghatam Ravikiran, navachitraveena, which is his own invention, basically a hollow-body electric chitraveena played with a teflon (rather than ebony) slide. Akkarai S. Subhalakshmi, violin Photo taken at Interlake High School, Bellevue, Washington, during a performance in the Ragamala series (Greater Seattle). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With mikes all around him and his hands full of biscuits, all the time playing, the child gave out correct answers“, stated The Music Academy’s journal in 1969, of two-year-old prodigy Ravikiran’s demonstration. Born on February 12, 1967, Ravikiran stunned the music world with his ability to identify and render about 325 ragas (melodic scales) and 175 talas (rhythmic cycles). He was also able to answer complex technical questions on various aspects of Carnatic music when quizzed by luminaries such as Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Pandit Ravi Shankar, M S Subbulakshmi, Flute Mali, Palghat Mani Iyer, T N Krishnan, Ramnad Krishnan and Alla Rakha.

His proclivity for music had been identified and nurtured by his father Chitravina Narasimhan even when Ravikiran was a toddler, and within a few months, Ravikiran made his first appearance in April 1969 at the Malleshwaram Sangeeta Sabha, Bangalore.

Soon, other leading music organisations in India, including The Music Academy and Krishna Gana Sabha, Chennai, and Shanmukhananda Fine Arts, Mumbai, invited Narasimhan to present Ravikiran’s unique talents.

Major newspapers – The Montreal ExpressThe HinduThe Times of IndiaIndian Express etc – and magazines showered superlatives and hailed Ravikiran as an “unprecedented phenomenon”. The Chennai-based weekly, Ananda Vikatan, proclaimed that he was “the crown prince of music“. The Astrological Magazine of India, went so far as to prove that Ravikiran was the re-incarnation of his legendary grandfather, Gotuvadyam Narayana Iyengar.

The Music Academy, Madras, awarded the two-year-old, a monthly scholarship for the next few years.

Amidst all the public speculation about the child’s precocity, Narasimhan declared that Ravikiran’s talents had as much to do with nurture as with nature. Narasimhan’s theory was borne out by the fact that Ravikiran soon gained eminence in the field of Carnatic music.

(1) Musician… The vocalist…

(photo credit: M A Rauf)

(photo credit: M A Rauf)

After his widely publicised appearances as a prodigy, Ravikiran moved on to become a vocalist under the careful guidance of his father, Narasimhan. The latter’s unique teaching methods enabled Ravikiran to develop rigorous discipline and have fun with music at the same time. Over the next couple of years, Ravikiran acquired a repertoire approximating to 500 compositions, and was also trained in the deeper and improvisational aspects of Carnatic music, including the ragam-tanam-pallavi.

Ravikiran debuted as a vocalist in 1972, at Coimbatore, India, at age five. His capacity to perform full-fledged three-hour concerts with senior accompanists, displaying rare mastery over both melodic and rhythmic aspects (such as singing akhanda ata tala varnam in khanda eka tala in the five jati-s) of Carnatic music, amazed scholars and lovers of music alike.

Ravikiran presented concerts to packed audiences for major organisations in various cities until the age of 10, at which time (anticipating a voice change),he switched over to the beautiful 21-stringed chitravina.

However, he resumed his vocal recitals in 1999 and now presents both vocal and instrumental concerts. His immense knowledge of music, musical acumen, imaginative approach, breath control, vocal techniques and diction, have made him a desired artiste in prominent venues both in and outside India.

From 1986-96, Ravikiran had the rare privilege of learning from the celebrated vocalist T Brinda, widely acknowledged as a musicians’ musician. His interaction with her added a whole new dimension to his perception of the microscopic nuances of music.

His thematic vocal recitals on works of venerated composers such as Tyagaraja and Oottukkadu Venkata Kavi have won approbation from music lovers.

