Thenuga Thevapalan

IMG_1217In February 2016 after attending Sir’s workshop, I was immensely intrigued and fascinated to learn about the wonderful gift he has given to the world of music by implementing a new idea of learning music through the ‘COMET’ method, ‘Correlated Objective Music Education and Training’ (Features of COMET). During the four-day workshop, I realized how the principles of COMET go beyond Karnatak music. It is holistic. During his visit, Sir would stress on the importance of a strong practical foundation in the principles of music and how it is integral to have a proper basic training. I realized this could be attained through his method, COMET. After his first visit, I was longing to learn more from him and I was on cloud nine when Sir was willing to take me as his sishya. From the moment I began my training with Sir, I completely surrendered myself to him. I was certain that his teaching and guidance without anyone’s interference would strengthen a student’s musical abilities. 

In my first session with Sir, he talked about the importance of tuning the vina towards perfection and precision. He would explain how a perfectly tuned vina is the rightful way to attain shruti-suttham and how tuning the vina precisely can be therapeutic. This is how my journey with Sir began. Even today, I am being reminded of the importance of a perfectly tuned vina.

Chin mudra

One of the most important aspects of plucking is the relaxed hand position. Sir would demonstrate on the vina how each time you finish a pluck, it should look like a ‘chin mudra’

It is rare to find gurus who put great effort in making the student understand the importance of the basics of basic. I am fortunate to have one such guru. Sir is a guru who seeks perfection in anything he does. In my second session, Sir taught me nothing but plucking for 2.5 hours! This was the first time in my life that I have given so much attention to plucking. During the lesson, Sir would stress on the importance of proper plucking; the clean sound of the plucking, the placement of your fingers and how to pluck in harmony with tala. One of the greatest things about the COMET method is its holistical approach towards learning. I have come to realize through Sir that plucking exercises are actually a way of doing ‘Dhyanam’ and a daily, mindful practice on the vina will eventually make you achieve a meditative state of mind.

One should not underestimate the values of the basic exercises of Karnatak music. Sir made me realize the various intricacies of playing even ‘simple’ exercises such as sarali, jantai and alankaram. When learning through COMET method, the student initially learn the exercises without gamakas and it astonished me how it requires a great skill in shruti and laya to be able to play these exercises. Furthermore, without a good command over your left and right hand it is hard to attain a clean sound and a good flow when playing sarali, jantai and alankaram without gamakam. I completely undervalued the intricacies of these exercises. When I started learning the basic exercises with gamakas, we would dwell on just one gamakam for hours! Sir will never move on to the next phase before he is certain the student has understood the first part correctly. He always finds a way to explain any complex phrase in an explicable manner. Sir’s guidance has been a revelation for me that a proper basic training is the most essential part of one’s musical journey and he made me realize the supreme value in shruti-laya integrated practice already from the beginning stage. Currently being at the varna-stage, I see how my basic training through COMET is contributing to make the intricate gamakas comprehensible in varnas such as ‘Sami Ninne’ (Sankarabharanam), ‘Viribhoni’ (Bhairavi), ‘Vanajakshi’ (Kalyani) and ‘Eranapai’ (Todi) to name a few.

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Sir and the students about to test the perfected vinas

Sir’s desire for quality Art education is very profound. One good example would be when he gifted each student of music in Denmark and Norway a perfectly tuned and fretted vina in the summer 2016 by setting nearly 25 vinas in perfect tune with respect to all the svarasthanas in all 3.5 octaves. It is essential for a student to have a perfect vina for a better understanding of shruti. I was deeply moved by this effort and being a student of vina, I could not ask for a greater gift!

Every student of music will in some time of his/her life have heard their guru mentioning the benefits of learning music and how music improves one’s academic, physical and social skills. Through my learning from Sir, I have come to realize how much I am gaining by playing vina. He gave me an insight into all the beautiful benefits that come with doing daily sadhana on the vina. Sir made me realize that playing vina is pure meditation. What I have achieved from his guidance is more than just understanding Arts in a better way. I have not only improved myself musically, but his teaching and guidance has enriched me on many levels in my daily life. 

