The Making of a Musician

‘My Story’ from Bhavani S. Kishore Kumar

Bhavani S. Kumar is a leading musician, and he lives in Coimbatore. This well-known music Guru simply loves to sing. “I am extremely happy to sing. It does not matter whether I have an attentive audience or not. Ambal has been truly kind to me, and my music is nothing but for her grace. I owe it to her completely,” stated Bhavani S. Kishore Kumar.

The musician was born as the eighth child of P. M. Subramania Iyer and Vedhambal. His parents had been blessed with five daughters and three sons. Kishore did his early education at the Sakthi Higher Secondary School and the Government Higher Secondary School at Bhavani. His Kula deivam happens to be ManapulliKavu Bhagavathy. Kishore's sisters, brothers, and mother were well versed in music. His mother Vedhambal would play several instruments - Violin, Veena and Flute.

Bhavani Kishore's maternal grandfather, Bhavani Srikanta Iyer happened to be the son of Bhairavi Venkitu Iyer, the Asthana Vidwan (Teacher of foremost importance) of Mysore Samasthanam (Kingdom). He would sing the Bhairavi Ragam very well and therefore the Maharaja had gifted him a thoda weighing eighteen sovereigns of gold. Veenai Neelakanta Iyer was the father of Bhairavi Venkitu Iyer. The Asthana Vidwan Bhairavi Venkitu Iyer had three sons - Neelakantan (A composer of kirtans in Telugu), Srikanta Iyer (Violinist) and Chellappa Bhagavather (Singer). The three sons were born during the sojourn of Venkitu Iyer at Mysore. He had also recorded music in Trichy and Salem, Desikan was his contemporary. Venkitu Iyer would stay still during his performances and was known to just move his hands only. Therefore, he came to be known as Asaiya Melam. He was blessed with five sons and a daughter (Vedhambal, the mother of Bhavani S. Kishore Kumar).

“Our family had a house in Cauvery Street at Bhavani. It was located in the Agraharam. Financial issues forced our elders to sell the gold thoda. It was very sacred for my grandfather Srikanta Iyer. He would place it in front of himself while performing concerts and never wore it. In fact, my mother was made to wear it for her Valaikaappu (Ceremony done during the seventh month of pregnancy). Well, the next generation did not take to music. To start with, I picked up music from home from my mother and sisters. They would keep singing throughout the day. Mother would cook and sing,” added the committed teacher cum musician.

Bhavani Kishore's father, P. M. Subramania Iyer was the third son of Padinjaramadam Mahalinga Iyer. He was brought up in a house next to the Loganarkavu Bhagavathi temple in Vadakarai. His Brahmachari (bachelor) maternal uncle was a great Shiva Pooja exponent. The family was related to the great musician, Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar. Bhavani Srikanta Iyer was known to accompany Chembai often.

Chembai Anantha Bhagavathar a cousin of Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar was married to Kamalam, the sister of P. M. Subramania Iyer. He used to live in Salem, and this connected that family to Bhavani Srikanta Iyer because of the Violin. This led to the marriage of P. M. Subramania Iyer to Vedhambal (daughter of Bhavani Srikanta Iyer). The groom had served in the military for some time before joining the Time Office of Sakthi Sugars. Chembai Narayana Bhagavathar (brother-in-law of Kamalam) lived in Bhavani and used to teach music to the sisters of Bhavani Kishore. The young Kishore used to visit the residence of the teacher to play with a spinning-top found there. It was when music began to register in his mind. In fact, Narayana Bhagavathar would tell the girls to clear their doubts from their kid brother. Bhavani Kishore started learning directly for the first time from the age of fourteen under Bengaluru Sundaresan. Interestingly, the teacher and his brother had been students of Bhavani Srikanta Iyer, the maternal grandfather of Bhavani Kishore!

Bengaluru Sundaresan had made Kishore pass the music lower grade exam in 1987. The classes got discontinued after Sundaresan left for Erode. Bhavani Kishore kept singing but his school did not do much to encourage it. However, his English teacher, Vivek Namashivayam was helpful. He used to take Kishore Kumar to music contests. On one occasion, Kishore was rejected in a 64-school contest for the jury did not understand the song. Vivek Namashivayam made him sing the Tamil song, Alaipayudhe and this rendition fetched him the first prize. The financial condition of the family was not good and therefore Bhavani S. Kishore Kumar had faced several obstacles. He was forced to choose different and difficult routes due to the same.

Eventually, Bhavani S. Kishore Kumar took up the Health Inspector Course at Schieffelin Institute of Health - Research and Leprosy Centre at Karigiri near Vellore. He was among eighteen students who came from around the country, and he learnt much about leprosy. This helped him to clear his exams with a distinction. The singer worked as a Health Inspector in the Voluntary Health Service at Appakkoodal for nearly five years (1992 - 1997).

“I am grateful to my senior Mahadevan, the son of a businessman. He was one year my senior and this music enthusiast made me to learn music along with him under Ongole Krishnamurthy Bhagavathar. This teacher lived in the nearby Kumarapalayam and Mahadevan paid my music tuition fees, for I could not afford it. We used to sing in the Ramar Temple at Kumarapalayam. The kind and friendly Mahadevan got me to enroll for B. A. Music (Correspondence) in the Madras University. He paid my fees again and got me an Electronic Tambura also.

