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Artistes should strive to win respect for musical skills, feels T.K. Murthy
CHENNAI, September 22: The second edition of `Samvadha’ (dialogue), a new face-to-face conversation series organized by Sampradaya, a three-decade old Carnatic music documentation organization, featured veteran mridangam artiste Shri T.K. Murthy. Held at the Mini Hall of The Music Academy here on September 18, the second edition of Samvadha saw Palghat Rajamani slowly draw Shri Murthy out to share his thoughts on very many subjects. His unalloyed thoughts and native candour flowed in simple words but articulated with forthright expressions. Reticent sometimes and frank always, Shri Murthy never let go an opportunity to reveal his mind on even contentious topics. The over two-hour session also saw the audience shoot some sharp questions at Shri Murthy, who fielded them with aplomb.

It was a mind-boggling exercise to play for bharatnatyam, Mr. Murthy said. One had to observe very carefully the syllables like `thari kita thom’ et al and play. Quizzed if he had ever played for a dancer, he replied in the affirmative. He said that he had played for dancer Vijayanthimala Bali at the Music Academy and at Tamil Sangam on two occasions. Since then, however, he had stopped playing for any dancer on the advice of his guru. To a question, he said that the talam was different for Harikatha. There would be no korvai and one would stop at mohra, he added. Soolamangalam Vaidayantha Bhagavathar’s brother Panchapakesha Bhagavathar was a wizard in maintaining the talam for Harikathas, Shri. Murthy pointed out. There was a question on the difference between vidwans of former times and the modern day. Shri Murthy pointed out that GNB’s disciple did not sing like him. GNB used to sing the Yadukulakambhoji so well. The vidwans of former times knew where and how appropriately to give the gamakas. Tiger Varadachari, he said, used to sing Saveri so nicely. The kind of bhavam or the gauravam (respect) they used to command were conspicuous by their absence now, he added.

A member from the audience wanted to know from him how much kalpana (creativity) or kalpitham (text-book lessons) should be there in tani avarthanam. ``We are not doing anything extraordinary which had not existed before. Even though we try hard to make a photo copy, it doesn’t come easily and clearly. Something seems to be missing now, ’’ he said. Shri Murthy demonstrated how the mridangam artistes of the past and present played. In those days, they used to stop with tisram. They never tried kandam and misram, he pointed out. Not that they didn’t know how to play, he quickly added.

Sharing his thoughts on many yester-year vidwans, he said Palakad Mani Iyer was a gifted mridangam artiste. His hands were made for it. He used to play so well. Palani Subramania Pillai was a great musician and a genius. ``I don’t know why rewards and recognitions were denied to him. I feel sad about it,’’ Shri Murthy said. Dakshinamurthy Pillai, according to him, took food only once a day and used to sleep on the floor during his fasting days. His playing was amazing. ``Even if we take full meals, we use to feel short of energy sometimes. But it never seemed to have affected Dakshinamurthy Pillai in the least,’’ he pointed out. He also narrated an interesting anecdote. There was this Pudukottai Sabha, known as Amavasya Sabha. It used to hold concerts every month on the New Moon Day.

Is there anything good in today’s music? A stumped Shri Murthy was all smiles when someone from the audience fired this question at him. He felt helpless and answered the question with humour. Everyone, according to him, seemed to claim that they had structured their concerts the way Ramanuja Iyengar had done in the past. Musicians of former times, Shri Murthy said, maintained a single sruthi throughout. ``Now, each and every day there is change in the sruthi employed by artistes,’’ Shri. Murthy said.

Should ghatam and kanjira as uppa pakka vadyam be supportive to the mridangam? Well, according to Shri Murthy, mridangam was the right percussion instrument for pallavi and kalpanaswaras etc. Musicians such as Dakshinamurthy Pillai and Palani Subramaniam Pillai played mridangam as well as kanjira. Can mridangists play ghatam too? `Yes’ was his response. In this context, he said had even played konnakkole artiste on a few occasions.

