Alapana in Raga Keeravani
Akkarai Sisters, S Subhalakshmi and S Sornalatha, are among India’s most distinguished musicians today. Hailing from a family with a rich musical background and having learnt under illustrious gurus, they are sought after worldwide for their violin and vocal duets, as well as for their violin accompaniment for many an eminent artiste.
The sisters were born to Akkarai Shri S Swamynathan and Smt A Janaghi in Nagercoil, a small town in southern Tamil Nadu. They grew up in an environment teeming with music; their grandfather Suchindram Shri S P Sivasubramaniam was an eminent vocalist, violinist, and composer, and their grandmother Smt R Sornambal was a music teacher and Harikatha exponent. Their father and guru, Akkarai Shri S Swamynathan, who worked with the Indian Bank as manager, is also a renowned violinist and highly sought-after teacher.
Young Subhalakshmi and Sornalatha at the Sopan Festival, Delhi
Coming from a rich musical lineage, the sisters showed a lot of promise, even as toddlers. Observing this, Swamynathan ensured that they were always immersed in music and began intensively training Subhalakshmi, the elder of the two, initially in vocal music. When she was four he did not hesitate to send her on an overnight bus ride from Chennai to Nagercoil to spend quality musical time with her grandparents. There, Subhalakshmi performed with her grandmother at one of her Harikatha concerts, and instantly won the hearts of all. As he trained Subhalakshmi, her younger sister Sornalatha keenly observed everything, and she proved sharp enough to quickly grasp the musical knowledge that was imparted to her sister.
After a few years Swamynathan was transferred to Delhi, and the family shifted there as well. At the age of seven, Subhalakshmi began her rigorous training on the violin. Daily practice sessions lasted hours and mainly included listening to concert recordings and radio broadcasts of yesteryear stalwarts and playing along with those recordings as an accompanist, a unique training technique devised by Swamynathan. Such intense practice sessions helped her to develop an ability to quickly grasp and adapt to the various musical styles instantaneously. Being in Delhi, Subhalakshmi also had extensive exposure to Hindustani music, and benefited a lot from playing with the Hindustani radio broadcasts as well. By the age of eight, she began to perform solos and violin duets with her father.
Vocal duet by Subhalakshmi and Sornalatha, accompanied by Swamynathan on the violin
In Delhi, the sisters learnt for a few years from Shri V Janakiraman, a very caring and compassionate guru who ran a music school called Naada Brahma Vidhyaalaya and had trained many disciples, some of whom are popular violinists today. Subhalakshmi and Sornalatha also underwent vocal training with Shri O V Subramaniam and his daughter Smt Padma Natesan, both very dedicated and much sought-after as gurus. They began to give vocal duet concerts when they were about 11 and 8 years old respectively.