Stringed Passion

Stringed Passion
Uma Ananth in a chat with Aruna Kumari, perhaps Indias only blind veena artiste.

“When I was about 15, I took part in the Thiruvayyar music festival in Tamil Nadu. Generally, only great music maestros get to play in that festival. But fortunately, I got a chance to play the veena and was much appreciated by the audience. That’s the most memorable moment of my life,” narrates Aruna Kumari, perhaps India’s only blind veena artiste. A multi-faceted talent, Aruna is not just an excellent veena player but also an accomplished singer and a violin player.

Accomplished artiste
Born in 1966, she lost her vision at the age of 7 years in 1973 due to bilateral retinal detachment. All medical treatments failed. Her parents then suggested that she should learn Carnatic classical music. Her foundation training was under Vidwan Udupi Vasudeva Bhat, and later under Vidushi Lalita Ballal and Vidwan Sooralu Parameshwar Bhat. She began learning veena under Vidushi K R Lakshmi Iyengar and violin under Vidwan K Raghavendra Bhat. She has passed all the grade levels of music examinations with honours and distinction.

Solo concerts
Aruna began her career by singing Sai Baba bhajans, inspired by the philosophy of Sai Baba. But then she reverted to her original passion of playing the veena and is now completely devoted to the instrument. She has been rewarded with several laurels for her passion. A recipient of the Karnataka Rajyotsava district level award for veena excellence, she has also been honoured with the Neelam Kurshed Kanga Award for Outstanding Blind Women. In March 2008, she received the Indira Gandhi Mahila Shiromani Award instituted by the International Integrity peace and friendship society, Bangalore chapter. Aruna has also participated in many music festivals all over India and is credited with more than 250 veena solo concerts of around two-three hour durations in cities all over Karnataka and India.

Aruna attributes all the achievements to the invaluable sacrifice of her mother late Hemavathi S Bhat, who expired in 2007. She says her mother’s constant assistance, day and night throughout the past 40 years, made her achieve the impossible. Recalling an incident that thrilled her to bits, Aruna narrates excitedly.

“Around seven years ago, I played at a music conference in Shimoga. After the concert, one of the guests who presided over the function came up to me and said my style impressed him very much as it resembled that of veena maestro K Balachander. I was overwhelmed and humbled.”

Distinctive style
Actually Aruna developed her Guru Vidwan Ananthapadmanabha’s style. This style of playing the veena is a mixture of Hindustani and Carnatic — a difficult to achieve style which Aruna has mastered despite her being differently abled.

Today, Aruna teaches the veena, violin as well as singing to a few students. Her mission is to revive the popularity of the veena by conducting veena concerts and fusion music programmes at temples, public functions etc, and to teach music to propagate it amongst the youth. She is determined to attain this noble vision.


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