R Kashyap Mahesh is attired in a crisp cotton dhoti and kurta and looks every inch the consummate Carnatic vocalist as he welcomes visitors to his ancestral home in the busy Diamond Bazaar area of Tiruchi.
As the 27-year-old musical prodigy and technology enthusiast says, “Music is my job. Lots of people sing for themselves, for their soul. But I feel that you must sing for the audience and the Almighty. At one point, both are the same for the artiste.”
Having made his concert circuit debut at the age of 9, Kashyap Mahesh’s vast range of achievements in Carnatic music, and over 2,500 multilingual concerts in India and abroad, have earned him accolades aplenty.
The latest of these is the Yuva Kala Bharathi award to be presented by the Chennai-based cultural centre Bharat Kalachar in December 2018.
“I feel proud that being in Tiruchi, I have been given this award,” says Kashyap Mahesh.
“Historically, Thanjavur, Tiruchi and the Cauvery delta have been the seat of Carnatic music. The focus has shifted to Chennai because of the hype of the December music season. But this award shows that artistes from smaller cities are also worthy of recognition.”
Starting out young
As the trophies and photographs on the walls and cabinets of his home show, Kashyap Mahesh has been in the public eye not just for his singing, but also for computer-aided artwork of religious deities and places of worship. “From the very beginning, music was my passion and painting was my hobby,” says Kashyap Mahesh. His drawing skills drew the attention of Microsoft’s Bill Gates, who gifted him a tablet PC and also made him the brand ambassador of the MS Paint software in 2006.
“Many people thought that I would follow that line to become a software professional with a steady office career,” says Kashyap Mahesh. “But I have no regrets about my decision to specialise in music.” He attributes his success to his father, R Ragunathan, an auditor and mother Rama, a school correspondent, who encouraged him to follow his heart.
Kashyap Mahesh began his musical training at the tender age of 4 under the guidance of Padma Bhushan awardee T V Gopalakrishnan and later from Karaikudi M S Mani.
A long association with film composer M S Viswanathan, who Kashyap Mahesh describes as “my guru, mentor and almost like my grandfather,” showed him the way ahead as well.
“I used to sing by listening and repeating the lyrics rather than following the notation. It was MSV Sir who advised me to get formally trained in Carnatic music and become a vocalist,” says Kashyap Mahesh, who later cut an album of patriotic songs called Mazhalaiyum Methaikalum set to music by the veteran composer.
Elaborating on his technique he says, “My father taught me to memorise the lyrics beforehand. It should be a basic skill for all classical singers; that’s the respect you give to the composer and lyricist. Once you understand the emotion behind the words, it becomes easy to perform. I enjoy singing, because everything is in my mind and heart.”
There were other ways in which he developed his signature style of rendition. “My concerts are all about showmanship,” says Kashyap Mahesh. “I enjoy singing, and also encourage my accompanists to have fun while they perform.”
It’s not just concerts that keep him busy through the year. Kashyap Mahesh recently earned his doctorate (in the regular stream, he points out), in music from the Tamil University in Thanjavur. “I have been teaching music from a very young age, mostly abroad. Of late, I have been taking open elective courses in Carnatic music for the engineering students at SASTRA University. With a doctorate, you must share your knowledge, and so far it has been a very rewarding experience,” he smiles.
He is also an active participant of Trichy Carnatic Musicians, a Facebook group of classical music exponents based in the Cauvery delta. Besides honouring practitioners of Carnatic music based in Tiruchi, the 660-member TCM also hosts interactions and lecture-demonstrations for the public. “We didn’t make it commercial because our main aim is to meet senior musicians and keep the younger generations engaged,” says Kashyap Mahesh.
Though he is the first in his family to become a full-time vocalist, Kashyap Mahesh says the interest in music runs deep in their clan. “My grandparents, Swaminathan Iyer and Krishnamoorthy Iyer, used to collect books on music theory; my paternal grandmother used to sing during poojas, while my maternal grandma was a violinist. My mother learned the veena, and my father was a singer in college. I am sure all of them have inspired me in some way or the other,” he says.
*A National Awardee from the Government of India in the fields of Vocal Singing and Computer Painting, he won the appreciation of the then President of India Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.
*He is also a State Awardee with the title of ‘Kalai Ila Mani’ from the Government of Tamil Nadu.
*He studied BSc in Multimedia from Pentasoft, Tiruchi, and BA in Tamil Isai from the Tamil University, Thanjavur, simultaneously.
*Was named as ‘Shri Kanchi Kamakoti Peeta Asthana Vidwan’ at a very young age