Aruna Sairam (also spelt Sayeeram, Tamil: அருணா சாய்ராம்) is an eminent Carnatic music vocalist. Carnatic music, is the classical music of South India. Aruna Sairam is a recipient of the Padma Shri award from the Government of India.
India's legendary classical vocalist Aruna Sairam was born in the multicultural metropolis of Mumbai into a family with a deep love of music. Aruna Sairam initially received vocal training from her mother Rajalakshmi Sethuraman, who was a disciple of the Alathur Brothers and Thanjavoor Sankara Iyer. She later received training from prominent vocalists, Madurai Somasundaram and T. Brinda. She also learnt the art of pallavi singing from T. R. Subramaniam. Her father, Shri Sethurman, a music connoisseur, hosted many of the foremost musicians and dancers from northern and southern India in the family home. It was in this propitious atmosphere, which was fundamental to the development of her art, that Aruna met her Guru, Sangita Kalanidhi Smt.T.Brinda, who trained her in the style of her own mentor, the great Veena Dhanammal, one of the most outstanding figures in Carnatic music.
As a child, Aruna demonstrated an extraordinary aptitude for music. It won her first gold medal at the age of eight at the Shanmukhananda Sabha Competition in Bombay (nowadays Mumbai). Aged 14, she performed her first full-length solo concert at the Rama Navami festival, Bhajana Samaj in the same city. Aged 21, she won the Best Young Musician Award at the annual conference held at the famed Music Academy in Chennai. Aruna began to get noticed as a serious musician of great promise and went on to render performances throughout the country.
Over the following years Aruna brought her own approach to Carnatic music, drawing on the cosmopolitan influences of Mumbai and, coevally, on her Guru’s pure classical style. Her musical perceptions were enriched by exposure to film, western and Hindustani (Northern Indian) classical music. She ushered in a new approach to concert presentation, extending the boundaries of the Carnatic repertoire while remaining firmly rooted in the classical grammar and tradition of this great art form."''The Hindu'': Entertainment Delhi / Music : Song of the soul". Chennai, India: Hindu.com. 2006-02-17. Retrieved 2010-09-30. The Hindu, (2009). Reinvention of an artist. [online] Available at: http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-fridayreview/reinvention-of-an-artist/article661116.ece [Accessed 20 Oct. 2014]. Mohan, R. (2011). The melody of classical notes. buzzintown. [online] Available at: http://www.buzzintown.com/event-review--the-melody-classical-notes/id--3388.html [Accessed 20 Oct. 2014]. "''The Hindu'': Friday Review Delhi / Music : Devotion and dexterity". Chennai, India: Hindu.com. 2006-02-24. Retrieved 2010-09-30. PADMANABHAN, G. (2011). In tune with creativity. The Hindu. [online] Available at: http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/in-tune-with-creativity/article2503172.ece [Accessed 20 Oct. 2014]. Ramnarayan, G. (2010). Eclectic range. The Hindu. [online] Available at: http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/eclectic-range/article870898.ece [Accessed 20 Oct. 2014]. "''The Hindu'': Friday Review Chennai / Events : Odyssey of a musician". Chennai, India: Hindu.com. 2008-10-17. Retrieved 2010-09-30. Ramnarayan, G. (2010). Soaring songs. The Hindu. [online] Available at: http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-metroplus/soaring-songs/article904263.ece [Accessed 20 Oct. 2014]. "''The Hindu'': Friday Review Chennai / Music : Her own zone". Chennai, India: Hindu.com. 2010-10-14. Retrieved 2010-09-30. PADMANABHAN, G. (2011). In tune with creativity. The Hindu. [online] Available at: http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/in-tune-with-creativity/article2503172.ece [Accessed 20 Oct. 2014]. Ramnarayan, G. (2010). Eclectic range. The Hindu. [online] Available at: http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/eclectic-range/article870898.ece [Accessed 20 Oct. 2014]. GANESH, D. (2013). Echoing voices within. The Hindu. [online] Available at: http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/echoing-voices-within/article5003593.ece [Accessed 20 Oct. 2014].
While her Guru Sangeeta Kalanithi T.Brinda bequeathed a rare repertoire of compositions by the South’s Trinity of saint-composers, Thyagaraja, Muthu Swamy Dikshitar and Shyama Shatri, Aruna also learnt from other Gurus while steadily making waves as an acclaimed vocalist
Shri S Ramachandran, from the bani (style) of Chittor Subramanya Pillai, expanded her already wide repertoire and taught her the fine nuances of nereval singing (improvising within poetic texts). AS Mani, a disciple of Tiger Vardacharyar, guided her through the creative process of swara singing (improvising with the sol-fa). Prof T R Subramanyam, an acclaimed music professor at Delhi University, shared with Aruna his expertise of singing and spontaneously composing within ragam-tanam-pallavi. KS Narayanaswamy, the respected veena maestro, taught her the subtlety of gamakas – the microtonal oscillations which hallmark and transport Carnatic music.
Despite imbibing and absorbing these riches, Aruna felt the need for guidance in voice training to acquire the physical capability to fully express her creativity and knowledge through her voice. During this search, she met German voice maestro Prof Eugene Rabine, who helped her discover and apply a completely new sound and emotion to her voice. Afterwards Aruna never looked back. She later had the benefit of advice and guidance from one of Carnatic music’s magisterial vocalists, Dr. Balamurali Krishna (popularly BMK). To this day, she remains in touch with voice masters such as the New York-based “Voice Teacher” David Jones.
