Rajna Swaminathan and Ganavya Doraiswamy

Rajna Swaminathan & Ganavya Doraiswamy

Carnatic and Varakari devotional music Cambridge, Massachusetts
Photo Credit: photo courtesy of artist
Rajna Swaminathan and Ganavya Doraiswamy

Artists’ websites: Rajna Swaminathan & Ganavya Doraiswamy

Rajna Swaminathan and Ganavya Doraiswamy are two virtuosic, internationally acclaimed young South Indian musicians, composers, and scholars. Rajna is one of only a few women practitioners of the mrudangam, a double-headed drum that is the defining instrument of Carnatic music. Ganavya is a multidisciplinary artist trained in several classical Indian art forms, including Carnatic singing and Varakari devotional poetry. Rajna and Ganavya share both a reverence for the ancient traditions they steward, and a passion for pushing them into exciting and dynamic new territory.

The South Indian Carnatic tradition is rooted in rhythmic and melodic frameworks called raga and tala, respectively, which have connected diverse cultural communities in India for millenia and form the basis for classical composition and improvisation. From the western state of Maharashtra, Varakaris are a sect of devotees to the Hindu deity Vitthal, whose ancient devotional poetry reflects their distinctly tolerant and inclusive philosophy. Originally sung along the Varakaris’s annual pilgrimage, over time this poetry emerged on the concert stage, incorporating classical instrumentation, ragas, and talas.

Belonging to a Maryland-based lineage of South Indian artists, Rajna Swaminathan received a Maryland Folklife Apprenticeship Award in 2007 to continue her foundational mrudangam training with her father, artist P.K. “Swami” Swaminathan, before becoming a protégé of guru Dr. Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman. Rajna has composed for, performed, and toured globally with many celebrated practitioners of classical Indian music, dance, and theater, and recently founded RAJAS, an ensemble exploring intersections between Carnatic music, jazz, and other improvisational traditions.

Born in New York City, Ganavya Doraiswamy moved to Chennai, India, to begin classical arts training at the age of seven. A disciple of Carnatic vocal guru Karaikkal R. Jaishankar, she also trained in Bharata Natyam, harikatha (a Hindu storytelling tradition), and several Carnatic instruments. On tour with Sri Tukaram Ganapathy Maharaj, Ganavya became versed in the Varakari poetry she had first encountered during pilgrimages as a child, which served as inspiration for her acclaimed 2018 debut album, Aikyam: Onnu (Harmony: One).

Rajna and Ganavya are founding members of the We Have Voice Collective, a group of artists and scholars seeking to foster equality in the performing arts. They participate in a wide range of improvisational musical collaborations, perform together regularly as a duo and with the RAJAS ensemble, and are both currently pursuing PhDs in Creative Practice and Critical Inquiry at Harvard University’s Department of Music.

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