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Updated: August 19, 2010 16:06 IST

The raja of beats

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Rajachar's undiminished interest defies his age
Bhagya Prakash K. Rajachar's undiminished interest defies his age

It is hard to find good performers who are also dedicated teachers. The nonagenarian mridangam teacher Rajachar is one such

The revolutionary shift brought about in the art of playing the mridanga by Palghat Mani Iyer has drawn admirers and disciples from the old Mysore region. Many ardent seekers of rhythm learnt from him and propagated the legacy of his style of playing in many parts of Karnataka. The veteran mridangist Archakam Rajachar has kept alive the rich tradition of Palghat Mani Iyer's art by being an able performer and a dedicated teacher.

Rhythm runs in the veins of Rajachar since his father Archakam Srinivasachar was a tabla player and an actor in the acclaimed Varadachar Drama Company. He studied the Agama Shastra specialising in Utsava and Pooja Prakaranas. He served as the priest of the Karanji Anjaneya Temple for a number of years. Rajachar was irresistibly attracted to the mridangawhen he listened to the accompaniment of M.L. Veerabhadraiah, a disciple of Palghat Mani Iyer and a distinguished mridangist himself. Having determined to learn from none other than M.L. Veerabhadraiah, Rajachar had to persevere for six months before being accepted as a disciple, because the gurus who taught in the gurukula tradition were of the view that the disciple had to prove her/his sincerity before being taken into the guru's fold. Training in the gurukula tradition meant the disciple had to comprehend the various rhythmic patterns when the guru was practicing, performing or teaching advanced learners. There was no notion of a systematic programme of imparting lessons. On many an occasion, Rajachar stood listening near the window of his teacher's house, as he practiced late into the night. He later worked out the details of the patterns. Rajachar had his training when he faced acute financial hardship.

Rajachar had the fortune of imbibing the nuances of accompanying for vocal music by practicing with very competent and dedicated vocalists of those times. A. Subba Rao would sing varnams to which Rajachar accompanied on the mridanga. After mastering the intricacies of playing for varnams, he graduated to playing for keerthanas. Rajachar practised playing for kalapana swaras and pallavis everyday for a long time with Trichy Vaidyanathan, an accomplished vocalist. He used to listen to concerts and radio programmes carefully and work out the complexities of the pallavis and rhythmic phrases. He was open to learning from the performances of the great stalwarts and attended their concerts regularly. Rajachar seems to have exemplified the legendary mridanga maestro Palghat Raghu's remark that an art involves a lot of “clandestine borrowing”.

Rajachar has been a much sought after mridangist for more than six decades. He is a graded radio and Doordarshan artist. He has accompanied some of the renowned vocalists and instrumentalists such as Mysore T. Chowdaiah, Gotuvadyam Narayana Iyengar, Palghat Ram Bhagavathar, R.R. Keshavamurthy and many others. Rajachar shared an intimate professional relationship with the flautist M.R. Doreswamy with whom he played for over four decades. Rajachar's style of playing is characterised by simple, uncomplicated patterns that enhance the aesthetic appeal of the music of the main performer. Rajachar narrates an anecdote that throws light on the goodwill and generosity of senior artistes of yesteryears. Mysore T. Chowdiah, known for his robustness and demonic vigour, asked Rajachar to accompany him for an evening concert. After the concert, he performed in a marriage from late night till early dawn. Rajachar had to attend an audition at the All India Radio the next morning. Surprisingly, Chowdiah was on the panel of judges. Chowdiah spoke highly of Rajachar paying glowing tributes to his playing before his dear friend Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar. Chembai immediately approved Rajachar's upgradation without conducting any test.

One could say that Rajachar's dedication to percussion and his deep religiosity complement each other. Rajachar not only performs an elaborate puja everyday, but also recites the Sundara Kanda every year during Dasara and performs Sri Rama Pattabhisheka.

Rajachar has been honoured by a number of organisations and conferred many titles in recognition of his contribution to the art of playing on the mridanga. Felicitation by the Bangalore Gayana Samaja, Ayyanar College of Music, the titles of Karnataka Kalashree, Mridanga Kala Shiromani, and the Palani Subramanya Pillai Memorial Award are some of the honours received by him.

Rajachar has been a committed teacher who has trained a number of competent disciples. He has followed some of the methods of practice suggested by Palghat Mani Iyer during his visits to Bangalore when Rajachar had the fortune of interacting with him. He has sat with his students playing a single rhythmic phrase for many hours so that the fingers acquire dexterity. Yogeshwar, N. Vasudev, Ranganayaki Rajan , Madhusudan, Sharatchandra Bhargava are some of his illustrious disciples. It is rare to find good performers who are also dedicated teachers. One can find in Rajachar the enlightening combination of a renowned performer and a deeply committed teacher.

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