Right from childhood, music, especially the percussion part of it, was a fad for K. Jayakrishnan. Even though his academic pursuits fetched him a post graduate degree in commerce won good offers for white collar jobs, he chose to be a percussionist and an ardent devotee of Carnatic music. Over the past three decades, he has shared the with almost all the many stalwarts in this field — perhaps a rare privilege for a mridangam artiste of his age. Recentl.y Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi honoured him with its award for his persevering academic studies on the potential of this musical instrument. Excerpts from an interview with him…
I owe much to my parents who were rasikas of Carnatic music. They inculcated in me a liking for classical music even as a child. I took my first lessons from my mother, Padmavathy. She was a high school teacher who had trained in Carnatic music. But those were days when music was only a hobby. Soon I turned to the mridangam for which my first guru was Viswanatha Iyer of Kollangode, my native place. I continued my training under Krishna Poduval of Lakkidi and Govindarajan of Pollachi. At the age of 12, I started playing for bhajans.
Even as I pursued my academic studies, I was determined to go for higher learning on the mridangam. Luckily for me, Palakkad Seshamani was a judge in a competition I had participated in. He was happy to accept me as a student. This was a defining moment in my life as it introduced me to the Mani Iyer bani. Later I was also fortunate enough to learn under Palakkad T.R. Rajamani, son and disciple of the maestro Palakkad Mani Iyer.
I was a student of NSS College, Nemmara in Palakkad district. My teachers and friends were admirers of my art and promoted me without any reservations. As a result, I could garner many prizes at the Calicut University arts festivals, which brought laurels to the institution as well. Today, when I look back, I feel that my M.Com degree was a good foundation for pursuing research on the mridangam.
As staff artiste
I was appointed as a staff artiste in the Thrissur station of All India Radio (AIR) in 1991.Thereafter I never had to look back as the entire world of music and musicians of all hues were thrown open before me. Interaction with them enriched my artistry. Moreover, I was being invited for public performances. I have been fortunate to accompany many maestros of Carnatic music, both vocal and instrumental till today. The only two exceptions are the late Semmangudi Sreenivasa Iyer and M. Balamuralikrishna. I have performed for the National Programme of Music and Sangeetha Sammelan of AIR and Doordarshan many times.
The art of playing
I feel that playing the ‘pakkam' (accompaniment) in vocal concerts is more challenging than tani, which can be easily accomplished with a few arithmetic calculations. The former calls for impromptu improvisations, the purpose of which is total embellishment of the melody. In this connection, I feel that TRS and Seshagopal are exceptional. One has to be always alert about the ingenious calculations they take recourse to. And here I must aver that the Mani Iyer bani prepares an artiste to meet such challenges with confidence.
Research on the mridangam
I have always noticed that academic studies about the instrument have been nominal, especially in Kerala. Moreover, there is no recognition to those like me who have learnt from the gurus in the traditional smapradaya. This compelled me to register for a doctorate in Kerala Kalamandalam, which is presently a Deemed University. My topic for research is ‘Playing mridangam to different musical forms of compositions in Carnatic music,' based on the three main schools of Thanjavur (Vaidyanatha Iyer), Palakkad (Mani Iyer) and Pazhani (Subramanian Pillai). As a teacher, I am happy that many of my students are graded artistes of AIR and Doordarshan.