By KS Kalidas
Few in the music field can claim the pedigree that twenty two-year old khanjira artist Anirudh Athreya has. His greatgrandfathers Sangita Kalanidhi-s ‘Papa’ K.S. Venkatramaiah and Alathur Sivasubramania Iyer were icons in the twentieth century. His maternal grandfather, V. Thyagarajan was a reputed violinist, and grand-uncle V. Nagarajan was a veteran khanjira vidwan (see Sruti 204). Nagarajan initiated Anirudh into the khanjira when he was but nine years old and was his guru for five years. Anirudh’s mother Lakshmi is well trained in music although she never performed on the stage. In fact, Anirudh learnt vocal music, first from his mother and then from Nanganallur Ramanathan and Neyveli Santhanagopalan, but gave it up soon, fascinated by the khanjira right from childhood.
Khanjira was introduced into classical music by the legendary Manpoondia Pillai and his disciples, Pudukkottai Dakshinamurthy Pillai and Palani Muthaiah Pillai were great masters in the art. Palani Subramania Pillai, the son and disciple of the latter also brought great glory to the art although he was essentially a mridanga vidwan. V. Nagarajan was, early in his career, a mridanga vidwan who switched over to the khanjira and became a preferred accompanist to many leading musicians of the day, including M.S. Subbulakshmi. However the rejuvenation of the khanjira as a major percussion instrument happened after the advent of that genius, G. Harishankar, and today it holds its own in Carnatic music with excellent players like B.S. Purushothaman, Bangalore, Amrit and Srisunderkumar. Anirudh, although much younger than these artists, has now come of age musically.
After Nagarajan passed away in February 2002, Anirudh came under the guidance of Sangita Kalanidhi T.K. Murthy. This was Nagarajan’s wish before his unexpected demise. Since becoming Murthy’s disciple, Anirudh has not looked back. Within a year he was playing alongside the veteran who went to great lengths to encourage him. He is now a regular accompanist to accomplished artists like Bombay Jayashri, T.M. Krishna and Vijay Siva, among others. He considers it a privilege to have also participated in the concerts of the likes of R.K. Srikantan, T.V. Sankaranarayanan, Vairamangalam Lakshminarayanan, P.S. Narayanaswami, O.S. Thyagarajan, and N. Ravikiran. The senior mridanga artists he has teamed up with are his guru T.K. Murthy, Trichy Sankaran, Guruvayur Dorai, Srimushnam Raja Rao, Tiruvarur Bhakthavatsalam and Mannargudi Easwaran. He has toured many cities in India, and played abroad in the Netherlands, Spain, Austria, Singapore, the U.S.A. and Canada.
Anirudh has won prizes and awards from Valayapatti Nadhalaya Trust, All India Radio (first prize in competitions in 2005), Sri Krishna Gana Sabha (2004) and Music Academy (2007). Bharat Kalachar bestowed the title Yuva Kala Bharati on him in 2007. A fast rising star with excellent tonal reproduction on the khanjira, Anirudh is graded ‘B-High’ by All India Radio.
(Reproduced from Sruti 319, April 2011)