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Conjuring up memories of Yazhpanam Dakshinamurthy

B. Kolappan
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Yazhpanam Dakshinamurthy
Yazhpanam Dakshinamurthy

Their name conjures up memories of happier times and the great contribution they made to the development of Tamil culture, language and music.

If Arumuga Navalar, Xavier Thaninayagam, K. Kailasapathy and, in recent times, K. Sivathamby, strode like colossuses in the filed of Tamil literature, Yazhpanam Dakshinamurthy, a thavil player, overshadowed everyone before him and continues to hold the younger generation in awe.

Even 38 years after his death, his playing of the instrument seems to echo on both sides of the Palk Straits and a new film on him by Amshan Kumar is likely to give more insights into the making of the great percussionist.

Mr. Kumar, who has made documentaries on great writers and musicians, said the idea of making a film came from the London-based Sri Lankan publisher Padmanabha Iyer. Now, he has completed shootings in Tamil Nadu and was planning to shoot in Sri Lanka.

“Though he lived many years in Tamil Nadu and was close to musicologist B.M. Sundaram, Thanjavur Govindarajan and many others, I need to talk to his family members and other friends in Sri Lanka,” said Mr. Kumar.

Dakshinamurthy stayed with Mr. Sundaram in Thanjavur for six years, before leaving for Sri Lanka. He came back again and his last concert was in the Orathanadu float festival. “He went to Sri Lanka and died soon,” Mr. Sundaram said.

Mr. Sundaram said it was thavil player Needamangalam Shanmugavadivel who brought Dakshinamurthy to Tamil Nadu. Dakshinamurthy took some lessons under Natchiyarkoil Raghava Pillai.

“But he needed little tutoring. He was a genius. Many singers have imagination, but their voice may be inadequate to capture it. Similarly, the hands of many percussionists would not obey their mind. In the case of Dakshinamurthy, he could play what his mind wanted him do. He was to thavil what T.N. Rajarathinam Pillai was to nagaswaram,” explained Mr. Sundaram.

Thanjavur Govindarajan said Dakshinamurthy was obsessed with layam and would suddenly visit him to explain a new korvai composed by him. “He would come to my house in a bullock-cart and tell me he had a new korvai. We will play it together,” said Mr. Govindarajan. He recalled how people thronged Orathanadu to listen to his solos.

An extremely handsome man, Dakshinamurthy, would ride motorcycles and cars in breakneck speed.

“He will light and smoke a cigarette like a film star. But his life was a roller-coaster ride. The first half of his career was a musician’s envy, but it became a tragedy later,” said Mr. Govindarajan.

Dakshinamurthy plunged into depression and was taken to Gunaseelam, where patients with mental illness are given treatment.

“From there, I took him with me to Thanjavur. But he was going through a period of great stress,” said Mr. Sundaram.

During his time, he mostly paired with Shanmugavadivel and the latter’s untimely death affected him very much.

“It is very difficult to explain his playing in words. It is beyond human effort. Sometimes I cannot follow his playing, but am left with a feeling of wonder. Despite his intricate playing, he can appeal to both the connoisseur and the layman,” said Lalitha Ram, author of the biography of mridangam exponent Palani Subramania Pillai.

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