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We like to remember the 11th anniversary of Carnatic vocalist KV Narayanaswamy (01/15/1923-01/04/2002)

Posted by ElJay Arem (IMC OnAir) on April 1, 2013

Palghat Kollengode Viswanatha Ramanarayanan (Malayalam:പാലക്കാട് കൊല്ലങ്കോട് നാരായണസ്വാമി) (November 15, 1923 – April 1, 2002), often referred to as KV Narayanaswamy was an Indian musician, widely considered to be among the finest Carnatic music vocalists of the 20th century. He was described as the “Gentle Perfect Knight” of Carnatic music, a phrase from Geoffrey Chaucer, by V. K. Narayana Menon, prominent art critic of India and recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship.

Early life and background

K.V. Narayanaswamy (photo credit: Spicmacay Tamu)

K.V. Narayanaswamy (photo credit: Spicmacay Tamu)

KVN was born to Kollengode Viswanathayyar and Muthulakshmi Ammal in PalghatKerala, to a Palakkad Iyer family, a district renowned for its cultural and musical traditions, on the 15th of November, 1923. Narayanaswamy was born into a family of illustrious musicians and artists. His great-grandfather Viswam Bhagavatar was renowned for his evocative Ashtapadis and rendered services for Maharaja Ayilyam Thirunal, ruler of theprincely state of Travancore from 1860 to 1880. In return Viswam Bhagavatar was bestowed with government aid and hereditary royal privileges. Viswam Bhagavatar’s son, Narayana Bhagavatar continued his father’s legacy. His son was violin maestro, Viswanathayyar (soon came to be known as ‘Fiddle‘ Viswanathayyar), KVN’s father. K.V.Narayanaswamy learned basic music lessons under his father and grandfather. After studying in Palghat till the fifth form, he moved to Coimbatore, where he briefly dabbled in theater. KVN even managed a role as the young Kanappan in the movie Kannappa Nayanar. The movie bombed at the box office.

KVN first began extensive training under Mridangam maestro, Padma BhushanPalghat Mani Iyer. Mani Iyer proceeded to place KVN under the tutelage of Sangeetakalacharya C.S. Krishna Iyer, a highly competent vocalistmusicologist and composer in Palghat, and then under violinist andSangeetha Kalanidhi Papa Venkataramiah. Viswanatha Bhagavatar was however very keen that KVN should train under Sangeetha kalanidhiChembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar or Padma Bhushan Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, who were two of the most dominant musicians of the first half of the twentieth century along with the likes of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and G. N. Balasubramaniam. Mani Iyer soon judged KVN to be ready forgurukulavasam under Ariyakudi and in 1942, KVN took the giant step. He entered the home of Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar and remained an ardent disciple until the latter’s death in 1967.

Performing career

KVN’s major break came at a Madras Music Academy concert in 1954, when he was unexpectedly forced to substitute his Guru, Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar who was not in a position to attend the conference under unforeseen circumstances. Accompanied by doyens Palghat Mani Iyerand Papa Venkataramayya, this concert proved to be a milestone in Narayanaswamy’s career. The training under Palghat Mani Iyer allowed KVN to develop a solid knowledge of rhythmic nuances. This in turn would enable him to be at ease in the company of such legends of percussion asPalani Subramaniam PillaiPalghat R. RaghuMavelikkara Velukkutty Nair, and Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman to name a few. KVN, Palghat R. Raghu and violin maestro T.N.Krishnan would soon become a frequent and much admired combination on stage.

K.V.Narayanaswamy was intimately connected to the Travancore Royal Family following his skillful rendition of Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma‘sNavaratri compositions. Another landmark in KVN’s life came in 1964 when he participated in the East-West Encounter concerts in New Delhi. This was followed by a widely acclaimed concert at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland in 1965.

On being made professor of music at Wesleyan UniversityMiddletown, Connecticut, between 1965–67, he went on a coast-to-coast concert tour ofUSA. He was one of four artists including Bismillah KhanAli Akbar Khan, and Ravi Shankar who participated in the hugely popular Hollywood Bowlmusic festival in Los Angeles in the summer of 1967.In 1974, KVN went to teach in Berkeley, California for a year, in the company of dancerBalasaraswati and sitarist Nikhil Banerjee. Invited by the American Society of Eastern Arts, he traveled to North AmericaEurope (Berlin Music Festival in 1976) and Australia (Adelaide Arts Festival in 1988) multiple times thereafter on various concert tours. He also joined the Music College inMadras as a lecturer in 1962 when Musiri Subramania Iyer was its principal, and retired as Professor of Music in 1982.In 1984, Narayanaswamy was to become the first Indian musician to be awarded the Fulbright Scholarship and went to San Diego State University in California as an artist-in-residence under the scholarship. For nine months he taught at the university and gave performances all over North America.

Musical style and Song Repertoire

Though Narayanaswamy’s singing bore his master Ariyakudi’s Bani, over the years he evolved a unique style of his own. Strict classicism and blemish-less singing are some of the obvious facets of his music. His vast repertoire included songs that encompassed every genre, a number of languages and composers belonging to different ages. Endaro Mahanubhavulu in Sri RagamSri Subrahmanya Namaste in KambhojiBala gopala in BhairaviSatatam Tavaka in KharaharapriyaPahi Janani in NatakuranjiEnneramum in rāga DevagandhariPirava varam tarum inLatangi and Kanavendamo in Sriranjani are some of the songs that have come to bear his distinct signature. “The depth of emotion and the pathos he invested in singing certain compositions of Gopalakrishna Bharathi, especially VarugalAmo ayya and his incomparable and unique presentation of Krishna nee beganey in the style of Jayammal and Balasaraswati, in which he caressed the words and phrases exquisitely and had the audience in a trance as if he were a pied piper” are noteworthy. Strict adherence to Shruthi (musical pitch), lyrical purity and a poignant rendition were distinctive features of KVN’s music.

Leading Disciples

Some of KVN’s leading disciples were Padma Narayanaswamy, renowned flautist Shashank Subramanyam, vocalist K.V.Ananthan, violinist and vocalist Hemmige V.Srivatsan, Padma Sandilyan, Hemmige S.Prashanth, Pattabhiraman Pandit M.R.Subramaniam, T S Ranganathan, Manipallavam K.Sarangan and Balaji Prasath.

Personal life

In 1948 KVN married Palghat Mani Iyer‘s cousin Annapoorni. They had three daughters and a son: Muktha, Lalitha, Viswanathan and Ramaa. By a stroke of misfortune Annapoorni died in 1962. In 1965 Narayanaswamy married Padma, a talented musician and disciple who continues to train her husband’s students in his style. Their daughter Anuradha is a trained vocalist and television actor.


(Source: 03/2013 –

KVN live on TV…

KVN live at Myore (Nadabrahma Sangeetha Sabha, 1982)

Live in concert…



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