It was around this time, my mother's cousin Neelakanta Iyer (Electricity Board employee) of Tatabad in Coimbatore came into my life. He became my Godfather eventually. Neelakanta Iyer was an affectionate person and was keen to get me into the world of music. It was wedding of my sister and Neelakanta Iyer made me sing in front of music teacher, Chinnari Balu sir, in a guest house. Sir was not impressed. But destiny would have it otherwise. Chinnari Balu Sir wanted his son to do B. A. Music from Madras University and therefore he visited us in Bhavani in order to understand more about the syllabus from me. We went on a coracle ride within the neighborhood of the Bhavani Sangameswarar Temple during his visit. It was when I sang the song ‘Maayaatheetha Swaroopini’ (Composed by Ponniah of the Tanjore Quartet). Chinnari Balu sir liked it a lot. He felt bad for not hearing my music fully earlier and apologized. He agreed to move over to Bhavani and teach me Carnatic Music. This was in the year 1992,” said the grateful and humble musician.

It was once again left to the friend Mahadevan to bail out Bhavani S. Kishore Kumar. He lent his father's oil transport vehicle for the purpose of getting Chinnari Balu's stuff to Bhavani. The years under Chinnari Balu were fruitful for Bhavani S. Kishore Kumar. The teacher taught him how to understand the meaning and sing. He made Kishore understand the importance of Bhava Pradhanyam. It had helped the youngster visualize each song before singing it. This made Kishore get a little more involved with music. He began to enjoy music due to his interest in visualizing the song. Therefore, it never mattered whether the audience paid attention or not! The Voluntary Health Service job left Bhavani S. Kishore Kumar for the program had reached fruition. This retrenchment gave him a new opening.

One more music enthused friend, Karunakaran showed him an advertisement which called for musicians to take up the Music Teachers Training Course in the Music Academy (Chennai). Bhavani S. Kishore Kumar attended the interview and the interviewer B. Rajam Iyer suggested that he take up the higher course - Sangeetha Ratna. However, Kishore persisted that he would do his Teachers Training Course and B. Rajam Iyer who understood the potential of the youngster made him get into the third year directly. Kishore completed the programme and joined the Sangeetha Ratna program.

Bhavani S. Kishore Kumar moved over to Chennai and learnt under eminent musicians and teachers for some time. B. Rajam Iyer, Neyveli Santhanagopalan and Nanganallur Sundaresan were his teachers. He used to visit the residence of Nanganallur Sundaresan and learn. Kishore had performed with Lakshman Sruthi too. The kind teacher, Nanganallur Sundaresan had empowered Kishore Kumar to earn and pay his Guru dakshina. Meanwhile the passing away of his father, P. M. Subramania Iyer made Bhavani Kishore Kumar to return to Coimbatore. He began to teach music and the resident Coimbatore students got him opportunities to do concerts. Kishore Kumar continued to learn under Prof. Shivaraman, and Pandanallur Chandrashekhara Bhagavathar. Coimbatore became the city of his destiny.

Music lover and connoisseur, Advocate Vaidyanathakrishnan was keen to involve Bhavani S. Kishore Kumar as the singer for dance performances. This got the musician associated with the Coimbatore Kendra of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. It was in Coimbatore that he met his future wife, dancer Mathula and he encouraged her to do an M. A. in Dance from Madras University. Marriage followed and now they are happily pursuing dance and music. Bhavani S. Kishore Kumar was known to visualize the songs while singing and this helped him compose items for his wife, Mathula's dance programs. He has thus far composed five Varnams, ten Thillanas and a hundred productions which are being used for dance programs. His song ‘Innum Vara Kanene…’ (Ragam - Sallabham, Thalam - Adi) is inspired by a song from ‘Nachiyar Thirumozhi’ by Poetess Divine, Andal. The teacher cum ardent devotee has composed songs on Saint Raghavendra, Shirdi Baba and Swami Shanthananda of Shivanjali. The entire chat was interspersed with music. Kishore Kumar rendered songs like ‘Brovabharama,’ during the musical conversation.

“I must definitely share the incidents connected with my first overseas concert. Swami Shanthananda of Shivanjali asked me to join him on a trip to Malaysia. He had already seen me perform and was keen to have me on this trip. I did not have a passport and had to apply for one. It was getting delayed, and I did not know what to do. It was around this time that I went to the residence of industrialist, S. V. Arumugam. I was the Carnatic music tutor for his daughter, Gayathri. The industrialist was a lover of music and would listen to me sing often. It was part of my routine and when Arumugam sir came to learn about my trip, he gave me $100 as a gift. However, on learning that my passport was getting delayed, he called for his office people immediately in order to get it done. It was thanks to him, that I got my passport on time. This helped me undertake my first ever flight journey. I performed in Kuala Lumpur and Penang at Malaysia. Swami Shanthananda had got me associated with Shivanjali thereafter. On another occasion, S. V. Arumugam sir made me perform in his family wedding. He felt and stated that this concert would help me to get identified and therefore get me more opportunities. I was deeply moved by his gesture,” stated the modest musician, Bhavani S. Kishore Kumar. He has performed in Africa, USA, Canada, London, Switzerland, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Australia, and New Zealand, thus far.

The grateful singer, Bhavani S. Kishore Kumar turned emotional while speaking about his journey, “Everything was possible because of the grace of Ambal. So many people came into my life in order to make me. My mother, friends, teachers, students, and the audience. I still cannot understand as to how so many things fell in place. Happy to sing and teach. I am just doing my work. Am grateful to so many people for making me.”

The progress of the marvelous musician, Bhavani S. Kishore Kumar shows us that success follows gratitude and humility. 

Mr. Rajesh Govindarajulu is one of the founding members of the Verandah Club Pvt. Ltd. He is a leading columnist, historian, jeweler, entrepreneur, and a heritage enthusiast who is earnestly working to revive the past in the light of the present. Experiential learning about the history of Coimbatore is his main course of interest and he is also a panel member of many colleges in the city.

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