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With determination to excel

THERE HAS been a galaxy of legendary masters in the past who have pursued the art of mridangam playing with great distinction. A leading light in the contemporary percussive sphere is Sangita Kalanidhi Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman. Born on December 17, 1935, to Dr. P. Kasi Viswanatha Iyer, a successful medical practitioner and Kamalambal, Sivaraman was ordained to become a master of rhythm through the medium of the divine drum, the mridangam.

His father, noticing the special aptitude for rhythm in the boy, arranged for him to undergo regular, serious training through the Gurukula system under vidwans of great merit. Among these illustrious giants were Arupati Natesa Iyer, Thanjavur Vaidyanatha Iyer, Palghat T. S. Mani Iyer and Kumbakonam Rangu Iyengar. They, recognising the immense potential and prodigious talent in Sivaraman, took him under their fold, moulded and honed his art to commendable degrees of perfection. The disciple in turn responded positively and instinctively to the expert guidance of his gurus. Spartan training, a brilliant innovative mind, a rare vision, tenacity, temperament and technique and more importantly an unswerving determination to excel have all helped Sivaraman to create a niche for himself.

Kallidaikurichi Mahadeva Bhagavatar, a scholarly musician and an authority on Dikshitar compositions played a significant role in the artistic growth and maturity of Sivaraman. He is very grateful to the stalwart for providing vocal music during practice sessions.

The arangetram of Sivaraman took place when he was a mere child of ten years at the Kalahastheeswara temple at Kumbakonam when he accompanied vidwan Kumbakonam Srinivasa Iyengar. Perhaps the most rewarding period of Sivaraman's instruction was, when he was an apprentice under the doyen Thanjavur Vaidyanatha Iyer. It was said that Vaidyanatha Iyer was to mridangam what Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar was as a trendsetter to the cutcheri paddhati. It was after the passing away of Vaidyanatha Iyer that Sivaraman joined the stable of Palghat Mani Iyer, the numero uno of those days, who so impressively redefined the art of mridangam displays, both while accompanying and in the tani avartanam.

Rangu Iyengar was not only a guru but also a father figure to Sivaraman. Meanwhile, the academic pursuits of the young mridangist was moving smoothly and the high point was when he completed his Law course most creditably.

Sivaraman's prowess as an accompanist bloomed to its full glory as he got the opportunity to lend rhythmic support to a legion of veterans such as Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar, Musiri Subramania Iyer, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Alathoor Brothers, Madurai Mani Iyer, Palladam Sanjeeva Rao, Sathur A. G. Subramaniam, G. N. Balasubramaniam, Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer, Papa Venkatramaiah, Kumbakonam Rajamanickam Pillai, Mysore T. Chowdiah, T. N. Krishnan, Lalgudi Jayaraman, T. R. Mahalingam, N. Ramani, et al.

Sivaraman remembers with gratitude and respect Sivasubramanya Ayya, a noted violinist who unravelled the intricacies and lakshana of laya that covered the origin of talams, their moods, their devatas, asterisks and so on.

The maestro has many achievements to his credit. His observations on the technical nuances of the percussive discipline, introduction of the fibre glass mridangam, improvising a mechanical appliance to avoid human error in the moulding of skins for both sides of the instrument, research on tanned and untanned skins, analysis of the black patch that gives insight into the overtones that are the result of various strokes played, evolving highly imaginative mohras and korvais with beautiful, intrinsic rhythmic patterns that inspire the youth to follow and an amazing ingenuity to adapt to the style of the main artiste whether vocalist or instrumentalist, are some of the admirable features that have given rasikas much awareness about the quality of the artiste and the art itself. The Jugalbandi forays with acclaimed Hindustani artistes such as Pandit Ravi Shankar, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Ram Narain and table players Kishen Maharaj, Samta Prasad, Allah Rakha, Zakir Hussain and others have made Sivaraman the cynosure of the North Indian musical fraternity and the knowledgeable connoisseurs. Lecture demonstrations in various prestigious cultural and educational institutions within the country and abroad have won plaudits for the fluent articulation and solid substance.

His contributions to front ranking magazines in terms of explaining the multi-hued aspects of laya have earned considerable approbation and encomiums.

Several solo recordings, leading from the front in Tala Vadya cutcheris, along with other laya professionals, participating in programmes with foreign artistes, playing the mridangam for that genius of a thespian, Sivaji Ganesan in the movie "Mridanga Chakravarti" have all elevated Sivaraman to outstanding, exceptional heights.

His audio album, "The Garland of Rhythm" has offered refreshing dimensions to the genre of solo mridangam interludes, and it was a homage paid to all the four gurus of Sivaraman.

The recording for RPG for its `Drums of India' series when he played the mridangam to the immaculate, impeccable laya of the Rolland Rhythm Box was a masterpiece.

Sivaraman's cutcheri dharma is praiseworthy, as he adopts various techniques intelligently and sensibly to suit different artistes and different musical forms. The upapakka vadhya artistes are treated with consideration and given maximum encouragement to give of their best in their individual efforts.

The veteran has this to say for the young aspirant - the student should, according to the vidwan, adhere to the bani of the guru but not allow it to cramp or shackle his thinking process or creative ability. The mridangist should necessarily feel that a tani avartanam is only an extension of the song.

The litmus test is his skill while playing for a song, niraval, swaraprastharas, pallavis, javalis, thillanas, etc when he has to give the light and shade effects, keep control of the kalapramanam, reining in over enthusiasm, lift the morale of the singer if he is beset with voice problems on a particular day, and in general do everything possible to raise the level of the concert to appreciable standards.

Sivaraman is profoundly grateful that by divine sanction he has lived during the period of exalted eminent masters, and has had the honour and privilege to have shared the concert platform with them.

A tani avartanam at a prison in one of the Belgian cities to an inmate playing Arab music on the guitar has been a memorable experience. Sivaraman's ready acceptance to play for deserving artistes of the younger generation offering total co-operation on and off stage is because he feels convinced that it is the youth of today that holds the key for tomorrow's destiny of our art and culture.

Many titles and awards have come his way but they have fallen lightly on his shoulders, because of his strong conviction that what he is today is due to his parents, his ancestors, his redoubtable gurus, the warmth and affection shown by rasikas, and above all, the boundless grace of God.


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