Sithukadu Murugavel deconstructs the Mallari

T.G. Murugavel (left) and M. Venkateswaran Photo: M. Vedhan  

Nagasawaram-thavil music is so inseparably woven into the fabric of temple ritual that one is synonymous with the other. Even the Gods wait for a signal to set out in ceremonial procession beyond the temple precincts. That signal is the mallari, played since ancient times by melam artists. In his lec-dem ‘Mallari – Its Intricacy and Variety’ held at the Narada Gana Sabha under the auspices of Natyarangam, nagaswara vidwan Sithukadu T.G. Murugavel, professor emeritus, Tamizhisai Kalluri, exposited on the salient features of this compositional form. He was accompanied by his son M. Venkateswaran (nagaswaram) and Nandambakkam H. Dakshinamurthy (thavil).

Mallari is played by nagaswaram artists, with thavil accompaniment, when the processional deity (utsava murthi) sets out (for veedhi valam) from the gopura vaasal. As a prelude, alarippu is rendered in the prakaaram (outer corridor), consisting of sancharas in Gambhiranattai, khanda-nadai thavil strokes and corresponding tanam-style phrases on the nagaswaram. Mallaris are invariably set to Gambhiranattai raga in a specific tala. Comprised solely of tatthakaram (thavil syllables), mallari has a fixed laya structure which may be rendered in trikala, four speeds or even six, depending on the vidwans’ expertise. Of the nine known types of mallari, only five are chiefly in use today, namely, the chinna, periya, ther, kalasa and taligai mallaris.

Chinna mallari may be played at all temple purappadu (procession). One such, with a laya grid of 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 in ascent and 6,6,5 in descent (total 64, chatusra triputa) was demonstrated in six kalas in a stunning display of skill. Periya mallari, commonly set in khanda-jati triputa tala (nine beats) with options extending to sankirna-jati ata tala, is featured in the processions of Panchamurthi or Siva-on-Rishabha vahanam. Illustrating a mallari in sankirna-jati triputa tala (13 beats), the artist’s Gambhiranattai prelude glowed with luminous passages. Temple ambience came alive as the staccato rhythm supported a majestic gait. Ther mallari, usually in khanda nadai (five-beat tempo) generates a disciplined march. Kalasa mallari is played during the poornakumbha ritual. Taligai mallari is set to chatusra gati and played in a single tempo (kaala) in the upper octave, in Vishnu temples, when the naivedhyam (offering) is taken from the kitchen to the shrine.

An interesting variant was a ragamalika mallari featuring four ragas – Gambhiranattai, Gowla, Ranjani and Bilahari. An aural treat, it was a legacy inherited from past generations of stalwarts.

Each temple, whether in Tiruvarur, Srivilliputhur, Chidambaram or Tirupati, has a distinct mallari marabu (tradition). It is a demanding feat in which trikala is rendered within two avartanas, while kalpanaswaras and tani avartanam showcase prodigious vidwat. To gain expertise, mallari must be imbibed from one’s guru, through keen observation and assimilation. Fluent interpretation can spring only from anubhava (experience).

The artists concluded with a stirring rendition of ‘Bho Sambho’ (Revati, Dayananda Saraswati) in honour of the day’s Pradosha kalam and a Tiruppugazh. Those rasikas who could not be present at the admirably presented lec-dem truly missed out on a rare opportunity.

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Printable version | Jul 18, 2021 6:51:57 PM |

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