I was on my spring break and one afternoon after a good sumptuous lunch I was relaxing and brooding over the International Women’s Day. My memories wandered all over flashing images of all the women I have come across so far in my life and suddenly one image caught my attention. The image was of a versatile personality who has won many an accolades but still remains calm, simple and down to earth. It is none other than ‘Padma Shri’ Dr. Gayatri Sankaran – a Carnatic Vocalist who is quite famous in the Carnatic Music circuit.
Dr. Gayatri Sankaran has never let her visual impairment come in the way of her reaching her goal when people who might be in similar situations would have got bogged down brooding over the shortcoming. Dr. Gayatri Sankaran’s tutelage began at the tender age of 3 under her mother Smt. Subbulakshmi Gurunathan – a vocalist herself. But as fate had it, the tutelage lasted only for 3 years when her mother attained the lotus feet of God. The ‘Kelvi Gnanam’ that she earned during that time period helped her go a long way. Helped by her grandmother by taking notes, she continued her tutelage under the famous vocalist Allamraju Someswara Rao until she was 12 when she got a chance to prove her mettle with her first concert which left a mark of her entry into the Carnatic Music World.
Her tutelage continued at Kalakshethra Chennai until she was 19. She got admitted into Kalakshethra after the then head of Kalakshethra, Dr. Rukmani Devi Arundale, listened to her singing and realized the rich potential in her at that young age. At Kalakshethra she not only improved on her vocal skills, but also got trained in playing violin. During this time, she completed her Diploma and Post Graduate Diploma in Music and got familiarized with Braille too.
25th Jan 1998 is a day she recalls with much nostalgia for it was the day she got accepted as a student by the legend ‘Padma Bushan’ Dr. Lalgudi Jayaraman. She recalls how the four years of intense learning with 4 to 5 hours of practice a day gave her the ‘swara gnanam’, ‘manodharmam’ and many such nuances to blossom into a full-fledged performing artist in Carnatic music. From 2008 onwards she has been enriching her repertoire under Padma Bushan Dr K J Yesudas.
Continuing her career as a performing Carnatic Vocalist, she has travelled all over for concerts. She continues to train students in this form of art irrespective of age, caste and/or creed. She just sets aside questions on how she manages all despite her visual impairment with a very cool and confident reply saying,’ God is always by her side’. And it is true too.
Now to the question of why the flash of her image when brooding over Women’s Day. Women in general face many a challenge in this world. In spite of the fact that the world is advancing in many ways, there are still parts of the world where women are still looked down upon. And all this for a perfectly able bodied woman. That being said imagine the situation for a woman with a small, yet a significant disability – the visual impairment. When people with 100% vision get fooled down or being given a cynical look, growing up all by herself without the mother’s touch, except for a very short span of 3 years and that too at a very tender age, withstanding all the burdens that a woman faces during the various phases of life like the puberty etc., and coming out in flying colors is no mean task given that added impairment. The challenges still very much in place, Dr Gayatri Sankaran has, with help from HIM, has found ways of overcoming the same and set herself a course or path to keep marching ahead. And in doing so, she has proved to herself and to the world at large that once committed to a set goal and with help from HIM above, there is nothing that can stop anyone from achieving their goal.
Can you imagine a dance performance by students of a deaf and dumb school with a vocal support from a visually impaired? The challenge in that is the students have no chance of hearing the music and the vocalist has no way of seeing the students perform to proceed to the next step. But this unique feat was possible and proved to be a great success when students of the Clarke School for the Deaf and Dumb gave a dance performance with Dr Gayatri Sankaran providing the vocal support. The students paid attention to the singer’s lip movement and the singer in turn lent her ears to the students’ footsteps. The synchronization was par excellence which resulted in the performance resulting in a roaring success as applauded and acknowledged by the then Governor of Tamilnadu in his speech following the performance. Apart from this she has been an integral part of many workshops like the History and Development of Ancient Tamil Music from the Sangam age to the 12th Century, the Ancient Tamil Music and Musicology, the Manodharma Sangeedham etc., both within the country and outside which stand testimony to her winning very many accolades all over. Last but not the least, to put an end to the hardships she faced as a visually challenged in blossoming into a performing vocalist in the Carnatic circuit, she, with assistance from the Ministry of Social Justice has created Carnatic Music notations in Braille which will serve as a permanent reference and has marked her as a dedicated social contributor.
Dr Gayatri Sankaran received her Padma Shri award from our then President Dr Abdul Kalam who poured accolades on her success. She received her doctoral degree in 2011 from the University of Madras with her subject of research being ‘Stylistic Analysis of Kalidakurichi Vedanta Baghavatar’. Currently she is working on her Fellowship under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture.
Of all the accolades she has won, one thing that is more dear to her heart is the most recent National Eminent Scholar award from the Sankaracharya of Kanchi HH Shri Jayendra Saraswati.