Meeting of traditions

(Left)Sembanarkovil S. R .G Rajanna and Tiruvalaputhur Kaliyamurthy in conversation. Musicologist B.M. Sundaram(centre), is the moderator at ' Samvada- A Conversation' organised by Sampradaya. Photo:R. Shivaji Rao   | Photo Credit: R_Shivaji Rao

What would it be like if one could drop in on a conversation between a nagaswaram vidwan, whose family has produced players for the past 150 years, and a thavil vidwan, who has played since the age of 12? Such a conversation was what the audience was treated to, during Sampradaya’s latest Samvada programme, which saw Sembanarkovil S.R.G. Rajanna and T.A. Kaliyamoorthy reminiscing about the past, with musicologist Dr. B.M. Sundaram as the anchor person.

Rajanna and his elder brother Sambandam learnt the nagaswaram from their maternal grandfather Pandanallur Guruswami Pillai. While other nagaswara vidwans would pause to draw a breath after one and half minutes of playing, Guruswami Pillai could hold his breath for ten minutes, recalled Sundaram.

The Sembanarkovil school was famous for rakthi. Rajanna’s paternal grandfather Ramaswami Pillai could play at a spanking pace and was equally good at slow pace. Sundaram said that he had a recording of Ramaswami Pillai playing Hamsadhwani. When he plays the recording, people ask him if he has ‘engineered’ the speed. So fast is Ramaswami Pillai’s rendering!

When their guru sang a sahityam, Rajanna and his brother had to write the notations, and this helped them improve their swara gnana. Rajanna said that in music colleges, students of nagaswaram must be taught the tradition of mallari and rakthi, instead of just varnams and kritis.

Thavil vidwan Kaliya Moorthy has had a close association with the Sembanarkovil family. Kaliyamoorthy’s first guru was his grandfather Pasupathi Pillai. Later, Kaliya Moorthy continued his lessons under Nachiarkovil Raghava Pillai. Pasupathi Pillai had anywhere between 50 and 60 students at a time, all of them doing Gurukulavasam. Over the years more than a 1,000 students did Gurukulavasam under Pasupathi Pillai. It is said that his wife, who would cook for all the students, developed a permanent stoop, because of bending over the stove for many hours every day!

In the past focus was mainly on jatis, but these days, nadai and korvai have assumed more importance, said Kaliyamoorthy. He has played difficult talams like the Chanda talam, which has ten and a half aksharas. The tavil was always heard in the background. Nagaswara vidwans never found it intrusive, for there is inbuilt layam in the ragams too. But these days, sometimes the tavil falls silent during a concert, in deference to the nagaswaram player’s wish.

Some changes have come about in the making of the thavil. Instead of sheep skin, cow hide is now used. Therefore, for the caps (koodu) for the fingers, Araldite is used as the adhesive instead of rice or sago paste.

One felt that much more about the Sembanarkovil and Tirvalaputhur traditions could have been conveyed to the audience, if Sundaram had not dominated the proceedings. An anchor person can at best steer the conversation in the right direction, in case it tends to go off track. But Sundaram turned the spotlight on himself. Irrelevant anecdotes and jokes from him ate into the time available. The latest Samvada, in that sense, was disappointing.

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Printable version | Apr 13, 2021 6:17:13 AM |

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