I have covered only one small aspect of my training under Sir. What he has given me is a depth of knowledge and an affection towards Arts that I have never experienced before. I am deeply moved by his truthfulness towards Arts, selfless actions and pure intentions. I will never be able to express how grateful I am to have found the right guru. His teaching and guidance has eventually become my way of living. Little would I know that 19th of February 2016 would be the biggest turning point in my life. I know for sure that I cannot be in better hands. I am forever grateful to Krishna akka for giving me this opportunity.

 

Mathuriga Thevapalan

Ever since I started to learn from sir I have experienced the importance of having a guru in my life guiding me through every single aspect of my musical learning. With utmost care and perfection in every pluck, tone and movement, sir provides a deep insight into the very basics of the basics – such as perfection in plucking, placement of the left-fingers, shruti and sthanam to name a few. The importance sir gives to shruti- and sthana-suttham is absolutely remarkable! Our first ever lesson with sir was on how to tune the vina absolutely perfectly. Moreover he demonstrated how a perfectly fretted vina sounds and how important it is for every student of music to attain sthana-suttham. Not only did sir explain and demonstrate this for IMG_3532us, but he guided us in how to attain this perfection in shruti and sthanam and made us experience it ourselves! 

The importance sir gives to the basic exercises really surprised me at first. This was something that was completely new and strange to me. I have underestimated the importance of the basics. Through my interactions with sir, I gradually realised how Sarali Varisai, Jantai Varisai and Alankaras along with several other basic exercises truly are the most important and essential part of one’s learning. I realised that what I considered simple and insignificant is actually very advanced and more importantly it is the most crucial aspect of one’s learning. Only by mastering this one can build a strong foundation in music. Having reached the varna-stage I am now experiencing how the rigorous training in the very basics of the basics and the basic exercises is helping me comprehend the composition much better. To every problem I experience, the solution can be found in the basics – let it be plucking, split-fingers, pulling or the structure of a gamaka etc. I have now realised that I truly need the strength of the basics if I want to excel in this music.

Sir’s love for the vina and its purity is so profound that I feel that the vina truly lives inside of him. He can spend hours tuning the vina and exploring its perfectly fretted sthanas. Only after interacting sir I experienced how much peace just plucking the strings on a perfectly tuned vina brings. Whenever I wish to quietening my mind I will tune my vina and then pluck one string after another. The peace and contentment this meditative practice brings cannot be put into words but it has to be experienced. He has made me realise that music goes beyond the mundane professional and technical considerations. It is a language, a mode of expression, the most powerful way to convey identity and emotions. It is a lifestyle. It is as important as the air we breathe. And this is something that can be experienced in the very beginning of one’s journey. You do not need to know the most complex compositions or be able to improvise on a raga to feel this contentment that music brings. Mere sruthi-suttham can make me forget myself. Sir has made me go deeper. Even though I did not think it was possible, my love for the vina has without a doubt grown stronger after I came under the guidance of sir because he has opened my eyes for the diversities of the instrument. I feel truly blessed to be a practitioner of this wonderful instrument.

Before I started to learn from sir I had only acquired a feel for the instrument and a familiarity with the frets, but I did not have a deeper understanding of the instrument nor the music I was playing. I was well aware of the latter, but I never thought about my relationship with my instrument. After interacting with sir I realised that I did not even know the instrument I have played for so long. With sir’s help I feel that I now know the vina. Sir has explained and demonstrated the uniqueness and individuality of the vina so patiently and meticulously. Most importantly I understand how a proper command of the instrument will benefit my musical learning and life in general on so many levels. For a little more than a decade I have played an instrument without truly understanding its capacity, individuality, uniqueness and importance — without even knowing how to approach it correctly. These are all details that I did not even think of before. I am immensely grateful for having strengthened my relationship with this wonderful and irreplaceable being that I consider my companion for life.

Rushing through one’s learning is never an option with sir. That is what makes sir so unique in a world where almost everyone is rushing through life. There are simply no shortcuts. Thenuga and I were taught the basic exercises over and over again – each time focusing on a different aspect of the exercises and hereby making ourselves grounded in the exercises. And I have lost count for the amount of times we went through every gitam and varna we have learned so far. Through this perfect and detailed way of teaching, sir has helped me go much deeper. With sir it is simply not reproducing and imitating what he is playing. He will explain every detail and why he feels it is important to play something in a certain way so meticulously. I feel a lot more involved in the composition that I am playing than I did before I came under guidance of sir. I now understand the aesthetic value and beauty of the raga and composition, which has led to a newfound love and enjoyment of the music I am playing. 

