Mid-March 2020. Uncertainty and fear pervaded the air as we watched with bated breath to see the effects coronavirus would have upon our collective lives.
It was in these pre lockdown days that 15-year-old Carnatic violinist Agalya Pavalan ascended the stage at NIDA’s Parade Theatre, announcing with a flourish that she was ready to face the world with her music.
With her determined step, steady grip on the violin and bow gliding effortlessly, she was here to sing the song of hope, seemingly on behalf of us all gathered for her solo maiden performance.
“My guru and parents suggested that an arangetram would be an amazing learning experience more than anything else,” confessed Agalya.
She learnt the truth of this on her journey towards this milestone event, sailing through the challenges with dedication, hard work and her passion for the instrument.
She commenced her recital with the Thodi varnam, a signature piece of the Parur style which her guru Kranthi Kiran Mudigonda vouches that she practised at least 20 times daily. It is not in vain that one says that practice makes perfect as Mohan Ayyar, a well-known musician in Sydney commented, “The bar was set very high in the very first piece where Agalya played fast portions of the thodi varnam, three octaves in one string of the violin.”
Agalya continued with krithis of Koteeswara Iyer, Thyagaraja and Dikshithar, improvising kalpana swarams in ragams Hamsadhwani, Sriranjani and Purvikalyani. In these and other numbers, she interacted effortlessly with seasoned musicians in the world of Carnatic music such as Sri MelakaveriBalaji and Nerkunam Dr. S. Sankar,further proving her prowess with the instrument. These were interspersed with vibrant pieces such as Sarasa samadhana and Raghuvamsa Sudhambudhi. Thevidwans Melakaveri Balaji and Nerkunam Sankar not only added honour and grace to the event but also encouragingly supported Agalya to shine with confidence.
“An ideal student,” exclaimed Kranthi Kiran Mudigonda when asked about Agalya. “She never questions me and has always listened to whatever I say. At the same time, she doesn’t hesitate to correct me if I make any mistakes.”
Kranthi Kiran Mudigonda is a multi-faceted and talented artiste himself who sings and plays the violin and several percussion instruments. With a strong background in layam (rhythm), one expected nothing less from him than to set the Pallavi to the very challenging rhythmic structure of panchanadai, where every beat of the rhythmiccycle is of a different time duration. Mohan Ayyar applauded the choice, pointing out, “Usually only seasoned musicians would play this but for Agalya to even attempt such a piece in her arangetram spoke highly of her vidwat (knowledge of music).To top it off, she executed the pallavi flawlessly, rounding it off beautifully with a garland of Carnatic and Hindustani ragas.”
Where did Agalya find the time for such dedicated efforts? Aditi Sriram, Agalya’s classmate at school and a good friend reasoned “For me, Agalya’s arangetram was a testament to her extraordinary dedication and love for the violin. I often wondered how she found time to keep up with the demands of a challenging curriculum at school and still find time for her violin practice. The answer was quite simple. The violin had become a part of her life and an extension of her being at that point – she didn’t need to separate time so she could practice it.”
When asked about what makes her the person she is, Agalya responded without hesitation, “The care put in by my parents every day to raise me, the valuable lessons of my gurus, as well as all my well-wishers and friends, has made me the person I am.” One could very well understand the anxiety and hopes of parents Abirami and Pavalan intensified by the COVID-19 panic, who waited patiently in the wings watching their little girl ready to fly.
What does Agalya do when she is not playing the violin? Her hobbies run a wide gamut of interests from sewing, baking to boasting a black belt in martial arts. She is an ardent fan of Tamil movies and actorVijay.
Prema Anandakrishnan, a respected musician in Sydney, who presided over the event congratulated the team involved and lauded Agalya as having extensive knowledge of layam (rhythm) and sangeetham (melody). The opening speech by Divya Pavalan, compering by Lakshmi Kumaraguruparan and tambura played by Saumya Sritharan added lustre to the event.
With her obvious talent – as well as a demonstrated capacity to put in the hard yards – this young musician is set to go places.