Kunnakkudi Vaidyanathan: Violinist whose work encompassed classical and popular music

As a violinist and composer, Kunnakkudi Vaidyanathan was a powerhouse of creativity. Steeped in the customs, devotional austerities and elations, grammar and vocabulary of Carnatic art music, Vaidyanathan was also a revelator of musical unorthodoxy and adventurousness. The most astonishing aspect of his lengthy musical career was neither his reputation as a principal soloist nor the pantheon of notable musicians whom he accompanied or played with. Rather it was his straddling of and success in two musical camps at opposite extremes.

In fact Vaidyanathan's careerwas a judicious balancing act. In the one palm he held the inherent sobriety and seriousness of South Indian art music, and in the other the implicit headiness expected of the Indian film industry. That contrast is plain in two recordings: Vaulting with the Strings (2003) reveals his absolute command of art music, while Golden Krithis Colours (1999), which was co-credited to the tabla maestro Zakir Hussain, reveals his mastery of popular music and orchestration, albeit grounded in raga forms. A major supplier of film music, he also appeared in the blockbuster Anniyan (2005), the most expensive Tamil film made up to that point – which, in the Indian manner, once dubbed into Telagu (as Aparachitidu) and Hindi (as Aparchit) became a hit three times over.

For anyone not attuned to the ways of Hinduism down south, probably what struck people first about Vaidyanathan was his forehead. Extending from his eyebrows upwards, he wore a good-sized vermillion splotch (pottu) of kumkum – a preparation of turmeric powder which, once combined with lime juice, turns into shades of red. Like a broad crescent over this, from ear to ear, he applied a stripe of vibhuti – holy ash made from dried cow dung baked to white purity. The story he told was that once a holy man had happened by. He asked the 13-year-old his name and whether he played the violin. Spying his vibhuti, the sage gave guidance on how to apply the vibhuti and kumkum "insignia" before vanishing. Vaidyana-than took it to be a manifestation of, and blessing from Lord Murugan, a Hindu deity close to Tamil hearts.

In the manner of many South Indian musicians' names, Vaidyanathan's also indicated lineage and locality. Often a place name supplies birth, residence or achievement signals. Kunnakudi – or Kunnakkudi – in present-day Tamil Nadu was where he was born. His father, Ramaswamy Sastri, sang and played a variety of instruments including the bamboo flute, jalatharangam (tuned, liquid-filled bowls brought to voice by sticks) and veena (crudely, the South's equivalent of today's sitar). Vaidyanathan's older siblings sang or played percussion. For centuries, the violin had become a primary instrument for accompanying the voice. When the violinist scheduled to accompany Vaidyanathan's sisters' performance failed to show and then, the next day, went further, goading his father and brother for not having produced a violinist, Vaidyanathan's fate was sealed. His guru-father began teaching him the violin.

Vaidyanathan went on to become one of India's greatest violinists. N. Rajagopalan's entry for Vaidyanathan in A Garland: a biographical dictionary of Carnatic composers & musicians (1990), opens: "A top performer, arresting violinist, innovator and an artiste of varied interests, Kunnakudi [sic] Vaidyanathan is a phenomenon and a class by himself." He was all that and more.

Ken Hunt

Kunnakkudi Vaidyanathan, violinist and composer: born Kunnakkudi, Madras Presidency, India 2 March 1935; married (four sons, one daughter); died Chennai, India 8 September 2008.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Head Porter / Concierge

£16000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Credit Controller

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

Recruitment Genius: Interactive / Mobile Developer

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks