Song of Surrender

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Sikkil Neela

6.9.1940-13.11.2010
Birthdays & Anniversaries 

With  flute  genius  T.R.  Mahalingam  and his  remarkable  sishya  Sangita  Kalanidhi N. Ramani  for  close  relatives   on  their  mother’s  side,  the  sangeeta  gnanam  of the  renowned  Sikkil  Sisters,  flautists,  has  been  no surprise. Probably  the  only  successful  flute  duo  of  their  time, certainly  the  first  female  pair  of  instrumentalists  in Carnatic  music,  Sikkil  Kunjumani  and  Neela have continued  the  vocal  style  of  flute  playing  that  Mali (Sruti 24)  launched  so  memorably  during  their lifetime,  changing  the  history  of  the  pullankuzhal irreversibly.....

The  age-difference  is  almost  eleven  years  between Kunjumani and Neela, the younger of the two sisters. For  Neela,  the  journey  was  more  strenuous.  “I  learnt with  difficulty,  I  must  confess,” Neela said.  “You  know, a  girl  child  normally  begins  to  speak  when  she  is  less than a year. I started to speak only when I was four or so. There  was  an  idol  of  Krishna  in  our  house  which I  adored.  When I  wanted  someone  to  fetch  it  for  me, so  I  could  play  with  it,  no  one  understood  my  prattle. I then sang “uttani begene baa o.” Even if the words were not  clear,  my  audience  recognised  the  song Krishna  nee beganeyas I got the tune right. I already loved the flute.” Neela  recalls,  “I  was  seven years  old  when  my  sister Kunjumani  initiated  me  into  the  flute.  I  took  a  good year  and  a  half  just  to  learn  the  sarali  varisai.  Since  my fingers  were  very  small,  I  had  a  problem  holding  the flute.  I  had no  grip.  The  guru  would  prod  me,  ‘Play, you can easily do it’. Luckily for me, I could effortlessly remember  my  everyday  lessons  without  having  to  write them down all the time.” “It  was  1946  or  47.  My  arangetram  was  in  the  Sikkil Singaravelar  temple.  Ramu  Bhagavatar  accompanied me on the violin and my father gave mridanga support, so  uplifting  to  the  performance  of  a  small  girl!  Then I  started  participating  in  small  events  and  school functions.  In  the  Krishna  Jayanti  Utsavam  at Thiruthuraipoondi  conducted  by  the  local  mirasdar I  was  honoured  in  a  separate  function  with  a  gold medal,  and  the  title  Apoorva  Venugana  Balakrishna Avatara.”.....

Kunjumani  and  Neela  played  the  flute  as  a  duo  for  the first  time  in  the  Kasi  Viswanathar  temple  at  Tanjavur. Their  first  major  concert  together  was  in  1953.  Then, as  the  demand  for  performances  gradually  grew, Kunjumani’s  husband  allowed  her  to  perform  regularly with  her  sister.  There  was  no  looking  back  after  that.


To read full story, visit sruti.com and buy Sruti 314

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