The world of Carnatic music Aug. 17 welcomed Arjun Kumar and Arvind Kumar, students of Mukthambar Fine Arts Inc., a premier institution of Indian classical fine arts located in New Hyde Park, NY. Arjun and Arvind performed their Sangeetha Arangetram, or Carnatic vocal music debut, in a three-hour performance of difficult classical repertoire, in various ragams (musical scales) and talams (rhythms).
The brothers were accompanied by renowned artists including Sri S.P. Ananthapadmanabha on the violin, Sri Murali Balachandran on mridangam (two-headed drum), and Sri Ramana Indrakumar on Ghatam (clay pot percussion), at the Hindu Temple Community Center Auditorium in Flushing, NY.
Arjun and Arvind started their training in Carnatic vocal music at the young ages of 7 and 5, respectively, under the tutelage of their guru, Smt. Saavitri Ramanand, founder and president of Mukthambar Fine Arts Inc. On this occasion, Ramanand presented Arvind and Arjun to the Carnatic music community as professional artists in their own right and conferred them with the title of "Sangeetha Bhushanam,” which literally translates to "a jewel of music.”
Learning Carnatic music, the classical music of South India, has helped the brothers in various ways. The largest impact this process has had is allowing them to stay in touch with their culture and ancestry. Carnatic music has been a part of their family for generations, and they feel honored to represent themselves and their family with such a performance.
Their parents immigrated to the United States about 25 years ago, and Arjun and Arvind grew up in a situation that is not uncommon among many Indian American children today. Their parents, realizing that their children will not grow up in India, knew it may be difficult to keep in touch with their heritage. However, with both their parents and grandparents by their side, Arjun and Arvind found the determination and inspiration needed to continue with their studies and stay in touch with their cultural roots.
In addition to their family, the brothers also realize that none of this would have been possible without the love and dedication of their guru, affectionately known as "Aunty.” She has spent countless hours training them for their many performances. Arjun and Arvind have often performed in community events because of the opportunities that their teacher offered them. She is the driving force behind the promotion of Indian culture, not only for Arjun and Arvind, but for the numerous students whom she teaches. Since 1987, Ramanand has worked to foster learning and understanding of Indian classical arts and promote local talent to encourage growth of the Indian classical arts in the United States.
Aside from learning Carnatic music, both the brothers lead very busy lives. Arjun is a rising junior in the Honors College at Stony Brook University as part of the Scholars for Dental Medicine, B.S./D.D.S., combined degree program. He is a Psychology major, a leading member of Stony Brook Yuva, a South Asian fusion acapella group, and also conducts research in biopsychology, to name a few of his activities.
Arvind is a recent graduate from Roslyn High School and a rising freshman at Duke University. In addition to learning Carnatic vocal music, he learns Carnatic violin under Guru Ananthapadmanabha and plays keyboard for Carnatic music performances. Among his many undertakings, Arvind has conducted research in the Behavioral Sciences, plays the Western classical viola and piano and volunteers his time at St. Francis Hospital. Nevertheless, the brothers agree that singing Carnatic music is one of their most enjoyable activities and a great way to calm their nerves and clear their minds.