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An artist’s experience of ‘gurukulavasam’

T.R. Govindarajan.

T.R. Govindarajan.  

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When children of his age were attending school, eight-year-old Govindarajan was sent to learn ‘thavil’ from the late Needamangalam Shanmugavadivel. In one year he changed his ‘gurukulavasam’ to Natchiyarkoil Raghava Pillai. In all those four years, he visited his parents only a couple of occasions and spent his time taking care of the requirements of his teacher even as he was learning.

“In the Gurukula system you learn only 40 per cent directly from the teacher. The rest you learn by observing him playing for great maestros, his body language and the way he conducts himself,” said Thanjavur T.R. Govindarajan, who has completed 50 years in thavil (a percussion instrument) playing.

A function has been organised by his disciples on September 21 to mark the occasion.

Mr. Govindarajan, like many other students who learnt music under the system, would take care of the cattle at their teacher’s house, wash his cloths, repair the instrument and carry it to the concert.

He, along with Aridwaramangalam A.K. Palanivel, Tiruvalaputhur T.A. Kaliyamurthy and Vedaranyam Balasubramani, was known as Thanjai Naalvar (the Thanjavur Quartet) of the modern era. The four together dominated the ‘nagaswaram-thavil’ music world for four decades since the 1970s.

Govindarajan’s teacher Raghava Pillai was the most sought after ‘thavil’ player of his time till his death in 1964. He used to play ‘special thavil’ for great nagaswaram musicians beginning from T.N. Rajarathinam Pillai, Tiruvenkadu Subramania Pillai, Tiruvidaimarudur P.S. Veerusami Pillai, Vedaranyam Vedamurthy, Semponnarkoil Brothers, Tiruveezhimizhalai Brothers, Karukurichi Arunachalam and Namagiripettai Krishnan.

“I used to carry the instrument of my teacher for the concert. Then came a period that I have also played special ‘thavil’ for all the great masters my teachers accompanied. It gives me a great sense of fulfilment,” said 62-year old Mr Govindarajan, who was the ‘thavil’ teacher of the Government Music College in Tiruvaiyaru.

After his ‘gurukulavasam’ he continued to learn from Tiruvidaimarudur Venkatesan, who played for T.S. Balaiah in the Sivaji Ganesan-starrer ‘Thillana Mohanambal.’ Though he made a mark as a thavil artist, Mr. Govindarajan decided not to encourage his son in learning to play the instrument.

“Gone are the days when nagasawaram and thavil players are treated with respect. We never had formal education and I always regret the misfortune of not attending schools. Even today lack of proper education continues to haunt our fellow musicians,” he said.

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Printable version | Jun 18, 2018 12:29:59 AM | http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/t-r-govindarajan-completes-50-years-in-thavil-playing/article6430610.ece