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End of a laya line

Nandini Ramani
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Tribute Kanchipuram G. Ekambaram, who passed away recently, showed his expertise on the mridangam through style, nuances and approach. Nandini Ramani

Mridangam vidwan:Kanchipuram G. Ekambaram.
Mridangam vidwan:Kanchipuram G. Ekambaram.

With the passing away of mridangam vidwan Kanchipuram G. Ekambaram on May 23 at Kanchipuram, an era of the Kanchipuram laya lineage has come to an end.

The 80-year old Kanchipuram Govindasamy Ekambaram, was the son and disciple of Kanchipuram Govindasamy, who had accompanied the legendary T. Balasaraswati on the mridangam at her arangetram at Kanchipuram Kamakshi Amman Temple.

The Kanchipuram mridangam artists’s association with Bala and her tradition has been long and unique. The link was established from the times of Kandappa, guru of Bala. Kanchipuram Kuppuswamy Mudaliar, who accompanied Bala throughout her career was Ekambaram’s paternal uncle. Kandappa’s familial links with his student Kanchipuram Ellappa, who was also a member of Bala’s orchestra for sometime, completed the Kanchipuram connection to Bala.

G. Ekambaram became part of the orchestra of T.Balasaraswati school from 1958. He was trained to accompany dancers by Nattuvanar K. Ganesan,son of Kandappa, and brilliant musician, Kanchipuram C.P. Gnanasundaram of the Naina Pillai school, who was Bala’s main vocalist after the demise of T. Jayammal.

Ekambaram had the refined touches of his uncles, Kuppuswami and Munusamy Mudaliar. . Ekambaram’s playing was vibrant and unique because it not only nourished the Bharatanatyam performance but also brought out his masterly grip over laya nuances; his style of maintaining the kanakku, playing the cross rhythmic nuances and the display of exquisite nadais were special and inspired dancers.

Some of the adavus could be visualised from his playing in the rhythmical segments. There was a perfect blend of musicality and the nritta patterns in his approach. His technique was fiery, yet subtle and devoid of dramtisation, much suited to the Kandappa-Bala tradition.

Last performance

Ekambaram’s last performance was on January,20, 2011, when he played for this writer at the Kanchipuram Kamakshi Amman temple, where Bala’s arangetram had taken place several decades ago. A special event to commemorate this occasion was organised by local enthusiasts and preservers of Kanchipuram heritage, who honoured Ekambaram during the function.

Ekambaram, who had accompanied Bala a few times, had also played for Priyamvada, the prime disciple of Bala, this writer and scores of their students in India and abroad between 1958 and 2006. He made several trips to the U.S., Canada and Europe along with these senior exponents of this tradition.

The doyen, Natyacharya Thanjavur K.P. Kittappa Pillai, who enjoyed Ekambaram’s style, included him a few times in his orchestra. Apart from these performances, Ekambaram rarely played for other dancers and so his style remained pristine.

A devotee of Kanchi Kamakshi and Lord Muruga, Ekambaram was also a well-versed vocalist. Despite personal problems, he did not want to move out of his native town to be part of the urban Bharatanatyam scene.

Dr. V. Raghavan Centre for Performing Arts, Chennai, of which he was a major part, honoured him with a cash award in 2011 on T. Balasaraswati Remembrance Day in the presence of the vice chairman of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, and Dr. Padma Subramaniam. The Centre has been taking care of him all along and especially in the last 10 years of his inactivity.

Through the efforts of this Centre, Ekamabaram has been receiving the Tamil Nadu Government Artists’s pension from Tamilnadu Iyal Isai Nataka Mandram. Roja Kannan, former Secretary of ABHAI took the effort to extend financial help to him under the ABHAI banner.

With his demise, the field of dance accompanists has lost a unique style of playing.

Ekambaram had the refined touches of his uncles, Kuppuswami and Munusamy Mudaliar.


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