(2) Musician… The instrumentalist…

(photo credit: M A Rauf)

(photo credit: M A Rauf)

Ravikiran has been hailed as a true instrumental virtuoso in world music today. His accomplishments on the exquisite 20/21-string-slide instrument, the chitravina, have made a striking impact in the arena of slide instruments as a whole. Playing a slide instrument in the manner that Ravikiran plays normally calls for left hand-speed to be at least 4 to 6 times as fast as what would be required of exponents of most other instruments such as a violin, sitar, guitar or a flute. The distinctiveness of his style stems from his vocal training, which have enabled him to forge new techniques – especially the microtonal oscillations and fast phrases that combine grace and force – that have extended the overall scope of slide instruments.

His unique single hand techniques – of playing even 3-5 minute long slur phrases or other types of solfa/staccato passages without using his right hand to pluck the stringshave left musicians and music lovers speechless the worldover. In a strictly Indian context, his handling of the chitravina has enabled him to project the minutest aspects of Carnatic music in a singular manner that blends the best aspects of vocal and instrumental techniques.

Ravikiran’s fascination for the chitravina (earlier called gotuvadyam), which was also the chosen medium of expression for his grandfather and father, began at the age of two. Against the background of his earlier musical accomplishments, Ravikiran was soon able to paint his musical ideas on the chitravina.

His maiden instrumental performance was in 1979, at age 12. Today, he is recognised as one of the most eminent instrumentalists in the world, and has performed at prominent venues like the Theatre de la Ville(Paris), Vienna Palace (Austria), Tate Modern Gallery (London), National Theatre (Australia), the Institute of World Music (New York), Oji Hall (Japan), Esplanade (Singapore), Sadler’s Wells (London) and at events such as The Millennium Festival, World Circuit Arts Festival (UK), International Music Festival (France), Brisbane Festival (Australia), Flanders Festival (Belgium), Radio Koln Festival (Germany), Harborfront Festival (Canada), Masters of India Festival (Hungary), Festivals of India (France, Germany and Switzerland), Amsterdam-India Festival (Holland) and the Cleveland Tyagaraja Festival (USA).

Consolidating the achievements of his predecessors, Ravikiran has re-established the chitravina’s rightful stature as an ideal medium to express Carnatic music. However, the enormity of his contribution has to be measured against the backdrop that for a brief while before his arrival, the chitravina used to be considered as an ideal instrument for mourning. In fact, the All India Radio regularly used recordings of the instrument while announcing the demise of national leaders. Since Ravikiran’s entry into the scene, the instrument is only heard on auspicious occasions such as weddings, international academic/social conferences and major political events.

In addition to this, Ravikiran has successfully introduced it to the world music scene, through collaborations with top-notch musicians from diverse systems such as Jazz, Western Classical, African, Brazilian, Mid-Eastern, Chinese not to mention North Indian.

His style is a combination of emotive appeal, intellectual sophistication, virtuosity and classicism, without detracting from grammatical correctness or aesthetic values. In his fidelity to pitch, rhythm and ornamentation, and in his perception and communication of the musical spirit of great composers, Ravikiran stands out as a deeply evolved musician. His awareness of the lyrics and meanings of the compositions he plays and his appreciation of their spirit come through in every interpretation of his.

Ravikiran’s penchant to project instrumental capabilities has also given him room for numerous artistic innovations. A case in point is his concert in Madras in November 1995, where he played a unique ragam-tanam-pallavi using over 100 ragas (Shataragamalika). He proved the versatility of the chitravina with his collaborative concerts with legendary Indian vocalists including Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Dr Balamuralikrishna, T Brinda, Girija Devi, R K Shrikanthan, Nedanoori Krishnamurthy and instrumentalists like Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt and Dr N Ramani.

Ravikiran has expanded the horizons of the instrument as well, by introducing several measures that have positively impacted the world of slide-instruments. For instance, his adoption of teflon slide at the behest of Mr Hemmige Varadarajan, a scientist based in California, (as opposed to ebony, bison horn, glass or steel) has definitely improved the purity of the instrument’s output and has inspired a few others to do the same. He has also worked on what he himself calls “faithful amplifying techniques”, whereby he has made it possible for the microtonal nuances of the normally soft chitravina to be heard by large audiences while retaining its original tone to a large extent.