Tanjavur style stays: Someone queried him on the difference between Tanjavur and Pudukottai styles of mridangam-playing. Pudukottai Maanpoondia Pillai was a great expert in mridangam-playing. Only Tanjavur style was in vogue now, he said. Nobody followed Palani Subramania Pillai style now. Not even his disciples were following his style, he added. ``Everybody follows the Tanjavur Vaidyantha Iyer’s style only. He has devised separate styles for pallavi, kritis, swaras etc,’’ he said. Did he ever play for a jalatarangam artiste? Yes, indeed. He said he had played for Anaimpatti Subbaiyer.

Knowledge of lyrics: To a question, he said that it was always good for percussion artistes to have the knowledge of the lyrics. This would help them play with bhavam.

To another query, he felt there was no creativity in the sarvalaghu pattern. ``Even a child can play it,’’ Shri Murthy said. Someone from the audience requested Shri Murthy to play any one of the mohras from the 108 tala he had composed. Murthy readily agreed and demonstrated a misra jati triputa talam mohra. Someone was curious to know from him why yester-year percussion artistes showed disinclination to play for female artistes. Shri Murthy said late M.S. Subbulakshmi and D.K. Pattammal used to maintain talam so well and, hence, they played for these female artistes.

Memorable concert: Shri Murthy felt that the concert he had played in Tiruvananthapuram with Palghat Mani Iyer and Subramania Pillai was the most memorable one for him. He also recalled how his guru used to call him fondly `Suttu’. Shri Murthy said he considered his guru’s praises - which he often had to hear from others - were the foremost award for him. There was no title equal to words of appreciation from vidwans such as Rangu Iyengar, Dakshinamurthy Pillai, Ariyakudi Iyengar and others, he said.

Gurukula vasam: Shri Murthy said that his gurukula vasam under Vaidyanatha Iyer was a memorable one. Mylapore Ramachandran, Umayalpuram Kothandarama Iyer, Palghat Mani Iyer, T.M.Thyagarajan and others worked in tandem those days. When he left Trivandrum, he had practically nothing on his person. Upon arrival at Vaidyanatha Iyer’s house, however, he was presented with a gold chain, diamond ear rings and a silver (dinner) plate. Vaidyantha Iyer even wanted to adopt him as his son. Shri Murthy said he had played for Tiger Varadachari and Naina Pillai occasionally. But he had played for Palladam Sanjeeva Rao on many an occasion. His (Sanjeeva Rao) sruthi used to be 5 ½ octaves.

Shri Murthy said he played for Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar for the first time on the occasion of the marriage of violin vidwan Kumbakonam Rajamanickam Pillai’s eldest daughter. His guru Vaidyanatha Iyer was playing there. Karaikkudi brothers were playing veena and Dakshinamurthy Pillai the mridangam. Great stalwarts such as Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar, Ariyakkudi, Maharajapuram Vishwanatha Iyer and others were accompanied in those days on mridangam by maestros such as his guru Vaidyanatha Iyer, Palghat Mani Iyer and Kumbakonam Azhaganambia Pillai. Shri Murthy said he had always longed to listen to these vidwans. Surprisingly, he was asked to play for Ramanuja Iyengar’s concert one day. Later, he was told that he would receive letters from the legend to play mridangam for his future concerts as well. That was how he had started to play for Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar. “I liked his kritis on Mohanam, Arabhi and Suddha Saveri,” Shri Murthy said.

Down memory lane: He said his experience with G.N. Balasubramaniam was a strange one. He said he had heard him sing in beach daily but never recognized him. He used to adorn the character of sage Narada. He later became famous with the film Shakuntala in which he had acted as Narada rishi. ``I liked his singing very much. I got introduced to him later. He sang raga Andolika and the kriti Raga Sudha Rasa so well in his concert for which I played for the first time. He also sang Dikshitar’s Bhairavi composition Chintayamam.’’ Late Madurai Mani Iyer used to visit his house regularly. He was Puspavanam Iyer’s nephew. ``I have played a lot for flute Mali as well. I have played for Musiri as well,’’ he said.

Innovate but don't deviate from Sampradaya, R.K.Shrikantan tells Carnatic musicians