November rain was lashing Tiruchi when this writer reached konnakkol vidwan R. Thayumanavan's house located at Palayam Bazar near Aruna Talkies. As his wife led me to the first floor of the house, jatis in Adi talam from a powerful voice could be heard.
Probably it was his student, I thought, but surprisingly, it was Thayumanavan himself reciting with closed eyes.
We stood at the threshold waiting for the korvai to end. Sensing our presence he opened his eyes and spotting me bursts into enthusiastic greeting. Thayumanavan is one of the TTK awardees of The Music Academy Madras for this year and it will be presented to him on January 1, 2010, at the Vidwat Sadas.
Passion for mridangam
Signalling his student to wait, Tiruchi Thayumanavan begins the conversation.
“I was hardly six when my father Raju, a violin vidwan, started teaching me vocal music as my brothers too were trained both in violin and vocal. However my heart was always in layam and I was attracted to a mridangam that was lying in our house. Watching me play it without any initiation, my father took me first to Azhagar Nambia Pillai. He felt I was too young to handle the instrument and promised to start teaching after grew up.” Visually challenged Azhagar Nambia Pillai touched the child on his head as if to connect and the vidwan considered that a great blessing.
“It was my elder brother Govindaswamy who then took me to vidwan Kumbakonam Rajappa Iyer, who was his contemporary. Classes commenced and at times his brother Narayanaswamy too taught me. I can proudly say that I was the first disciple of Rajappa Iyer.”
A chance visit of ganjira vidwan Pudukottai M.V. Dakshinamurthy Achariar to their house was the turning point. Achariar, a disciple of Pudukottai Dakshinamurthy Pillai, belonged to the Pudukottai Manpoondia Pillai lineage. Achariar wanted to take Thayumanavan along with him and sought permission from Rajappa Iyer. “I refused to go. Rajappa Iyer convinced me and I left for Pudukottai for gurukulavasam under Achariar.
“Living with my guru I had to take care of all his household work. Classes went on simultaneously. I had to be ready at any point of time to recite sollu. One single mistake would only in result getting beaten up severely. The tutelage went for more than twelve years.” Thayumanavan believes strongly that all these helped lay a strong foundation.
Carrying on the Pudukottai bhani, he started accompanying musicians both as a mridangam and ganjira player. Occasionally, he played the mridangam for concerts with his guru on the ganjira.
He cherishes those wonderful times when he accompanied stalwarts such as Ariyakkudi, Alathur Brothers, M.M. Danadapani Desigar, M.K..Thyagaraja Bhagavatar, K.B..Sundaramabal, C.S..Jayaraman,.Sirkazhi Govindarajan, AKC and MLV. He mentions Alathur Venkatesa Iyer singing the Bhairavi Ata tala varnam along with his harmonium, specially. Thayumanavan simultaneously developed his skill in konnakkol and earned a reputation for it too.
As a staff artist of AIR, Tiruchi, he has been responsible for programmes such as Laya Kolam and Vadhya Vrinda.
His Gurupriya Laya Vidhyalaya has churned out more than 150 students who are now either employed with the various stations of AIR or performing as full time professionals. It is a sort of home coming for him to the Academy for he accompanied Alathur Srinvasa Iyer when Iyer was awarded Sangitha Kalanidhi in 1965.
For his guru
Building a temple at the site where Pudukottai Dakshinamurthy Pillai attained jeeva Samadhi as Mounaguru Swamigal was an unfulfilled dream of his guru Pudukottai Dakshinamurthy Achariar. Thayumanavan took this project and completed the task at Pudukottai using his own funds.
It was consecrated in 1981 and Thayumanavan never fails to visit the temple at least once in a month, besides celebrating the anniversary in a grand scale every year honouring vidwans.
Thayumanavan has penned the life history of Dakshimurthy Pillai, which again was his guru's another wish and it was released in 1989 by Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, the first copy being received by Kripananda Variar.
Over six decades of service to music, Thayumanavan lives a simple life dedicating himself to his guru's cause and helping many a student to come up. This continues to date.
“I never knew how to promote myself in a big way and lived under my guru's shadow. I don't regret it. Straightforwardness and sincerity towards music will give you everything you want… that was my guru's advice to me and I live by that dictum.”
The rain had become a drizzle as I took leave of vidwan Thayumanavan only to head to the Mattuvarkuzhali Ammai-Thayumanva Swamy (Suganthakunthalambigai Samedha Sri Mathrubhutheswarar) temple located atop the rock behind the Uchchi Pillaiyar temple.