Ravikiran has also performed on the electric slide-guitar (Hawaiian guitar) but has found it inadequate to express all his musical ideas. This resulted in his designing the navachitravina, a sleek 20-stringed slide-instrument that also gives him flexibility in pitch, apart from a sharper tone.

The Composer…

Ravikiran is among the more prolific composers in the Carnatic arena today with over 600 compositions to his credit. His composing skills were evident even at a very young age.

  • He discovered a new Indian raga when he was two and named it Choodamani, after his mother.
  • He has discovered several more such asKeshavapriya, Mohini, Snehapriya, Katyayani, Sanjeevini, Shivamanohari and Andhakarini.
  • He is the only composer to have composed in each of the 35 talas of Carnatic music.
  • He is the first composer to have composed the 72-mela ragamalika geetam, a unique formula-piece appropriate for both practice and performance.
  • He is the only composer to have composed a whole piece with only descending phrases in Carnatic music (Sada nin padame – Chakravakam).
  • Versatile, he has composed in five languages – Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and Kannada.
  • His unique works include Pancha-raga-tala-jati-malika tillana, Dwigati Tillana, Raga-bhasha-malika krti, Navaraga malika ragaakshara pallavi, Tillana in Chatushra-tishra gati and various pieces that employ swarakshara (where the word matches the solfa note) in interesting and at times, even in a thematic manner.

Ravikiran’s compositions include nearly 350 conventional performing music forms, several short numbers that form a part of his music-dance productions and melharmonic and other instrumental works. His Carnatic compositions cover a range of themes in various musical forms such as varnam, krti, padam, javali, tillana and folk melodies such as chindu.He has also employed a new musical form that he has named swarakrti (compositions sans lyrics but with well-defined structure similar to krti). He has composed major pieces in majestic, traditional ragas like Yadukulakambhodhi, Shahana, Dhanyasi, Surati and Devagandhari, and also handled ragas such as Ranjani, Kadanakutoohalam, Bindumalini and Sindhubhairavi. His varnams and tillanas are a blend of the innovative and the intricate.

Most of Ravikiran’s compositions adhere to rules of classical Indian rhyme, but a few intentionally deviate from the conventional path. They are marked by alliteration, word play, swarakshara-s and on occasions, raga-mudra (raga name incorporated in the lyrics).

Like most traditional Carnatic composers who used signature (mudra) for their compositions, Ravikiran signs his pieces with the phrase, ravi-shashi . However, many of his operatic pieces will not bear this signature and some pieces also have the word, ‘Ravikiran’ incorporated in the lyrics

Ravikiran’s works more often rendered by his disciples than himself. He prefers to focus on the works of other quality composers and spends more time and energy championing the less-known creations of brilliant composers like Oottukkadu Venkata Kavi. On a lighter vein, he remarks, “My most noteworthy stat as a composer is being born exactly 200 years after Tyagaraja (1767-1847)!”

For a list of Ravikiran’s Carnatic compositions, please click here.


Ravikiran received his first title in 1973, at the age of six and has since been the first or youngest to receive many awards. Mentioned below are some of those.

International Level:
· Millennium Festival Award (Millennium Commission, Government of UK) – 2000 (first Indian)
· Best Contemporary World Album (New Age Voice Awards, USA) – 2001 (first Indian)

National Level:
· Star of India Award (Wisdom International) – 1985
· Sanskriti Award (Sanskriti Foundation) – 1990

State Level:
· Kalaimamani (Tamil Nadu State Award) – 1985
· Kumar Gandharva Samman (Madhya Pradesh State Award) – 1996

(Source: 02/2013 –

A Prodegy at age of 2…

Raga Malahari (Intro)…

Tilana (Carnatic Vocal)…

Hecharika ga rara — Yadukula Kambhoji


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