Ravikiran first started playing the chitravina on his father’s lap when he was barely two. When he showed a serious inclination to play this instrument, his father had a small-sized instrument specially made for the 5 year-old. However, Ravikiran soon convinced his father that he wanted a full-sized instrument and that it was below his dignity to play on a toy! His father procured another one from Srinivasa Iyengar, a disciple of Gotuvadyam Narayana Iyengar. This has been Ravikiran’s primary instrument since his 6th or 7th year.
Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, who heard Ravikiran when he was 11, presented him his own guru, Sakha Rama Rao’s instrument. He told Ravikiran that he had tried to play the chitravina himself but found it ‘strenuous’ and had since added frets and kept it for worship as a regular veena. He wanted Ravikiran to re-convert it into a chitravina and bring it back to the stage. This was duly done and soon after, Ravikiran’s sister, Kiranavali performed on it.
Ravikiran’s first concert was in Tirupati in 1979. Just before his concert, he played at the Balaji temple and had his instrument blessed in the sanctum sanctorum at the Lord’s feet.
He has presented concerts with a full-bench of accompanists (violin, mrdangam, ghatam, kanjira, morsing, konnakkol, gettuvadyam and tanpura) as also concerts with no accompanists, concerts with only mrdangam, with only ghatam, only kanjira and so forth.
Ravikiran often composes his pallavi-s minutes before he renders them. While this is remarkable, it has also resulted in his forgetting literally hundreds of these, minutes after he has rendered them!
On a couple of instances, he had to plan for over a month to render conceptually highly sophisticated pallavis. He presented the most colourful ragam-tanam-pallavi in the annals of Indian music – a 100-raga piece in 1995, on the chitravina. Another such ragam-tanam-pallavi was presented in his vocal concert in April 2002, in the Cleveland Tyagaraja Festival.
His 8-kalai pallavi (every unit of the tala is split into 8 parts) at The Music Academy in 1999 was notable as very few artistes venture into such complexities. He recorded an album featuring a similar pallavi for Charsur in the raga Latangi.
Ravikiran learnt mrdangam for a brief while from T V Gopalakrishnan.
He also learnt kanjira from veteran V Nagarajan.
He rarely plays the former and occasionally handles the latter.