Resounding story of a vidwan
PROBABLY IT is the only instrument, which is played with one hand. Playing this `small band', ganjira, is not that easy and needs a lot of practise and concentration. In present times only a handful of vidwans are left to play this instrument. One among them is T.M. Ramachary, a Madurai-based Ganjira vidwan, who was recently conferred the title "Madhurakala Praveena" by Sri Sathguru Sangeetha Samajam, Madurai, on its 52nd anniversary celebrations.
"There will hardly be 50 vidwans left in the State", laments Mr. Ramachary. "The `recital notes' for this instrument are different from other `tap' instruments", he says, perhaps looking for a reason to justify the vanishing tribe. It was more than a Century ago that this unique little instrument -- measuring 7X 7 -- was designed by Pudukottai Mamundiya Pillai.
Even Ramachary laid his hands on ganjira accidentally. He began his career as a musician at the age of 22 by learning the `Mrudangam' from M.S.Sakthivel Pillai. Five years later, he changed his guru and got his tutelage from Thiruvenkadathaiah, a student of Pudukottai Dakshinamurthy.
"Suddenly one day Mr. Thiruvenkadathaiah gave me a Ganjira and I simply started tapping it. My style impressed him and he started teaching me Ganjira and that was the beginning", Ramachary recalls about his maiden contact with the instrument.
"In fact the sound I made out of the instrument had a magic spell on everyone. There is nothing secret about it. I think it is a God's gift", admits Ramachary candidly.
In his long tenure, he accompanied doyens like Mysore Chavudaiah and Madurai Somu for programmes all over the State. "I was a regular member of their troupe,'' says the Ganjira exponent with pride.
Though Ramachary made his debut with ganjira at one of the Tyagarajar festivals in Kaka Thoppu, he cites his memorable performance as the one he gave with Mysore Chavudaiah, for the 60th birthday celebrations of TVS Iyengar.
Having enthralled audiences all over in Tamil Nadu and in Thiruvananthapuram, Ramachary remained a modest man turning down assignments abroad. "I never wished to go abroad and was contended playing on my native soil only," he reasons.
A man of unabated stamina, he can do up to four shows a day. "This used to be my routine during busy music seasons when I was with Somu. In other months I used to do one show a day," he says, drifting into the past. "After the demise of Somu, I did not feel like continuing and age also caught up with me".
Ramachary feels sad at the thought that not many youths are inclined to learn the ganjira art. "My son knows to play this instrument, but is unable to hold concerts owing to job compulsions. Since I want a successor in this art, I am training and honing the skills of my grandson now,'' says the determined old man.
The octagenarian is hopeful that the art will not die as people like him are training next genertions and would be leaving behind successors. "Ganjira is the `brother of Mrudangam' and as long as Mrudangam exists, Ganjira will also exist" - is his belief.
"Finding an expert endowed with the twin skill of playing Mridangam and Ganjira is a rare," he says, adding, "I am one among them and there are a few like me. Such people should be encouraged, as they can promote both forms.'' The Government should take steps like teaching them in music colleges - is his suggestion
Music is not his only domain. Ramachary has also been a diehard patriot during the freedom struggle. Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi's visit to Madurai in 1934, Ramachary joined the freedom movement. In 1942, he participated in the `do or die' agitation and was jailed for six months. What makes him immensely proud is that he has been recognised as a "Tyagi" and given due respect by the Government.
In his social life, Ramachary considers his meeting with former Prime Minister as the most memorable occasion.
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