Water play

Anayampatti S Ganesan, the last Jalatharangam artiste in the state, performing at Thiagarajar Arts College, Teppakulam, Madurai. Photo,. G. Moorthy.   | Photo Credit: G_Moorthy

An 85-year-old man sits cross-legged on the stage and quite unassumingly goes about filling water in the 20 ceramic bowls neatly arranged in front of him.

Then, with a pair of bamboo sticks, he gently strikes the bowls in a rhythmic manner. For the next one hour, the auditorium inside the Thiagarajar Arts College, Teppakulam, fills with mellifluous music replete with notes from the violin, mrudangam and kanjira and the pleasingly harmonious sounds from the set of bowls. “Initially, it may look like child’s play but jalatharangam is one of the most difficult instruments to play,” says Anayampatti S Ganesan, the only jalatharangist in Tamil Nadu.

“I am one among the three in India who play Carnatic music in jalatharangam. The others play Hindustani and are primarily violinists.”

“The notes from the jalatharangam arebased on the density and levelof water in each bowl. Once, when I presented a concert in Ooty, the bowls failed to emit the desired notes and I discovered that the cold water there was too dense. I had to play with hot steaming water. Even the stage surface makes a difference in the sounds emitted. Such is the precision to be kept in mind while playing jalatharangam,” says Ganesan.

The sizes of the bowls and their arrangement also matter and differ according to the swaras and pitch, says G Venkatasubramanian, Ganesan’s violinist son who accompanies his father at concerts. A set of 25 bowls made of high quality China clay is needed to cover three octaves. Ganesan inherited the bowls from his father Anayampatti Subbaiyer, who played at the Mysore palace. The bowls were gifted to Subbaiyer in 1890, by his guru Kundrakudi Krishna Iyer, who in turn played jalatharangam in the Ramnad Raja’s court. Ever since, the family has kept the 128-year-old bowls intact. The diameter of the bowls ranges from nine inches to two inches.

“Once, there were a few jalatharangists in Madurai, Ramnad and Karaikudi. However, due to the complicated nature of the instrument and the care and precision it requires, the patronage decreased and it remains a lesser-known and less-practised art form,” says Venkatasubramanian.

“However, jalatharangam is mentioned in the Vedas as Udhagakumbha vadhyam and the religious texts in Chidambaram Temple mention that the instrument was played during yagnas.”

“To learn the jalatharangam, one has to have basic knowledge in music and should be at least a mid-level vocalist, so that they can understand how to strike the notes on the bowls and set water levels as per requirement. The right kind of ceramic bowls is also important,” says Ganesan, a Kalaimamani awardee, currently based out of Chennai.

“However, I am willing to share this knowledge and help youngsters learn the art. I hope the instrument gets the due recognition it deserves.”

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Printable version | Dec 4, 2021 2:39:31 AM |

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