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Updated: May 4, 2014 06:19 IST

Dying strains of a bygone era

Deepa H. Ramakrishnan
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Many in the business of manufacturing and repairing pedal harmoniums have left the trade. Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam
The Hindu
Many in the business of manufacturing and repairing pedal harmoniums have left the trade. Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam

The electric keyboard has slowly edged out the once-ubiquitous pedal harmonium leaving those repairing them in dire straits

Over time, the ‘current potti’ has replaced this ancient music box used by Koothu troupes. This leaves pedal harmonium makers like S. Arumugam of Karani Mandapam near here with hardly any work.

“There are only a few Koothu groups left. The habit of taking out Bhajanai processions has also died. Therefore, nobody uses Bhajana Pottis and Sruthi pottis and we don’t get many for repairs even,” he said.

Mr. Arumugam is one of the very few pedal harmonium makers and repairers in Kancheepuram district.

He makes few new ones but manages to get a few for repair.

“When I started my own shop 25 years ago I used to get 4-5 orders a year from all over for making them but now, that number has come down drastically. There are months when I don’t earn anything,” he said.

V. Mukundan, who used to help Mr. Arumugam in repairing harmoniums, said he shifted jobs since the pay was not much. “I was not able to manage expenses with the money I earned. There are still a few persons who know the craft but they are not in the trade due to the poor pay. The government could perhaps provide a pension for people who are still in the trade,” he said.

J. Loganathan, a pedal harmonium player with the Kattaikootu Sangam, said he knows of only three people who repair such harmoniums that are played with both the hands while the bellows are pressed with the feet.

“I prefer the shop at Karani Mandapam. Another person, Chokkalingam of Ranipet, is the son of Narasimha Reddiar, a very senior person who taught the trade to many,” he said.Harmonium legendNellalam Su. Krishnan (75), an actor and harmonium player, also confirmed the legendary status of harmoniums made by Narasimha Reddiar, who does not make them anymore. “He must be older than I am. Pedal harmoniums are costly since very few are made. Both the lower and higher octaves will be heard in these harmoniums. The sound will also be quite loud as is required for koothu performances,” he explained.

The famous Kannan Harmonium Works in Chennai too has stopped manufacturing pedal harmoniums. “People prefer keyboards these days as they are cheaper than new pedal harmoniums. We do repair the old ones,” said a staff there.

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