Sign-up for Newsletter

Music > Face-To-Face
Aruna Sairam - by Lakshmi Venkatraman
01 December, 2012

A few small steps taken in Mumbai into the world of Carnatic  music over four decades ago has become a globe trotting ones. Smt Aruna Sairam, who has a huge fan following, grew up in Mumbai;  as a child she began learning to sing from her mother Smt Rajalakshmi Sethuraman and today her stature as a Carnatic vocalist is known world over. She did her schooling inJ.B.VacchaSchooland obtgained her Bachelor’s degree in Science (Chemistry and Botany) fromSIESCollegeand followed it up with M.A. in Music and B.Ed. 

Most of the Carnatic musicians going to Mumbai would visit Aruna’s parents as they were a musically oriented family and one of them was Smt T. Brinda. She used to teach a group of women in their house; just hanging around there Aruna too managed to learn in her style. Once Brinda happened to listen to her singing and offered to teach her. Later she came under the influence of Needamangalam Krishnamoorthy Bhagavatar, who used to sing and teach Sampradaya Bhajans; he was a specialist in the compositions of Oothukadu Venkatasubba Iyer and thus today we hear Aruna singing a lot of those lilting songs. 

Aruna’s mother was a student of Alathoor Brothers and also later she learnt under Thanjavur Sankara Iyer. Aruna had been around when the latter was teaching and the influence has lodged somewhere in her. Tiger Varadachari’s disciple A.S. Mani too had taught her. Whose teaching has had the most impact on her music? “My mother, because from her I imbibed the strength of ‘Kalapramanam’ as Alathoor Brothers were known for their expertise in ‘Laya’; ‘Azhuttham’ definitely from Brindamma; and  it was A.S. Mani who trained me in singing ‘Sarvalagu Swaras’”, declares Aruna.  She has also had guidance in the culture of voice training from experts inIndiaas also abroad. Does she have some favourite Ragas? “Oh, yes, Todi and Brindavanasaranga”. 

Aruna has been known for her collaborative work with Dominique Vellard. How did that happen? “I have been visiting and performing inFranceoften and many French people used to come to listen regularly. One of them was Dominique and he approached me once and proposed working together. Since then we have been performing together all over the world in auditoria as well as  churches. We took part in the Festival of World Sacred Music  inMorocco. There has been tremendous response for our programmes; his music is liturgical, the main aspect of which is devotional; the Gregorian chant sounds very similar to our Veda chanting”. According to her the response to classical Carnatic music inFrance15 years ago was very good, but now it is fantastic; in fact it is so in most countries abroad. “I was recently inNew Yorksoon after the great hurricaneSandyand there was great chaos and distress all around; the organizers even thought of canceling my programme inManhattan; but finally went ahead with it and the turn out by both Americans and Indians was very good and the appreciation so strong. People inBarcelonainSpaintoo are deeply interested in our music”. “Also in the West they pay a lot of attention to acoustics in the auditorium, particularly inFrance. Mike testing before a concert takes nearly 2 ½ hours. Here too in some halls the vibration is quite good”. 

But in spite of all this, for her there is nothing to beat the Chennai December Music Festival. “It really is a phenomenon. We should be proud of it. It is always thrilling and challenging to sing in front of the Chennai audience”.   Aruna  moved with her family to Chennai 12 years ago, though for almost 20 years she had been shuttling between Mumbai and Chennai. Through the years she has been able to mesmerize hundreds of music lovers with her unique style of singing as well as her devotional items in the latter half of the concert. Many listeners wait particularly for that part. 

Aruna is quite happy about the standard of music of the current crop of young musicians. “They are doing very well indeed. There are many means to learn and improve one’s knowledge, such as recordings, learning through skype etc. When I was young these were not available; but they are also simultaneously under the tutelage of some senior Vidwans”. 

So many organizations are offering awards these days. What does she feel about them? “Padma” awards, Sangeetha Kalanidhi etc. add to the status of the musician. But other awards also are important; those who give them want to do their bit of service to the cause and it also helps in dissemination of the greatness of our music, besides encouraging the artistes”. Aruna herself is the recipient of Padmashri besides many other awards. She has performed all over India and the world including at prestigious venues like Carnegie Hall in New York and Le Théâtre de la Ville in Paris. 

Aruna Sairam concluded her chat wishing the best of luck for their effort in popularizing Carnatic music.

About Sabhash - Everything about classical music, dance, drama and a platform for inclusive entertainment is the one-stop destination for the latest news and information on the performing arts of India - classical music and dance, theatre, bhajans, discourses, folk performances, and other lesser known art forms. Institutions that revolve around the performing arts have exploded in numbers, and thanks to the Internet which has made information easily accessible, the number of rasikas has grown too. Corporate patronage has played a big part in increasing the world-wide reach of the Indian arts. Sabhash wishes to be a platform for inclusive growth giving an equal opportunity and recognition to not only the main performer but also the artistes who accompany them on stage, and the people who work backstage and play the role of unsung heroes.