Nagaswara vidwans Sembanarkoil brothers S.R.G. Sambandam and S.R.G. Rajanna belong to a tradition that has entered its seventh generation beginning from Pallavi Vaidyanatha Pillai. They remember incidents from their eventful lives:

Our grandfather, Sembanar Koil Ramasamy Pillai formed and played the Rakthi Melam, which was a special laya concept. As he was performing at the Thirupanandhal Dharmapura Adheenam there was a huge crowd to witness the “Pattina Pravesam.” The temple elephant on seeing this huge crowd, turned wild and ran amock. It came near my grandfather and smashed the nagaswaram he was playing. His sacred instrument was in pieces.

The Dharmapuram Adheena Math head, who was on the scene, comforted him, asked him not to worry about the loss and promised to compensate by making a replacement which would be made of pure gold. What an accident! And what a gesture!

“There is not a single place in Tamil Nadu where our nagaswaram has not been heard. Once at Punpozhi Kumaaraswami Devasthanam (between Kutralam and Sengottai) we played for about three hours. Rasikas were so fascinated by our Matru Swaram Vasippu that they threw garlands at us. “About sixty to seventy on me and the same number on my brother,” says Sambandam.

“We were unable to even continue playing as these tokens of love were being showered on us continuously. Even here in Chennai (Mylapore), during the Temple Festival, as we played from dusk to dawn and beyond, the crowd would gather around us rather than near the deity when the procession winds its way through the Mada streets. Of course, it is to the Almighty that we owe all this recognition and adulation. We are grateful to our rasikas too for such invaluable patronage.

“In the Tiruchendur Murugan temple there are particular spots in the temple where neither the deity in procession nor the nagaswara vidwans are allowed to stay even for a short while. It is understood that these were the points where the great Ramasamy Pillai had stopped and played and therefore these “Idangal” always belong to him and treat them with respect.

s. sivakumar