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Pot of rhythm

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Keeping the beat: Vikku Vinayakram.
Keeping the beat: Vikku Vinayakram.

V. BALASUBRAMANIAN

The only South Indian to win the Grammy, Vikku Vinayakaram dedicates all his success to the Paramacharya.

On Sunday, last day of the Yagnaraman July Fest, Sri Krishna Gana Sabha is conferring the lifetime achievement award on the veteran.

Vidwan Harihara Sharma’s wife had given birth to twins — a boy and a girl. Doctors had lost all hopes of the boy baby’s survival. Believing that only Divine grace would save the child, he was named Vinayakaram and offered in adoption to the presiding deity of the local Vinayakar temple at Thennur, Tiruchi. The faith paid off and the child survived to rise to international fame winning the coveted Grammy playing the ghatam. The Western bands of which T.H.Vinayakaram was a part found it easy to refer to him as Vikku — a name suggested by MS’s daughter Radha Viswanathan during their tours abroad.

Harihara Sharma, an accomplished mridangam artiste who trained under Thanjavur Vaidyanatha Iyer, switched to morsing after losing two of his fingers in an accident. Also he shifted base to Madras. He wanted Vikku to emerge as a ghatam player as there were only a few vidwans then in the field.

Maiden performance

After a year of intensive mridangam training under his father, Vikku was ready for the stage. His maiden performance was on March 5, 1955, at the Sri Rama Navami festival at Tuticorin where he accompanied V.V.Sadagopan. “This boy will shine as a pearl in the field of Carnatic music,” said VVS, introducing Vinayakaram during the concert. He started playing along with his father and the additional income helped the family. Regular film recordings too kept him busy.

After accompanying Ariyakkudi, alongside Palakkad Mani Iyer, Vinayakaram came to be noticed. All the leading vidwans such as GNB, Maharajapuram, flute Mali, Semmangudi, T.N.Krishnan and Lalgudi offered him enough opportunities. All of these, Vikku says, were due to his father’s efforts.

The 1960 Music Academy kutcheri with Semmangudi earned Vinayakaram a lot of appreciation — M.S.Subbulakshmi was in the audience. “I had no reservations in playing for women artistes and so Semmangudi asked me to go over to Kalki Gardens where the year’s Sangita Kalanidi awardee was being honoured. At the party Sadasivam mama gave me a sheet of paper. I was virtually in tears when I went through it — it was the kutcheri schedule of M.S. for almost a year, all over India, the U.K and the U.S. with me as an accompanist,” recalls Vikku emotionally. “That was the turning point of my life. I can never forget the couple M.S.-Sadasivam and also Semmangudi.” The U.N. concert in 1966 with MS gave Vikku and the instrument, international recognition.

Vinayakaram’s temporary job with Emani Sanakara Sastry’s vadya vrinda was made permanent by AIR, Madras. At the same time he received an offer from Shakthi, an international music group, comprising John Mclaughlin (guitar), L. Shankar (violin) and Zakir Hussain (tabla). “My father, a man with a strong intuition, asked me to take L. Shankar’s offer instead of joining AIR. I left for the U.S. and rigorous rehearsals went on for several months.”

Audience overawed

Audience the world over looked in awe at the clay pot and its sound. The first programme was in 1975 and it went on for about four years. A homesick Vikku left the group and returned to India.

“Playing alongside Zakir Jussain earned me performances with all the leading Hindustani vidwans,” says Vikku. Later he along with Zakir played for pop drummer Mickey Heart’s rhythm album, “Planet Drum.” The group won the Grammy and Vikku being a part of it was the first artist from the south of India to win the award. Padmasri and Sangeet Natak Akademi award followed. So did Music Academy’s Sangita Kala Acharya.

“I dedicated these awards at the feet of Mahaperiyaval, just as my brother instructed. And it was at this point that my sartorial style changed — to the traditional panchakacham for concerts, both here and abroad.”

An ardent devotee of the Paramacharya, he attributes all the success to his bountiful blessings. “I have felt his divine presence on more than one occasion,” he says. “The only ghatam I took to Athens for a concert with L. Shankar and Zakir Hussain broke a few days before the scheduled date. I conveyed the news to my brother. Zakir went scouting around Athens and returned with a ghatam which was a show piece in an American’s house. It was the same piece that I had presented to the American several years ago. Even more surprising, it was exactly in the same sruti in which we were to perform.”

In Germany, after missing a flight to the U.S., Vikku spent some time going around a music shop. On learning that the visitor was Vinayakaram, the shopkeeper showed him a ghatam and asked him to certify it. It was made by a German lady. Vikku was satisfied with the tonal quality that equalled the ones made in India. A jubilant shopkeeper gifted it to Vikku despite the latter’s protests. On reaching the U.S., Vikku found his own ghatam in a broken condition and used the one he got as a gift for the concert. The sruti was G (5kattai) and it perfectly matched the concerts aadhara sruti of C (1kattai). Convinced that it is Maha Periyaval’s ghatam, Vikku has found for it a place in his puja room.

Vikku has formed a rhythm group with his sons and nephews, called “SAPTHAAKSHARA.” The seven-member group is already performing and a VCD is in the offing.


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