Even when I seem to have an exceptionally hard time understanding and reproducing what is being taught, sir will never give up. He will spend hours doing whatever he can to help me understand and even develop new exercises and ways of teaching a specific technique, gamaka or phrase. Afterwards he will make me repeat the exercise over and over again. Sir constantly tells me that it is not enough when I play something correctly once, I should be able to play it repeatedly without any falter. By insisting on this repeated and perfect practice sir has made it clear to me that practice matters more than ambition and talent. There is no point in having a great voice or having big dreams for the future if one does not put in the hard and consistent work this art form requires.

Through sir’s COMET methodology I have realised how music can be used for different purposes such as meditation, therapy, treatment of mental disorders, linguistic studies, chants etc. During our two months gurukulavasam in Summer 2016, sir taught us Thirukkurals using the app Taala Keeper. I have learned some of the Thirukkurals in the past, but it did not appeal to me at all. However, I found sir’s way of teaching the Thriukkurals very exciting and interesting. His way of combing it with music caught my attention, and I am sure that my experience of learning the Thirukkurals as a little child would have been a lot different if it had been taught in this fun and very fruitful way. By focusing on the rhythmic structure of the Thirukkurals I easily memorised it, and I also experienced how one’s sense of laya gets improved through this way of learning. Moreover, one of the things that has intrigued me the most about sir’s COMET methodology is his research on how music can be applied in therapy and in treatment of mental disorders. Sir has showed me documentations on how chants have helped patients with different kinds of disorders. I was immensely moved to see how music touched these individuals! Sir has made me realised how many dimensions and levels there are to music and how it truly can improve one’s life.  

After having experienced his guidance I know that I will be lost without sir. Words fail to express how utterly and completely grateful and blessed I feel to have this rare opportunity of learning under such a great master of music. Sir is without a doubt the best guide one can get. He enters every single task with an honesty and inFullSizeRendertegrity I have never seen before. He is a Guru who encourages his Sishyas to work with complete determination, mindfulness, dedication and honesty towards the art. There are so many unsaid things that I learn just by the mere presence of my Guru. Sir is not only teaching me about music, but by his truthful actions and the knowledge and wisdom he is passing on, he is teaching me how to live life in a truthful and honest way. He represents everything that is supposed to be right in this world. What has touched me the most is sir’s selfless actions and pure intentions. His only intention is to spread music to everyone regardless of their background and without any compromises on the quality of the music education. Everything he does, he does for the sake of art and not for his own sake. He will go to great extents to help his students and never expect anything in return except dedication, truthfulness and consistent work. I feel so incredibly fortunate to have the privilege of being in his presence and getting an insight into his wealth of musical knowledge and deconstructive thoughts. I cannot thank Krishni akka enough for giving me this opportunity in the first place. I am forever grateful to have stumbled across his path. To me there is no greater principle than my Guru –  an embodiment of everything that is right…

 

Pirianka Kopalasingam

I started learning from sir 5th of July 2017. I was inspired to learn from sir due to his way of in-depth teaching. 

As a business graduate I compared sir’s way of teaching with what a sociologist/anthropologist, Bourdieu, defined as cultural capital. 

Bourdieu defines social status in the form of economic, social and cultural capital. Economic capital can easily be achieved by anyone – it’s basically just money. Social capital is about having the right connections and network of people. The last one is what I find interesting with respect to Sir’s teaching. 

Cultural capital is the hardest capital to achieve. The knowledge about music and experience of music is something no one can buy or get easily. It has to be experienced and learned through a long period of time with passionate consistency. This is what our Karaikudi Subramaniam sir has achieved! He has a cultural capital that is difficult to achieve through money or social network. It has to be learned and experienced through the body. I am interested in digging deeper into this cultural layer and get a deeper understanding of music. 

I find his way of teaching about music to be unique. As he doesn’t want us to imitate what he sings, but rather transform us into creative individual singers. His aim is to give us tools that enable us to be creative, innovative and modern in the way that we think about music. 