In concert she continually strives to deliver a unique experience through new repertoire. Every year for the Chennai’s fabled December Season (which crams in around 2000 concerts), she prepares and composes new material for recitals. Her preparation might involve engaging in academic discussion with such intellects as the nadaswaram vidwan (shawm maestro) Shembannar Koil Vaidyanathan or the (Late) Pallavi Venkatarama Iyer in order to research special music forms, for example, the mallari – a form played during the inaugural processions in South Indian temple
Aruna’s guru Smt T Brinda hails from a family of royal court musicians from the court of Tanjore. That lineage traces itself back to her mother, Kamakshi, grandmother Veena Dhannammal, and then back to the earliest, the seventh generation, Papammal. All of them were eminent and highly respected women musicians. The family is proud of its musical treasures, especially the padam and javali forms – so rare in today’s concert repertoire. Very few musicians can claim to perform these genres. These songs are expressed through slow, subtle music, exploring the shringararasa (emotion (rasa) of love) and requiring complete immersion in the raga by the artist and listener. The padam form affords space for abhinaya – facial expression in dance. T Brinda’s cousin, T Balasaraswati was a legendary Bharatanatyam dancer and a padam master who performed in the United States and Europe in the 1950s and 1960s to rave audience reactions.
Aruna’s mother was drawn towards yet another genre – the compositions of Uttukadu Venkata Kavi [1700 – 1765]. This composer hailed from the village of Uttukadu (also rendered Oottukkadu) in the 18th Century. His compositions come from a tradition of music, dance and theatre and express an interplay of joy in technical brilliance. Aruna’s parental home was host to one of the scions of the Uttukadu family, Needamanagalam Krishnamurthy Bhagavathar, who spent months in their Mumbai home, performing and teaching these compositions. Aruna has played a key role in propagating these brilliant, yet relatively neglected compositions and revealing them on the contemporary concert stage.
The abhang is soulful music, traditionally sung by pilgrims as they travelled by foot to the temple of Lord Vitthala in Pandharpur, Maharashtra in western India. As they walk, they dance and sing abhangs expressing their devotion with spiritual abandon and engagement. Aruna’s interest in this form started with listening to the profound and passionate singing of leading satsang exponents who frequented her parental house. Roughly speaking in Indian philosophical terms, satsang is a ball of yarn that envelops seekers of, and seeking the truth. She was greatly influenced by Pandit Bhimsen Joshi's Abhangavani – a series of Abhang concerts.
National Presence - Aruna has had the rare distinction of performing in such venues as the Indian President's official residence– Rashtrapati Bhavan, at Shakthi Sthal – and the memorials to Indian Prime Ministers, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi at Vir Bhoomi. She has also performed across the length and breadth of the country, bringing the richness of South Indian classical music to people from all walks of life from major international cities to the humblest hamlets and rural villages.
A sample of the venues might include: The Music Academy, Chennai, the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai, Siri Fort Auditorium, Delhi, seminars and festivals of national importance such as those held at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts in Delhi,the Music Forum in Mumbai, and Kolkata’s Sangeet Research Academy.
International Presence - Aruna was one of her generation’s pioneering vocalists in the sense of sensitising international audiences to the sound and feel of South Indian vocal music. Her first international experience as a visiting professor was at a German music conservatory where she taught South Indian music; it exposed her to a new world of impressions and seeded new insights. She was intrigued at the lack of awareness of her art form outside the subcontinent.
This experience gave her a new life mission: to make South Indian classical music global. One of the many instances when her dream saw fruition was when the BBC Proms invited her to perform at London’s Royal Albert Hall as the first South Indian classical vocalist in the Proms’ history – at that point in its 116-year history– in 2011. Aruna has also performed, among other important international venues, at New York’s Carnegie Hall, Théâtre de la Ville in Paris, and Morocco’s Fes Festival of World Sacred Music.
Aruna Sairam collaborated with many Indian artists apart from internationally acclaimed artistes, like Dominique Vellard, the French Gregorian singer.
Aruna Sairam has presented her concerts in all major sabhas in India, as well as many destinations across the world, including Carnegie Hall in New York, Le Théâtre de la Ville in Paris and the Festival of World Sacred Music in Morocco."Maestros at work". The Hindu (Chennai, India). 2010-09-01. Cite error: The named reference hindu1 was invoked but never defined (see the help page). "''The Hindu'': Sci Tech : The biology of music and the music of biology". Chennai, India: Hindu.com. 2007-05-17. Retrieved 2010-09-30. "''The Hindu'': Friday Review Chennai / Events : Top U.S. Honors for Aruna Sairam". Chennai, India: Hindu.com. 2008-08-22. Retrieved 2010-09-30.
Aruna considers herself deeply humbled and honoured by the many national and international awards conferred upon her. These include the Padma Shri and the US Congress Proclamation of Excellence, where upon the US national flag was flown atop the Capitol building with a special Congressional proclamation recognising her musical contribution.Padma Shri from the Government of IndiaSangeet Natak Akademi Award, Government of India – 2014Rajah Sir Annamalai Chettiar Award - 2013U S Congress Proclamation of Excellence – 2008The "Kalaimamani" by the Government of Tamil Nadu – 2006Sangita Choodamani by Sri Krishna Gana Sabha Chennai – 2006Aruna Sairam has been appointed the Advisor to the Department of Culture, Tamil Nadu, on Musical Education by the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. "The Times of India". The Times Of India. 26 January 2009. Retrieved 22 January 2012.