Sri Karunamayee

Photo by Isaiah Allekotte © 2009

Born into a family of artists and educators, Sri Karunamayee resides in New Delhi, India.  Music has saturated her from childhood and throughout her professional career as a performer and educator and many years as an ashram member.  In 2011 she celebrated her forty-fifth anniversary as a resident of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, a spiritual community dedicated to the teachings of the great Indian mystic, Sri Aurobindo, and his spiritual collaborator respectfully known as, the Mother. In this inspired setting, she offers her music as an integral support for the ashram’s daily meditations and special events programs.

Sri Karunamayee’s singing joins spirit and sound in its most profound expression.  Whether she renders her own compositions or draws from her vast repertoire of traditional Indian music, her singing represents the finest synthesis of India’s highly specialized and demanding vocal genre.  Her music comprises North Indian classical forms including khayal, dhrupad, dhamar, thumri, dadra, as well as the devotional forms of geet, ghazal, bhajan, and mantra. The depth and spontaneity of her singing are rooted in a journey of spirit. She believes that music is a Divine gift given to all creation.  Thus it is to be kept in service of the Divine only, so that it becomes a “sacred mirror capable of reflecting the Divine and the Soul with its varied expressions in life.” It is from this fulcrum that her musical mastery has impetus to transform both artist and listener.

Sri Karunamayee began her music study with her deeply cherished teacher, Pandit Vinay Chandra Maudgalya in 1943, training in Hindustani classical singing at Gandharva Mahavidyalaya.  It was later, after completing her M.A. degrees in music and philosophy, and while she held prominent positions as an educator, composer, performer and ‘A’ class broadcasting artist for All India Radio, that she intensified her search for music which would give deeper expression to her inner spiritual experiences. In 1953 she encountered Pandit Pran Nath, master vocalist of the Kirana style, who embodied the music she was seeking. With great fortune, she had the privilege to receive his direct guidance.  Under his revered tutelage from 1953 through 1965, she refined her understanding of music in its’ classical forms, experienced further expansion of its spiritual dimensions, and her singing was raised to new heights.

As a performing artist, Sri Karunamayee has been highly recognized throughout the years.  Most prominently, she won the prestigious Tansen-Vishnu Digambar Award, in Calcutta in 1960.  She performed in the famed music festival, organized by Sur-Singar Samsad, Bombay in 1963 and received high acclaim from master musicians including Pandit Kumar Gandharva, Begum Akhtar and Baba Gyani. She has won All India (Radio) competitions and she has received the highest rating for an artist, ‘Class A’, given by the All India Jury in All India Radio, for her rendering of light classical music.  She was a regular performer on All India Radio for over 58 years.

Sri Karunamayee’s unique contribution to the devotional music of India has also been formally recognized.  In 1988, she was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Meditational Music from the World Development Parliament (Vishwa Unnayan Samsad) of West Bengal. In 1996 she composed original music and recorded the “Geet Govind” (a sacred text written by the 13th century poet and musician, Jai Dev) for inclusion in the archives of the Indira Gandhi National Center of Art and Culture, India’s foremost and most respected institution for the preservation of the arts.  In 1999, she was invited to compose and perform original music based on the Sikh scriptures, in conjunction with Asian Art Museum of San Francisco’s exhibition, ‘Arts of The Sikh Kingdoms’, celebrating the tercentenary of the founding of the Sikh tradition.  In May of 2000, she was a participant in the World Festival of Sacred Music in Delhi, which was inaugurated worldwide by H.H. The Dalai Lama, to foster global peace and understanding through the interface of sacred music traditions.

Over the years, Sri Karunamayee has also had renown as an innovative educator of Indian vocal music.  Her teaching experience has included students of all ages from pre-school to post-graduate level.  From 1961 through 1964, she was the vice-principal and head of the music department at V.M. College of Ghaziabad of Agra University. After her university tenure, she dedicated her life to the spiritual work of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother by joining the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. There she founded Mother’s Matri Kala Mandir (Temple of Fine Arts), a center for the study of music and dance, part of the Ashram’s extensive education endeavor.

Presently, Sri Karunamayee remains a dedicated member of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram where she is a trustee. She also receives music students from India and abroad and continues to support the daily meditations and special events with her music.  Bi-annually she travels to the U.S. to offer her music and to guide aspiring students in the art, science and spiritual depths of Indian vocal music. Her inspired dedication to disseminate the spiritual legacy of Indian music in the west, serves as a bridge to interfaith understanding and world peace.