 

Stefeja Vasantharasan

Today 1.5 years after meeting sir for the first time, I have come to realize that to be able to understand the immense beauty and ecstatic feeling you achieve from his training you have to engage yourself emotionally, physically and eventually spiritually. In my life, I have always been trying to discover how to attain a solid foundation in Arts. In my search for this, I kept getting back to ground zero because of divergence in music. Every mirage I ran after left me unstable and each time I failed the hole inside me got bigger and bigger. I felt like a failure. But since I started my learning from Dr. Karaikudi Subramanian sir my thirst has quenched.

It is impossible to cover my entire journey with sir. His guidance has impacted me in various ways. What I will cover in the following is one small aspect of my journey with sir so far.

chakrasIn one of my very first lessons with sir, I was introduced to voice culture. He made me experience and feel the culture of my own voice through his his external and internal guidance. Slowly, he made me understand that the sthānas are connected to the 7 chakras with respect to the vibrations in the body.

00d7703d01a48fb845f21231ed08a6a2He gave me an insight into ‘sthāna-dhyana’ and gradually I realized how the vina is integral to internalize the sthānas. The vina is equivalent to the human body and instrumental to visualize the chakras. The practice gave me a bodily, spiritual and divine experience. To attain perfection, one has to connect  oneself both physically and psychologically. In this connection, I learned how important the vina is for vocalists as a toolfor fine tuning the sthānas since the vina is the perfect reference for each sthāna. This is a lifelong practice which I discovered through sir’s tutelage. Even today, it is a great challenge, but when you hit it once in awhile it is a superior experience which cannot be put into words.

One of many things that truly amazed me, is how much sir values and gives importance to the basic of the basics. That was a new dimension which I did not come across before starting my training with sir. Before meeting sir, I did not put much effort or attention towards the basic exercises in Karnatak music. By time, I realized that strengthening the basic of the basics through the ‘Abhyasa Ganam’ enriches one’s skills in sthāna-, laya- and svarasutham. I would never have thought that singing the basic exercises would bring me immense joy. These exercises make me go into my own little bubble, to a very spiritual meditative state of mind, which I have never experienced before.

I was overwhelmed when I got to know that sir collaborated with Poet Vaidheeswaran to compose lyrics to the basic exercises in Karnatak music. Sir’s contribution proves the vitality of the basic exercises and that it is the most crucial stage in one’s musical education. Through this, I was taught the importance of pronunciation and how lyrics contributes to the laya- and gamaka aspects of a composition. During my lessons, sir kept reminding me the uniqueness of every word, and that you have to produce the sound without shattering the meaning.  

I am blessed to have experienced how sir’s teaching and his methodology ‘COMET’ goes beyond Karnatak music and benefits other musical genres such as Tamil film music. Per my request, sir taught me ‘Thesulavuthe’ from ‘Mannaalane Mangaiyin Baakkiyam’.

I was very intrigued to see how my rigorous training in the basic exercises helped me to comprehend the song indepth. The basic exercises develops a ‘mindmap’ of gamakas, and I experienced how this ‘mindmap’ was helpful to navigate me through the various gamakas in the song. This approach improved my consciousness of even the small details. Furthermore, the vina was a great guide to make me comprehend the gamakas in an explicable manner. This played a major role for me to perceive the film song. Like sir always says, the vina is equal to perfection which is why it is essential for a vocalist to be able to relate to the vina. For that, a vocalist has to learn how to play the vina, since the vina is Saraswati; the knowledge giver.

People I have come across in my life has always distinguished between different musical genres such as film songs, Karnatak music, folk songs etc. Because of my surroundings I myself believed in this differentiation until I met sir. Through his guidance and teaching, I witnessed his holistic view towards Arts, which inspired and intrigued me to learn and experience music from this perspective. He made me realize that each genre are interrelated with one another and that they are different ways of projecting the beauty of music, which we have to respect. It is all one. To realize this, oneness is important and a necessity to get involved in any genre in the world of music. This is exactly reflected in ‘COMET’.

