Music

‘Madurai Mani could not have been a rude man’

Madurai Mani Iyer during a concert

Madurai Mani Iyer during a concert   | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

So said R.K. Shriramkumar about Madurai Mani Iyer, whose music reflected his personality

For three hours last Sunday, P.S. Higher Secondary School’s Vivekananda Hall was overflowing. Its 80-seat capacity proved at least 30 too few as rasikas squeezed into any nook available — on the window sill, around the dais, under door jambs — to drink from the inexhaustible chalice that is Madurai Mani Iyer’s oeuvre.

Madurai Mani Iyer, a prodigious talent, hailed from an illustriously musical family, publicly performed at the precocious age of 12 and reigned thereafter. But his music wasn’t just a product of heritage. He seems to have possessed the ability to deliver his music with an ear to the ground, the singular quality that makes artiste connect with rasika and thereby ‘transport.’

The Madurai Mani Iyer Rasikas Association gathers every so often in Mylapore, Chennai, to keep the Ganakaladhara’s legacy alive and fresh. In their special listening sessions, they DJ old high-quality recordings of the doyen with an aim to rekindle and re-enliven the past master’s music through critical and contextual analysis. And this time around too, the playlist was a gift that kept on giving.

The “people’s and pundit’s musician” that he was, the session showcased his mastery over both ‘arithmetic’ and ‘aesthetic’. Ultimately, his intent was bliss, or ‘aanandam,’ pointed out chief guest Vidwan R.K. Shriramkumar. Recounting some telling sarvalaghu phrases common to Mani Iyer’s style, the accomplished violinist admitted how challenging he would have been to accompany, in a nod to T. Chowdiah’s brilliance.

R.K. Shriramkumar speaking at the event dedicated to Madurai Mani Iyer

R.K. Shriramkumar speaking at the event dedicated to Madurai Mani Iyer   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

When Shriramkumar, himself an example of humility in excellence, speaks passionately about the importance of musical integrity and points to Mani Iyer as its paragon, you prime yourself to observe closely in the listening session that ensues.

Be it ‘Tatvam Ariya Taramaa’ in Rithigowla, ‘Manasu Nilpa’ in Abhogi, or ‘Durmaargachara’ in Ranjani, the vintage 78-RPM recordings, collated and preserved meticulously by dedicated rasikas, are real gifts for us in the YouTube age.

“Madurai Mani Iyer is a standing example for the adage ‘Sruthi-mata, Layah-pita,’” asserted Shriramkumar, addressing the misconception that Carnatic Music values pedantic correctness more than melodiousness. He challenged the audience to pinpoint a single instance of off-key singing in any MMI rendering.

Mani Iyer is known to have eschewed negativity in his repertoire. Shriramkumar went further to assert that he had an intrinsic capacity for happiness: “You can decipher his (soft and kind-hearted) personality from the music,” adding that “he could not have been a rude man.”

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2020 1:01:49 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/madurai-mani-could-not-have-been-a-rude-man/article30930372.ece

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