Because of my journey with sir, my life in general has become more profound and I feel in tune with my true self. I have come to realize that life is music and music is life; what you achieve from music is beyond this worldly life. The positivity, inner peace and joy that music brings is something that word cannot capture. These qualities stefejais reflected in sir’s approach towards music, life and learning. He is one such guru who believes in his students and approach each one according to their unique strengths and weaknesses. Through sir’s rigorous training, one can assure to reach the stage of self-learning. His truthfulness towards Arts and his belief that music belongs to each and everyone is something that has moved me deeply. I am forever grateful to have come across his path. It is the greatest blessing to have him as my guru.

 

Tusara Balandram

My parents wanted me to be trained in Bharatanatya and in Karnatak music (vina and vocal) as they felt that this was the best way to keep their next generation rooted in their culture like other Tamil parents in foreign countries. Since my childhood, dance and music have been my passion for a very long time, but as I grew up, my passion gradually got repressed due to my flaws in laya and shruti. My interest in Indian Arts slowly started to disappear due to the lack of guidance to overcome my flaws. But then I met Dr. Subramanian Sir, which was a life-changing event as my interest in Arts came back and I got new hope.

IMG_1215Ever since I interacted with Sir and learned about his “COMET” methodology, I realized that nothing is impossible in this world. As per my request, in my first few lessons with Sir, he focused on improving my sense of laya in dance with the help of the vina and by making me internalize the laya. He explained how vina and dance are inseparable and thus can be integrated. Afterwards, he made me experience it myself by teaching me plucking exercises that eventually helped me strengthening my sense of laya. While practicing the laya-exercises, I was very fortunate to play on a perfectly fretted vina thanks to Sir, who made the great effort of perfecting the vina. I was so moved by the pure sound and naadam of the perfectly tuned and fretted vina that my old love and passion for the vina slowly came back. After this, I decided to take vina lessons from Sir simultaneously. I was surprised that something such as perfect shruti, which many consider as simple could touch me to such a great extent. Later I realized that the reason why my interest disappeared in the past was that I was lacking on so many aspects such as shruti and layam and I did not even have a proper vina. I am truly grateful to Sir for making this great effort as this was crucial for my musical learning and the only reason why I started to pursue vina again.

Gradually, I discovered how much happiness and peace in playing on a perfectly tuned vina brings. Sir constantly tells me how a perfectly tuned vina is the right way to reach shruti-sutham and that tuning a vina can be therapeutic. He made me understand how important it is for a practitioner of vina to be able to tune it perfectly. As I mentioned before one of my greatest weaknesses has always been lack of sense of shruti and thus I always had others tune my vina before playing. But Sir gave me the time I needed and guided me on how to hear the shruti and then tune the vina perfectly. I am truly grateful to Sir for being so patient with me and helped me to attain a sense of shruti. My lack of shruti-perfection has always been frustrating and demotivating. His way of approaching every single student according to their strengths and weaknesses is very commendable and inspiring.

With Sir you can never rush through your learning. He will give the student the time she/he needs to overcome her/his weakness. Another quality I admire is his perfection in teaching and learning. He will never move on before he is certain that the student has understood what is being taught and reproduces it correctly. I find this quality truly inspiring and it has made me become very patient about my learning and not give up as easily as I used to do. In the beginning, I used to spend minimum one hour on just tuning the vina. Even though I am still struggling with it, I feel that I have improved a lot and I have now achieved a state where I am able to tune the vina almost perfectly. Sir has made me realize that I should not be satisfied with playing an exercise correctly only once or twice, but I should be able to play it repeatedly without faltering even once. As mentioned, this has made me become a lot more patient about my learning and life in general. 

FullSizeRenderMy 1.5 years experience with Sir and his COMET methodology has strengthened me artistically and personally. By interacting with sir, I am experiencing that how playing the vina is meditation. Whenever I feel stressed or get angry and need to clear my mind, I start playing the vina and by listening to the naadam I become calm and achieve a peaceful state of mind. Furthermore, playing the vina and meditating on the vina have helped me improve my concentration and made me more disciplined which I am truly grateful for.   

I feel truly blessed for having Sir as my Guru and I am grateful to Krishni akka for having introduced me to him. Dr. Subramanian Sir is a Guru who encourages us to work with complete truthfulness and dedication towards the art. It is an enriching and mindful experience to just be in his presence. After interacting with Sir I feel that I have become a new person and even a better version of myself. I have been lost for years and I finally found my passion and myself again thanks to my Guru!